How to play Japanese Famicom games through Nintendo Switch Online


Last night, Nintendo officially rolled out its online subscription service for the Nintendo Switch, and one of the big selling points is the inclusion of classic NES games. For $20 a year, you get access to a growing list of 8-bit titles; there are 20 available at launch, with more to be added on a monthly basis. All of the games are housed in a single Switch app, and they’ve been updated with features like online multiplayer.

But one of the great, largely unheralded features of the Switch is that it doesn’t have any region locking. From one console, you can access Nintendo’s digital store in multiple countries. For the purposes of classic games, this means that you can actually access both the NES and Japanese Famicom apps with a single Switch Online subscription. And it doesn’t take all that much work. All you need is a Switch Online subscription and a Japanese eShop account.

Step 1: setting up an account

In order to access the Japanese eShop, you’ll first need a Japan-specific account. To do this, head over to accounts.nintendo.com and create a new account from scratch. There are really only two things you need to do: set your location to Japan and use a different email address from your main account. Once that’s done, you’ll be prompted to create a new profile on your Switch for the new account.

Step 2: the Japanese eShop

Once the account is set up, you’ll then be able to access Nintendo’s Japanese store; all you have to do is select your new Japanese profile when heading to the eShop. From here, things can get a tiny bit tricky because, well, you’ll be navigating a store that’s mostly in Japanese. Luckily, the app you’re looking for is in the very first section of the store under the “new” header. The app is easy to find: the icon is a bright red rectangle with the title “Family Computer: Nintendo Switch Online” and a picture of a pair of gold Famicom controllers on it. (Normally, I’d include a screenshot here to make it easier to find, but, unfortunately, Nintendo doesn’t allow screengrabs in its digital shop.) It’s free to download, which you should go ahead and do right now.

Step 3: accessing the Famicom app

After the app is downloaded, open it — but be careful which account you’re using. In order to actually play the games, you’ll need to select a profile associated with a Switch Online subscription. Thankfully, this doesn’t mean you need to sign up for a second subscription for your Japanese profile. Instead, you can still play the Famicom app using a subscription tied to your North American or European Switch account. From there, you’re free to play.

Now, you may be asking yourself why you’d want to go through all of this trouble. At launch, the NES and Famicom apps feature a nearly identical lineup of 20 games. But there are a few reasons to have both. For starters, the Japanese versions of these games can be notably different than their US counterparts; Super Mario Bros. 3, for instance, was made significantly easier for audiences outside of Japan. It’s interesting to have the two versions of the game side by side on the same console and be able to experience those differences first-hand.

But this is also a future-focused decision. If Nintendo’s history with the Virtual Console is any indication, eventually the Famicom app will probably be home to a number of games not available outside of Japan, except you’ll now have easy access to them. One day, you might be able to play the likes of Doki Doki Panic (which Super Mario Bros. 2 was based on) or Famicom Wars (the precursor to Advance Wars) on your Switch.

Of course, you might also want to install the Famicom app for purely aesthetic purposes. Nintendo’s Japanese box art is just that much better.

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