Fans complain about Switch Online’s N64 emulation

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The Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack is out today, giving those who choose to pay the upgrade price the ability to play a small selection of classic N64 games, but discerning fans have quickly started to complain about the quality of this emulation on social media.

Given that there are nine N64 games included at launch – see the full list here – there’s a wide spread of issues that are cropping up on a game-by-game basis.

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For The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, for example, there’s a fog effect that is missing on Switch, but that was present in both the original N64 and the Wii Virtual Console versions of the game. This is a strange regression in the emulation tech that Nintendo uses.

Elsewhere, you have the fact that Nintendo has not emulated the Controller Pak, the physical memory card that would slot into the under side of the game controller. While many games saved to the game cartridge, some relied on the Controller Pak for certain features. Mario Kart 64 cannot save ghost files through Switch Online as a consequence, and you cannot save your game in Operation Winback. Thankfully, you can use the emulator’s suspend game save state to pause your progress.

More universally, the button mapping for people playing with a contemporary controller layout has seen complaints from those used to the N64 layout. The C-buttons simplistically map to the right analogue stick, the Z button to the ZL button, but the A and B buttons of the N64 are mapped directly to the A and B buttons of the Switch. This makes sense for new players so button prompts are the same, but less sense compared to the N64 gamepad layout. An option to let users switch A and B mapping to B and Y might be preferred, but as it stands, there is no option.

Then there’s simple ROM choices made by Nintendo. In Japan, players have access to the ‘Shindou’ version of Mario 64 that tweaks the game to feature rumble and more in line with the version found in 3D Mario All-Stars, while in other regions we have the older ROM that seems to throw a slur at Bowser when he’s defeated.

One of the perks of Switch Online’s emulation is that Nintendo has built in support for online multiplayer for games that (obviously) didn’t even have the concept of what the internet is. People have been quick to hop online for online sessions of Mario Kart 64, though… it’s not always been particularly smooth.

Retrofitting multiplayer into older titles will no doubt have some series challenges, relying on modern internet connection speeds to brute force the feature, and as you can see in the above tweet, it notes that “Your connection is unstable, so the audio may be interrupted.”

There were bound to be complaints about Nintendo’s expanded game library, and anything but a perfect launch was going to draw the ire of certain fans. It feels like Nintendo need to go back and consider some more of the edge cases surrounding controller layouts, Controller Pak support and how best to emulate certain graphical features.

Of course, then there’s just the price of this. Some people would prefer to buy each game outright instead of signing up to a pricier game subscription service. Where Switch Online costs £17.99 / €19.99 per year, the subscription with  Expansion Pass costs £34.99 / €39.99. For families, that’s £31.49 / €39.99 versus £59.99 / €69.99. Pro-rated upgrades are also available if you’re in the middle of a subscription, but effectively doubling the cost has put a few noses out of joint.

It’s not just about N64 games, though. The Expansion pack also bundles in Mega Drive games and will include access to the newly announced Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Happy Home Paradise DLC (which is also available as a standalone purchase).

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