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Super Mario World artwork featuring Mario riding Yoshi Image: Nintendo

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The 19 best retro games for Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack subscribers

Nintendo has added Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games to the mix

In 2021, Nintendo added an additional tier to its Nintendo Switch Online subscription service in the form of its Expansion Pack, which brought Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games to the already extensive list of NES and SNES titles. Wednesday, during a Nintendo Direct presentation, that list got even bigger: Nintendo has added Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games to the mix.

If you subscribe to the base tier of Nintendo Switch Online, nine Game Boy games now complement your library of NES and SNES titles, with more to come. If you pay for the Expansion Pack, you also have six Game Boy Advance games to choose from (also with more to come).

To keep up with the recent influx, we’ve updated our list of the best retro games on Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack. Some of these games are historically significant, more are just damn fun, and others may be hidden gems you’ve never played.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX

Link encounters Genie, the boss of the second dungeon in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX Image: Nintendo

In playing The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on Nintendo Switch in 2019, it was easy to forget just how weird the original game was on Game Boy. Gone was the land of Hyrule from The Legend of Zelda and Link’s Adventure; the camera sometimes swapped from an overhead view to a 2D side-scrolling perspective; and Nintendo characters made cameos across Koholint Island, from Yoshi, to Kirby, to Wart. Director Takashi Tezuka wanted Link’s Awakening to feel like an episode of Twin Peaks, and his team pulled it off. It’s as much a bizarre departure from the Legend of Zelda series as David Lynch’s series was from mainstream TV. And with DX on Game Boy Color, Koholint came to life, with an array of colors and a whole new dungeon. —Mike Mahardy

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga

Mario and Luigi encounter a group of enemies on a beach in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga Image: AlphaDream/Nintendo

Taken as a through line, the Mario role-playing games represent Nintendo’s increasing willingness to branch out with its most iconic character. What began as a Final Fantasy-esque jaunt through the mushroom kingdom on SNES (Super Mario RPG), and evolved into a whimsical exercise in genre-blending on Nintendo 64 (Paper Mario), finally became an earnest, comical, altogether more confident RPG on Game Boy Advance. In Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, you control the titular siblings simultaneously in the overworld and during battles, the latter of which emphasize timed attacks to gain the upper hand. Mario’s flagship platformers often overshadow the role-playing chapters in his varied history, but the latter remain some of the franchise’s most creative endeavors. —Mike Mahardy

Wario Ware Inc.: Mega Microgames!

A car-based ini-game in Wario War Inc.: Mega Microgames! Image: Nintendo R&D1/Nintendo

If ever a series proved the effectiveness of the “throw spaghetti at the wall” creative process, it’s WarioWare. Composed of hundreds of mini-games that increase in speed and difficulty throughout any given run — which the designers ideated via hundreds of Post-It notesWarioWare Inc.: Mega Microgames! is about players’ ability to adapt on the fly. One demands that you simply enter a door in a Legend of Zelda-esque overworld. Another drops you into a car on a highway and challenges you to dodge other cars. Through them all, the mini-games encompass the broad and unapologetic brand of humor that Wario has carried on his back for more than two decades. Mega Microgames! is yet another showcase for Nintendo’s boldest handheld era. —Mike Mahardy

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

Link encounters the boss of Deepwood Shrine, Big Green Chu Chu in The Minish Cap Image: Capcom, Flagship/Nintendo

The next, but certainly not last, Zelda game on this list also marks one of the series’ most overlooked gems. And what a brilliant gem it is.

