On Thursday, the latest Nintendo Direct presentation confirmed something most Nintendo fans either suspected, hoped for, or predicted (based on a current FCC “controller” tip): The N64 is finally back. Instead of a miniaturized N64, however, the company’s first dedicated 3D rendering console is making a return as part of a software suite on Nintendo Switch.
And in classic Nintendo fashion, Thursday’s announcement only told part of the story.
So far we know that the initial selection of the NSO “expansion pack” will contain nine N64 games, from classics like Super mario 64 and Mario kart 64 to niche surprises like Winback: Covert Operations. These games require an additional fee over the standard NSO price of $ 20 per year, although Nintendo has not yet announced a price for this tier. The company also confirmed plans to launch seven more N64 games at some point, particularly Rare’s Banjo kazooiewhich has not been seen on a Nintendo console since Microsoft bought the developer in 2002.
What we don’t know – and what I’d like to estimate ahead of the N64 tier rollout in October – is how many, or how often, new N64 games might be added to the NSO service in the coming months, and what third-party hits can be be added to the current list of first-party titles. Without further ado from the capital N itself, we can look at the company’s track record to date.
Crack the numbers
A look at Nintendo’s track record of current NSO games for the NES and SNES, along with N64-specific offerings from the Wii and Wii U virtual console stores, reveals some interesting results. To date, the standard service tier of NSO Switch owners provides access to 58 NES and 49 SNES titles from 2018 and 2019, respectively. (Note: these numbers do not include the “SP” versions of certain games that Nintendo regularly adds. This are special “cheat code” editions of titles like Zelda or Metroid the players start with unlocked equipment, maximum rupees and other perks.)
Nintendo opened pretty strong with its NES backing on NSO in September 2018, dropping 31 games in NSO’s first six months. From there, every 4-6 month calendar window shrinks.
- Feb-July 2019: 15 additional NES games
- Aug-Dec 2019: 4
- February-July 2020: 4
- Sept. 2020-July 2021: 4
Of the 673 games released in North America during the life of the NES, the total available through NSO is 8.6 percent.
A year after NSO launched its NES, Nintendo added Super Nintendo games without increasing the cost of the service. The company started its SNES support in September 2019 with 20 games. The update rate from there is more irregular than NES, but overall the numbers are still relatively low.
- Sept 2019-Feb 2020: 6 additional SNES games
- May-September 2020: 9
- Dec 2020-May 2021: 11
- July 2021: 3
All in all, the number of SNES games on NSO is roughly seven percent of the console’s 717 published North American titles.
What about the virtual console?
What Nintendo’s record of
With releases on the shop windows of the Wii U and the Wii’s defunct virtual console, the numbers are meager: only 21 games have been made available to each. Of these, the line-up is almost exactly the same, mostly referring to Nintendo’s first-party catalog of hits like
Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Mario Kart 64, Kirby 64, Star Fox 64,
and other expected classics.
The lower number of N64 retail releases in North America overall – just 296 games – could be partly responsible for the lower number here. That leaves Nintendo’s VC offerings at just seven percent of the total lineup in the States, less than the NES and SNES options that Switch owners can currently access through NSO.
Judging by the already confirmed titles from Nintendo, there is not (yet) much commitment to offer much more for N64 than in the past, at least not publicly. Of the 16 North American titles announced on the stream yesterday, only three have not seen a digital release after N64 in the US: Dr. Mario 64, Winback, and Banjo kazooie. The latter is hands down the biggest surprise with the most significant ramifications considering that Microsoft has a stake in Rare. This means that MS owns all of Rare’s N64 games that did not contain licensed characters such as Donkey Kong or Mickey Mouse, which is why many of Rare’s N64 games appeared in the 2017 Microsoft anthology Rare repetition.
If Nintendo plans to release a similar number of N64 games for the service over the next 2-3 years, Switch owners could get a new number of 4-6 new additions every 5-6 months. On the other hand, should Nintendo decide to dig deeper into the console’s back catalog, there is no way of knowing what it could be. However, with a generally shrinking pattern of game abandonment on the NES, SNES, and N64, the company is slightly less likely to intend to make many of the deeper cuts from N64.
Third party support
This brings us to third parties. In contrast to NES and SNES, classic third-party games are significantly fewer on N64. With
Eventually, when he got back to a Nintendo console, NSO was able to see other rare entries from Xbox
Jet Force Gemini, Blast Corps, Banjo-Tooie
and possibly even the original, uncensored version of
Conkers Bad Fur Day
(about the tweaked-and-beeped
Conker: Live and reloaded
for the original Xbox) all seemingly potential candidates. And if the stars match, we might see the return of a particular FPS with a secret agent.
NSO’s list of third-party studios on NES and SNES also points to some historical patterns – namely the involvement of Japanese developers with strong reputations in the 8- and 16-bit era. Konami, Capcom, Koei Tecmo, Natsume, and Arc System Works pop up a lot by searching NSO’s NES and SNES libraries (with a few others that no longer exist or have been incorporated into parentheses), though more than a few known to be pulled out -number of N64 entries is not that easy.
But, as you may recall, Nintendo’s iron support from Japanese studios dwindled in the face of stiff PlayStation competition that leaves fewer candidates to choose from. Win backThe inclusion, while welcome, comes from Koei Tecmo, so no new third party is added to Nintendo’s list of NSO partners. Possible Konami titles could be: Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness (Probably the more likely choice over its very different vanilla version Castlevania 64), or if someone wanted to get really crazy, that Gömon Games or a year-specific sports title like International athletics 2000. Capcom has only released three games for the console: Ports on the PS1 Mega Man Legends and Resident Evil 2, as well as Magical Tetris Challenge (which starred Disney cartoon characters so that’s a long chance). Natsume only released one N64 game, Harvest moon 64.
None of that talks about how Nintendo might handle future launches for the Japanese side of NSO, by the way. If we’re lucky, we might see untranslated N64 oddities in that region’s NSO bundle – and get those games as region-free downloads, just as western gamers use some Nintendo eShop tricks to access the Famicom and Super Famicom libraries on the Switch can . Shortly after the launch of NSO’s N64 service, its Japanese equivalent will be two games only for Japan in the Custom Robo Series that will provide a good test case for possible region-free gaming fun from the 64-bit generation.
Ultimately, given the smaller selection of N64 games across all regions, especially when compared to the PS1 explosion in the same era, our expectations are generally low. And Nintendo’s refusal to release certain N64 exclusives on older Virtual Console platforms, including Pilot wings 64 and Troublemaker, does not inspire confidence that they have made major license agreements this time – especially since they are not packaged in an attractive, miniaturized set-top box. It’s probably best to prepare for a definite lack of boot rocking beyond what’s made available on the virtual console and the total number of games the company deems worthy of re-releasing.
At least Nintendo is on the right track with this authentic controller – and we’ll be back in a future follow-up to cover the build quality of this controller and how well it works with the upcoming NSO pack of N64 games.
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