From a consumer perspective, it’s easily my favorite console since the Nintendo DS and probably the system, besides Steam and maybe the Saturn, for which I have bought the most games and spent the most time playing already.
A lot of the recommendations so far have been about recent indies but one thing that’s peculiar about this machine is how uniquely it preserves video game history. If you already agree with the previous sentence, feel free to scroll beyond this big wall of bullet points and skip to my recommendations, honestly. But if you need some convincing, let’s consider the following:
◉ There are relatively few GBA, DS and 3DS games on the Switch at the moment, but there are already a bunch of PSP, PS Vita and Neo Geo Pocket games (and even one Wonderswan game as a limited promotion item) available on the Nintendo eShop. The Switch is a much more “all-inclusive” handheld than previous handheld consoles from both Sony and Nintendo.
◉ It gets better: the Switch is somehow involved in the official preservation of i-Mode games thanks to the efforts of G-Mode and their G-Mode Archives, which is not a fight I expected the console (or anyone) to engage in; inexplicably some of these i-Mode games are even being released in the West!
◉ Hamster and M2, among others, have also made it possibly the console with the largest number of official arcade ports, including some exclusive and pretty unexpected titles. At the same time, the Switch has received (I think?) less NES and SNES ports than the four previous Nintendo stationary and handheld consoles.
◉ There are also more weirdass PC Star Wars games than N64 games available on the eShop right now.
※Update from the future me! The N64 catalogue is now available on the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack service so the bullet point above is not really true anymore…
◉ Even the NSO is populated with stuff like Super Valis IV and Wild Guns and Psycho Dream and Panel de Pon and VICE: Project Doom. Why do they always seem to ask @exodus for which title to include next? Preteens now probably assume Jaleco was a bigger deal than Capcom and Squaresoft in the Nineties.
◉ The only Nintendo console which is meticulously preserved on Switch, right now, is the Wii U. This seems to piss some people off, in part because they feel these ports erases the Wii U’s unique identity (I get that), in part because the games aren’t new (I don’t get that), in part because human beings like to complain about trivial stuff. Also the hardware is physically not backwards compatible so it’s not like we had many options here. It’s cool these great games get a second chance.
◉ Speaking of which, the Switch is also the first machine with so many SegaSaturn ports (unless you count the original PlayStation I guess), but literally none of these Saturn games come from Sega! Ain’t that weird!?
◉ This is more a question of timing, industry specialization and an evolution of customers’ tastes and demands but the average quality of ROM collections, HD Remasters and remakes have increased significantly on the Switch compared to previous consoles. Accurate emulation, significant bonus features like all the stuff in the Samurai Shodown collection, exclusive contents etc. Most of these are not exclusive to the Switch obviously, as the collections are usually released on all systems, but I believe the exceptional sales of retro games on the console have contributed to bigger investements and better efforts from publishers.
◉ Thanks to the hardware’s unique format + the dock allowing for switching the console to different screens easily + unofficial efforts like the Flip Grip + so many arcade games, it has somehow popularized tate gaming again. I am glad to see that but how the hell did that happen!?
When you sum up the above, the Switch is DEEP CUT RETRO HEAVEN. It caters more to the Insert Credit audience than the IGN audience, if you catch my drift. (There is an easy joke here which I am going to skip.)
Now, if I may recommend a personal Secret Retro Game Top 10:
⑩ Warriors of Fate (Tenchi wo Kurau II)
Warriors of Fate is such a good game it was released twice on Switch. You could get it in the Beat-em Up Bundle collection, which would also net you a chance to play the excellent Battle Circuit in its first ever home port. Or you could buy it in one of the packs from the recent Capcom Arcade Stadium application. In my eyes, the best of these Capcom beat’em ups is Warriors of Fate (or more accurately Tenchi Wo Kurau II, the Japanese version that stays truthful to the original story and doesn’t awkwardly adapt the plot into a mongol invasion). It’s fun, it’s epic, it’s punchy, it’s technical, it’s manly in a very Chinese way! It’s playable up to three players, each character is worth playing, the BGM slaps, you can ride on a horse! (Manly!) You’ll either agree or these five brawny hairy dudes will punch you back to your senses.
※Update from the future me! You can now purchase any game from the Capcom Arcade Stadium collection separately.
⑨ The Silver Case 2425
The Silver Case 2425 released a few weeks ago on the Switch. I think the audience of Insert Credit knows it was originally Grasshopper Manufacture’s very first game, back on the original PlayStation. It’s a decent adventure game and, more interestingly, a prescient commentary about some social issues we face today. It has many faults related to its low budget and the original hardware for which it was designed. However, I assume most people have discovered the game through this remake, and might not realize the challenge it faced. The PS version took advantage of the hardware limitations for its presentation, an used the game’s manual extensively (probably inspired by Metal Gear Solid’s package trick). There were a lot of pitfalls awaiting a remake aiming for a digital release, and it dodged them rather impressively.
