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Commentary

Nintendo Switch needs a big dose of NES Classic

Commentary: The Switch should be a retro paradise. But it isn't. Yet.

Gaming

Imagine if the Switch had 30 classic NES games on it. Like... I don't know... the NES Classic?

It's pretty baffling that the Nintendo Switch doesn't have any clearly announced Virtual Console games yet. And I'm wondering why it doesn't, because it's an obvious fix to a short-term problem.

I just bought an NES Classic last week. It was available for the first time in months, and I impulse-clicked on Amazon. My son was excited to play when I opened the box: he knows Mario, and Donkey Kong, and Pac-Man. He tried the Classic when I reviewed one last year, and loved the games, big pixels, sprite slowdown and all.

Nintendo's major ace in the hole, for years, has been nostalgia. Its games also happen to age well and be classics. Super Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and more have been the keys to what made Nintendo great, and the Wii's biggest charm -- besides Wii Sports -- was its Virtual Console, with its eShop full of digital titles. For $5 to $8 a pop, you could download dozens of NES, SNES, Sega games and other ports. It was a charming retro box.

Switch: Games still needed

Nintendo Switch, which I've been playing with for a week, is a brilliant little piece of hardware. It's versatile. It can be a handheld or a TV-connected thing. And yet, it's still lacking what the $60 NES Classic has: dozens of great old-school games.

The Switch also has lack of games coming in the launch window. Zelda: Breath of the Wild is fantastic, and as good a game for any system as anyone could hope for. But otherwise, the cupboard is pretty bare. Only eight other titles are available on launch day, one of which is 1-2 Switch -- which, while amusing, feels more like it should have been a pack-in game.

The news isn't all bad: The Switch will have its own eShop, and Nintendo is pledging to bring more than 60 digital indie titles by the end of the year. That's excellent news, and is reminiscent of Sony's stellar efforts to bring indie games to the PlayStation Vita. But with no Virtual Console games on deck when the Switch goes on sale this Friday, don't expect to play the Nintendo classics you know and love.

That's too bad, because Virtual Console games would help fill the void. And playing classic games on a little Switch with detachable controllers would be a blast. It would be like a portable arcade. I'm still waiting to try that.

nintendo-switch-console-4898.jpg

The Switch should be playing all the old games (Game Boy included).

James Martin/CNET

Teasing classic games, one month at a time

The real irony is that Nintendo will parcel out "free" Virtual Console classic games to Switch owners, on a limited basis. Subscribers to Nintendo's upcoming online service will get to play a single Virtual Console game for free each month, but only for that month. (The beta version of the service, which will also enable online multiplayer support for Switch games, is free until fall 2017.)

The Switch needs more than that. I'm waiting for a compilation game. Releasing "NES Classic, Volume One" and replicating the NES Classic's game library would be a good start. Price it at $50, which is ten dollars less than the entire NES Classic package. Why not?

(Yes, I'm glossing over the fact that I'm rebuying all these games for the third or fourth time -- and that I can't just port over my 3DS or Wii/Wii U Virtual Console purchases. But I've moved on.)

Or maybe Nintendo is waiting to announce its own subscription service. It would make sense: Microsoft's new Xbox One subscription offers lots of games at one monthly price. PlayStation has long done the same thing with PlayStation Now, which streams games online.

Virtual Console seems like the perfect subscription package. Now, that would hold me over in the lull between between Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey: All the NES or SNES I can eat.

And then, maybe, the Switch could be everything the NES Classic is, because right now it isn't.

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