Bits & Bytes: 64

Robert talks the rough launch of Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack this week!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 11/07/2021 21:30 Comment on this     ShareThis

Bits & Bytes is a weekly column where Editor-in-Chief Robert shares his thoughts about video games and the industry on a lazy Sunday. Light reading for a day of rest, Bits & Bytes is short, to the point, and something to read with a nice drink.

Nintendo 64 is on Switch and everyone’s furious about it. A big part of the reason is because the emulation is widely perceived as being too shaky. I’ve been able to go hands-on with the much-hyped Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack (NSOEP) for the past couple of weeks and I have to say that the truth about the situation is nowhere near as dire as some pundits have made it out to be.

As someone who had his Nintendo 64 plugged in and playing RR64 and Ocarina of Time just a scant couple of months ago, the console and its games are fresh in my mind. I’ve been playing these games almost nonstop for 25 years. I know that I’m definitely not unique when it comes to this—many of you reading right now might be in the exact same position—but I hope that this helps to frame where I’m coming from with my take on NSOEP.

To be clear, I’m not saying the emulation here is perfect, but rather that it’s perfectly functional. There’s definitely some input lag that I detected in Ocarina of Time, for instance, not to mention a dash of visual stuttering, but nothing that prevented me from being able to play. Now, before someone jumps to the conclusion that I’m defending suboptimal emulation of 25-year old games, let me say now that I’m not. What I am saying is that while I don’t think the N64 games play as badly as some people online have been making them out to, I do think it’s acceptable to call out Nintendo for charging $50 to play shaky emulations.

I had talked to my brother-in-law about Expansion Pack the weekend it dropped and he made a point that many a Nintendo fan will have likely heard: Nintendo does this, and gets away with it, because the fan base allows it. Think about it: NSO is already rough to begin with. The NES and SNES libraries of games don’t offer any sort of visual customization options, there’s no way of altering the odd background wallpaper that accompanies every game, and there’s no button-mapping to speak of. One might reasonably expect that Nintendo fans would have spurned the service as a result, but with 32 million users and climbing, NSO is undoubtedly a success.  Now, with fans in an uproar over NSOEP’s N64 games being a relative mess and no reprieve in sight… what’s it all going to amount to?

How many people are boycotting the new service? How many people are actually writing letters of complaint to Nintendo over this? What is the quantifiable response from consumers that will result in change?

I have to admit, I know I’m part of the problem because I’m one of those 32 million enablers. For all my talk about not wanting to give into corporations pushing consumers to rent media instead of own it, I’m an NSOEP subscriber. Part of it is the nature of my work—it’s hard to write about games and services you don’t partake in, and that’s to say nothing of the academic potential for being able to finally show off N64 software to my game design students. All arguably valid reasons to be a subscriber, but at the end of the day I’m paying Nintendo to produce mediocre results. There is no lesson being learned on the company’s part so long as I and other Nintendo fans like me don’t put our foots down.

Which is really hard to do with portable Sin & Punishment in my hands. Which I’m pretty sure Nintendo knows. Sigh…

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