Ranking All The Free Switch Online Games You’re Never Going To Play
The Switch’s long-awaited online service is here, which means Nintendo fans are finally…paying for something that was free a week ago? If that sounds like a raw deal, fear not: Nintendo is taking a page from its competitors’ playbooks and offering up some free
bribes bonuses to get players on board. However, instead of Microsoft and Sony’s approach of giving you a bunch of modern-ish games you might sorta like but will never-ever buy, Nintendo is giving you a bunch of ancient games you absolutely love but will never-ever play. That’s not a joke, people! You’re not going to play them!
Switch Online launched with 20 free NES games and will release a few more every month, presumably because it is SO hard to port them to the Switch – Nintendo has to change the ROM filename for each one and everything! The launch line-up runs the full gamut from classics like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, to more forgettable titles like…anything that doesn’t have “Mario” or “Zelda” in the title. Come to think of it, that pretty much sums up their current software line-up as well, doesn’t it? But I digress!
Rather than drudge up decades-old review scores and quotes for Switch Online’s freebie contenders, I’ve decided to do my own analysis, and rank them in the only way that truly matters: the likelihood of you actually playing any of these damn games. And guess what? You super won’t! Why isn’t anyone taking me seriousl–
1. Super Mario Bros. 3
Let’s face it: Even before Nintendo announced the free NES games Switch Online would launch with, we all knew Super Mario Bros. 3 would be doing the hefty lifting. Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of the only NES games that doesn’t require a big honkin’ pair of Nostalgia Goggles™ to still enjoy nowadays, and is considered by many tragically misguided gamers to be the best Mario game ever. The correct answer is obviously Super Mario World, but in the NES realm I still prefer Super Mario Bros. 2, which isn’t even included in the launch line-up because it’s 2018 and everything is stupid and wrong now.
Odds You’ll Play It: You are bound by Switch Online’s EULA to at least try it out.
2. The Legend of Zelda
Thanks to the un
foundeddying love gamers have for Breath of the Wild, The Legend of Zelda is probably Nintendo’s most popular series right now, and the original NES title still provides hours of entertainment…in the form of those stupid Teens React To Old Crap They Don’t Understand videos on YouTube. Pick up a controller for yourself, however, and you’ll realize how grueling it is to play before you even get to the meme-y old man in the cave – there’s a reason he decided to just sit there in the dark and pawn his sword off on the first sucker that showed up! But hey, at least the original game didn’t have breakable – oh forget it, I’m over it.
Odds You’ll Play It: 90%
…For More Than 5 Minutes: 2%
3. Super Mario Bros.
Oh, are we at the point of the list where we have to pay deference to Super Mario Bros. for the millionth time? Alright. *deep breath* Super Mario Bros. is the quintessential classic video game that spawned an entire industry and even though it may look simple compared to modern titles the gameplay still holds up and those games wouldn’t even exist without it and you can use the secret warp pipes to skip most of the game anyway so quit complaining and appreciate it for what it is and eat your vegetables while you’re at it.
Odds You’ll Play It: The same as you getting up and going to work every day – which is a surprisingly apt comparison.
4. Dr. Mario
What? Dr. Mario?! How in the world is this game being highlighted? Doesn’t Mario know that overprescribed antibiotics are a huge issue in modern-day medicine? Oh that’s right, of course he doesn’t – because he’s not a real doctor! He’s just a pill-peddling plumber impersonating one, which last time I checked is a CRIME that carries a five-year prison sentence! Honestly, you’d think the class-action malpractice suit from the denizens of Mushroom Kingdom would’ve been enough to erase this game from history, but I guess it pays to know the princess. This kind of nepotism is just sickening.
Odds You’ll Play It: 60%
Odds You’ll Wish It Was Tetris Instead: 99%
5. Donkey Kong
Oh, I almost forgot – before Mario was trying to kill his duped patients with a ridiculous amount of drugs (seriously, three pills for every single virus?), he was trying to beat a majestic gorilla to death with a hammer. What a charmer. Donkey Kong is yet another classic that you will probably try to play out of pure, unconscious reflex, like when a doctor hits your knee with that little rubber hammer – though Dr. Mario would probably use a real one, then make up some story about how you kidnapped his girlfriend to cover his crime. Anyway, the NES version of Donkey Kong only had three levels, so this might actually be the one game you play to completion. I guess technically it should be #1 on the list because of that, but we’re already here, so let’s just move on.
Odds You’ll Play It: Higher than they should be.
6. Double Dragon
If you’re thinking, “Hey, I love Double Dragon!” I’ve got some bad news for you: You don’t. You may think you love Double Dragon, but that’s only because you’re not thinking about the NES version. Nintendo’s port of the classic beat-em-up doesn’t actually have simultaneous co-op – instead players take turns tackling each level by themselves. At that point it’s just Single Dragon!
