After years of committing to free online play with their consoles, and even more years of just refusing online altogether, Nintendo has launched an online subscription service for Nintendo Switch, for the first time every requiring players to pay to play some games online. It’s called Nintendo Switch Online. For the price of just 20 dollars a year, Nintendo offers online functionality to a growing library of Switch games, a collection of NES titles with special new features and exclusive deals (which have yet to be revealed).
At first glance Nintendo Switch Online seems very tempting, relatively speaking. The price point alone is impressive. It’s just a fraction of the cost of its competitor services from PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold. Sadly, the price is emblematic of what Nintendo Switch Online has to offer. The service might cost much less but it also provides much less in return. In time, Nintendo Switch Online could be worth it but for now it’s just for the hardcore sect.
The main selling point of Nintendo Switch Online is a slate of classic Nintendo Entertainment System games. The list of NES games isn’t exhaustive but its still notable and rivals that of the still hard to locate NES Classic. A subscription to NES Online provides access to bonafide classics like Super Mario Bros. 3, Dr. Mario and Legend of Zelda. The list will only continue to grow too.
The way these games’ controls are mapped to Switch’s joy-cons (or pro controllers) can take some getting used to but they play fantastically. It takes mere fractions of a second for a NES game to load up on the Nintendo Switch. It comes with all the modern conveniences of an emulator with save states and even online multiplayer.
For the first time ever, it’s possible to play the original Dr. Mario with a friend across the country thanks to Nintendo Switch Online. Every NES title on Nintendo Switch Online has some kind of multiplayer mechanic whether it’s a scoreboard or competitive or co-op play. The possibilities of this revamped classic games is truly exciting especially since it replaces Nintendo’s Virtual Console. This means means that games from other Nintendo consoles could one day be included in the service. Unfortunately these are just promises for the future. Nintendo Switch Online and its collection of classic games is beginning its life at a disadvantage.
For starters there’s nothing all that exciting about the NES library because it’s just the NES library with limited added feature sets. The Nintendo Entertainment System has an important place in gaming history and only a few of these games have stood the test of time. It’s still an ancient console in the still-young age of video games but these NES games have been packaged and remade by Nintendo so many times that there’s not a whole lot about the Switch collection that is enticing. Even the online multiplayer functions come up short as the NES games can only be played with “friends” on Nintendo Switch. There’s no random matchmaking. Multiplayer works well but playing with just friend it’s a lot less appealing since Nintendo is still using the obtuse Friend Code System.
Outside of the NES collection, there’s not a whole lot to dissect with Nintendo Switch Online. The NES library is the service’s only real robust feature. Nintendo Switch Online does offer Cloud Saves for all games now. These are important in the event your Switch is lost, stolen or breaks but this is a feature that should’ve been there from the console’s launch. For everyone.
To Switch Online’s credit though it has improved the smoothness of online play. There’s much less lag and trouble connecting to a multiplayer match whether it’s on Mario Kart 8 or Mario Tennis Aces now that Nintendo Switch Online is active. Online multiplayer was never horrible when it was free but it is noticeably better with Nintendo Switch Online. That’s one thing that can be praised with the service. Some of the money for the subscription service is being used to make online play more stable.
If any of the Switch’s multiplayer games are precious to you, Nintendo Switch Online is worth it. For any casual gamer the service is underwhelming. It could (and likely) will get better with time. When Nintendo adds games for the SNES, Nintendo 64 or even the GameCube to the service it’ll be far more compelling. Even when Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is released later this year Nintendo Switch Online might be worthy of its price tag. For now though Nintendo Switch Online belongs to a select few, not the entire Switch population.