18 Must-Play Vintage Games on Nintendo Switch Online

18 Must-Play Vintage Games on Nintendo Switch Online

There are many ways to experience retro games on a modern TV and from the comfort of your living room — and chief among them are services like Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack. In addition to providing access to online play and downloadable content for your new games, Nintendo’s online service is loaded with great emulators for various retro consoles, including Nintendo’s own heavy hitters the Super NES and Game Boy, but also the Sega Genesis.

The emulation quality is top notch (outside of some weirdness on the traditionally difficult-to-emulate Nintendo 64), and a host of quality-of-life features (rewind, save states, and access to region-specific versions of the games among them) make Nintendo Switch Online one of the best ways to relive the past without having to learn what “FPGA” means.

A list of all of must-play games on the service would be five miles long and include 75% of what’s on there (it really is a quality retro library). Instead, I’ve created a list that combines the expected stone cold classics with lesser-known curiosities that deserve your attention alongside the Super Mario Bros. 3s, Link’s Awakenings, and Tetrises out there.

Super Metroid (Super NES)

With Nintendo finally remastering Metroid Prime on the Switch, it’s a great time to check out the other best Metroid game: Super Metroid. Built upon the foundation laid by Metroid (NES) and Metroid II: Return of Samus (Game Boy) — both also available on Nintendo Switch Online — Super Metroid is a polished masterpiece of exploration and action. While later games in the series (most recently, Metroid Dread) streamline the exploration and funnel the player through their maze-like worlds, Super Metroid retains the series’s earlier penchant for open exploration. It’s not afraid to let you get lost. Exploring the planet Zebes is haunting and exhilarating, and the atmosphere is off the charts (enhanced by an all-time soundtrack and S-tier pixel art). Is Super Metroid a perfect game? Yes. The answer is yes.

Expansion Pack required? No

If you like this, try: Wario Land 3 (Game Boy Colour)

Tetris (Game Boy)

Tetris hardly needs an introduction. Heck, Apple just made a feature film about its creation and rise to megastar status in the west, starring Taron Egerton. This ubiquitous block-matching game was the Game Boy’s killer app — every kid’s mum loved it — and decades later, its simple mechanics hold up wonderfully, its earworms will still get stuck in your head for days, and the lo-fi jingle when you get a four-line “tetris” still delivers a jolt of endorphins. There have been better versions of Tetris over the years, but the original Game Boy version launched the phenomenon and remains among the most iconic gaming experiences of all time.

Expansion Pack required? No

If you like this, try: Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine (Sega Genesis)

Paper Mario (Nintendo 64)

Nintendo’s Paper Mario series has had its ups (The Thousand Year Door) and downs (Super Paper Mario), but the first entry stands the test of time thanks to its sharp, genuinely funny writing and straightforward JRPG mechanics. Later games in the series ditched the traditional combat system for increasingly strange experiments (the most recent, The Origami King, features a bizarre ring-based puzzle game that serves little purpose), leaving Paper Mario as a reminder of why sometimes it’s better not to overthink things.

Nintendo 64 was a barren desert when it came to Japanese RPGs, but Paper Mario can line up with any of the heavy-hitters on Sony’s PlayStation. It’s just as enjoyable today as it was 20 years ago.

Expansion Pack required? Yes

If you like this, try: Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (Game Boy Advance)

Gunstar Heroes (Sega Genesis)

Developer Treasure made a name for itself with a string of high energy run-and-gun action games on 16-bit consoles, and Gunstar Heroes ranks among the very best of them. With crisp pixel art, frantic action, a ton of power-ups, and two-player support, Gunstar Heroes plays like an anime take on Contra with an emphasis on choice. You are free to tackle the first four levels in any order you choose — Mega Man-style — and also pick your starting weapon and aiming mechanic. This all adds up to a game that rewards multiple playthroughs and experimentation.

Expansion Pack required? Yes

If you like this, try: Sin & Punishment (N64)

Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium (Genesis)

The 16-bit era is loaded with classic Japanese RPGs, and while you probably think first of Squaresoft and Nintendo games like Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, or Final Fantasy VI, one of the very best was released by Sega on the Genesis. Headed by the late Rieko Kodama, Phantasy Star IV is a polished culmination of the entire series, and stands with anything Square was producing at the time. Trading the genre’s traditional faux-Medieval setting for a sci-fi landscape, Phantasy Star IV’s planet-romping adventure features snappy combat, a great story, and fun comic book-style cut scenes.