Odds You’ll Play It: Way worse once you realize there’s no co-op.
7. Tecmo Bowl
Switch Online is launching with a whole host of 8-bit sports games, which (spoiler!) you’ll see way on down the list. However, Tecmo Bowl kind of holds up – in part because it’s still the only alternative to Madden! And that’s pretty much the only Tecmo Bowl joke I have. Oh, you can only choose from the same four plays, so the Minnesota Vikings will feel right at home, because their offensive coordinator isn't very good at calling...I’ll be honest, I’m in way over my head here – sports humor isn’t really my thing. Can I get a mulligan? That’s a sports thing, right?
Odds You’ll Play It: The same as you playing any other sports game, divided by 8 (because of the number of bits I GIVE UP!)
8. Mario Bros.
Mario Bros. will probably get opened a number of times by people once again looking to show their respect to the quintessential classic video game that spawned an entire industry and even though – blah, blah, blah! However, then they’ll realize they accidentally opened up the vestigial predecessor to Super Mario Bros., which they either forgot existed or didn’t know about in the first place. Either way it will end with a big fat “EWWW!” as they stab the Home button to get it off their screen. Mario Bros. is already recreated in full as a minigame in Super Mario Bros. 3, making this one doubly pointless. Way to spare no expense for the roster, Nintendo!
Odds You’ll Accidentally Play It: 10%
Odds You’ll Continue After Realizing Your Mistake: 0%
I wrote about the indignity poor Yoshi suffers through not too long ago, and part of that injustice is how everyone has forgotten that he was the star of his own puzzle game back in the NES days. And now that can finally be rectified! For most players, that process will involve confusedly flipping their way through a round of Yoshi’s enemy-swapping puzzle action before once again jamming on their overused homescreen button and forever blocking it from their memory.
“What is this crap? I should try it”: 5%
“Oh, it is in fact crap. I should keep playing”: 0%
I really don't want to write about Gradius, so I'm going to let MATH solve this one:
1. People play fun games.
2. Shoot-em-ups are fun.
3. Gradius is a shoot-em-up.
4. People play Gradius.
And just like most theorems, this argument is purely academic and will never be proven in the real world, because people AIN’T GONNA PLAY IT.
Odds You’ll Play It: 2% (MoE ±2%)
Nope, we’re done. I know people have fond memories of Excitebike for some reason, but let’s get real: The game is basically Trials, only the levels suck, the graphics suck, the controls suck, and the sound effects suck – and people already don’t even play Trials! Stop fooling yourself into thinking you’ll ever play this!
Odds You’ll Play It: 0%
12. Balloon Fight
Fun story: I once played Balloon Fight against Reiner in an episode of Super Replay Showdown, and then had to play through the entirety of Ninja Gaiden as punishment for winning. And that was still better than playing more Balloon Fight! Simply put, there’s no reason to ever play Balloon Fight in a world where Joust exists – they’re basically the same game, only in one you soar through air on a majestic flying ostrich and gore your enemies with a lance, and in the other you’re suspended helplessly from two balloons that I’m pretty sure are giving you a giant wedgie. At least that’s how it feels to play it.
Odds You’ll Play It: 0%!
In An Alternate Universe Where Joust Doesn’t Exist?: Still 0%!
13. Ghosts 'n Goblins
Oh, brother. The only reason anyone remembers Ghosts ‘n Goblins is because A.) If you get hit all your armor falls off and you play the rest of the game in your underwear, and B.) It has a ridiculous F-U fake-out ending that makes you play through the entire game again to get the real ending. Only no one ever actually saw the latter until YouTube was invented, because no one played it that long! In that sense, Ghosts ‘n Goblins is the perfect addition to the Switch Online NES library – you can boot it up, get hit once and see the underwear thing, and then never touch it again. Only you’re still not even going to bother with that, are you?
Odds You’ll Play It: Worse than finding yourself in a real graveyard in your underwear.
14. Ice Climber
Don’t let Popo and Nana’s cutesy appearance in Smash Bros. fool you – their original game was an ugly slog through one boring level after another. All you did was break through a couple of platforms on each screen and then jump up to the next one – like Lode Runner without the puzzles, or Bubble Bobble without the cool dragons that burped giant bubbles for some reason. Come to think of it, they really should’ve included Bubble Bobble instead.
Odds You’ll Play It: Hell will freeze over before you play Ice Climber.
15. River City Ransom
River City Ransom is another beat-em-up like Double Dragon, only instead of beating up a bunch of dudes to save your girlfriend, you are beating up a bunch of dudes to save your girlfriend. Wait a minute…that’s exactly the same! Was that the plot of every damn NES game?
