Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack is much, much worse than we thought

Nintendo Switch Online
(Image credit: Nintendo)

When Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack was announced during the September 23 Nintendo Direct presentation, most fans delighted in the company finally adding both N64 and Sega Genesis / Mega Drive titles to its roster of retro game collections.

The hype soured a bit when the Expansion Pack's pricing was quietly announced during the following Animal Crossing: New Horizons Direct, which showed the higher subscription tier to be substantially more expensive than the base option. In fact, I was personally so caught up on the price that I failed to take into account any potential issues that might otherwise occur, because at $49.99 / £34.99 a year, surely Nintendo couldn't mess it up that bad, right? Well, not exactly.

After waking up on the morning of October 26, 2021, I looked on as the Expansion Pack was put through the wringer on Twitter – and with good reason. The service is an unmitigated disaster, with swathes of users reporting everything from texture glitches and audio issues to unsynced online play and hideous input lag.

The above tweet is perhaps one of the better demonstrations of just how unfit for purpose Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack is in its current state. In fact, these are issues that also plagued the NES and SNES collections on Switch. So it's baffling to see that, after all this time, Nintendo opted to just not do anything about it.

Mario Kart 64, for example, is a game about speed, and some degree of skill, as certain items like the green shell and banana peel require some precision to use. When the quality of Expansion Pack's emulation is this poor, though, you can't enjoy Mario Kart 64 as the speed and skill – prerequisites to enjoy the game – can't be achieved. Put simply, it's not up to code.

But there's a very clear reason why the above clip is so choppy, as Twitter user OatmealDome explains that familiar netcode is in play.

Of course, it's not just Twitter where Expansion Pack's issues are being discovered. Threads on Reddit and Resetera are compiling the greatest issues plaguing the paid service right now, too.

The most immediately noticeable issue seems to be the dreadful input lag, which has the potential to render some titles (like Super Mario 64) completely unplayable. Issues with framerate, texture inaccuracy and garbled music persist throughout all the games featured. 

But perhaps strangest of all is the button layout Nintendo has opted to use as a default, which reverses the placement of the A and B buttons while randomly tacking two of the C-buttons on the Joy-Con's X and Y, as you can see below.

Nintendo Switch Online menu showing the N64 button layout

(Image credit: HustleBun, Resetera / Nintendo)

If you can stomach the awkward button layout (assuming you didn't shell out for the overpriced official N64 wireless controller) and the occasional texture glitch, and if you're not planning on playing any of the games online, then you should be fine, right? Well, no, it gets worse.

Arguably the biggest blunder that will prevent old school players and newcomers alike from playing these excellent retro titles is the horrendous input lag. As demonstrated below by speedrunner Toufool playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, there's a very noticeable delay between your button presses and Link's on-screen actions.

Don't bank on Nintendo to fix this

It's worth reminding folks that Nintendo's history with its own emulation efforts have very rarely been successful. Even going as far back as the Wii's Virtual Console, imperfect emulation was abound. The VC's version of Super Mario Bros., for example, featured off-kilter music and oddly colored sprites.

More recently, the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection on Switch felt listless at best, especially with the poor touch control implementation for Super Mario Galaxy that was nowhere close to as refined as the Wii remote's motion-based pointer.

That's all before mentioning that Nintendo Switch Online's very own NES and SNES collections still suffer from many of the issues that plague the N64 package. For those, online play is nigh unusable thanks to occasional distorted music and out of sync gameplay. Nintendo didn't do anything about it then, so why would it now?

As Twitter user TAHK0 interestingly points out, N64 and Sega Genesis / Mega Drive may not even be Expansion Pack's main attraction down the line. Rather, the service might eventually serve as a hub for accessing future downloadable content and expansions for free. We're already seeing this with Animal Crossing: New Horizons' Happy Home Paradise DLC, which is available to Expansion Pack subscribers at no extra cost.

This is a sentiment I pointed out in my initial piece on Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack (linked above), where I could see future DLC for upcoming titles like Splatoon 3 being added to the subscription service to incentivize more players to upgrade.

If this is Nintendo's plan in the long run, then, it may just be that the N64 and Sega Genesis / Mega Drive collections were ancillary to Expansion Pack's true purpose, though that remains to be seen. As for the retro collections themselves, the problems run so deep that I simply can't imagine Nintendo taking the time and resources to fix the core issues. I'd love to be proven wrong, but it's not something Nintendo is typically known for doing.

On the plus side, the backlash to the Expansion Pack service has been so severe – likely exacerbated by its astronomic price point – that we feel Nintendo may at least be pushed to make a statement on the matter. The N64 is a much-loved console, housing some of the best early 3D titles ever made. 

It's a nostalgic comfort for those who grew up in the 90s, and a compelling curiosity for newcomers, too. Right now, Nintendo is doing one of its most important consoles a disservice with such a shoddy implementation on the Switch, but it's genuinely hard to say if it even cares.

Rhys Wood
Hardware Editor

Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.