A Nintendo Switch Online (NSO) subscription is required to play Switch games online, but that’s not the only thing you get from your subscription. There’s an extensive library of classic games from the NES, SNES, N64, and even SEGA Genesis, so if you don’t know where to start, here are the best games.
The N64 and Genesis games are only available if you have the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack. It bumps the price up significantly, costing $49.99 a year instead of $19.99 the standard NSO subscription costs. But hey, at least you also get the new Animal Crossing: New Horizons DLC with it—so that’s fun.
The original Super Mario Bros. is a revolutionary game that still has its value today, but the third entry in the series comes a lot closer to what you expect from a modern Mario game. The visuals are wildly impressive for the NES; there are plenty of creative-level themes and an incredible roster of power-ups. You can’t go wrong with this if you’re looking for an old-school platformer.
The second game in the Kirby franchise, Kirby’s Adventure, is the most well-known for introducing the series’ iconic copy abilities. Most enemies can be inhaled and grant Kirby some new power for movement or fighting, which opens the door for plenty of different methods to complete stages. If you like the series today, you’ll love revisiting its roots here, and it has the bonus of being one of the best-looking NES games.
We’ve already talked about a couple of platformers, and the genre made for a large portion of the NES’ library, but Ninja Gaiden is a different beast. This game will put you through the wringer with its precise platforming and gauntlets of enemies you need to avoid that will have you thanking Nintendo for including save states with NSO.
If you own a Switch, there’s a good chance you’ve played Breath of the Wild, and while that game was renowned for shaking up the Zelda formula, it’s a lot closer to its roots than most players realize. As the first entry in the series, The Legend of Zelda introduced many of the iconic characters and enemies the series is known for. Still, it’s also notable for being an early entry in the open-world genre. The visuals may be primitive and gameplay simplistic, but this classic world still has plenty to see for exploration-hungry gamers.
Punch-Out!!, while still a classic NES game, is perhaps one of the least known of Nintendo’s first-party releases on the system for the simple fact that the series didn’t go anywhere. Besides a sequel on the Wii and being represented in Super Smash Bros., Punch-Out!! doesn’t get much attention anymore, but the original game is still great. There’s a colorful cast of combatants to box with arcadey gameplay that’s sure to keep you coming back again and again.
Donkey Kong Country immediately differentiates itself from most of the SNES’ catalog by using 3D models as sprites for its visuals. It was groundbreaking for its time and still holds up reasonably well today. But even if you think the graphics are too aged, the gameplay isn’t—Donkey Kong Country (and its two sequels also available on the service) is one of the best 2D platformers ever released, with outstanding levels and kinetic gameplay to boot.
After the NES games paved the way for future Mario titles, Super Mario World stepped things up big time. Everything looks better, the level designs are tight and challenging, and the mechanics have been fine-tuned expertly. Many say there still isn’t a 2D platformer that plays as well as Super Mario World, so it’s one you’ll want to revisit soon.
After a brief attempt with 2D gameplay in Zelda II on the NES, Link to the Past brought back the top-down gameplay the series started with in a more structured manner. This entry introduced the items and dungeons that became staples of the series, all with excellent mechanics and a world that’s fun to explore.
Using some clever tricks, it was possible to recreate 3D spaces on the SNES only using 2D sprites, and F-ZERO is the most exciting example of this. The game features super fast-paced racing in a slick, futuristic world and pulls it off very well, considering the limited visuals. You feel the speed of your vehicle as you tear through tracks, and if you grab a buddy to race against, you’re sure to have a great time.
One of the earliest, and best entries of the Metroid series, Super Metroid will engross you in its inter-connected alien world like no other. Inspiring loads of modern Metroidvanias like Hollow Knight and Ori and the Will of the Wisps, the foundations for the genre are all here. You need power-ups to progress to new areas, you’re constantly discovering new things, and the visuals are detailed and atmospheric. If you’re a fan of the games that have come after, there’s a good shot you’ll find plenty to love in Super Metroid.
It’s the game that revolutionized 3D gameplay and one that doesn’t need much of an introduction. Super Mario 64 is a legendary game, and it got an incredible amount right for being the first 3D Mario game. The controls still feel solid to this day, and while the visuals may be dated, there’s still some impressive atmosphere pumped into the game’s best levels.
One of the few noteworthy 2D games on the N64, Yoshi’s Story has a charming, pop-up book aesthetic that makes it stand out from most games. The core concept is simple—collect fruit in various locations to complete each stage. But unique enemies and hazards make that a little bit tougher for you as you progress on your journey to save the “Super Happy Tree” from the evil clutches of Baby Bowser.
Ocarina of Time is often heralded as one of the best games ever. And while it’s arguable whether or not that remains true, what isn’t is the impact the game’s had. Every area has a distinct atmosphere, the story is simplistic but enjoyable, and the gameplay does a commendable job translating what people loved about the top-down Zeldas to 3D. It’s a revolutionary game that still holds up today.
If you’re looking for a good local co-op game or even something to try out NSO’s online multiplayer in, Mario Kart 64 is easily one of the best options. Nearly everything you’d expect out a modern Mario Kart is here just a tad bit more primitive, but that brings its own fun. Steering is different from the later Mario Karts, so even if you have a lot of experience in those games, you’ll still have plenty to learn.
Ready to blast off? Star Fox 64 takes heavy notes from the original two SNES games released before it (sort of), but the N64 boost to both the visuals and gameplay is what turned it into something extraordinary. This fast-paced rail-shooter sees you rocketing through space as the elite Star Fox squad, blowing enemies out of the sky and scoring as many points as possible. The main campaign is only a few hours long with a significant emphasis on replayability as there are many secrets to discover while playing, making this game still great to revisit today.
Sonic the Hedgehog got his start on the Genesis, but the second game in the series is where things really started to take shape. This fast-paced action platformer has everything you’d expect from the blue blur—speed-focused level design, great visuals, and a better soundtrack—and is easily one of the best games of the franchise to this day. Whether you’re experiencing it for the first time on NSO or replaying a childhood classic, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is definitely a game you should boot up.
SEGA started a lot of franchises on the Genesis, and one of the lesser-known ones was Ristar. The game has great visuals and music with a unique twist on the platformer genre. Instead of jumping, Ristar mostly focuses on the titular hero’s stretchable limbs to navigate the levels. The game has an interesting flow to its movement you won’t find anywhere else and makes it a must-play for any fan of classic platformers.
A game where you navigate the ocean as a dolphin from this era may not sound that revolutionary. But don’t let the box art fool you—Ecco The Dolphin has some twists. On a journey to save his family from aliens, Ecco the Dolphin must face the most dangerous parts of the sea. The game does a commendable job recreating the horrors of the deep sea and has plenty of unique ideas to keep you engaged.
Beat-em-ups were one of SEGA’s main genres in the arcade days, and this sequel is arguably the height of that effort. Streets of Rage 2 is a pretty simple game at the end of the day, just get through the levels and beat-up bad guys. But there are multiple characters to choose from each with their own quirks, well-detailed visuals, and some fantastic co-op multiplayer—this one will be a great showcase of NSO’s online multiplayer.
Sticking with the beat-em-ups, Golden Axe takes you through a medieval fantasy world to heighten the ridiculous combat even more. There’s a cast of characters to pick from, unique gameplay mechanics with the magic system, and you can play it side-by-side with one other player (or use NSO’s online). It’s a SEGA classic, and if you want to explore the company’s roots it should definitely be tried out.