⑧ VICE: Project Doom (Gun-Dec)
Originally released in 1991, VICE: Project Doom was one of those under-the-radar late NES games that found new fame in the early to mid-2000s with the boom of “retrogaming”, growth of the Internet userbase and widespread of emulators. This boost in popularity is warranted: the game mashes up shoot’em up sections similar to Mad Gear, action sections similar to Batman or Shatterhand, and first person shooting sections similar to Operation Wolf, with cinematic cut-scenes inspired by Ninja Gaiden, and it succeeds at all these pastiches. Alas, if you wished to stay on the legal side (the heavens bless you) and get the original game, you’d be screwed. And as a Sammy game, VICE: Project Doom seemed condemned to never see the light of day on pioneer legal emulation services such as the Wii’s Virtual Console (see: View Point). It was therefore quite a surprise to see it pop up recently on the Nintendo Switch Online’s Nintendo Entertainment System application (it’s also playable on the Famicom app under its original name Gun-Dec, if you have that). If you are already subscribing to the NSO for whatever reason, you get VICE: Project Doom on it, for no extra charge! That’s a pretty sweet price.
⑦ Vaster Claws III: Dragon slayer of the God world
So, I am cheating a little bit here. Vaster Claws III is not an old game. I believe it originally released in spring 2020. The Switch version is from 2021. However, Vaster Claws III is in fact a direct sequel to a much older game from 2002 and remains very faithful, both in its game mechanics and outdated audiovisual performance, to a legacy of obscure semi-amateur games from Japan. StudioGIW is a dōjin circle that used to rule Vector, the go-to-place for obscure indie PC games from Japan in the early 2000s. I used to go there daily circa 2004～2005, eager to find games that would not only correspond to my tastes but also to what my weak Hercules 3D Prophet graphics card could run (which, in terms of new releases, was pretty much Falcom games and nothing else). Every year or so, StudioGIW would win a prize at the annual Vector awards, with one of their semi-automatic dungeon crawling or dungeon defending games. These all relied on the same CPU-powered engine and therefore did not require any powerful 3D GPU… I am not even sure they required any GPU. It’s still the case for Vaster Claws III, even today, on PC. I don’t know how it was ported on consoles but it’s very possible this game makes your Switch’s battery last sixteen weeks. Anyway, Vaster Claws III is yet another semi-automatic dungeon exploring squad management game, halfway between Diablo and Cookie Clicker. Is it a good game? Hmmm… It’s an acquired taste. Maybe “you had to be there” to like it; half my enjoyment certainly comes from nostalgia, and the other half from the weird esoteric game design decisions piled on each other through roughly two decades of iteration. It has a Dwarf Fortress-ish charm to its blinker-wearing, trends forgoing strut. The English localization is pretty much on par with the rest: dodgy, charming and inadvertently an homage to early twenty-first century translations. But it’s definitely a secret Switch game, an improbable port and inexplicable worldwide release, published on Steam, PS4 and Switch through the PlayDoujin! initiative. I can’t guarantee you will like it, but you’ll definitely feel you’re playing something that was never intended to cross your path.
⑥ M2 ShotTriggers ESP Ra.De. Ψ
I tried to stick to games available in North-America and playable in English for this selection, but I’ll make an exception for this one. There are so many shoot’em ups on Switch that we even have Youtube channels dedicated to shoot’em ups on Switch. I certainly won’t pretend to be the most litterate, 1CC monster out there able to judge the quality of Cave and Raizing ports, so I’ll defer to experts when they say you should avoid the ZeroDiv ports but can confidently buy Cotton or Mushihimesama. Similarly, everyone seems to agree that ESP Ra.De. Ψ is an amazing port. The original game was quite a sensation in the arcades at the time (1998). DoDonPachi had made a lot of noise just a year prior and Cave had seemed to take the mantle of king of shmups ahead of Raizing. They followed up with a left curve. ESP Ra.De. gave up spaceships and screen clearing power bombs, instead opting for flying psychics with cool character designs akin to what you would normally find in a SNK fighting game, and a pretty fun power gauge that could be used in more versatile ways than a bomb. The world setting is memorable, the graphics and soundtrack are top notch 2D, the scoring system is very accessible but quite engaging, the game lasts just long enough to dream of 1CC, and the bullet carpeting is still under control compared to later Cave releases. As usual with the ShotTriggers series, the Remaster is excellent as well. Tons of display options, tons of additional features, modes and gimmicks. Well worth the physical or digital import.