Expansion Pack required? Yes

If you like this, try: Breath of Fire II (Super NES)

F-Zero X (Nintendo 64)

Gotta go fast! No, this isn’t a Sonic game, but its blazingly fast racing was a revelation when it first released on the Nintendo 64. A sequel to the Super NES original (also available on Nintendo Switch Online), F-Zero X upped the ante with a huge number of racers, multiple gameplay modes, and intricate courses designed to show off the speed of its ridiculously fast hover cars. One of the few Nintendo 64 games that ran at 60fps, it trades highly-detailed graphics for buttery-smooth gameplay that holds up a lot better than many games on the console.

Expansion Pack required? Yes

If you like this, try: Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis)

Kuru Kuru Kururin (Game Boy Advance)

Spin a stick through a maze! Watch your blood pressure soar! Thanks to its low specs, handheld accessibility, and cheap development costs, the Game Boy Advance was home to a ton of unique games, and Kuru Kuru Kururin is among the quirkiest and most enjoyable. I dare you to watch the above speedrun from Awesome Games Done Quick 2020 and not feel a heady mixture of joy and awe.

Expansion Pack required? Yes

If you like this, try: Mario’s Super Picross (Super NES)

Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare (Game Boy Colour)

So, this game kinda sucks to play. But as an 8-bit recreation of the series’s 2001 reboot for PlayStation, Dreamcast, and Windows (a PlayStation 2 version came later, but only in Europe), it’s a fascinating technical relic. Recreating the Resident Evil-style fixed camera survival horror experience on a handheld was beyond ambitious (just ask Capcom, who abandoned a Game Boy Colour port of Resident Evil in the late ‘90s), but it’s neat to see how far the little system could be pushed. Check it out for five minutes…then go play an actually good game.

Expansion Pack required? No

If you like this, try: Spending a night in a haunted house

Yoshi’s Island (Super NES)

Nintendo has made a lot of good games. Specifically, they’ve made a lot of good Mario games. But this gem, released at the bitter end of the Super NES’s lifecycle, might be the best. Swapping his traditional blue coveralls for a diaper, the plumbing superstar takes a back seat to a bunch of Yoshis who attempt to avoid Bowser’s baddies while reuniting baby Mario with his lost brother Luigi. Bursting with creative level designs, wonderful crayon-inspired graphics, and an infectious soundtrack, Yoshi’s Island took many risks — but they all paid off. There’s never been another platformer quite like it (even the sequels on Nintendo 64 and Nintendo DS can’t compare). It remains a pinnacle of 16-bit platforming perfection.

Expansion Pack required? No

If you like this, try: Yoshi’s Story (N64)

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX (Game Boy Colour)

You might’ve wrongly assumed NSO already got the best Zelda game when the Super NES service launched A Link to the Past or the Nintendo 64 service served up a slightly improved version of Ocarina of Time. Understandable. It’s ok to be wrong. But now, finally, you can correct such wrongness by playing the actual best Zelda game: Link’s Awakening DX. Sure, it can’t match the 16-bit splendor of the Super NES classic or the breadth of Link’s first 3D adventure; instead it offers a perfectly paced little adventure without a pixel out of place. Sure, having to share two action buttons between your sword, shield, and all your various tools is a pain, but the tropical setting, charming characters, and perfectly designed overworld and dungeons more than make up for the fussiness.

The Nintendo Switch remake of Link’s Awakening was a valiant modernisation, but the original — especially with the Game Boy Colour improvements included in the DX version — more than stands the test of time.

Expansion Pack required? No

If you like this, try: Beyond Oasis (Sega Genesis)

Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64)

Chances are your favourite Mario Kart is the first Mario Kart you played, and, for that reason, Mario Kart 64 remains a fan favourite for a huge swathe of people. Even if it’s not yours (shout out to Super Mario Kart for the Super NES, also on the service), Mario Kart 64 introduced four-player competition to the series, along with the love-it-or-hate-it drifting/snaking mechanic, and the blue shell, so it’s worth a peek just for its historical relenvance. While Goldeneye (also on Nintendo Switch Online) is held up as the definitive four-player Nintendo 64 experience, my money’s on Mario Kart 64, which plays a heck of a lot better in 2023.)

