How to Get Retro Games on Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch has become a hot retro gaming platform thanks to its hybrid portable/console design and support for controllers with classic tactile feels. But aside from select Virtual Console titles, the Switch lacks built-in backwards compatibility with retro libraries.

Thankfully, there are ways to get thousands of classic NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, and other retro titles running on your Switch. In this guide, we’ll explore solutions including the Nintendo Switch Online retro libraries, homebrew emulators, and standalone retro consoles. Let’s dive into how to unlock retro gaming on your Switch!


Gamers wish Nintendo would fully embrace backwards compatibility and open up the Switch to readily playing old classics ranging from the NES era to the Nintendo 64 and beyond. While the Virtual Console eShop delivered this for past consoles, the Switch has taken a different approach.

Nintendo currently offers a select library of NES and SNES game with a paid Switch Online membership. For broader access, homebrew emulation provides a means to load a vast catalog of retro ROMs. And portable docks with built-in retro platforms integrate multiple gaming libraries in one device.

In this guide we’ll cover:

  • The Nintendo Switch Online retro game library
  • Homebrew emulator options and requirements
  • All-in-one retro gaming solutions for Switch
  • Recommended controllers for retro gaming on Switch

With the right accessories and homebrew, the Switch can transform into an all-in-one retro gaming beast. Let’s unlock retro gaming on your Switch!

Key Takeaways for Getting Retro Games on Switch

  • The Nintendo Switch Online membership provides NES and SNES retro game libraries. New titles are still regularly added.
  • Homebrew software like RetroArch enables emulating dozens of classic systems. Requires modding your Switch.
  • Multi-console docks like the Genki Covert Dock stuff NES, SNES, and Genesis into one Switch peripheral.
  • 8BitDo’s controllers recreate the feel of original NES, SNES, and Genesis gamepads for authentically controlling retro games.
  • Getting the most out of retro gaming on the Switch requires a combination of software and hardware for an all-in-one retro experience.

Nintendo Switch Online

Nintendo offers select NES and SNES games exclusively to Nintendo Switch Online subscribers. This gives Switch owners legal access to titles from Nintendo’s back catalog on modern hardware.

The Libraries

As of early 2023, the included retro libraries contain:

  • NES – Over 100 titles like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Final Fantasy and classic NES Mega Man entries. More games still added periodically.
  • SNES – Near 50 titles presently including hits like Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, and Super Mario Kart, plus acclaimed JRPGs. Additional games added less frequently than NES.

For under $4 per month when purchasing an annual online membership, this collection gives you legal access to a curated selection of classics.

Offline Play

Unlike Virtual Console, games are not permanently owned. But subscribers can play Switch Online NES and SNES titles offline indefinitely once downloaded with an active membership. This makes gaming on-the-go easy.

Special Features

Nintendo adds modern features to these retro releases including:

  • Suspend save states – Freeze games and resume instantly later
  • Online multiplayer – Play classic NES and SNES local multiplayer games online
  • New rewind feature – Jump back in time to retry tricky sections
  • Updated manuals – Digital manuals with new graphics

While not as robust as Virtual Console, the Switch Online retro game offerings provide the convenience of playing classic Nintendo games natively on your Switch either docked or mobile.

Homebrew Emulation and Modding

For a vastly wider selection of retro systems and games, homebrew emulation is an option. Software like RetroArch provides cross-platform emulation. But installing it on the Switch requires hacking the system firmware to enable running unapproved code and pirated games.

Modding and Custom Firmware

The only way to load emulator programs onto the Switch is by installing custom firmware on the device through vulnerabilities and mods. This allows running unauthorized software but is complex.

  • Requires updated Switch hardware vulnerable to current exploits
  • Risk of Switch bans by Nintendo
  • Voids your Switch warranty

RetroArch Emulator

Once modded, RetroArch serves as a multi-system emulator frontend. It supports dozens of classic systems including:

  • NES, SNES, N64, GameCube, Wii, Game Boy, DS
  • Sega consoles like Genesis, Dreamcast, Saturn
  • Sony systems – PlayStation, PSP
  • Arcade platforms via MAME

RetroArch provides gamepad support, save states, visual shaders, and more. But learning curves and performance exist depending on the emulator core.

Game ROMs

Because downloading copyright ROMs is piracy, user must supply their own files legally obtained by ripping game discs they physically own. Locating ROMs requires web searches with risks.

