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Top 10(ish) Games To Look Out For On Nintendo Switch Online

by Jean-Karlo Lemus,

Nintendo's Virtual Console on Wii, Wii U, and 3DS was an amazing gift: a way for players to buy, download, and enjoy classic games from a variety of old consoles. Not just old Nintendo hits, but even classics from the Turbografx-16, the Sega Game Gear or the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. We don't quite have that any more on the Nintendo Switch, but the console does allow access to a vast library of titles available for streaming, courtesy of the Nintendo Switch Online program. And if you're willing to pay extra, the library expands—more than just classic NES and SNES titles, you can also play Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, GameBoy, and GameBoy Advance titles.

It can be hard to pick and choose which games to dedicate time to (unless you're really passionate about Joe & Mac, I guess). Goodness knows I have a hard time narrowing it all down, especially when it comes to games from the same studio or from within the same franchise. But that doesn't mean I don't try my best! So here are 10(ish) games you should keep on your shortlist that are available on Nintendo Switch Online.

10) Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards / Kirby Super StarNintendo 64 (Super Nintendo)

It was really hard to pick a single Kirby game for this list because there's no such thing as a bad Kirby game. Both The Crystal Shards and Kirby Super Star do amazing things with the little pink puffball, enough that the whole reason I'm putting these games dead last on this list is because it's giving me a headache to choose between them.

Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards picks up where Kirby's Dream Land 3 leaves off, continuing a minor storyline involving the malevolent entity known as Dark Matter. Kirby can inhale enemies to copy their powers, combine powers to create new and fun abilities, and can even team up with his friends Waddle Dee, King Dedede, and Adeline to traverse certain sections of stages. Each stage is littered with the eponymous Crystal Shards, which are required for the true ending to the game and the final climactic showdown with 0² .

Getting these shards requires you to really think outside of the box, using environmental clues to get the right Copy abilities in order to destroy obstacles or solve puzzles. The ability to combine powers alone makes it one of the most fun Kirby games, with each combination being more characterful than the last. Highlights include Kirby turning into a fridge that tosses out food (that can be eaten for extra energy), Kirby rubbing their head to produce static electricity until it bursts into flame, and what could be the most famous Kirby power ever: a double-sided electric laser sword. You'll never want to stop using it.

But then there's Kirby Super Star, a Kirby anthology that features all sorts of fun adventures. Spring Breeze is a condensation of Kirby's Dream Land, ending in the climactic fight against King Dedede for all the snacks in Dream Land. Dyna Blade is about Kirby going off in pursuit of the eponymous trouble-making bird. The Great Cave Offensive is more of a puzzle platformer, wherein Kirby can solve puzzles to collect treasures—some of them including cheeky references to other Nintendo games, like Captain Falcon's helmet or the eponymous Fire Emblem (years before those games ever came stateside, even!).

But the real stars of the show are Revenge of Meta Knight, a timed mode wherein Kirby must wage a one-man war against his longtime frenemy Meta Knight aboard his gunship (while recreating the original Lupin III ending in the credits), and Milky Way Wishes, wherein Kirby must stop the Sun and Moon from fighting while fending off the machinations of Marx, possibly the most despicable villain in all of the Kirby series.

Milky Way Wishes is also noteworthy for turning the Kirby series' main mechanics on its head—instead of gaining abilities from swallowing enemies, Kirby must find statues of each ability before being able to access them from the Pause menu. For folks who think the Kirby games are “too easy,” it's a fun challenge: you're forced to go without your favorite powers. It's a great way to really wrap your head around Kirby's more esoteric abilities, like the fighting-game-flavored Throw or Fight.

Am I cheating by choosing two Kirby games? Yes. Yes, I am. But gun to my head, I can't choose between them. Honestly, if it's got Kirby's face on it, go to town. You won't be let down.

9) Phantasy Star IV: The End of the MilleniumSega Genesis/Mega Drive

You'd be forgiven for not knowing that the Phantasy Star games predate the “Online” moniker. Originally Sega's answer to Nintendo's Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, the Phantasy Star series has the honor of beating Nintendo's Japanese RPG offerings to the U.S. market by several months. While never quite reaching the same heights as Nintendo's RPGs, the Phantasy Star games nevertheless commanded respect. With the guidance of the late Rieko “Phoenix Rie” Kodama, this series of science fiction RPGs tugged at the heartstrings as it told stories of generations of brave men and women seeking revenge, rescuing loved ones, or even just fighting for peace—all while combating the advances of the malevolent entity known as Dark Falz.

