Over Two Years On, Is Nintendo Switch Online Worth It?

Nintendo has had a rocky history with internet based gaming since it became a thing on consoles, so over two years on and with now over 26 million adopters world wide, is it worth it?

By LG18, Posted 10 Nov 2020

Nintendo And Online Gaming: A Brief History

Nintendo have never been pioneers of online gaming. Back in the late 90s, it was their biggest nemesis SEGA that merged the power of the internet with the game console when they released the Dreamcast - a system ahead of its time that paved the way for the future of online console gaming. It wasn’t until the advent of the Wii and the DS that the company properly included online out of the box, with its uninspiringly named and rather rudimentary ‘Nintendo Wi-Fi connection’. The system allowed for Wii and DS users to play games online over Wi-Fi and in the Wii’s case, to participate in internet-based channels utilizing the Mii’s such as ‘everybody votes’ and the ‘Mii contest channel’ (remember those?). The Wii also had a separately sold web browser that ran on a version of Opera.

Although passable in its functionality Nintendo’s offering paled in comparison to the fully-fledged services that Microsoft and Sony were offering with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network-enabled fully integrated and multi-faceted online functionality directly from your account, linking friends lists, voice chat, and the ability to join a friend’s game with the tap of a button. Xbox live was, of course, a paid service, where PSN also offered a paid variation with increased functionality and bonuses with PlayStation Plus. It was clear robust online functionality was at the bottom of the priority list for Nintendo, evident most when the Wii U dropped in 2013 updating the service only slightly with ‘Mii Verse”. A decent-ish little social platform enabling players to share their in-game experiences on social media and chat with each other, but not the updated online infrastructure people were hoping for.

So, now we get to the Switch. A huge turn around for the company in more ways than one with the system eclipsing the sales of the Wii U within a year, all eyes were on this console to push Nintendo to start taking online seriously. Nintendo waited a year into the Switch’s lift to roll out its first-ever paid online service. Two and a bit years on, what exactly does it offer? And have they managed to pull it off?

   nintendo online features


Nintendo Switch Online: in a nutshell


Price of admission

Nintendo Switch Online comes in at £17.99/$20/€19.99 for the year. You can also purchase a one or a three-month pass for £3.49/$3.99/€3.99 and £6.99/$7.99/€7.99 respectively, and they also offer a family membership which enables an annual subscription for up to eight people at £31.49/$34.99/€34.99.
Compare this to the Xbox Live yearly membership cost of £50/$60/€60 and PlayStation plus that costs the same, Nintendo’s offering is by far the cheapest -  and cheaper than any of the online console’s services over the years ever have been. There is also no restriction to use the family pack for friends making for a potentially criminally cheap price of admission for a paid service.

None of that really matters, though, if the service isn’t worth it in the first place, so what has Nintendo done (or not done) to make this an enticing offer besides just making you pay extra to play your games?

The NES and SNES classic libraries

Until now, if you wanted to play games from Nintendo’s classic consoles you either had to own the console (along with an appropriate up-scaler to make it look half-decent on a modern television), or buy them from the now-defunct ‘Virtual Console’ on the Wii and Wii U. Predictions were that the virtual console was returning to the Switch, but Nintendo surprised users instead with the NES and SNES classic libraries. These are continually updated game libraries full of titles from the 8-bit and 16-bit era of gaming, currently featuring nearly all of Nintendo’s first-party classic titles, a ton of third party games, and even the odd Japanese gem we never got in the West.

You can play local multiplayer as well as online which is brilliant, and considering the cost of buying these games from the virtual console or in physical form, this is a welcome, intelligent decision. Having said this, Nintendo 64, GameCube, and Wii titles are nowhere to be seen, and with Nintendo’s habit of re-releasing games from this era and selling them back to the consumer, it doesn’t seem like they’ll be part of the deal in the future.

