Nintendo Switch Online still needs its killer app — classic Pokémon Game Boy titles

Nintendo Switch Online badly needs the retro Pokémon games.

Blastoise and Charizard from the Pokemon Red & Blue cover art

Image via Nintendo

One of the biggest announcements during the recent Nintendo Direct was that Game Boy titles were coming to Nintendo Switch Online, with Game Boy Advance titles also included via the Expansion Pack. For some time before the Direct, there were numerous leaks about the addition of Nintendo’s old handheld systems, and there were certain games that I wanted to see on the service more than any other: the Pokémon series. The original Pokémon titles weren’t mentioned in the Direct, but potentially becoming playable on Switch would be a massive opportunity for Nintendo — if the company did it right. 

Related: All Shiny locked Pokemon in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet

The Game Boy libraries on Nintendo Switch need Pokémon

Image via The Pokémon Company

The launch line-up of the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance apps on Nintendo Switch is currently small and only has a few standout titles. While Nintendo has confirmed that more games are on the way, it’s still a small list, especially for original Game Boy titles. There are a few highlights, with The Legend of Zelda Oracle games and Metroid Fusion being among the best entries in their respective franchises — but I wouldn’t say that these are games that are worth the price of a Nintendo Switch Online subscription.

The original Tetris was one of the best launch titles of all time, and it helped sell Game Boy systems during the early days of its lifespan, but it was the Pokémon franchise that breathed a second life into the handheld and turned it into one of Nintendo’s best-selling consoles. To this day, Pokémon Red & Blue are still the best-selling entries in the series, giving birth to Pokémania and creating a generation of lifelong fans.  

If Pokémon Red and Blue were revealed for the Nintendo Switch Online service, then it would have been one of the biggest announcements of this week’s Nintendo Direct. Fans still adore these games, and they would have rushed to their Switch to take another journey through the Kanto region. But the Direct didn’t even offer up a tease for more mainline Pokémon games, which could have encouraged customers to re-sub further down the line. And all of that withstanding, there’s the question of how these games would work on Switch in the first place.

How would Pokémon make the most of Nintendo Switch Online?

Pokémon Yellow on 3DS image via Nintendo

As much as I want to see Pokémon games on Nintendo Switch Online, I also understand the challenges in bringing them to a new platform. The Pokémon games relied on the Link Cable more than any other game on the system, as they were required for completing the Pokédex. While Nintendo Switch Online does have a Link Cable emulator for its wireless, it’s restricted to people on your Friend List.

That said, there is an additional incentive for Nintendo and The Pokémon Company to add more online features to the retro Pokémon games, which is Pokémon Home. If there were a way to move Pokémon from the Nintendo Switch Online apps to Pokémon Home, that would add more value to their inclusion, as people would want to bring Gen 1 to 3 Pokémon into the current games. A similar method to this idea has worked with the Pokémon games on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console, so there is a precedent for this concept working on modern systems. 

The dream version of the Pokémon games that I want to see on Nintendo Switch Online would not only involve online trading and battling through Link Cable emulation but would be able to connect with the upcoming Pokémon Stadium on the Nintendo 64. This would give old-school fans a chance to have the whole Pokémania experience they may have missed as kids by not owning all the hardware, as I did. 

Cross your fingers for this year’s Pokémon Day 

Image via The Pokemon Company

All is not lost for the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance apps, as it’s possible that an announcement regarding retro Pokémon games on the Nintendo Switch is being held back for Pokémon Day, which will take place on February 27. This is The Pokémon Company’s equivalent to the Nintendo Direct, traditionally featuring announcements of games on both mobile and Nintendo platforms. 

The last Pokémon Day event was huge, as it was where Pokémon Scarlet and Violet were announced — but there might not be as many big reveals this year. This is because 2022 was stacked for Pokémon content, with Pokémon Legends: Arceus and Pokémon Scarlet and Violet launching within the space of a year. With Generation IX so fresh, The Pokémon Company will need to rely on spin-off titles, DLC content, and possibly even retro games for its presentation.

A retro Pokémon announcement for Nintendo Switch would be a huge deal and a major draw for new subscribers, as the chance to re-experience the classic entries in the series is something that fans would pay good money for, especially following the polarizing response to Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. Unfortunately, the only Pokémon game confirmed for the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance apps right now is the Pokémon Trading Card Game. 

The Pokémon Company may be holding out on adding the mainline retro entries to the service, either due to monetary reasons or a desire to deny easy access for the fans, as it could be planning to produce more remakes of the older games. As it stands, Nintendo Switch Online’s Game Boy and Game Boy Advance apps need the Pokémon games to make them compelling, as the current line-up feels like an afterthought. The only thing that would truly excite me about these apps — other than Mother 3 — would be the addition of the Pokémon games that helped turn me into a lifelong fan of the franchise.