The Nintendo Switch is Becoming a Pocket-Sized Retro Arcade, and I’m All For It

A few steps back, but we're not complaining.

by Kara Phillips

When the Nintendo Switch launched in 2017, it was an impressive bridge between home and handheld consoles, and while it didn’t showcase breathtaking performance, it had a lot to say for itself due to its hybrid nature. But, as the years have passed and the console enters its sixth year on the market, it’s not surprising that its performance is starting to appear slightly lackluster when placed next to the performance on consoles like the Xbox Series X and Series S, and the PS5. The Switch struggles to keep up appearances, so current-gen gaming doesn’t quite match the expectations set by next-gen consoles, but that’s not to say that a particular era of gaming doesn’t perfectly suit what the console is capable of.

Certain well-loved game franchises are bound to receive HD remasters of games at some point, but for Nintendo, it’s starting to feel as though HD remakes and remasters are more frequent than first-party games themselves. So, for example, we saw Link’s Awakening in 2019 and Skyward Sword HD in 2021, closely followed by Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. But even outside of Nintendo’s best-known franchises and their remakes, the console is almost taking a step back to its roots with Arcade Classics and emulation of Nintendo’s early console libraries. And frankly? It’s one of the best things to happen to a console at risk of becoming outdated in today’s digital climate.

A Library of Nostalgia for Nintendo Switch

For a few years now, the Nintendo Switch has become an excellent platform for indie games, but more recently, the wonderful world of retro gaming has started to steal the spotlight. Although a few first-party releases like Bayonetta 3 and Fire Emblem: Engage have graced the console, there’s been a surprising focus on remasters and retro games recently, which not only suits the power and capabilities of the Switch’s hardware but has created a portable pocket arcade for every gamer which is massively appealing to those who have lost touch with games they loved growing up.

During the Nintendo Direct on February 8, a considerable amount of headlines and titles were re-hashes of already-existing games, but rather than players turning their heads after the disappointment in a lack of first-party releases and announcements, they rejoiced in the amount of older games being released onto the console. The unexpected launch of a remastered Metroid Prime, and final confirmation on a release date for Advance Wars 1+2, were reason enough for older gamers to get excited, but the mass of upcoming releases for slightly older games only encouraged the excitement.

Of course, having remasters and re-releases on the console is excellent for anyone looking to immerse themselves in franchises like Story of Seasons or Kirby but in a more modern setting. While they don’t offer much difference in their gameplay compared to the original, there’s still something extraordinary about revisiting a slightly older title on a Nintendo Switch. A small bought of nostalgia goes a long way when it comes to Nintendo titles, as represented by how successful franchises like Pokémon are even when their newest releases are incredibly sub-par.

If We Could Turn Back Time

However, the driving force for the Nintendo Switch becoming a retro arcade is the ability to access NES, N64, and now Game Boy and Game Boy Advance titles on the hybrid console through a Nintendo Switch Online membership without the worry of a non-backlit screen and for a smaller cost per month than it would be to buy an older console and the coinciding cartridge. Suddenly a whole world of retro gaming is at your fingertips, and for once, the Nintendo Switch can maintain a consistent performance and provide a positive experience for every gamer regardless of whether or not you grew up along the titles.

It may feel like Nintendo is taking a few steps back instead of forward with their gameplay, relying quite heavily on what works in terms of performance instead of focusing on improving what doesn’t. But, you can’t deny that now it’s in our hands, the console feels perfect for old arcade games like Bubble Bobble and; the Tetris, and even remasters where performance isn’t as prominent a focus. The Nintendo Switch still has a place in today’s digital world, that’s for sure, and the consistent launch of older titles is helping it remain more relevant than ever.

- This article was updated on February 9th, 2023