All subscribers to Nintendo Switch Online will have access to the NES and SNES libraries, with both essentially being Nintendo’s answer to the monthly free games that Sony and Microsoft offer.

  snes classic library

Tetris 99

Tetris 99 came out of nowhere and was quick to reach critical acclaim. Offered to Nintendo Online subscribers only, Tetris 99 is an online battle royal take on the classic franchise, whereby players fight to remain in a battle between 98 other players. It’s punishingly chaotic and addictively fun. There are even frequent opportunities to win new themes through the ‘Tetris Maximus’ events, and a lot of thought goes into the aesthetics, music, and idiosyncratic charm of each.

The game has been furtherly fleshed out since its release, too, with the offering of new game modes that can be purchased separately. The core experience - which is the best of the modes on offer anyway - will always be part of the Nintendo Online subscription, and the game overall is an enticing addition to the service.

It’s a must-have for any Tetris fan for sure and represents classic Nintendo ingenuity of taking a hotly popular idea and re-inventing it with a unique spin.

   tetris 99 logo

Cloud saves, e-shop perks, and exclusive content

It’s certainly a shame cloud saves are not included irrespective of an Online subscription, but does add an important perk to the service. You can set games to cloud save automatically and view save information for a game on the fly, while also being able to log into your account via another Switch console and still have access to all your data. Subscribers will also get discounts for the e-shop exclusive to Online subscribers and access to special DLC across a wide range of games.

What about online gameplay and connecting with friends?

While online gameplay through Nintendo Online is serviceable, it’s by no means ideal. Nintendo still seems to be clinging onto the Nintendo Switch mobile app to facilitate features that have been commonplace for years on the other consoles.
Rather than provide a party function players can use to join a group of their friends and play games together, the service instead requires you to be playing one of the voice chat supported games in order to do so, which is indisputably archaic. Over a decade ago on Xbox Live, you could host a party and invite all your friends to chat via the console's dashboard, and this worked irrespective of what game you were playing. At this point, it’d work far better to launch a Skype or Zoom call with your friends from your phone or laptop and co-ordinate things yourself, making an absolute mockery of the app and everything it aims to do.

Nintendo has ultimately attempted to streamline the social aspects of online gaming through the use of the smartphone - something nearly all of us have access to - while seemingly forgetting that we all also own a Switch. In attempting to embrace the immediacy of the mobile phone app, they’ve made something so bafflingly pointless it would be laughable if people weren't paying for it. Actual online gameplay is relatively stable for the most part, but again, some of Nintendo’s own first-party titles suffer from poor infrastructure - infrastructure people are supposedly paying to support the proper function of. Super Mario Maker 2 illustrates Nintendo’s lack of foresight in this department with their poor net code making the game a laggy mess online. There aren’t any dedicated servers for Switch games, either - something a title like Splatoon 2 could certainly benefit from.



The Verdict

The perks Nintendo offer for subscribing to the service are appealing, no doubt. The NES and SNES libraries provide hours of fun, and Tetris 99 is an excellent game in its own right. However, these features should surely be the cherry atop a solid online infrastructure, and the company still seems yet to take on board most of what is essentially the last 15 years of innovation. What they offer as an online social gaming experience is frankly awful; it feels like they’re either painfully out of touch or think people are stupid. The issue is, with some of Nintendo’s best first-party offerings majorly utilizing or even requiring online play, you wouldn’t be getting the most out of your switch to not subscribe to it.

Moreover, Tetris 99 and the NES and SNES libraries, as well as the importance of cloud saves, does for many make the price of admission worth it - and it would be difficult to argue against this if you used the family pass. There’s no doubt, though, consumers should demand higher standards from the service. Tetris 99 and the retro libraries are great, and a case could be made for why you’d subscribe for that alone if you get a lot of use out of them, but that’s not exactly what should be the main event for an ‘online’ service.

It’s cheap enough and ultimately too integral to the Switch experience not to purchase at this point, but two years on, Nintendo can do better than this.

Linden Garcia,
Editor, NoobFeed


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General Information

Publisher(s): Nintendo
Developer(s): HAL Laboratory
Genres: Fighting
Themes: Mashup
Release Date: 2018-12-07

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