Phantasy Star IV was the last hurrah for the series, tying the whole story together—even the weird, misguided Phantasy Star III. What starts as a quest to kill some bio-monsters in someone's basement grows into a battle against a dark cult worshiping an evil god. From there, protagonist Chaz finds himself confronting the Profound Darkness that spawns Dark Falz as he bears the legacy of the past heroes that saved the Algol System.

Right off the bat, Phantasy Star's science fiction trappings set it apart from the typical fantasy-based affairs of most RPGs. Instead of monsters and spells, you've got bio-monsters and “techniques.” Instead of elves and dwarves, your party is rounded out with Espers, genetically engineered catgirls, aliens, and an android. Instead of just swords, your party can also equip mechanical claws and guns. Plenty of other cheeky science fiction references abound, like your techniques bearing names based on Star Wars characters and the famous sandworms of the desert planet Motavia.

Most importantly, the series is given the one thing that few RPG series ever get: a happy ending where our heroes are allowed to live their lives in peace. The subsequent Phantasy Star Online/Portable/Zero titles would all occasionally make cheeky references to the original quadrilogy of RPGs, but it doesn't seem likely we'll ever revisit the planets of the Algol system. I think that's okay—it's hard to imagine a new Phantasy Star without good old Phoenix Rie at the helm. Until then, don't miss this one. It's an absolute blast.

8) Alien Soldier / Gunstar Heroes - Sega Genesis

Anyone who's watched Uncle From Another World knows that the titular Uncle lives and breathes Sega games, with a particular affinity for Treasure's classic games on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive and Sega Saturn. Indeed, while that studio of ex-Konami developers developed many classics, the one that Uncle loved above all else appeared to be Alien Soldier.

And it's hard to blame him. Though Alien Soldier was never originally released in the U.S., in later years it still wowed us all even after the “Visualshock! Speedshock! Soundshock!” of pushing the console's Motorola 68000 CPU chip had long since been outdone. It's a wild tour de force, with no limit of wild, creepy things to look at and blast. The music is intense, the action even moreso, and you'll be pushed to your limit as you master Epsilon's various techniques in the hopes of making it to the end.

I've never beaten it, but it's fun to try. The game is practically a boss rush—Uncle From Another World fans might have heard about the legendary Wolf Gun Blood. He's real, and he's glorious: a cowboy wolf riding a mechanical horse. You haven't lived until you've seen it.

But here's the thing: Treasure's other classic shooter is also available: Gunstar Heroes. You can see my problem.

Gunstar Heroes was Treasure's first game on the Mega Drive, and it's possibly one of the best 2D shooters ever made. It plays like Contra on cocaine, with far more sophistication than its intense explosion-filled screens might imply. There's a deep amount of strategy in your character's controls and your choice of ammunition, and just like Alien Soldier each boss is wilder than the last. From the Doronjo Gang-inspired Pink and her minions to the legendary Seven Force, each stage throws a billion new things at you at every turn as you guide the titular Gunstars Red and Blue in their battle against General Grey. It's ridiculous. It's intense. It's got the most amazing soundtrack. If you can't handle Alien Soldier, it's a great way to cut your teeth.

Or play both—the catatonia from the Visualshock! wears off surprisingly quickly once you get used to it.

7) Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island – Super Nintendo

©2017 Nintendo

Many would balk at the recommendation of Yoshi's Island over Super Mario World. After all, Super Mario World is one of the greatest platformers ever made, with countless secret exits in its stages that truly made its levels feel like an interconnected world. But Yoshi's Island has a charm that you really can't deny. On a technical level, it pushed the SNES to its limits—so much so that the cartridge required the use of an additional internal Super FX chip to help process the intense use of sprite stretching and scaling.

And the result is just astonishing: Kamek's magic makes bosses grow in size before your very eyes, breathing life to the magic of the Mario world in ways that we couldn't quite feel before. It all led up to that intense brawl with an utterly tremendous Baby Bowser lurching at you from the background while thrash metal plays. Bowser has plenty of iconic battles, but that one is definitely near the top of the list.

Sure, the central gimmick of having to escort Baby Mario in a relay race can be a little grating because of Baby Mario's memetically annoying crying. But you can't help but be charmed by its inspired visuals. Not only has it aged well, it feels like none of the Yoshi's Island successors have quite managed to capture its look. You can give a franchise points for trying; all the subsequent games have tried to go for their own look, but there's just something about those old crayon-colored 2D sprites with the wobbly outlines...

6) Mario Party 2Nintendo 64

You didn't think I'd touch on beloved Nintendo 64 titles and not mention Mario Party, did you? The Mario Party games are an institution: a celebrated and respected form of destroying your relationships.

