Nintendo Switch Online Update Restores One of Gaming’s Greatest Relationships

A collection of new Nintendo Switch Online games restores hope that one of gaming's greatest relationships may finally be saved.

Killer Instinct
Photo: Nintendo

Nintendo somewhat quietly published a Nintendo Direct presentation today that focused on some of its partners’ upcoming projects. While filled with interesting updates about various games, the highlight of the presentation involved an unexpected update to Nintendo Switch Online’s digital library.

As of today, Nintendo Switch Online subscribers of various tiers can play a collection of Rare-developed titles that include Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll, RC PRO-AM, Battletoads in Battlemaniacs, Killer Instinct, and Blast Corps. Gamers in Japan got Mother 3 in their version of that update, but that’s a story for another day.

While many of those games are notable in their own ways, the fact they were all developed by Rare is most certainly the most interesting thing about them in this particular instance. For those who don’t know, Rare and Nintendo once formed a partnership that led to the production of legendary games like Donkey Kong Country, Goldeneye 007, Battletoads, and many more. Rare’s run of N64 games, in particular, is considered to be one of the greatest runs of new releases from a single developer in gaming history.

However, that partnership was forever changed (and ended, in many ways) when Microsoft purchased Rare in 2002. Though some argue that the acquisition marked the end of Rare’s golden days (even if the studio’s output since then is better than it usually gets credit for), it most certainly created a natural rift between Nintendo and Rare.

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Microsoft (or, more specifically, Xbox) is very much at the heart of this story. The Xbox team recently revealed that they are porting some of their formerly exclusive games to PlayStation and Nintendo Switch. In fact, this Nintendo Direct revealed that versions of Pentiment and Grounded (two former Xbox exclusives) will soon come to Nintendo Switch.

Yet, it’s these Switch Online re-releases that I find to be most intriguing. While Nintendo certainly hasn’t been forbidden from re-releasing classic Rare games in the past, their ability to do so has long been complicated by Microsoft’s acquisition of Rare. Those complications often cut both ways with Xbox sometimes being blocked from releasing certain retro Rare titles on their platforms. The Rare Replay collection didn’t include any Donkey Kong Country games, and just look at how long it took for either company to re-release GoldenEye 007. It’s been a nightmare situation for the preservation of one of the greatest catalogs in gaming history.

Now, though, things certainly seem to be changing. While neither Xbox nor Nintendo has released further comments on how the former company’s new policies will affect Rare’s retro library, this sudden influx of Rare games to the Switch seems to send a clear message that the relationship between all involved parties is indeed finally changing.

What happens next remains to be seen. A new Conker game, perhaps (or a re-release of the Bad Fur Day titles)? Could Rare return to the Donkey Kong franchise? For that matter, could Rare Replay be updated with the Donkey Kong Country games, or could Switch owners get to enjoy Viva Piñata? We sadly don’t have the answers at this time, but this does seem to be a big win for fans of the Nintendo/Rare era and those who want to see gaming history properly preserved via modern platforms.