All-In-One Retro Gaming Docks

For a legal and convenient way to play retro games on Switch without hacking, specialized retro gaming docks offer elegant solutions. These accessory peripherals integrate self-contained retro game platforms right into the Switch’s TV and handheld modes.


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The Polymega is a modular dock containing swappable retro cartridge adapters for playing original NES, SNES, Genesis, TurboGrafX game cards. Delivers pure, lag-free HDMI output by tapping the original system’s video signal.

  • Plays your existing game collections
  • Up to 4K resolution over HDMI
  • Save state support
  • Digital library downloads planned
  • Expensive at $400 base price

Genki Covert Dock

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This tiny $80 dock houses an SNES, Genesis, and NES Classic console inside, with cartridge slots for each. HDMI output delivers 720p video. Wireless controllers sync for handheld retro gaming.

Retro-Bit Prismatic

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The upcoming Prismatic combines Sega Genesis, Saturn, Dreamcast, and NES game support in one slick Switch dock package. Promises zero lag through real console hardware inside.

These docks leverage original retro console hardware or FPGA chips to deliver authentic retro gaming functionality fused into the Switch’s big screen and portable play modes.

Best Retro Controllers for Switch

For that true vintage feel, specialized controllers by 8BitDo replicate the experience of using original NES, SNES, and Genesis gamepads:

8BitDo N30

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This clever clickable d-pad controller looks exactly like a classic NES gamepad but with modern features like dual joysticks for analog control in retro games and Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Works great with NES Switch Online titles or the NES/FC Classic. $45

8BitDo SN30 Pro

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A SNES-inspired pro controller with clicky d-pad and face buttons placed just like the original SNES gamepad. Features Bluetooth, rumble, and USB-C charging. The ultimate SNES retro controller for just $45.

8BitDo M30

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The M30 mimics the 6-button Genesis controller layout in a comfortable handheld form factor. Bluetooth connection and turbo functions update the retro controller experience. $45 gets that Genesis feel on your Switch.

Pair the convenience of Switch Online or retro docks with controllers styled after the original systems for the best retro Switch experience.

Tips for Retro Gaming on Switch

Here are some tips to improve your classic gaming sessions when playing retro titles on the Nintendo Switch:

  • Set Switch to Game Mode for reduced input latency playing retro reaction-based games.
  • Enable the CRT filter in Switch Online apps to mimic scanlines and display curvature.
  • For Switch Online NES games, hold ZL+ZR to swap between different display filters and modes.
  • Turn vibration off for wireless 8BitDo controllers to extend battery life.
  • Add [insert game recommendations by console] to your Switch Online libraries for must-play titles.
  • Favor first-party Nintendo retro games which emulate most accurately. Avoid choppy third-party games.
  • Connect to a TV rather than handheld mode for zero display latency when using wireless controllers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does the Switch have Virtual Console?

No, the Switch moved away from the Virtual Console eShop where games had to be individually purchased. Physical retro games are not directly compatible either unlike past systems with backwards compatibility.

What retro systems can you emulate on modded Switch?

With custom firmware installed, RetroArch can emulate dozens of systems up to PlayStation 1 and N64 generation hardware. Performance varies by platform.

Is Switch Online the only way to legally play retro games on Switch?

Pretty much, unless you mod your Switch. The upcoming Polymega dock will play original retro game cartridges. Some indie eShop retro-inspired games exist too.

Can Switch Online NES/SNES games be played offline?

Yes, downloaded Switch Online games can be played offline indefinitely, even with an expired membership. You just can’t download more games until resubscribing.

What’s the best controller for NES games on Switch?

The 8BitDo N30 provides the authentic rectangular NES gamepad feel and tactile buttons in a modern wireless form factor perfect for Switch Online NES games.


The Nintendo Switch’s hybrid portable, docked, and Joy-Con controller capabilities make it an amazing platform for retro gaming. While limited, the growing Nintendo Switch Online libraries offer legal emulation of NES and SNES classics.

For broader access to retro libraries, modding enables open-source emulators. But all-in-one HDMI docks like the Polymega integrate real retro console hardware into the Switch ecosystem while controllers from 8BitDo provide authentic control feels.

With the right accessories and services, the Switch can transform into an incredible retro gaming swiss army knife. Now you can take your retro library anywhere while leveraging Nintendo’s excellent modern gaming hardware. The past and present gaming generations collide beautifully!

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