I'm leaning on Mario Party 2 for a simple reason: its stages are more fun, and it lacks the horrendous minigames of Mario Party 1 which required you to spin the analog stick. Those were bad enough back in the day to cause people to cut their palms, prompting a class action suit against Nintendo. Even without those elements, Mario Party 2 would be a better game. While it lacks many of the fun new mechanics that later Mario Party titles would introduce, it's nevertheless a highlight among Nintendo 64 titles, with its memorable stages and cute outfits for Mario and the gang.

While the Mario Party titles were pretty reviled back in the day for their repetitive nature, we can probably chalk that up to reviewers having played the games solo—these titles live off the multiplayer experience. And with Mario Party 2 featuring online multiplayer, you'll never have to play it alone. Load it up and scream bloody murder when that darn Wario steals your star right out of your pocket. It's not a Mario Party until someone screams obscenities at the screen!

5) Goldeneye 007Nintendo 64

The annals of video game history are loaded with licensed games that just aren't fun. But sometimes, you'd get one that was amazing. And Goldeneye 007 is definitely worthy of that esteem. Made by the madlads at Rare during its peak, Goldeneye 007 was one of the first—if not the first—console-based first-person shooter to really capture the imagination of fans worldwide, setting up the stage for its follow-up Perfect Dark and Microsoft's Halo.

For years, it was thought that you just couldn't pull off a decent shooter on consoles without some compromise—Goldeneye 007 put that claim to bed. It had amazing music, courtesy of famed Rare musician Grant Kirkhope, consisting of pastiches of Bond's best tunes from across his many films. While Rare's original idea of including the likenesses of previous Bond actors Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Timothy Dalton couldn't come to fruition due to difficulties with likeness rights, the game utilized the likenesses of all of the actors from the Goldeneye film, including then-Bond actor Pierce Brosnan and the most memorable henchmen in Bond's rogues gallery. While these graphics are definitely dated, they were positively stunning back in the day.

And best of all: it was just fun to play. The single player mode gave would-be MI6 operatives plenty of missions along with unlockable cheats and multiplayer stages—not to mention the elusive 007 difficulty. While the lion's share of the stages are based on the Goldeneye film, two bonus stages reference previous movies Moonraker and The Man with the Golden Gun, respectively.

The Nintendo Switch Online port preserves all of these fun features and more; not only is the game remastered for widescreen displays, the groundbreaking multiplayer mode even has online connectivity, so it's easier than ever to scramble around the maps in pursuit of the Golden Gun or team up to bully that one jerk who chose to play as Oddjob. Goldeneye 007 isn't just a stellar licensed game, it's just a stellar game overall. Also, in true Rare fashion, the Pause menu theme is a banger.

4) Earthbound / Earthbound 0 – Super Nintendo (Nintendo Entertainment System)

Let me get this out of the way first: I think Earthbound is a much better story than it is a game. While it has many creative twists, like the pedometer-style HP meters that allow you to get one last well-timed action in before your meter hits “0,” or the useful ability to instantly win fights against monsters that are that much weaker than you, Earthbound's Dragon Quest-inspired mechanics don't really do a lot to set it apart. In fact, in many aspects, Earthbound can be annoying to play: You can only save in certain parts, some status ailments require you to trudge long distances back to a hospital, and the inventory system is just bad. It wouldn't be until Mother 3 that a lot of these issues would be corrected.

And yet. Earthbound is one of the most amusing examples of Americana through a Japanese lens, one of the funniest games ever made, and also one of the most emotionally profound. Unlocking protagonist Ness' very first memory as a baby—his pet dog barking, the smell of his favorite food, and the loving prayer from his mother that he'd grow up to be a strong and kind man—tugs at the heartstrings. True to its Japanese title, the entirety of the Mother series hits upon the power of motherly love—and the utter, crushing pain of its absence. Earthbound is the most popular obscure game series in the United States, with people begging for Mother 3 almost being a little annoying in their demands. But after finishing Earthbound, it's almost hard to blame them.

Earthbound's predecessor is also available on Nintendo Switch Online. Mother/Earthbound Zero has far worse issues than Earthbound, being even grindy-er and simpler than its sequel, but its story is also profound and touching. There's a reason the Japanese tagline was “No crying until the ending.” Definitely don't miss out on it.

(For the record, “Earthbound” was the localized title; it's called “Mother 2” in Japan. The series is named after the John Lennon song.)

3) The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (and Oracle of Seasons/Ages) – GameBoy Advance (and GameBoy Color)

©2004 Nintendo

This list needed a Zelda game, especially since so many are on tap via Nintendo Switch Online. But everyone and their grandma knows Ocarina of Time is possibly the best game in the series, and Majora's Mask is a brilliant, moody twist on the formula. That, and the emulation for these games via Nintendo Switch Online doesn't quite do them justice—you'd be better off tracking down the 3DS ports. Link's Awakening is brilliant, but anyone who played the 2019 remake on the Switch could tell you that.

