In 2023, Nintendo Switch continues to be amongst the most popular gaming consoles to date. For us PC gamers, can we play Switch games on our computers if we don’t have a Switch console at home?
Yes, we can still play Nintendo Switch games on a PC by way of a few legitimate methods. Benefitting from higher-resolution monitors, superior graphics-rendering hardware, and proper mouse-keyboard support, playing Switch games on the computer is a whole lot of fun!
This is a testament to PC gaming’s adaptation throughout the years, and it will continue to do so for next-gen games too. As such, investing money in building a gaming computer might be the better long-term alternative to buying new video game consoles every few years.
We can even play PS Vita games on the computer as well, despite the handheld console being discontinued in 2019. By keeping our PC updated with the latest drivers and hardware, our gaming rig can certainly play Switch games with no problems at all, depending on the solution that we choose to follow.
How Do I Play Switch Games on PC Without a Switch?
So, how do we play Nintendo Switch games on the computer, without using a Switch console?
Without a Nintendo Switch console, we can still play Switch games on PC by using emulators. Third-party emulators existed even before the 2000s, and game emulation on PC has improved significantly since then, leading to the development of modern-day Switch emulators today.
Speaking of which, a couple of them are already available online, with primary examples being Yuzu and Ryujinx. In general, though, here’s the common practice of playing Switch games on PC via emulation:
- Download and install a Nintendo Switch emulator.
- Download additional files required by the emulator (product keys, title keys, etc.)
- Configure the emulator’s settings according to the PC specs/ Switch game.
- Find/ extract Nintendo Switch ROMs onto the computer.
- Boot up the emulator, and then launch the game by opening it using its ROM file.
REMINDER: Downloading ROM files from the Internet is illegal, but we can legally ‘dump’ the original game into becoming a ROM file after purchasing the game legitimately.
To demonstrate how different Switch emulators are set up on the computer, here’s Mr. Sujano’s guide on installing Yuzu:
For Ryujinx, UCG Tutorials’ video here shows us how it’s done:
Although game emulation operates within a grey area of the video games industry, it has helped many console gamers who own PCs to play their favorite games, like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, on a beefier gaming setup, without rebuying the same games’ PC versions instead.
On one hand, this contributes to the argument that PC gamers are universally better than console gamers, particularly when it comes to video game modding, emulation, etc. Still, this might not apply to everything, especially when it comes to handheld consoles like the Nintendo Switch, because certain benefits like mobility and size still favor console gamers more.
Can I Stream Switch Games on PC Without an Emulator?
Granted, playing Switch games using emulators does come with its risks, considering we’re downloading unofficially-supported software from the Internet. Since there’s no other way to play them on the computer, can we stream Nintendo Switch games on the PC instead?
Yes, we can stream Nintendo Switch games onto the PC by taking advantage of the handheld’s TV mode. However, 3 things will need to be prepared beforehand:
- A video capture card
- A video capture software/ application
- An HDMI cable
The gist of it is that the video capture program (e.g. OBS Studio, Camtasia, etc.) will run the Nintendo Switch display on its application when the computer is connected to the console using a video capture card (e.g. Elgato HD60 X, Genki Shadowcast, etc.).
To keep things simple:
- Install video capture software/ screen recorder on the PC.
- Connect the PC to a video capture card (via USB port).
- Put the Nintendo Switch console on its dock, and then connect an HDMI cable to it.
- Insert the other end of the HDMI cable into the video capture card’s open slot (the side that’s not connected to the PC).
- Boot up the Nintendo Switch, and then launch the video capture program/ screen recorder on the computer.
- The Switch game will now be displayed on the PC via the screen capture software.
Cytron Technologies’ quick video here summarises the process nicely:
Although this method still requires us to physically own a Nintendo Switch, at least it is 100% safe and valid. Again, installing unknown emulators on the computer can sometimes lead to unfavorable circumstances, most notably malware or viruses.
Plus, video game emulation works differently for every console, with PS2 emulators being a lot more complicated and confusing. By using a video capture card to connect the Switch console to a PC, things are relatively straightforward.
Do I Need a Gaming PC to Play Switch Games on an Emulator?
Understandably, although game emulation is somewhat unsafe, many of us still prefer the cheaper and faster option, especially when everything can be done online. That being said, do we need a proper gaming PC to be able to play Switch games using an emulator?
Well, medium-spec PCs with the right hardware can still run Switch games on emulators pretty well. Still, a high-end gaming setup is recommended, to avoid consistent frame drops, in-game stutters, and other possible issues.
Those are among the major concerns that many console players have about playing games on PC. With the right components and configurations, though, gaming experiences on the computer can be extremely satisfying, especially in terms of graphical fidelity and uncapped frame rates.
Ideally, to ensure the best in-game performance, I would suggest the following computer specs as the bare minimum:
- CPU: Intel Core i3/ AMD Ryzen 3 or higher
- GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050/ AMD Radeon RX 460
- RAM: 8GB
Regardless, one positive thing to note about Switch emulators is that their game ROMs can easily be stored inside small SD cards if the computer has slots for them. Not only do they save plenty of physical space, but they are also lightweight and can be brought along anywhere, letting us play Switch games on other PCs too.
Are All Switch Games Playable on PC using an Emulator?
Once we’ve got a Switch emulator up and running, can we now play all Switch games (as ROMs) on the PC?
No, not every Switch game is completely playable on PC emulators yet. Different emulators have different success rates so far, and a particular Switch game might be playable on one emulator but not run at all on another.
This is to be expected, given that video game emulation isn’t an easy process to begin with. On the bright side, though, Switch emulators already have compatibility lists up on their websites for us to refer to, giving us a heads-up about which games are playable at the moment.
If there’s a specific Nintendo Switch game that we’re looking forward to playing, it might be better to get its PC version instead, if there is one. Many console games find their way to computers eventually, so it might be best to reserve emulators for those that are confirmed to not be ported to PC.
Fun fact; Nintendo has never developed any PC game in the past, restricting their games to be released exclusively on their major platforms, like the Nintendo Switch. So, if there’s one element of a Switch game that we can consider playing on an emulator, it’s those that were developed by the Japanese video game developer/ publisher.