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Nintendo Switch Online's N64 emulator is off to a rough start

Nintendo finally made a Nintendo 64 emulator, and it's...got some issues

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

October 26, 2021

2 Min Read
Key art showcasing Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack's Nintendo 64 services

Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack went live late last night, giving players a chance to increase their annual subscription spend in exchange for access to emulators for the Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis (as well as some Animal Crossing DLC).

As the sun came up however, it was clear that Nintendo's re-introduction of its celebrated late-'90s console has some technical issues. These range from re-creating 64-bit graphics to trying to adapt the console's wonky controller to work with modern setups. 

One Twitter user compared the Switch's N64 emulator's version of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to the N64 and Wii U virtual console editions. The changes to draw distance and water textures...don't look great.

Here's the N64 version:

And here's what you see on the Nintendo Switch:

While graphical fidelity might slip by the wayside of casual N64 players, other users are reporting technical issues like input lag and frame drops.

Then there's the issue of the controls. The N64 controller is a bit of an oddity, with a joystick at the center, a D-Pad on the left, and the "C-buttons" that sat above the A and B buttons. Confusingly, only two of the C-buttons are mapped to the Joy-con buttons, and one of them is the "down button..." which is mapped to X, the upper-most button on the Joy-Con.

That issue's alleviated if you can purchase a Nintendo 64 controller for the Nintendo Switch, but those are out of stock.

Nintendo's stumbles with its Nintendo 64 Emulator launch present two issues. First, the company is charging an additional $30 per year to access these services, and it'll be hard to justify that purchase if the games you're getting access to don't run well.

Second, it's another misstep in Nintendo's rough relationship with emulation and reliable access to older titles. It's gone through a lot of effort to shut down third-party emulators while refusing to provide an easy way to purchase and play classic games on modern devices.

If Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack doesn't course-correct on technical issues, it might wind up being Nintendo's first real misstep in the Nintendo Switch's lifetime. 

About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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