Can You Play Nintendo Wii Games on the Nintendo Switch?
The Nintendo Switch is a massive success by any measurement. After their first attempt at creating a device designed for both handheld and console play bombed with the Wii U, Nintendo scrapped it and chose to pour their efforts into a brand new device: a truly portable console that isn’t tied to a box under your television. While there’s no doubt that uncertainty surrounded the launch of the Switch as a portable product from Nintendo, the company was able to come out of the gate with a successful launch. It’s clear that, in the two years since the launch of Nintendo’s newest console, their vision for a hybrid device has been a massive success with gamers.
Though Nintendo, alongside third-party developers and indie game makers, has done a fantastic job populating the Switch’s library with great games like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there is always demand for a wider selection of games to play through. In particular, owners of the Switch have taken to hoping that games of all shapes and sizes get ported to the Switch, so much so that just asking for games to come to Switch has evolved into a meme. Perhaps due to the portability and the fun in playing games on the Switch, no other console quite has the same level of requests as Nintendo’s latest. People just can’t stop asking to see games come to the system.
One of the most popular requests from fans is the ability for the Switch to work with Wii games. After all, Nintendo has a long history of backward compatibility between consoles. The Gameboy Advance could play Gameboy and Gameboy Color games, the Nintendo DS could play Gameboy Advance games, and the 3DS could and can still play DS games using the same slot.
Likewise, the Wii had full support for the GameCube, even including ports for the GameCube controllers at the top of the device, and the Wii U worked with the entire library of Wii games and accessories using emulation. Can the Switch use Wii games in any capacity? Read on to find out.
This post was updated on May 27th to include new information on Nintendo’s game library.
Can the Switch Work with Wii Games?
We won’t hold you in suspense for too long: the short answer to this question is a simple no. Right now, the Switch can only play Switch games, for a number of reasons. Before you head off in disappointment, however, you’ll want to stay with us. Things aren’t hopeless when it comes to the Switch and possible Wii compatibility, and we’ll talk about that in a moment.
First, it’s important to understand why Nintendo made the move away from backward compatibility with the Switch, and why there’s no current backward compatibility.
Disc-Based Vs. Flash-Based
If you have a Switch, or if you know someone with one, you’ll know that it represents a return to cartridges for Nintendo home consoles for the first time since the demise of the N64 following the GameCube launch in 2001. The Switch’s cartridges are small, flash-based technology that isn’t too far off from what the DS and 3DS used to play games.
The ability to take the Switch on the go basically prohibits the ability to use Blu Ray discs for games, which both the PS4 and the Xbox One use. Using a disc-based system would require physical moving parts, along with additional noise and bulk, making the system much more fragile. Only the PSP from Sony and its successor, the Vita perfected the disc-based portable gaming system work.
Thus, the lack of a disc drive makes it impossible for the Switch to play disc-based Wii games. Likewise, the Switch cartridge shape is different from the DS and 3DS shape, both of which are more square than the taller, rectangular-shaped Switch cartridges that have since rolled out, making it impossible to ever play a physical game from a previous Nintendo title.
That said, digital copies of games are not out of the question, which is something we’ll discuss in more detail in just a moment.
What About Wii U Games?
Nintendo consoles have almost always been directly backward-compatible with the system released right before it, but the Switch’s lack of a disc drive makes it impossible for the Switch to play a Nintendo fan’s library of Wii U games.
Nintendo recognizes that, though the Wii U had a short lifespan and is seen as a sales failure, there were a considerable number of Wii U games that deserved a second chance. From sequels with improvements and changes to enhanced versions of Wii U games, Nintendo has used the Wii U’s library as a launching ground for the Switch, a way for the console to become a massive sales success with a solid library of games for anyone to pick up and play.
These are the Wii U games that have arrived on the Switch, either in a sequel format or in an enhanced remake:
- Mario Kart 8 Deluxe: This port features all the DLC from the original release, plus an all-new battle mode that easily surpasses the original to make for the best Mario Kart game yet.
- Splatoon 2: Though not a remake, Splatoon 2 plays similarly to the original, enhancing the original game while introducing new players to the series. The game is still active, but the final Splatfest is being held as we update this article, so anyone picking up Splatoon 2 after July 2019 will find the community-based festival no longer exists.
- Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze: The latest entry in the long-running Donkey Kong Country series features some enhancements over the original Wii U version, but largely remains the same.
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: Originally announced as a Wii U exclusive, the game was pushed back in 2016 to launch as the first game for the Switch and the final game for the Wii U. The game is getting a full sequel set sometime after the conclusion of the original, and the short teaser released at E3 2019 is an absolute banger.