Most Zelda games have a defining mechanic — A Link to the Past’s over and underworlds, Oracle of Ages’ time travel, and so on. The Minish Cap places our hero Link in a veritable Wonderland, in which he can shrink in size, the better to enter previously miniscule dungeons; one takes place in a temple the size of a tree stump, before another ushers Link into a literal block of ice. As with the best Zelda games, developer Capcom never stops playing with this big/small motif, building it to the point where both sizes are required to complete singular puzzles. The Minish Cap also remains one of the more vibrant games in the series, making full use of the Game Boy Advance’s color palette, and fleshing it out even more on Nintendo Switch. This game deserves all of the newfound attention it’s going to get. —Mike Mahardy

Donkey Kong (NES)

Mario battles Donkey Kong in the original Donkey Kong arcade game, ported to NES Image: Nintendo via Polygon

The original Donkey Kong is the definition of a classic. It’s the Mario origin story and, unlike many of the other NES games on the Nintendo Switch online service, not in a curated pack like Super Mario All-Stars or Super Mario 3D All-Stars. It’s a tone-downed look from the Mario you know, trading side-scrolling levels for a single climb toward Donkey Kong and the lady he’s kidnapped, Pauline (whom you may recognize from Super Mario Odyssey).

Donkey Kong emphasizes timing and sound, giving you simple controls and a pile of stress. Even on Switch, your hands tighten around the controller just before you leap over one of Donkey Kong’s barrels. And it’s that feeling — the sigh of relief as you wipe your sweaty palms on your jeans the second you reach Donkey Kong — that’s kept us coming back for decades. —Ryan Gilliam

Blaster Master (NES)

The Blaster Master ship delves into the earth in Blaster Master Image: Inti Creates, Sunsoft via Polygon

Blaster Master is one of the few games in the NES Nintendo Switch Online collection that still feels somewhat modern. The whole hook of the 2D side-scroller is that you’ve got a high tech, super powerful car at your disposal that you can jump in and out of at will. While you’re in the car, you’ve got outstanding mobility and firepower, but you’ll frequently have to leave it behind to explore smaller caves and underground dungeons filled with monsters (whereupon the game turns into a top-down shooter).

This back-and-forth, with a touch of gear-gating for good measure, makes Blaster Master feel way ahead of its time. As an added bonus, if you find yourself smitten by the game, it’s worth noting that a new trilogy, starting with 2017’s Blaster Master Zero, has successfully reimagined the series over the last few years. —Russ Frushtick

Super Mario All-Stars (SNES)

The select screen hovers on Super Mario Bros 3 in Super Mario All-Stars Image: Nintendo via Polygon

Super Mario All-Stars is a bit of a cheat for this list, because it compiles some of the best NES games of all time in a single SNES collection. All-Stars remasters the NES classics and features versions of Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, Super Mario Bros. 2, and Super Mario Bros. 3.

Some of the versions look and sound a bit different — and Lost Levels even received some difficulty tuning — but the spirit and the levels are the same. It’s the perfect way to experience the Mario classics in a slightly more modern package, with 16-bit instead of 8-bit graphics. And because all of the games are available outside of Super Mario All-Stars on the NES emulator, you can always compare for yourself after you’ve run left to right through this Super Mario Bros. history. —Ryan Gilliam

Super Mario World (SNES)

Mario, riding Yoshi, jumps through a cave in Super Mario World Image: Nintendo via Polygon

Super Mario World is arguably the best Mario game ever made, built to harness the power of the Super Nintendo. Its colorful art style pops, even decades later, and gives fans their best look at the Mushroom Kingdom.

Super Mario World is instantly recognizable and packed with personality. It’s got secrets hidden around the map, and unique boss fights like Bowser’s clown car. It trades out the Tanooki Suit for World’s famous cape, allowing skilled players to fly about levels and reach new areas. What’s more, Mario gets a second life with Yoshi’s help, adding new dimensions to each level. It’s set the standard for every 2D Mario game that followed. —Ryan Gilliam

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)

Link claims his sword in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past Image: Nintendo via Polygon

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is widely regarded as one of the best video games ever made. It built the modern Zelda formula that Zelda followed for decades, asking Link to move from dungeon to dungeon collecting new items and rescuing sages. It’s possibly the most influential game on a list full of influential games.

Of everything in the SNES collection, A Link to the Past holds up not just as the genesis for what Zelda would become, but as a difficult, well-designed masterpiece for a modern player. Everyone with a Switch Online membership should check it out. —Ryan Gilliam

Super Metroid (SNES)

Samus jumps through a hallway in Super Metroid Image: Nintendo via Polygon

Super Metroid helped spawn one of the world’s most popular genres: the Metroidvania. This is Samus’ Super Nintendo turn, which takes her into the bowels of a new planet to find a host of new upgrades.

