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How Nintendo Switch Backwards Compatibility Works

The Nintendo Switch may be a terrific fusion of handheld and home gaming modes, but its options for backwards compatibility are a little bit more complicated.


The Nintendo Switch has been one of the company's greatest console hits, and with numbers continually increasing, the hybrid home and handheld gaming device is slowly catching up with the sales record set by the DS family of hardware. Part of what makes the Switch such a popular console is its library of great games, which range from indie hits to first-party must-play experiences. If you look hard enough there's even a selection of retro Nintendo games to try out, but with a few caveats.

Here's how backwards compatibility works on the Nintendo Switch.

Can I play DS, 3DS, And Wii U physical games on Switch?

The short answer is no. The Switch only accepts its own proprietary cartridges, while downloaded games from its online store are saved on the console's internal storage or on an SD card inserted into it. The Switch has no disc drive, and its cartridge slot won't accept DS or 3DS cartridges.

This is naturally a step back from how previous Nintendo consoles handled backwards compatibility, as the 3DS for example was able to run DS games while the Wii U accepted Wii game discs. That doesn't mean that there's zero backwards compatibility on the Switch though, as Nintendo has chosen other methods for adding retro titles to its Switch library.

Is there a Virtual Console to buy older games from?

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Not at this time, as the Switch has no older storefront access that games can be acquired from. What the console does have though, is the Nintendo Online service that provides a substantial number of retro titles. The service has been releasing a steady number of NES and SNES games since launching a few years ago, which includes classics such as River City Ransom, Super Metroid, and Donkey Kong Country.

In late October, the service will expand to include N64 and Sega Genesis games. However, the pair of new consoles will be locked behind a new Switch Online subscription tier dubbed Expansion Pack. Nintendo hasn't announced pricing for the Expansion Pack, though current subscribers will be able to upgrade.

Are there video game port alternatives?

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Several actually! While the Wii U may not have been a best-seller for Nintendo, some of its under-appreciated games have been remastered for the Switch. Terrific games such as Bayonetta 2, The Wonderful 101, and Pokken Tournament can be found on the Switch, many of which include new features and updated visuals. Here's alist of notable Wii U games on Switch:

What about 3DS and DS games?

Unfortunately, the novel dual-screen format that 3DS and DS games used makes a port of these titles challenging on the Switch and its single-screen setup. Figuring out how to get these games to work on the Switch would be a massive undertaking for Nintendo, and with the console selling millions of units every year without those titles, it's likely not a high priority at all for the company.

What about games from other consoles?

The hardware on the Switch has proven itself to be more than capable of delivering quality visuals, and that has opened the doors for third-party studios to bring their games to the handheld. Plenty of ports from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 era of gaming can be found on the Switch, and in many instances, these games are bundled together with all of their DLC. It's worth noting that even if you do own the original game on another console though, you'll still need to pay for the Switch version.

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