of No Nintendo department
So here’s the thing: I’ve been accused of taking a lot of beating on Nintendo. But know that it’s not that I want to to go after them, it’s just that they make it so easy. I’m a golfer, okay? If I have a club in my hand and suddenly a ball on a tee appears in front of me, I’m going to hit that ball every time without hesitation. You will recall that a few years ago Nintendo opened up a new front in its constant IP wars by taking on ROM and emulation sites. This caused many sites to shut down, but Nintendo was also keen to hang scalps on its belt, especially in the form of RomUniverse. This site, which very clearly contained infringing material not only on the site but promoted by the site ownership, was slapped in the courts in a huge judgment that the site owners simply cannot pay against.
But all of these are just details and don’t answer the real question: why did Nintendo do this? Well, as many expected from the start, it did so because the company was planning to release a series of classic consoles, namely the NES mini and SNES mini. But, of course, what about later consoles? Like the Nintendo 64?
Well the answer to this is that Nintendo has offered an enhancement to the Nintendo Switch Online service that includes some N64 games that you can play instead.
After years of ‘N64 mini’ rumors (which have yet to come to fruition), Nintendo announced plans to honor its first fully 3D gaming system at the end of last month in the form of the expansion pack in Nintendo Switch line. Pay a little more, the company said, and you’ll get a curated library of N64 classics, emulated by the company that created them, on Switch consoles as part of an active NSO subscription.
A month later, however, Nintendo’s selling proposition turned sour. This “little extra” has grown to an additional $ 30 per year, on top of the existing fee of $ 20 / year, a 150% increase in the annual price. Never mind that the price also includes an Animal Crossing expansion pack (which fans of retro games may not want) and Sega Genesis games (which were mostly released out of the blue on all systems of game of the last decade). For many interested fans, this price hike was for the N64 collection.
So a bit steep price and a bunch of extras that are mostly irrelevant from a buyer’s point of view. Buy, hey, at least Nintendo fans will finally get some N64 games to play on their Switch consoles, right?
Well, it turns out that Nintendo’s offering can’t compete with the quality of the very emulators and ROMs that Nintendo has worked so hard to disappear. The Ars Technica post linked above goes into excruciating detail, which we’ll discuss for the purpose of giving examples, but here are the categories that Nintendo’s product does worse than an emulator on a PC.
- Gaming options, such as visual settings for a resolution suitable for modern screens
- Visuals, such as N64’s famous blur settings, and visual changes that expose outdated graphics sprites
- Controller entry delay
- Controller configuration options
- Multiplayer Lag / Stutter
If that sounds like a lot of issues compared to emulators that have been around for a while, well, ding ding ding! We’ll cover a few examples briefly below, but I’ll make it clear that none of the issues in the categories above are unbelievably bad. But there are so many of them that they all add up to be bad!
Consider the issues around how N64’s blur is used, or not used in this case.
This issue comes up much more often in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which speedrunner enthusiast ZFG1 detailed at length in a seven-hour feed shortly after the NSO expansion pack went live. The pack’s issues with inaccurate blurring become immediately evident in the opening area of this classic Kakariko Village game. In this area, the impending Deku Tree normally lurks in a huge field of fog above the hero Link’s head. In the current version of NSO, on the other hand, the blur is absent, revealing an inappropriate low-res sprite. Worse, Nintendo originally used selective fog placement as a way to guide players’ attention to points of interest in the village, but those fogs have now been erased.
Anyone who has looked into the NSO expansion pack launch has almost certainly seen ZFG1’s most egregious discovery: the game’s Water Temple battle against a “shadow” version of Link, which takes place in a outdoor misty area surrounded by reflective water. . On Switch, this room reduces the fog effect almost entirely. Worse yet, it fails to properly project the reflections on the water’s surface, changing the aesthetic tone of the heart-wrenching battle that ensues.
That sort of thing breaks the immersion and the overall feel and flow of a game. The Legend of Zelda example is not isolated.
As for the way the controls are handled, well …
In Ocarina of Time and Star Fox 64, constant access to the C button is imperative for proper control in a way that does not suit removing the fingers from the main A and B action buttons. Yet instead of making these Crucial C buttons available at all times, Nintendo only bolts two of them to the ABXY die. Players then have to use a clunky shortcut system to access these buttons: holding down the “ZR” button, which temporarily “moves” the ABXY board to become the four directions of the C button.
If all of this strikes you as minor details that aren’t worth bothering about, I have two answers. First, you’re probably not a huge fan of those classic Nintendo titles and systems, as these “minor” things represent a massive departure from the experience you have in mind of playing these games. Since the sales pitch for this NSO uprising is all about nostalgia, it matters!
And secondly, fans of these titles had a better product to give them what they wanted: Nintendo emulation sites have closed. Granted, getting ROMs from these sites without owning the original was / is definitely a counterfeit activity … but if Nintendo was going to kill the pirate dragon in favor of its own offering, that offer should at least less be on par with emulators, right?
Because at the end of the day, here’s the reality: Nintendo has worked hard to prevent fans of outdated games and systems from enjoying these games in order to get them to buy an inferior product. Love Nintendo, hate Nintendo, that’s the harsh reality. And that’s a shitty look for a business.
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Filed under: emulation, n64, nintendo switch, retro games, video games