50 Years Of Games On Switch
Image: Nintendo Life

Nintendo's Switch is now in its seventh year, and while it's obvious that the company will be carefully planning the reveal of its next generation of hardware in the next year or two, Switch remains in uncommonly rude health for a console of its age.

Since 2017, the system has attracted an enviable and enormous software lineup comprised of totally new, bespoke experiences alongside impressive third-party ports and re-releases of beloved classics from earlier eras. There seems to be a new boom in retro collections, in fact, and we're 100% here for it. Video games are still a comparatively young medium, but Spacewar! turned 60 in 2022. Pong turned 50. And we turned into dusty husks muttering "wha—," "b-b-ut how?" and other nonsensical half-phrases as we tried to comprehend Mother Time’s ways by counting decades on our withered fingers.

For Switch owners in particular, there is an impressively vast, historic library of games from generations past that are playable on their current console in one form or another. So, in honour of Switch's birthday and the huge number of golden oldies in its library, we've picked out a landmark release from nearly every year beginning in the early '70s, all of which can be played in some form on Switch.

Before we begin, some housekeeping. For the most part, we've gone with the earliest initial release date of a game on whatever platform it debuted. However, with dates in different territories sometimes spread across multiple years (hi, Super Mario World), there are instances below where we've taken a minor liberty in order to accommodate a particular deserving favourite. Complaints to the usual address.

In some cases, we've added honourable mentions and even notable non-Switch nominations. You'll also notice that the excellent Atari 50 collection and Hamster's Arcade Archives series are doing the heavy lifting in the early years (and we had to get creative with 1972-75 — let us know in the comments if you've got suggestions for those). Overall, we think you'll agree that the wealth of historic titles available to play on Nintendo's diminutive console is mighty impressive.

So, enough ado. Let's start at... well, not the very beginning, but certainly much closer to it than we are now. Come with us now on a journey through time and space, back to Minnesota in 1971...

1971 - The Oregon Trail (HP 2100)

Created as an educational tool for students at a Minneapolis high school, The Oregon Trail is an iconic 'edutainment' text-based adventure famous for teaching US kids about the perils of dysentery for pioneers on the trail in the mid-1800s. As with many of the games near the top of this list, the original game is available to play for free online (via the Oregon tourist board's website, no less), but it's also available on Switch in a vastly updated, upgraded form courtesy of Gameloft.

We haven't played this one, unfortunately, but let us know in the comments if you've had the pleasure of dysentery-based death on Switch.

Please note that some external links on this page are affiliate links, which means if you click them and make a purchase we may receive a small percentage of the sale. Please read our FTC Disclosure for more information.

1972, '73, '74, '75 - Pong (Arcade)

We promise that we won't cheat quite so much from here on out, but pickings are slim in the early '70s, so you'll have to forgive us for using Atari's seminal Pong from 1972 to cover a few years.

Given the game's enduring, globetrotting popularity, it's perhaps apt to have it straddle four entries. The version in Digital Eclipse's Atari 50 collection is as authentic as you could hope, and this isn't the last time we'll be leaning on that particular collection, as you'll soon find out.

1976 - Breakout (Arcade)

The archetypal block-breaker game, Breakout sees you bouncing a 'ball' off a Pong-like paddle at the bottom of the screen and using it to bust through rows of bricks at the top. Atari's Nolan Bushnell apparently wanted something akin to a single-player version of Pong, and that's very much what Breakout is.

A massive success, it would go on to inspire a 1978 Taito game we'll get to shortly...

1977 - Combat (Atari 2600)

Combat was the quintessential pack-in title which came with every Atari VCS/2600 system from its release in 1977 until 1982. While the '27 VIDEO GAMES' it was proclaimed to contain on the box might seem a little far-fetched by modern standards (those 27 titles are made up of various modes for just a handful of games), titles like Tank and Jet in this collection were many a gamer's introduction to competitive multiplayer in the home.

1978 - Space Invaders (Arcade)

In a wider cultural sense, and perhaps even more so than Mario or Pac-Man, Space Invaders and 'video games' are synonymous. Only one of those three has its own emoji on your phone's keyboard, and it ain't the portly plumber or the yellow pie dude. Taito's shooter is cited as the inciting incident in the origin stories of many of the games industry's luminaries, including one Shigeru Miyamoto, who we understand has some hits to his name.

Space Invaders is required reading, and fortunately you can do that reading on Switch.

1979 - Asteroids (Arcade)

Atari 50 comes to the rescue again with this vector-visualed masterpiece that gave you the freedom to move anywhere you wanted, firing your ship's rockets to avoid and target the eponymous space-based obstacles flying at you from every which way. Your craft's sense of inertia and the precise physics and controls still impress today, and act as callbacks to the very earliest video games such as Spacewar! and Nolan Bushnell's own Computer Space.

1980 - PAC-MAN (Arcade)

Another one of gaming's icons known even by people who have never grabbed a joystick or a pad before, Pac-Man’s maze-based antics with his ghostly antagonists (Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde) were designed as a non-violent alternative to the BLASTY-BLASTY combative games Atari and Taito had put out to great acclaim. We'd argue that gobbling up your enemies and incarcerating them in a confined space isn't quite the pacifist antidote to Space Invaders it was proposed to be, but arcade-goers in the early '80s couldn't get enough.

Honourable Mentions: Missile Command, Adventure

1981 - Donkey Kong (Arcade)

Mario (or rather Jumpman) may seem quite limited in his abilities (and death by a short fall is very old-school), but Donkey Kong is still a fun game. Tougher than the NES port, it can get quite addictive as you seek to improve your high scores. For fans of the game and the OG arcade cabinet's vertical orientation, this TATE mode-compatible Arcade Archives release is something of an 'ultimate edition'. Three versions of it with a few display options and Hamster's usual array of modes and online leaderboards make this a great choice for high-score chasers and sticklers for the right ratio.

Honourable Mentions: Galaga, Frogger Defender, Tempest, Centipede

1982 - Xevious (Arcade)

Sneaking out in Japanese arcades in December 1982, Namco's Xevious delivered visuals that were uncommon in arcades at the time and stands alongside the mighty Space Invaders as one of the most influential entries in the shooter genre. We're quite partial to the autostereoscopic 3D Classics version on 3DS, but the Switch version delivers TATE mode in all its glory.

Fun fact: Xevious is an unlockable in Star Fox: Assault on GameCube. Nope, that's not on Switch. Sorry we brought it up.

Honourable Mentions: Donkey Kong Jr., Burger Time, Millipede, Dig Dug

Non-Switch Nom: Joust, Ms. Pac-Man, Pitfall

1983 - Mario Bros. (Arcade)

Mario Bros. may be the game many remember as the extra bonus mode you never played on all those GBA Super Mario ports, but it's a significant release and one you can enjoy in all its original arcade glory on Switch.

While it didn't enjoy anywhere near the success of Donkey Kong, this is nonetheless a significant entry in Nintendo's canon, and one which shows Mario and Green-Mario Luigi in the sewers doing some plumbing-adjacent work for a change.

Honourable Mentions: Elevator Action, Track & Field