Remember Jelly Boy?
No, you probably don’t. Jelly Boy is an obscure platformer about a gelatinous child from Probe Software and Ocean Software. Both the developer and publisher have been defunct for years, and the game hasn’t been re-released until now. Still, Nintendo decided that it was the stand-out title of the July 2021 batch of new Nintendo Switch Online retro titles, which also includes the clay-themed platformer Claymates and the bomb-based puzzle game Bombuzal.
This month’s measly update to the retro games library was the first since May, and the response was overwhelmingly negative. The reveal trailer has more than 10,000 dislikes on YouTube.
Nintendo Switch has sold more than 84 million units, but lacks an easy way to play beloved Nintendo classics like Earthbound or Super Mario RPG. The Nintendo Switch Online monthly subscription gives players access to libraries of NES and SNES games, but the lineup and frequency of additions pale in comparison to the Virtual Console on Wii, 3DS, and even the Wii U.
Nintendo seems to care less than ever about re-releasing and preserving classic games. Sure, the 131-year-old company has a reputation for marching to the beat of its own virtual drum, but in this case, it’s simply misguided.
All games deserve to be preserved in some manner. So why doesn’t Nintendo do a better job at maintaining its legacy on the Switch?
I'm Tomas Franzese, and this is The Hotfix, a column about ideas that could improve video games and the culture around them. Each week or so I'll explore a problem in gaming and how it could be solved. I'll talk to experts, offer my own analysis, and solicit you, the people I'm writing for, to sound off with your ideas. Send any and all feedback to email@example.com. 🎮
Remember Your Past
Nintendo’s approach to curating Switch Online’s retro game lineup is flawed. Of course, fans will prefer if famous titles like Earthbound or SimCity were on the service, but obscure games like Jelly Boy deserve to be preserved, too.
The backlash against little-known titles highlights why Nintendo needs to bring more notable games to the Nintendo Switch Online’s lineup.
Adding well-known titles — alongside obscure ones like Jelly Boy— brings positive attention (not an ocean of Youtube dislikes) to games that people don’t know about. Each new trailer should make fans want to engage with classics, oddities, and hidden gems to ensure they live on in the minds of gamers.
Know Your Rights
That said, re-releasing older games can be tricky due to rights issues. Xbox Director of Program Management Jason Ronald said as much to Inverse in December 2020, when asked about creating a living archive of older games on Xbox Game Pass.
“Some of the challenges are technical, but more often than not, it comes down to licensing,” he says. “In some cases, the developer or publisher doesn't exist anymore. Even tracking down who we need approvals from can be very, very difficult.”
Adding games associated with third parties — like Super Mario RPG, Earthbound, SimCity, Mega Man, Dragon Warrior, and Final Fantasy — would require lengthy negotiations with their rights holders. Still, if it means that players will have legal and easy access to important classics, then the effort is worth it.
The obvious solution to this issue is for Nintendo to add more retro games, both notable and obscure, to Nintendo Switch Online. Give players an easy way to try hard-to-find SNES and NES games, and they will come. Fill in the gaps that remain in the NES and SNES game lineup, and expand the service to include titles from other retro systems like the Game Boy, GBA, and Nintendo 64.
You can’t even play Metroid Fusion, the direct prequel to the upcoming Metroid Dread, on Switch, much to the chagrin of fans who reacted to a recent official Nintendo tweet about the GBA hit.
Adding retro staples such as Metroid Fusion to Switch Online would be, to put it plainly, awesome.
I think Nintendo fans would be willing to pay for games like Fusion outside the monthly Switch Online subscription fee. The recent remasters of Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Skyward Sword HD show that fans are willing to pay up to $60 for older titles. If Earthbound debuted for $10, or even more, on Nintendo Switch tomorrow, it would likely be a resounding success.
The call for Nintendo to expand its retro offerings has been long. Ever since we first learned that Virtual Console wouldn’t return on Switch in 2018, Nintendo has fallen short with its support of older games.
While Nintendo doesn’t appear to respond to its fanbase, it will probably listen to their wallets.
Players can convince Nintendo of the value of older games by supporting the legacy titles that are available. If Nintendo sees increased demand for remasters and retro collections on Switch, it’s more likely to find ways to make similar content available. Who knows, rallying people to engage with Nintendo Switch Online and demand better might just be the most important thing Jelly Boy has ever done.