⑤ Arcade Archives Vs. Wrecking Crew
As TracyDMcGrath mentioned, Hamster is the unsung hero of the Switch’s Nintendo eShop, having released one arcade game (or more!) every single week since the launch of the console. That’s 228 weeks in a row and counting, with amazing deep cuts like Zero Team and the arcade Tecmo Bowl (both almost on this list). Before the NSO service introduced retro games available on demand, Hamster was also the first to release old Nintendo games on the Switch, highlighting their often underestimated arcade legacy. The most important titles from that batch are probably the original Donkey Kong playable in Tate mode and the still hardly believable release of Sky Skipper, but my personal favorite is Vs. Wrecking Crew. Most of the “Vs.” games were (sometimes barely) tweaked Famicom ROMs, and Vs. Wrecking Crew is often mistakenly thrown in the same lot (even Jeremy Parish screwed up in one of his earliest NES Works reviews). In fact, Vs. Wrecking Crew is the original game, and the NES game we all know is the later adaptation. Vs. Wrecking Crew was designed from the ground up to make clever use of the Vs. System’s two opposing screens: player two is on the “other side” of player one’s stage, and both act as a Foreman Spike to each other, competing and collaborating at the same time. It’s one of the most innovative competitive arcade games of its time. The console version became a puzzle-oriented adaptation of the arcade game and added the CPU-controlled Spike because it could not reproduce its true multiplayer-oriented concept on a single screen. From this perspective, the game design lineage with Mario Bros. is obvious, and Wrecking Crew ’98 evolving into a Vs. puzzle game makes much more sense. Truly an underrated gem from the Golden Age of arcades, as well as Mario’s legacy. Finally, the Vs. Dualsystem mother board’s proper name is MDS-02, so it made sense to give it a shout-out in this thread.
④ SEGA AGES Phantasy Star
For its fourth incarnation, the Sega Ages project has made bizarre choices for the Switch, and there are clearly way more obscure games than Phantasy Star in there. But at this point in time, I am wondering: how many of you have actually played the original Phantasy Star? It was released 34 years ago on a console which was unpopular in the US, it looks old, it’s not as discussed online as its Mega Drive sequels, it has nothing in common with PSO… Doesn’t that make it an obscure game? I wouldn’t be suprised if many people mistakenly assumed Phantasy Star is as archaic as the first Dragon Quest or the first Final Fantasy. Some of you might think “damn, I wish we got the PlayStation 2 remake instead”. You shouldn’t. This, my friends, is absolutely the definitive version of Phantasy Star. M2 added exactly the crutches it needs in 2021. The PlayStation 2 remake was poorly balanced and swapped all the pure ’70s Sci-Fi / Daicon references for a boring anime-tropey art style. The Switch version preserves all the art from the original game, adds helpful options and features such as an auto-map and a cheat sheet for spells, and still allows you (on toggle) to break the balance of the game if you struggle. It’s surprisingly fun to play even today and a great way to check Kodama’s and Naka’s masterpiece. In my book, in the same way that The Zodiac Age turned FF12 into my favorite mainline Final Fantasy, this new Sega Ages version makes it the best of the original four Phantasy Star games.
③ Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Vol.1
I was hesitating about which Neo Geo Pocket game to put in here but screw it! What I truly want to bring up is that Neo Geo Pocket games somehow got revived thanks to the Switch, so let’s plug the entire collection. The NGPC is very dear to me, mainly because I was playing it on the day I took one of the most important decisions of my life. It’s an underrated machine with a great line-up of games. The emulation is excellent (and this console had long been neglected on this front), it allows for two players to fight on the same screen, the game selection is pretty good (one too many fighting games maybe), they somehow managed to get Capcom on board to include the excellent SNK Vs. Capcom, all the original manuals are scanned… I would have put it second on this list had they not forgotten to let us check our horoscope in the system’s menu. I would have put it first had SNK somehow convinced Hori to create a new Joy-Con with a Neo Geo Pocket-style clicky stick.
② Langrisser I&II
I don’t care how you call this kind of games. Simulation RPG? Tactics RPG? Tactics game? Tacos? (I call them tacos.) Langrisser II might just be the best of them all. When Langrisser Millenium on the Dreamcast sank the franchise (and Masaya with it), I truly thought Langrisser was dead. Then, when Extreme released the baffingly terrible Langrisser Reincarnation (3DS), I thought Langrisser was not only dead but desacrated then peed over then chopped into pieces then fed to pigs, then shat from the anus of the pigs then buried again. And suddenly we have some random Chinese mobile publisher picking up the IP, somehow turning it into a successful gatcha in China, and using that money to finance a console remake of Langrisser I&II. And it does not suck, and it’s not bugged, and it has an English translation, and the translation is decent, and the game is officially released everywhere, and it has all the soundtrack variations available as DLC, and the game allows switching to the original character designs from Urushihara, and it has all the convenient Quality of Life options the game needed, and it’s Der Langrisser but with some details that instead come from the original Langrisser II, and WHAT THE HELL!? What happened here? What kind of miracle is this? Also, a rumor says Langrisser I might be somewhere on the cartrige but I never found it and you should not trust shady individuals spreading bullshit rumors like this. Anyway. Play Langrisser II. It’s the best tacos.
① Shining Force II
It’s not the best tacos. The best is Shining Force II.