This week’s Direct was like the platonic ideal of a Nintendo video game showcase. It covered every base possible: we saw indies and triple-As, DLC for recent games, new entries in popular series, remakes of forgotten retro games that make your one weird friend very excited, demos to check out after the show, and even a high-calibur shadow drop, Metroid Prime Remastered. I give it the coveted Something For Everyone Award, and for the first time in a long time, Nintendo fans are satisfied.
One of the big highlights from the presentation was the reveal that Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance games have been added to Nintendo Switch Online. Through their NSO subscription, subscribers now have access to a wide range of handheld classics, including Super Mario Land 2, Metroid 2, Link’s Awakening DX, Kirby’s Dream Land, Tetris, and Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare. Additionally, The NSO expansion pack includes GBA games like Mario Advance 4, Warioware Inc.: Mega Microgames, Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga, and the Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. Nintendo will be adding even more Gameboy games over time, including The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Seasons, Kirby Tilt & Tumble, and the Pokemon Trading Card Game.
I love every single one of these games and I’m excited to experience them again on the OLED Switch with all the new save state, multiplayer, and overlay features. The NSO catalog has been slowly growing over the years with NES, Super Nintendo, N64, and Sega Mega Drive offerings, and it’s great to see so much more value being added now without any kind of price hike. A lot of what the NSO library has had to offer so far has felt like a novelty to me. NES and Mega Drive games are a cool part of history, but not the kind of thing I want to spend my time playing. As someone that grew up with the Game Boy Color and GBA though, these games are an important part of my childhood and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with them. At the same time, I can’t ignore the limitation of the NSO library, when I know how much better things could be.
The Gameboy, GBC, and GBA represent just over 3000 games, and now you can play 15 of them. 15 phenomenal, generation-defining games no doubt, but still only half a percent of the Gameboy games that exist. There’s a good chance the game you love the most will never make it to the NSO library. Donkey Kong Land, Mega Man 5, Harvest Moon, Mario Tennis, the Castlevania games, the Pokemon games, the Final Fantasy games, the Sonic games, I could go on and on. So much of Nintendo’s history has been lost to time, and giving us back a little over a dozen games just serves to remind me how much is no longer accessible.
Even if Nintendo could add, say, the top 100 most important Game Boy games, it probably wouldn’t. The Pokemon games are worth a lot more when they can be re-sold individually, and offering us classic games diminishes the value of modern remakes. Don’t expect to see Advance Wars in the NSO library when the remake is right around the corner. Nintendo will continue to trickle games onto NSO as long as it believes this is the most profitable option. As soon as things change, the entire library will vanish overnight.
A subscription model is no place for game preservation, especially when Nintendo is behind the wheel. We lost hundreds if not thousands of games when the Wii U shop closed down, and we’ll lose even more when the 3DS shuts down too. All of those virtual console games will be lost in the ether again until Nintendo decides to add them to NSO. When the Switch successor launches later this year or next, there’s no telling what will become of NSO. It could roll over to the new console and continue to grow, but history tells us Nintendo will shut it down and come up with a new way to deliver classic games. Your access to the NSO library will eventually end, and all of these games will disappear again.
I want to be excited about the Game Boy library, and I will spend time revisiting Superstar Saga and The Minish Cap. But preserving these games for future generations is more important to me than transiently indulging my nostalgia for a weekend, and it doesn't seem like that’s something Nintendo really cares about.
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