Super Metroid is arguably Samus’ most iconic adventure, and the one that secured the Metroid legacy. It added plenty of new tools for players to experiment with, but it’s the game’s emphasis on exploring a sprawling world — the Super Bomb through the glass hallway, the animals teaching you to wall jump — that makes the entry so innovative, and keeps it fresh in players’ minds. —Ryan Gilliam

Kirby Super Star (SNES)

Players select from numerous different game modes in Kirby Super Star Image: Nintendo via Polygon

Kirby Super Star is the perfect Kirby game. Or rather, it’s nine perfect Kirby games. Instead of being a singular, contained adventure, Super Star has multiple game types, story campaigns, and multiplayer modes. They can play through a remake of the first game, take on the villain known as Marx, battle against Meta Knight, or just race King Dedede to eat some food.

Super Star highlights the best part of Kirby — that he’s an everyman. All of these modes are different, but Kirby’s mechanics rarely change. He’s still the same puffball with copycat powers, and he just does what he does best through almost every game mode here. It’s an endlessly playable delight filled with a wide variety of content. —Ryan Gilliam

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest (SNES)

Dixie Kong swirls through the air in Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest Image: Nintendo via Polygon

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest is the best of the Donkey Kong Country games for a couple of reasons. First, it has a ridiculous name that you have to read five times to truly wrap your head around. Second, it introduces Dixie Kong, whose ponytail lets her hover through levels, providing a finer level of control.

The Donkey Kong Country series boasts a variety of delightful platformers with unique art styles, animal vehicles, and creative environments. But Donkey Kong Country 2 does it better than the rest, and that makes it the one to play on the Nintendo Switch Online service — even if it is missing the titular Donkey Kong. —Ryan Gilliam

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64)

Link opens a chest in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Image: Nintendo via Polygon

Is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time the best game on the Nintendo 64? Is it the best 3D Zelda game? The answer to both of those questions is yes. Ocarina of Time did for Zelda what Mario 64’s 3D outing did for Mario, but in a far more complex package — and one that holds up better in 2021.

Ocarina of Time sees Link jump through different timelines to claim the Triforce and defeat Ganondorf. It offers an incredible collection of dungeons, iconic gadgets, and a meticulously crafted world. While the Nintendo 64 version isn’t as user-friendly as the 3DS release from 2011, this game is still a must play for every Switch owner. —Ryan Gilliam

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Nintendo 64)

Deku Link looks at his reflection in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask Image: Nintendo via Polygon

Created as a sort of bridge between Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask remains the darkest, strangest, and ultimately boldest entry in the long-running series.

The 2000 game follows the hero Link, reverted back to his youthful form after his fight against Ganon in Ocarina of Time, as he stumbles into a Murakami-like underworld faced with an imminent apocalypse. As it turns out, the moon is plummeting toward Termina, and the only way for Link to stop it is to assemble four giants, each of whom has been cursed by some insipid evil. The catch? Link only has three days (about 54 real-world minutes) before the moon completes its descent. He can also slow, hasten, and revert time completely to the dawn of the first day, as many times as he wants.

So begins a game that laid the foundation for the modern time-loop obsession. Games such as Outer Wilds, Deathloop, The Forgotten City, and Overboard! all owe their central design conceit — the act of replaying the same events with newfound knowledge — to Nintendo’s weird experiment. It’s not the most inviting Legend of Zelda game, and it certainly isn’t the least divisive. But it remains one of the most electrifying, and it’s all the more worth returning to in light of our modern Groundhog Day fixation. —Mike Mahardy

Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64)

Bowser races on the streets in Mario Kart 64 Image: Nintendo via Polygon

Mario Kart 64 is the first game in the series to let players drive with an analogue stick, and it’s better for it. It’s fast-paced, easy to control, and houses some fan-favorite courses. But the real reason to pick up Mario Kart 64 on Switch Online is the battle mode.