My nod for the must-play Zelda game goes to The Minish Cap. Created by CAPCOM's Flagship studio, The Minish Cap does wonderful things with its foray into Hyrule. It gives the tragically underutilized villain Vaati a wonderful backstory (one that isn't upstaged by Ganon, even) and it offers creative monsters and areas courtesy of Link's shrinking ability. But most importantly, it takes advantage of The Legend of Zelda and tells a very cute story about how the hero of Hyrule came upon his iconic green hat. Once you see him finally put it on for the last time, you'll never see that hat again without feeling a pang of emotion.

Now, I also cheated with this one because the Oracle games are supposed to be coming down the pipe for Nintendo Switch Online in the near future. Also created by Flagship, these two games tell different, interconnected stories: Seasons tells the story of Link's adventures in Holodrum, with many dungeons that reference the original NES Legend of Zelda, while Ages gives Link piles of head-scratching puzzles to solve in the land of Labrynna. Better yet, you could combine both games via passwords to unlock all kinds of fun upgrades, weapons, and story arcs—and depending on which order you played the games in, you'd get different cutscenes. Minish Cap would even go on to reference the Oracle games by giving you a cute little sidequest featuring Din, Nayru, and Farore, so it's not even that much of a stretch to recommend the Oracle games along with The Minish Cap.

2) River City RansomNintendo Entertainment System

River City Ransom and the Kunio-Kun games exist in a weird nexus, the result of its spotty localization over the years. But River City Ransom is nevertheless a classic beat-ém-up on the NES, and a surprisingly deep one. Players earned money from defeating rival gangsters, then could buy books with new attacks and maneuvers or food to increase their stats. It's a simple system, but an endearingly time-tested one. It was good enough to be brought back for the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World beat-'em-up wholesale.

While nevertheless bearing the age of its NES origins, River City Ransom is totally worth checking out—especially now with the latter-day surge in popularity of River City Girls and River City Girls Zero, which take place in the years after River City Ransom.

1) Super Metroid – Super Nintendo

Not all Metroid games are made equally, sadly, but on the whole the adventures of bounty-hunter Samus Aran hit hard. Last month's Metroid Prime: Remake reintroduced everyone to Samus' phenomenal adventures on Tallon IV—but much of what made Metroid Prime so beloved comes from Super Metroid on the SNES.

Samus' novel innovation of swapping visors is a reimagining of Super Metroid's beloved upgrade system wherein you could actually choose to deactivate some of her upgrades at a moment's notice. And the upgrade system was deep in Super Metroid; through the use of clever activation and deactivation, you could combine certain powerups to give Samus secret abilities, the coolest of them all being the elusive Crystal Flash. Even Nintendo got into hyping up the Crystal Flash, giving it a dramatic scene in the Super Metroid comic that ran in Nintendo Power. It's gobsmacking that this ability hasn't been brought back in later Metroid games.

©2017 Nintendo

But it's not just the mechanics that made Super Metroid such a beloved classic—it was the atmosphere. Some of the songs in Metroid Prime were re-arrangements from Super Metroid, as well as the overall pacing. Super Metroid wasn't the first time Samus set foot on Zebes, but it's the one that left an impact on fans. Samus setting foot on its rainy surface, the hellish lava pits, and the foreboding corridors patrolled by Space Pirates were all very lonely but emotive. And, of course, there was the final showdown between Samus and Mother Brain, and the baby Metroid's last stand. Quite possibly the most emotional cutscene on the SNES—and all without a single word of dialogue.

There are a lot of reasons why Super Metroid is considered the highlight of the Metroid franchise, and even today many of the newer games struggle to recapture its lightning in a bottle. If there's a game you should check out on Nintendo Switch Online, it's definitely Super Metroid. I'd also be remiss if I didn't give some attention to Metroid Fusion; while it was definitely overshadowed by Metroid Prime back in the day and doesn't quite carry over all of the best parts from Super Metroid, it's nevertheless a fantastic Metroid title that has some more survival horror elements—and sets the stage for the brilliant Metroid Dread.

And that's our list. Sure, it's more like 20 games than just 10, but really, with so many of these classic games available to us it really is hard to choose. While it definitely would have been better if we were allowed to simply download these titles to our console to enjoy them offline, I at least appreciate the effort. If Nintendo knows we're playing, we can hopefully convince them to keep more of gaming's history alive.

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