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  7. Nintendo Switch Backward Compatibility Explained

Nintendo Switch Backward Compatibility Explained

Nintendo Switch Backward Compatibility Explained


The Nintendo Switch turned out to be a massive hit for Nintendo. A big game changer for the Wii U Enterprise Slow-boot 3DS home console and handheld. Nintendo has merged its two console product lines into a single hybrid machine, delivering thousands of handheld games of equal or better quality than what we’ve seen in AAA titles on previous generation machines like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

It’s a great machine, but what about Nintendo’s huge backlog of acclaimed titles? Is the switch backward compatible? The answer is more complicated than you think, but we’re going to break it down so you know exactly what your Switch can and can’t play from the old game catalogs.

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Hang on, what does “backward compatibility” of the switch mean?

“Backward compatibility” has traditionally meant that a new version of a device, such as a game console, can still run software or use media designed for the previous model. In the days when video games were only available on physical media, the distinction was academic. Since video games have gone digital, it may be backward compatible with the digital copy, but not with the physical copy of a game.

In modern times, the ability of a new console to run games from a previous generation console through emulation has also been called backward compatibility. The Xbox One plays some Xbox 360 games this way and the Playstation 3 uses a Playstation 1 emulator for the same purpose.

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To understand Nintendo Switch backward compatibility, it’s important to know about this broad umbrella of backward compatibility. This is because the switch includes elements of several different backward compatibility approaches.

Backward compatibility on older Nintendo consoles

One of the main reasons this question arises is related to older Nintendo consoles that were backward compatible. So that the Wii U can play Wii games. The original Wii can play Game Cube discs too.

On the handheld side, it’s even more robust. The 3DS can play DS games. The DS can read GameBoy Advance cartridges and this console can read original Game Boy and GameBoy Color cartridges. Unbroken succession! Therefore, it is no wonder that people have certain expectations of the latest Nintendo console.

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The company has paid particular attention to ensuring a smooth transition from one generation to the next. What about backward compatibility for Nintendo Switch? With the release of the Switch, its hybrid nature and unique position in the history of Nintendo consoles changed things dramatically. Let’s see how it works in practice.

Can I play media files from old Nintendo consoles?

The Switch can only read physical media specifically designed for it. Unlike previous Nintendo handhelds, you cannot insert a DS or 3DS cartridge into the slot on this system.

Obviously, since the Switch doesn’t have a disc drive either, there’s nowhere to put media from Wii or GameCube consoles. If it’s not from the eShop or a Switch cartridge, you’re out of luck.

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Can I buy titles on older systems through a “virtual console”?

Unfortunately, unlike previous Nintendo consoles, there is no “Virtual Console On the Switch.” On older generation machines that the Mario company built, you could buy emulated digital copies of old classic games. In fact, you still can. However, Nintendo has chosen to take a different route this time.

Unless it’s released as a standalone classic version (as with Sega’s excellent “Ages” versions), you can’t buy 8-bit and 16-bit games on Nintendo Switch. Instead, those who pay to subscribe to the Nintendo Online service also get access to a curated selection of NES and SNES games, with new titles added periodically.

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Unfortunately, that doesn’t give users the option to buy the games they want once. The good news is that Nintendo is including some really good titles from its classic platforms. There are even rumors that consoles like the N64 and GameCube could possibly be added to this service, although there is no official confirmation on that at this time.

Considering how much Nintendo has charged for virtual console downloads in the past and the fact that they have to be recharged every generation, the selection of games included with the subscription is actually a good deal. As more and more games are added, the value proposition improves as well. If you have multiple Switch players in the household, the annual family plan is by far the most cost-effective solution.

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What about Wii U games?

The Wii U hasn’t sold a lot of consoles, but it has hosted some great titles. If you have Wii U games, you cannot transfer them to the Switch. However, if you agree to pay them again, there are some really fantastic remasters of the Wii U games that have been released for the new console.

While this may not be the best news for those with a large collection of Wii U games, it does mean that many people who haven’t bought a Wii U will now have a chance to play some of these gems.

Some notable examples include Mario kart 8 and Tokyo Mirage #FE Sessions. There’s a long list of Wii U titles that are likely to come to Switch in the future, so if you’re patient, the Switch will likely be able to play them eventually.

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What about 3DS games?

Even if the Switch were compatible with 3DS games, the lack of a vertically stacked dual screen design would make those games difficult to play. A 3DS game would require a substantial overhaul to make sense on the Switch, just like DS games.

While there are already some games that can be played in portrait orientation, it is not comfortable without some kind of third-party adapter. It’s not out of the question that Nintendo may find an official way to support digital versions of 3DS games on the Switch, but it seems pretty unlikely.

Older console game ports

While not strictly an example of backward compatibility with the Switch, the Nintendo Switch has become a port for older Nintendo consoles and other consoles from the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 era.

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For example, Playstation 3 gems like Ni No Kuni and Dragon’s Dogma: Darth Arisen have made their way to the brave console. Titles that many people who own a Switch have never played or perhaps never even heard of! Of course, you have to buy those ported remasters again, even if you have the media from the original consoles.

Change alternatives for retro games

So if you are looking for a good solution to play previous generation Nintendo games, you’d better buy a previous generation console.

If you mainly play on TV or at home, it is a great idea to grab a Wii U. The single controller with one screen allows you to play Virtual Console titles in “off TV” mode. In other words, as long as you are within range of the console, you can play these titles as if they were out of pocket.

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If you really want to get out of the house, you can buy a “new” 3DS, which has an extensive library of virtual consoles for one-time game purchases. This updated 3DS model now also includes SNES games, in addition to the many Gameboy and NES games on offer.

Remember that you can use Nintendo DS cartridges directly with the DS.

Look into the future

The lack of backward compatibility with the Switch also represents a major revision from Nintendo when it comes to its main console. Now unified into a hybrid device with two distinct bloodlines, it wouldn’t be surprising if current Switch games were compatible with a hypothetical ‘Switch 2’.

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A new generation of this winning formula may also have enough extra power to emulate titles from the Wii or Wii U era. Which could mean more robust access to these libraries on the go. Waiting for Nintendo to find a way.