The battle modes in Mario Kart 64 are brutal, giving each player a group of balloons that signify hit points. By driving around the special arena maps and chucking shells and other weapons at one another, players can eventually emerge victorious. It’s an excellent party mode, and pairs well with the stellar racing. —Ryan Gilliam

Banjo-Kazooie (Nintendo 64)

Banjo and Kazooie hanging out outside their house Image: Rare/Nintendo via Polygon

Banjo-Kazooie is the greatest 3D platformer to ever grace the Nintendo 64 — yes, even better than Super Mario 64. [Ed. note: I do not condone this.]

Rare’s masterpiece follows a bear named Banjo and his best friend Kazooie, the bird who lives in his backpack. When Banjo’s sister gets abducted by the local witch Grunty, bear and bird must spring into action to save her. The pair battle through Grunty’s sprawling fortress, collecting a variety of items like Jiggy puzzle pieces, music notes, and Jinjos in locations like Bubblegoop Swamp, Clanker’s Cavern, and Mad Monster Mansion.

Banjo-Kazooie offers tons of fun moves to learn alongside some classic Rare humor and Grant Kirkhope’s incredible soundtrack. While you can play HD versions of Banjo-Kazooie and its sequel on Xbox, this is the first time these platformers have appeared on a Nintendo system since the Nintendo 64.

Whether you recognize them from Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or have never heard of them before, don’t miss the chance to play Banjo and Kazooie’s debut title on your Switch. —Ryan Gilliam

Sin and Punishment (Nintendo 64)

The player shoots at training dummies in Sin & Punishment Image: Treasure/Nintendo via Polygon

Unlike its peers on this list, Sin & Punishment lacks the crutch of nostalgia. To newcomers without rose-tinted glasses, it’ll look like a blocky shooter and, when compared to modern shooters, will feel fussy. Loving this game takes work, so catch a beat and consider when Sin & Punishment appeared on store shelves in Japan.

In 2000, co-developer Treasure was arguably the most talented creator of action on video game consoles, having shipped classics like Gunstar Heroes, Guardians Heroes, Radiant Silvergun, and Bagai-O within a seven year span. At this point, they’d partnered with Nintendo to create a 3D on-rails shooter (think Rez crossed with Star Fox) that would capture the spectacle of an anime blockbuster. They did just that — within the limitations of the N64 hardware. Perhaps that’s the best way to appreciate Sin & Punishment in 2021: it plays like a modern game with all the ambition and art and style stuffed into an N64 cartridge incapable of fully containing it. —Chris Plante

Streets of Rage 2 (Sega Genesis)

Players brawl through the street in Streets of Rage 2 Image: Ancient Corp./Sega via Polygon

Streets of Rage 2 is a side-scrolling beat-’em-up where players dress up in jeans and roll through the streets crushing dudes with their rage. There are a variety of characters in Streets of Rage 2, from the original Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding to the newly added Max Thunder and Eddie “Skate” Hunter.

Streets of Rage has always been beloved, but the sequel is often thought of as the series’ high point. From new mechanics to better graphics, it’s one of the definitive games for the Genesis, and a great starting point for Nintendo kids to get their feet wet with Sega.

Gunstar Heroes (Sega Genesis)

The hero runs through the environment and under a treehouse in Gunstar Heroes Image: Treasure/Sega via Polygon

Gunstar Heroes is the first game from Treasure, a developer name you might recognize from the Sin & Punishment entry above. It’s a side-scrolling shooter, similar to Contra or Metal Slug, where players control a duo called the Gunstars, combining weapons to make their way through the story.

This is a game many players — regardless of whether they owned a Genesis — may not have heard of. But it highlights one of the best parts about the Expansion Pack and Nintendo Switch Online. Through curation, Nintendo is able to bring a wide variety of old games to a completely new audience, and Gunstar Heroes is a great Genesis grab for anyone, regardless of whether they’re new to the platform. —Ryan Gilliam

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