The Nintendo Switch is amazing for many reasons, like its minimalist user interface (UI), its portability, its roster of stellar first-party games and its appeal to newbie gamers. Sure, it has its problems: Nintendo needs to work on its online functionality and take a break from DCMA lawsuits, and too many of us had to send in our Joy-Cons for an ill-timed repair. Still, the console has more strengths than weaknesses, and especially in light of its ability to attract first-time gamers, the Switch has one quality of particular interest: its roster of fantastic “classic” games.
The term feels strange in the mouth. Gaming is a young discipline, yes, but it has already garnered its own collection of artistic classics that fans of the form remember fondly. The thing is, gaming isn’t like reading a book or watching a film. It’s a medium whose entries are restricted to the console on which they were developed, meaning that going back to the classics requires either the use of an emulator (which can be complicated, especially for novices, and legally dubious) or the re-release of those classics on a modern console.
Lucky for us, the Nintendo Switch makes a huge array of classic games available. Many of these games still hold up in every sense of the word (except, occasionally, their graphics). For novices, they provide a chance to see the games that got fans so obsessed with gaming in the first place as well as an opportunity to get a sense of the history of the form. For long-time gamers, going back to these old titles provides a blast of nostalgia or a chance to experience a game they missed the first time around.
Below, I list a good selection of classic games available on the Switch. For my purposes, I define “classics” as any game that is at least two or three generations old. That’s a little over a decade, meaning the adults in the audience may have been unable to buy them, and the kids were too young.
As a bonus, many of these games come as part of a collection, meaning getting them will get you access to others. I’ve marked those with [COLLECTION!], so you know which games come with extras and note the collection in which you’ll find them. Take a look, and have fun!
Final Fantasy IX (2000)
For many gamers, Final Fantasy was the series that got them out of bed in the morning. For many writers and storytellers, it was the series that made us realize the strength of gaming for storytelling and made us fall in love with the fantasy format. In many ways, Final Fantasy IX was a return to form for the series, bringing the lessons they learned in their groundbreaking Final Fantasy 7 to a classic fantasy environment for a brilliant story in a charming world with grade-A characters that is guaranteed to make you “happy cry”—and “sad cry.” You’ll cry a lot, really. The gameplay might be slow, but it’s very approachable.
Super Mario 64 (1996) [COLLECTION!]
There’d be a riot if I didn’t mention Super Mario 64. Included as part of the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection (alongside Galaxy and Sunshine), Super Mario 64 defined 3D platformers for generations to come, with gameplay that was simple, dynamic and downright fun.
Re-released as Okami HD, Okami is a beautiful tribute to Nintendo’s 3D Zelda franchise, done in a unique Japanese ink-painting style. The one-of-a-kind story reads like a Japanese myth, the combat actually tops most of the Zelda games up to its release and the world it provides is much more vibrant and unique. Plus, flowers sprout up wherever you run, so . . . yeah.
Spyro the Dragon (1998) [COLLECTION!]
Included as part of the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, along with its two successors, Spyro the Dragon can be seen as Sony’s answer to Mario. It’s a fantastic 3D platformer that gives you a wide swath of abilities as you play as a tiny dragon trying to bring back the other dragons. Also: you can glide, and in 1998, that was awesome.
Mega Man X4 (1997) [COLLECTION!]
Let me try to tamp down my personal opinions here. Mega Man X4 is amazing. The Mega Man X Legacy Collection will give you it and the previous three Mega Man X games, which were the developers’ attempt to inject some seriousness into the previously whimsical Mega Man franchise. X4 saw the culmination of those efforts, bringing a story that balances the natural whimsy of a world full of talking robots with the seriousness appropriate to a world where one of those robots is leading a bloody revolution. The gameplay feels as smooth and responsive as ever, and for those looking for a high-octane, challenging platformer, it still can’t be beat.
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike (1999) [COLLECTION!]
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is one of twelve games included in the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection and the one most worth playing. While it lacks many of the most recognizable members of the Street Fighter cast, many fans still regard it as the strongest entry in the franchise. It’s fast-paced and precise with multiple layers to unpack. I still regret not including it in my intro to fighting games.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1992) [COLLECTION!]
I would start the riot if this didn’t make the list. A Link to the Past is an enormous game that’ll make you wonder whether that “1992” up there is a typo. There’s so much to do, so much to explore and so much charm to unpack, all without ever feeling overwhelming or making you feel like you’re wasting time. I don’t know how they did it. Of all the 2D Zelda games, it’s still a fan favorite for many people. And of all the games on this list, it feels the most like an adventure. What’s more, it comes with a ton of other games in the Super Nintendo Collection, available with a Nintendo Switch Online membership.
Super Metroid (1994) [COLLECTION!]
If A Link to the Past feels like an adventure, Super Metroid feels like being stranded on an expansive, puzzling alien planet full of creatures that want to kill you—but in a good way. The game’s tone is similar to Alien as you play a lone bounty hunter carving her way through the inhospitable world of Zebes, finding awesome upgrades and fighting huge monsters in a thrilling sci-fi landscape. It also comes with the Super Nintendo Collection.
Yoshi’s Island (1992) [COLLECTION!]
After Super Metroid leaves you in need of a palate cleanser, play Yoshi’s Island (which, conveniently, also comes in the Super Nintendo Collection). Yoshi’s Island replaces Super Metroid’s unforgiving challenges and survivalism with classic platformer gentility and substitutes its dark world with a charming pastel landscape. I won’t lie to you and say it’s easy, but it’s a game that can be summed up in one word: “pleasant.”