Turns out the Nintendo Switch Online’s N64 emulator isn’t as bad as it seems

Nintendo Switch Online N64 Genesis
(Image credit: Nintendo)

The Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack has been heavily criticized by gamers for several reasons. It’s considered by many to be too expensive, and the current selection of titles available is fairly limited as it stands.

However, one area that has come under particular scrutiny is how Nintendo has handled the N64 emulation process, with complaints focusing on high input lag and weird quirks that weren’t present in the original games.

IGN has taken an in-depth look at how N64 emulation works on Nintendo Switch, and the results are genuinely better than many would have believed. It isn’t perfect by any means and improvements clearly need to be made. But for the most part, it isn’t the trainwreck that many people painted it out to be.

First up, the biggest improvement to playing N64 games on Switch is that the games now output in a pin-sharp 720p, instead of the 240p resolution we had to stomach all those years ago. European gamers can also access the far superior NTSC versions of N64 games, which run faster than the PAL versions due to PAL TVs originally outputting at 50Hz.

Texture samples are also higher, but as IGN’s video points out, it can expose some of the N64’s inherent flaws, such as the seams of the grid textures being visible. On the original hardware, these limitations were less obvious. N64 games weren't exactly designed with 720p displays in mind, after all.

But what about input lag? Well, again, it’s not as bad as we first thought, though purists may take issue with the additional time the emulator takes to register your inputs. The emulator adds around 32.7ms of input lag, which is effectively one frame give or take on a 30fps game. This should be passable for most gamers and is close enough that it shouldn’t pose any real problems.

Framerate isn’t too much of a concern either. The NTSC versions are generally stable with the odd dip here and there, but nothing that will negatively affect your gameplay experience.

Opinion: Nintendo's emulation is good enough… for now

After all the discourse surrounding the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack, I decided to subscribe to the service myself. And honestly? I don’t think it’s that bad. Yes, there are some frustrating issues, like the inability to remap buttons, and the higher price is hard to justify right now. But the games play just like I remembered and look better than ever thanks to the higher resolution. 

Online play is also a fantastic addition to games that support it. I’ve had an absolute blast playing Mario Tennis online, and for someone who grew up during the N64 and Sega Mega Drive era, there’s no doubt that many of Nintendo’s and Sega’s classic games still hold up today. 

My biggest worry with the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack comes down to ongoing support. As a subscription service, I want to see new games and features on a regular cadence, instead of being drip-fed like NES and SNES games were. If Nintendo can continue to include DLC, like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and significantly expand the existing N64 games library over the next few months, that’ll be enough to justify my subscription fee.

Adam Vjestica

Adam was formerly TRG's Hardware Editor. A law graduate with an exceptional track record in content creation and online engagement, Adam has penned scintillating copy for various technology sites and also established his very own award-nominated video games website. He’s previously worked at Nintendo of Europe as a Content Marketing Editor and once played Halo 5: Guardians for over 51 hours for charity. He is now an editor at The Shortcut.