Pro Wrestling returns as Nintendo launches its online service

There's still a ways to go before we achieve the dream of "the Netflix of gaming," though.

Last night, Nintendo launched its Switch Online service, meaning that anyone who wants to use the connected elements of their Switch games needs to pay a small monthly fee (or else drop $19.99 in advance for a year's service). To sweeten the deal, Nintendo Switch Online also gives players access to a library of NES games at no additional charge. For the moment, only 20 games are available for play, but Nintendo will be adding several more each month.

It's been several years since we demanded Nintendo give us a "NESflix" classic game streaming service, so I'm happt that it's finally here. Albeit in a very primitive, clumsy form. I don't mind the limited title selection (that will change in due time), but the tech itself is only so-so. It feels like a step backward not only from the NES Classic Edition console, but also from the Wii U's Virtual Console. 

I miss the kinetic, system-wide interface of the NES and Super NES mini. Those micro consoles made the process of creating saves and tweaking system settings both intuitive and tactile; the Switch service, on the other hand, uses a very staid interface that makes the whole affair seem weirdly morose. You also can't tweak things like screen filters from within a game; instead, you have to back out to the main NES Classics menu (but don't hit the wrong button or you'll close the app!) in order to apply or remove filters. Meanwhile, you can't customize controller settings, despite Wii U and 3DS Virtual Console offering that option. And the NES games all suffer from the same dingy, dark color palette we had to deal with on Virtual Console, even though the NES Classic Edition mini-console did away with it.

In short, it feels like a huge step backward in many ways. Rather than learn from the successes and failures of its previous forays into distributing old games, the company has blundered on ahead, seemingly oblivious to fan feedback.

On the plus side, at least Switch Online does bring a classic NES game that had seemingly been forgotten: Pro Wrestling, which never appeared on Virtual Console or in any other reissue series. By a strange coincidence, Pro Wrestling is also the topic of this week's NES Works video. I'd like to claim I leapt eagerly to cover the game once Nintendo announced it would be appearing on Switch Online, but I actually posted this completed video for video Patreon supporters to enjoy about 12 hours before last week's Nintendo Direct. It's just one of those things.

Also in this video, you'll find quick looks at Soccer and Volleyball. I announced last week I'd be rolling multiple games together into single videos from time to time, and here's the truth of it. Do you want to watch an entire video about Soccer or Volleyball? No, you do not. And now you don't have to. This means I can get to the good stuff more quickly, too.

Finally, I've created a Classic Games of Nintendo Switch Online playlist on YouTube to collect Works videos on the games included in "NESflix." Not every game is represented, but since Nintendo seems to be starting off with a heavy emphasis on early NES games, this list hits a majority of currently available titles. How's about that.

For the record, the titles currently up for play on Nintendo Switch Online (in approximate release order) are:

  • Baseball
  • Tennis
  • Excitebike
  • Ice Climber
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Donkey Kong
  • Mario Bros.
  • Balloon Fight
  • Ghosts'n Goblins
  • Gradius
  • Pro Wrestling
  • Soccer
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Double Dragon
  • Ice Hockey
  • Tecmo Bowl
  • River City Ransom
  • Super Mario Bros. 3
  • Dr. Mario
  • Yoshi

NES Works covers everything through Soccer, and both Double Dragon and Dr. Mario are accounted for through their Game Boy conversions. Not too bad, really.

Nintendo has also teased quite a few upcoming releases for Switch Online, and these will be doled out monthly. Interestingly, the company seems to be maintaining some degree of parity between regions. All initial Switch Online NES titles are identical between the U.S. and Japan, and there's at least one upcoming title—Twinbee, the precursor to Stinger—which never saw a U.S. release but will be available to play here regardless (complete with all-new fake NES-style box art). I'm sure once text-heavy games start showing up, we'll begin to see more disparity. For the moment, though, it's nice to see Nintendo treating all regions fairly after a decade of Japanese Virtual Console getting far better releases than America or Europe.