The recent Nintendo Direct has both surprised many viewers and teased a number of new titles that fans have either wanted to try out in their wildest dreams. Of course, reality rarely ups to expectations.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom's major Direct announcements included a surprise Metroid Prime remake, a release trailer for Game Boy and Game Boy Advance players, and a Switch Online service that included Game Boy and Game Boy Advance players. Many other Game Boy titles were predicted to be available sooner than 2023.
Switch Online customers had renewed their interest in the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance updates. On paper, these new emulators offer gamers access to many titles they can't get anywhere else (unless they still have a working Game Boy). It's certainly enticing to imagine playing those classics on Switch.
Of course, a similar level of promise once extended to the other official retro game emulators on the Switch. In reality, Nintendo has had issues in implementing the obvious potential of those emulators.
When the N64 emulator was added to Nintendo Switch Online (technically the more expensive Expansion Pak subscription level), it didn't receive the Nintendo Seal of Approval. According to sites such as Kotaku, the emulator was plagued with lag, framerate issues, and strange button layouts.
Nintendo's Game Boy and Game Boy Advance players have all performed admirably, but what will happen if Nintendo adds something more unusual (such as Kirby Tilt 'n Tumble)? Will the game work with other similar game titles like Yoshi's Universal Gravitation, Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand, or Warioware Twisted!? It's hard to imagine that Nintendo would put in the effort required to make some of the more original Game Boy games lost to time work correctly.
Another cold reality that can and will, and will, hinder Game Boy and Game Boy Color players is Nintendo's notoriously slow release schedule. After all, Nintendo promised plenty of big Game Boy and Game Boy Advance titles would be released through the services (such as the Legend of Zelda: Oracle games, Metroid Fusion, and Golden Sun), but they forgot to include even a release date.
Nintendo changed its mind about a more sporadic release schedule in September 2019. Moreover, because the company started supporting more than one Switch Online emulator, it reduced the number of games it would release per drop.
Nintendo will release roughly the same amount of games as each new batch of Nintendo Switch Online titles. However, one will be an NES title, two will be Genesis games, and one will be an N64 title. Or three will be Genesis games, three will be N64 titles, and none will be NES or SNES games in the age of modern digital services.
The last obstacle for Game Boy and Game Boy Advance gamers is the polite issue of IP rights. While Nintendo was initially able to publish many games on its beloved handheld systems, today it does not have any control over all of them. For instance, while the various Nintendo Switch Online retro game services feature games from Capcom and Sunsoft, we have yet to see a single Square Enix game on the service, even though the SNES was the ground zero for some of Square's best RPGs (including Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VI
Until Square Enix changes its mind at a later date, we unlikely will see any beloved Square GBA titles launch on Nintendo Switch Online. Sure, some were rereleases of those SNES classics, but the handheld also contained several essential Square classics, such as Final Fantasy Tactics Advance or Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. Moreover, publishers have begun rereleasing many of their own retro games on modern platforms. For example, the whole Castlevania GBA library is now available in the Castlevania Advance
The same issue can be raised about many other popular Game Boy games, such as Phoenix Wright. Although Western audiences first saw them on the Nintendo DS, Capcom first published them in Japan on the GBA. Will Capcom permit Nintendo to sell the GBA originals on the Nintendo Switch Online emulator, even if they remain Japan exclusives? Or will Capcom inform gamers that if they want to get some of the finest crime drama visual novels ever, they need to purchase the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy?
We are so ecstatic to finally be able to play Metroid Fusion and The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap on the Nintendo Switch Online emulator, and you probably are as well. However, previous experiences with the other Nintendo Switch Online emulators and the video game industry in general are tempered by our belief that Nintendo may prove us wrong.