- Bayonetta 2: Nintendo bankrolled this sequel to Platinum Games’ cult-classic Bayonetta, and both titles were then ported to the Switch. The success of Bayonetta 2 allowed Nintendo to announce a third game in the series, also a Switch-exclusive.
- Pokken Tournament DX: The cross between Tekken and Pokemon released late in the Wii U’s lifecycle, and now it’s available on the Switch with all new features and enhancements.
- Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition: The hit crossover between the Warriors franchise and Zelda came to the Wii U first, then the 3DS. This final port features every piece of content from both the Wii U and the 3DS titles, plus the DLC, for the ultimate experience.
- Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker: This port of the Wii U puzzle game, based on the Captain Toad levels in Super Mario 3D World, features all-new co-op modes, along with Super Mario Odyssey-themed levels. Since launch, they’ve added DLC to the package, making the Switch version of Treasure Tracker the definitive edition.
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: Technically, this entry in the long-running fighting game series is all-new, with mechanic changes and even new characters. But the game is most certainly based on the Wii U Smash game, and has received even more critical praise than the first.
- New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe: This re-release includes the original game, the Luigi-themed DLC levels, and adds Toadette as a playable character. If you missed out on the couch co-op platforming fun, it’s well worth your time to pick up.
- Super Mario Maker 2: The sequel to the original game brings all the fun from the first Super Mario Maker, combined with new elements, power-ups, and other features new to the series. It might be a sequel, but like Splatoon 2, it’s very similar to the original, albeit with some small changes throughout.
- Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore: If you never got to play this excellent, albeit niche, a crossover between Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem, you’ll finally have your chance. The game is often considered one of the best titles ever released on the Wii U, so if you have any interest in JRPGs, this is a great port to grab.
- The Wonderful 101: This niche action game from Platinum was critically-acclaimed upon release, but never managed to sell well on a console that was already failing. Platinum launched a Kickstarter in February to bring the game to Switch, PC, and PS4 fully remastered, and it soared past a million dollars in less than a day. The game launched in May.
- Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition: Alright, we’ll admit this is a Wii game, not a Wii U title, but it deserves a spot on this list. An HD port of the Wii classic, the first Xenoblade game arrives on Switch on May 29th.
While this doesn’t feature every exclusive game for the Wii U, it’s actually a large lineup of ports and experiences that people missed out on the first time around. If you’re a previous Wii U owner, you might find it disappointing to pay top dollar for new, enhanced copies of games you already own, but for those players looking to take their entire experience on the go, it might be worth upgrading to the better versions of your favorite games.
Will Wii Support Ever Come to the Switch?
Alright, here’s the interesting thing about the Switch: the device is powerful enough that there’s plenty of reasons to believe support for Wii titles—and specifically for certain critically acclaimed releases—will someday come to the Switch.
First, there’s the obvious support built into the Joy-Cons, which essentially act like mini Wiimote controllers and, together, can even operate like a Wiimote and Nunchuck combination. Though the Switch doesn’t come with an IR receiver and doesn’t use a pointer on its menu system to select content to play, the Switch port of World of Goo, a Wii title released in 2008, proves that the Joy-Con is more powerful than you might imagine.
When you begin playing World of Goo on Switch, it asks you to lay the Joy-Con flat on the table, before picking the controller back up to press the + button. This spawns a cursor on the display, which is used in the menu system and during gameplay. The support for the Joy-Con is accurate once you’ve synced and calibrated the Joy-Con, working just like a classic Wiimote. It’s not just interesting technology at work, but it’s also a good way to showcase the ability for the Switch to potentially add support for Wii titles in the future.
At this point, you might be thinking that this isn’t enough proof to begin looking forward to the port of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Thankfully, there’s one more example that doesn’t just speculate on Nintendo’s thinking behind adding Wii games to the Switch in the near future, but gives evidence that they have the technology to do it right now.
The Nintendo Switch was built with processing technology from Nvidia, using a “custom” system-on-chip (or SoC), co-developed by the two companies, based on Nvidia’s own Tegra technology. Prior to its announcement, rumors stated the device would be running on an Nvidia Tegra X1, with 4 ARM Cortex-A57 CPU cores and 4 ARM Cortex-A53 CPU cores along with Maxwell-based GPU cores.
These claims were confirmed following a teardown of the console after launch, proving that Nvidia had an influential and important part in the construction of the Switch. Here’s the thing, though: there is one other product that uses a similar architecture, with the Tegra X1 SoC and a GPU based on the Maxwell microarchitecture: Nvidia’s own Shield TV. The Shield TV is a gaming-focused set-top box running Android TV that largely acts as a predecessor to the Switch in terms of technology and power.