I guess one difference is that if you played Double Dragon in co-op (again, not available in the crappy NES version Nintendo just gifted you), the two brothers actually fight each other at the end to see who “gets” the girl – which basically also makes them kidnappers and no better than the bad guys they were fighting. I don’t think River City Ransom has that creepy subplot, so it’s got that going for it. It also has the same cartoony art style of its predecessor, Super Dodge Ball, which is another better game that wasn’t included for some reason.
Odds You’ll Play It: The same as you being kidnapped IRL and having Liam Neeson come to your rescue.
16. Pro Wrestling
And finally, we’ve gotten to the score of sports games, which Nintendo is clearly only including to get to 20.
Don't get me wrong – sports games deserve way more credit than they get from players. Tired of the industry's endless obsession with violence, guns, gun violence, and pretty much any demented method you can dream up for psychotically murdering your opponent? The worst you have to worry about in a sports games is an unintended injury, and get this – they're actually portrayed as a BAD thing! Interested in that newfangled esports movement everyone is talking about? Better dust off your time machine, because sports games have been serving up competitive gaming and tournaments for DECADES! Looking for a game that doesn't include sleazy microtransaction traps? Well, sports games aren't the answer to that one – but they aren't any worse than virtually every other modern game, either!
All this is to say that I respect sports games more than you might think. I just don't play them – and ain't nobody playing Nintendo's generic brand sports games in 2018.
As such, I’m listing Pro Wrestling first for the sole reason that people might mistake it as a fighting game. That's assuming gamers can even tell what the hell it's supposed to be – Nintendo clearly hadn’t figured out how to create human sprites that aren’t 10 pixels tall and have a mustache for half their face. Seriously, why are these guys so long and gross-looking? Also, what the heck is happening in this screenshot?! Is that normal for wrestling matches? Because the ref's expression suggests it's not...
Odds You’ll Play It: The same as pro wrestling being real.
17. Ice Hockey
I’m putting Ice Hockey next because you can at least get into fistfights in it, which again makes it almost a fighting game. At least I think you can get into fistfights – every hockey game I’ve ever played has fights in it anyway. Come to think of it, though, your characters are so small that they don’t even have hands to punch each other with. At least you can wiggle your guy around in front of another player and make them fall down? I’m really grasping at straws here.
Odds You’ll Play It: The same as your ability to name 10 NHL hockey teams off the top of your head right now. GO.
I didn’t really have any canned jokes for this one other than some kind of tenuous Wii Sports reference – or tennisuous, as the case may be. Hey, I told you I was running on empty!
Anyway, in order to do my due diligence as a totally professional journalist, I actually tried playing a match of Tennis – and what ensued can only be described as an epic man-versus-machine battle of wills. For some reason, my A.I. opponent was freakishly attuned to my skill level, and each round culminated in a tense and seemingly endless volley for athletic supremacy. And yes, I know a “round” in tennis is technically called a “game,” but that would just be confusing to readers who aren’t tennis experts like us.
Long story short, Tennis holds up surprisingly well, making it all the more tragic that you’re never going to bother playing it.
Odds You’ll Play It: Love. (That’s expert tennis speak for “zero.”)
This one might be a bit confusing to the younger generations, but baseball was the name of an old American sport where players used a wooden stick to hit a small leather ball filled with beans (probably), and then run around in a circle while periodically stopping and standing on bags that were also made of leather, because we have too many damn cows in this country. Anyway, baseball was wildly popular in America during the 20th century, until the MLB was ultimately disbanded in the year *checks notes*…oh. Apparently, people still play baseball?
Odds You’ll Play It: The same as you being able to recite every word of “Casey at the Bat” from memory.
No, I’m not ranking Soccer last as a dig on soccer fans, which is more reasonably known to the rest of the world as Headball, because you hit the ball with your head. Instead, I’m listing Soccer last because it sucks! And not because it feels like you’re kicking a cannonball through shag carpeting – because it's ridiculously easy! I scored six goals in the first two minutes I played! Anyone who has seen a soccer match knows it takes at least three hours to score a single goal – that’s why the announcers get so damned excited. In the NES game, on the other hand, the CPU goalie runs away from the ball half the time, like it’s filled with bees or something. Wait a minute – are soccer balls filled with bees? That would also explain why the announcers scream so much.
Anyhow, as we all know, if an NES game doesn’t pound you into the ground and make you question your own credentials as a gamer and a human being, it’s not a real NES game. Shame on you for trying to slip the wool over our eyes, Nintendo.
Odds You’ll Play It: The same as you becoming a real-life pro soccer player and scoring the World Cup-winning goal by kicking the ball straight through David Beckham’s torso.
Switch Online's free games are available to subscribers right now, and probably aren't just thumbnails of old box covers – but we'll never know for sure.