Here’s my confession, loyal PCGamesN readers: Nintendo delivered my favourite presentation at E3 this year. Sure, it’s neat that there’s a Starfield release date and all, but an original 2D Metroid is finally coming out after all these years, and I couldn’t be more excited. It won’t have high frame rate options or support 4K resolution (even with an OLED Switch), and we won’t be able to play it with a mouse and keyboard or mods. Unless… maybe it would and we could?
You buy Nintendo systems to play Nintendo games, and Nintendo games only exist on Nintendo systems. But as we’ve seen with every one of Nintendo’s major competitors in the console wars over the decades, the platform lines aren’t as solidly drawn as they once were. Sega’s now a multiplatform software company, Sony’s bringing both recent triple-A releases and some of its older catalogue to PC, and Microsoft is treating consoles and computers as part of the same Xbox ecosystem.
What if Nintendo followed in those footsteps? Obviously, there would be a ton of positives, from improved performance to mod support, but Nintendo’s known for never quite giving the fans exactly what they want.
Even in my imagination, I can’t see a Fairy Godmother granting us these great games but a monkey’s paw, and alongside them would come Nintendo-like solutions to problems that have no reason to exist. Let’s imagine a lot of good with a little bad.
The Sony approach
Let’s first picture the future if Nintendo follows in the footsteps of Sony. Here, Nintendo ports some of its most popular recent games to PC – a few years after they hit console, of course, so as not to cannibalise the sales and prestige of Nintendo’s own machines. We’ve had Horizon: Zero Down, Death Stranding, and Days Gone, so we get The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Luigi’s Mansion 3 on Steam. A random, sporadic selection, surely, but great games nonetheless, and ones which we can now enjoy at much higher frame rates and resolutions.
Picture Skyrim's modding community set loose on Breath of the Wild
The thing is, this option isn’t even all that unlikely. Sony is putting its older games on PC in an effort to expose new players to its library of intellectual properties in hopes that those same players will pick up the latest PlayStation hardware to get the new games as soon as they launch. Nintendo is already doing exactly this on smartphones, by making original takes on Mario, Animal Crossing, and Fire Emblem for mobile gamers. Those aren’t ports, admittedly, but they serve the same purpose – introducing a new audience to Nintendo’s library of games and characters.
We’ve already seen what the mod community can do for games like Breath of the Wild through emulation, but the possibilities would balloon with a line of native PC ports. Picture Skyrim’s modding community set loose on BotW. Character model replacements and cheats, yes, but even more important are the quality of life tweaks we might start to see, like an FOV slider and convenience mods (what if you could climb when it’s raining?) Add the possibility of major graphical overhauls and new quests, and we’ve got a very appealing reason to return to Hyrule.
But this is where we have to acknowledge the fact that, even in this fantasy scenario, Nintendo is still Nintendo. Would the company that’s too scared of the internet to put voice chat in Splatoon 2 truly allow mods to run free and unfettered? Or would the lawyers send out the DMCAs the instant a nude Bowsette appeared in a modded version of Smash Bros? Skyrim has a robust mod scene because Bethesda has mostly supported modders and provided tools to help their work. While mod work could continue without that sort of support – ROM hacks are a terrific example of that – the biggest mod scenes have needed the blessing of their respective game makers to reach their true heights.
The Microsoft approach
Under the Microsoft approach, Nintendo publishes its games simultaneously on its own consoles and on PC. This lets you choose whether you want to get your games on a TV-driven device or through Steam, which is nice enough. But that’s the small picture. If we imagine ‘Nintendo’ the way Microsoft now pitches ‘Xbox’ – as a service, not just a console – the possibilities get very exciting.
First, we’re getting cross-save and cross-buy on all first-party Nintendo games. Great. We can start playing a game on a TV with a Switch, pick up the Switch for a bit of gaming on our commute, then download the save to PC to finish the session in the evening on far more powerful hardware. This would extend Switch’s core appeal – flexibility – to whole new playstyles, and hey, Nintendo is already designing games around varied power requirements and different control methods. PC just adds an additional step.
Microsoft has also been building its backward compatibility options through robust emulation efforts in order to provide an even bigger library of games on its platform. Of course, Nintendo used to do this too, with various iterations of the Virtual Console service. Nintendo has the most robust library of beloved classics of any major publisher, bar none, and there’s a reason fans have been pining for the days when Virtual Console was a formalised effort from the company. The Microsoft approach is especially exciting here.
But the real game changer is the possibility of a Nintendo version of Game Pass for PC. Every first-party Nintendo game available on release day for $14.99 USD per month – or $9.99, if you just want the PC versions. You’d have access to a library of classics ranging from Super Mario Bros to Drill Dozer, all in one place, across a variety of machines.
Speaking of: You can buy Game Pass for PC here
Again, the monkey’s paw closes a finger. Nintendo also likely invests in its own proprietary platform, just as Microsoft did with the Windows Store and Xbox app. We’re talking about a company with a history of touching the internet only in the most draconian ways possible – you still need friend codes to visit somebody’s Animal Crossing island. What horrors does Nintendo unleash in a world where it’s designing its own PC platform?
The Sega approach
But, you plead with the monkey’s paw, what if Nintendo goes truly open by following in Sega’s footsteps? Surely nothing can go wrong now? And a future in which Nintendo has to give up the hardware business to focus on software isn’t even totally inconceivable – yes, the Switch is selling far better than the Dreamcast, but the Wii U wasn’t that long ago. These days, Sega simply publishes (almost) all its games on (almost) every relevant platform, and maybe that’s all we really want from Nintendo.
a future in which Nintendo has to give up the hardware business to focus on software isn’t even totally inconceivable
Maybe we don’t get the full back catalogue of Nintendo games on PC in this arrangement, but most of the ones that matter show up in plenty of collections – that’s a ‘yes’ to Super Mario Bros, but an absolute, unequivocal ‘no’ to Mother 3. Getting every big Nintendo game on PC through Steam, without a wait? Sign us up.
One of the coolest things about modern Sega is the company’s open-handed approach to fan games and ROM hacks. Sega has given a broad – though not comprehensive – thumbs up to fan-made games, and even went so far as contracting prominent community developer Christian Whitehead to create an original, official new game with Sonic Mania. The official Metroid 2 remake was great and all, but imagine if Nintendo took the same approach with something like AM2R, allowing the creativity of community developers to be celebrated rather than forcing us to count the days to a cease-and-desist notice for every cool fan project that comes around.
The catch? No more dedicated gaming hardware. Yes, the whole point of this exercise is to imagine a world where Nintendo is on PC hardware, but come on, Nintendo’s consoles are exciting in their own right, too. The Switch can’t match portable gaming PCs for power (just check out the Steam Deck specs), but it easily outclasses them for affordability and ease of use. Maybe the truly open approach requires Nintendo to give up its hardware entirely. Unless…
The Atari approach
Imagine Nintendo following in Atari’s footsteps, building up a legacy as a central name in videogames, crashing into a financial nightmare, then bouncing around various owners keen to use the Nintendo brand and IP without any real connection to the original company. Then, decades down the line, the new Nintendo decides to get back to basics, and once again live on the sort of product that made it famous in the first place.
Introducing: the Nintendo Entertainment System. It’s a $400 USD Linux box – technically a PC! – that comes pre-installed with a handful of NES games and a few indies you can already play on Steam. Critics offer superlative praise like “all style, no substance”, and dramatic compliments like “it costs too much and does too little”.
What’s the catch on this one? It’s the only place you can play Metroid Prime 4 and Bayonetta 3.