Expansion Pack required? Yes

If you like this, try: Super Mario Kart (N64)

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA)

As Link’s Awakening proved, Nintendo’s handhelds were a perfect match for the Zelda series, and though Minish Cap doesn’t quite equal the original Game Boy Zelda’s level of polish, it’s loaded with great quality-of-life improvements, some of the GBA’s best pixel art, and an overworld that’s a joy to explore, taking the portable Zelda experience to great heights.

Thanks to its original hardware lacking a backlit screen, Game Boy Advance games generally featured large, chunky pixel art and liberal use of bright colour — and both of these graphical elements shine bright in Minish Cap, which brought The Wind Waker’s iconic artstyle to a handheld system. Though it might be lacking in its number of total dungeons (just six), its emphasis on quality over quantity makes it one of the GBA’s best games.

Expansion Pack required? Yes

If you like this, try: Link to the Past (Super NES)

Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

The original Super Mario Bros. created a phenomenon and helped revitalize home console gaming in North America. Super Mario Bros. 2 is what it is (underrated). But Super Mario Bros. 3? That’s the real jam. Taking the basic platforming of the first game to new heights (literally) with creative power-ups like a raccoon tail that helps you fly; short, punchy levels; and a map system that gave the whole adventure a more epic feeling. Super Mario Bros. 3 is basically 8-bit gaming perfection.

Expansion Pack required? No

If you like this, try: Super Mario World (Super NES)

EarthBound (Super NES)

On a console known for its Japanese RPGs, EarthBound is one of the best. With many games in the genre set in familiar Dungeons & Dragons-inspired worlds, EarthBound brings the genre to the exotic realm of…the American midwest. Created by Shigesato Itoi, who was the voice of the dad in the original Japanese release of Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro, EarthBound is balances its ultra-quirky setting and humour with a straight foward Japanese RPG structure pulled right from the Dragon Quest series. There’s also a character named Poo. What choice do you have but to play it?

Expansion Pack required? No

If you like this, try: EarthBound Beginnings (NES)

Panel de Pon (Super NES)

What if I told you that Tetris is the second best puzzle game on this list? Released in the west as Tetris Attack (and featuring a splash of Yoshi’s Island paint), Nintendo Switch Online lets western players check out the Japanese original, which remains a fun little experience, even if the core gameplay is the same. Once you start matching tiles, you won’t be able to stop playing this compulsive and sickly sweet puzzler.

Expansion Pack required? No

If you like this, try: Pokemon Puzzle League (N64)

WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$ (Game Boy Advance)

WarioWare’s bite-sized minigames are the perfect pick-up-and-play antidote to today’s open world gaming obsession. While many Game Boy Advance games focused on bringing a console-style experience to handheld, this game leaned into the appeal of on-the-go gaming. As you play through weird mini games that range from dodging arrows to picking your nose, WarioWare defies labels, and has that compulsive “just one more round” appeal the best puzzle games offer. It’s what smartphone gaming could’ve become if it didn’t fall down a hole into microtransaction hell. Recent games like WarioWare: Get It Together! have kept the series relevant, but nothing beats the joy of the original’s ingenuity, creativity, and memorable soundscape.

Expansion Pack required? Yes

If you like this, try: Mario Party (N64)

Comix Zone (Genesis)

You could come to Comix Zone for its ultra ‘90s ‘tude or its adequate beat ‘em up gameplay, but the real reason to check it out is for the clever presentation. Replicating the pages of a comic book, you fight your way through various pages, flipping and busting your way through the art panels, and experience the story through text bubbles and inset text boxes. Nowadays, we’re used to games playing with presentation (2017’s What Remains of Edith Finch used a similar comic book-style presentation for one of its chapters) but Comix Zone was ahead of its time. Impressive stuff considering it came out on the same console that launched with Altered Beast (which is also available on Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pak).

Expansion Pack required? Yes

If you like this, try: Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis)

Demon’s Crest (Super NES)

A sequel to the Game Boy’s Gargoyle’s Quest (also on Nintendo Switch Online, and totally worth your time), Demon’s Quest is a spinoff of the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series, and features familiar action-platforming mixed with light Metroidvania elements. It requires players to revisit old areas as they acquire new skills in their quest to gather the six elemental Crests and defeat the demon Phalanx. It’s tough at times (the perfect game to enjoy with Nintendo Switch Online’s save state and rewind features), but absolutely worth the effort. A hidden gem.

Expansion Pack required? No

If you like this, try: Gargoyle’s Quest (Game Boy)


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