Why does this relatively-niche product matter to Switch owners looking to play Wii games on the go, or by using their Joy-Cons on the television? Because Nintendo and Nvidia’s partnership has expanded beyond the Switch, and in China it has seen the official release of a Nintendo Wii emulator on the product.
Owners of the Nvidia Shield in China can download official ROMs of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Punch-Out!!, and Super Mario Galaxy, with each game running upscaled at 1080p. Each remastered game costs about $10 and can be officially played right on the Shield.
This confirms not just that the Switch is capable of running Wii games, but that an emulator for the exact CPU and GPU architecture in the Switch exists today. That’s big, big news for anyone hoping Wii games might end up on the Switch.
This is obviously just speculation, but we’re forced to come to the same conclusion Digital Foundry did in their own hands-on assessment of the device (which they had to order directly from China to use). The level of polish in the emulator seems strange for a product that is hypothetically destined to stay locked to a niche Android TV product in one specific region. The participation and teamwork between Nintendo and Nvidia is evident, and the level of polish and work put into not just emulating Wii (and by extension, Gamecube) games on the Shield, but upscaling them and ensuring they work well on Tegra X1 chipsets, seems to be leading to something much bigger down the line.
Will the Switch Gain Access to a Virtual Console?
But wait, you might be saying. Does this mean the Switch is finally getting a Virtual Console, like the 3DS, Wii, and Wii U before it? That’s a solid no, unfortunately. When Nintendo finally detailed their plans for the Switch’s online service in 2018, former president of Nintendo of America, Reggie Fils-Aime, confirmed that a Virtual Console would not be coming to the Switch, at least in the planned future stating that there were “no plans” to use the Virtual Console banner on the Switch.
Instead, Nintendo has two options for those looking to play older games on the Switch. The first is through the eShop itself, as some publishers—including Nintendo—have taken to releasing classic ports of games from consoles and arcade machines like the Neo Geo. There are a number of Neo Geo classics on the eShop right now, like Blazing Star and Fatal Fury.
The entire ArcadeArchives series has seen some solid games released to the Switch for under $10. The original Donkey Kong game for arcades was also recently put on the eShop, marking the first time the original arcade ROM was made available for official purchase through a console. There are also collections of re-releases, like the new Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, which includes twelve Street Fighter titles from the original to all three Alpha games, to the underplayed and classic Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. Likewise, Sega brought their Genesis Classics title to the Switch, letting you play classics like Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and ToeJam and Earl in Panic on Funkotron.
The second option for downloading classic games comes in the form of Nintendo’s online service, which includes a selection of NES games like Ice Climbers and the original Super Mario Bros., plus a new collection of SNES titles that arrived in September of 2019. The addition of SNES games a year after the NES titles went live seems to imply Nintendo’s interest in adding a new console every year, which means you can probably look forward to playing Super Mario 64 next fall.
The problem with that, of course, implies that Nintendo will ever actually get to the Wii with the Switch. At the current rate, Nintendo is moving, the company would have to add the Nintendo 64 and GameCube before finally getting to Wii titles in 2022, five years after the launch of the Switch. That also ignores the company’s library of handheld games, which could also be added over newer home console additions.
The Future Awaits
Ultimately, Wii’s support for the Nintendo Switch remains a waiting game. We’ve seen Nintendo add libraries of older game’s to the console’s online subscription service, even if it’s at a much slower rate than we’d like. These games have small modifications to allow for online play, either competitively or through co-op, which means more games with modified play might be on the way.
This seems to lay out the path for Nintendo to implement the emulator they built for the Nvidia Shield on the Switch, which uses nearly identical hardware to play games. That means Super Mario Galaxy or The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess would come to the Switch in enhanced, 1080p-resolution versions, and possibly using the Joy-Con technology to emulate Wiimotes we’ve seen through games like World of Goo.
Sure, all of this could add up to nothing. Perhaps Nintendo is happy with the current (and admittedly excellent) lineup of games through the eShop and from AAA and indie developers alike. But Nintendo would be silly to miss out on the demand for games new and old on the Switch. The popularity of ports like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which outsold the original within months of release, show that Switch owners are willing to pay top dollar for games they either missed out on in the original launch, or games that they want to play again but on a portable system.
The demand is there, the controllers are there, the technology is there—at this point, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before the stars align and grant us the ability to play Wii games on the Switch.
So, which classic games would you like to see playable on the Switch? We’d love to see the first two No More Heroes games appear (especially with the third game on the way), along with a revisiting of Wii Sports Resort, a title that way too many people missed out on. Let us know in the comments below what Wii games you want to see emulated on the Switch!