It feels a little weird writing about Nintendo Switch Online, considering we’ve been playing Nintendo Switch games online for like a year and a half. But, Nintendo finally launched their premium, paid online service, locking online pay behind a paywall. General reactions seem pretty negative, as you would expect from asking someone to pay for something that they’ve been getting for free, but is it really worth all the backlash?
I mean, honestly, no. For one thing, this service was talked about as early as the press conference that announced the release date and the price for the system itself. We’ve always been playing online on borrowed time, and if you paid even a little bit of attention to the news around the Switch, you should have already known that. Secondly, the price is very cheap. Now I realize that “really cheap” can be subjective, but I’d like to think that most people who can afford video games can afford $20 for a year of service.
With that out of the way, is the service itself any good? Well, yes and no. It’s still pretty barebones, with very limited social features, especially when compared to Xbox Live and PSN. You still can’t do much with your friends list besides look at what your friends have been up, and voice chat is still limited to a cell phone app.
Speaking of voice chat, suddenly several first party Switch games have been updated to support voice chat. Surprisingly, you can now talk to random players in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Arms, and Mario Tennis Aces. When you consider how hyper protective Nintendo usually is with this kind of thing, what with friend codes and all that, this is a huge first step. It’s just a shame that it requires you to use the app. While trying it out, I didn’t encounter a single other person using the chat.
Trying it for yourself is easy enough, however. Just have the app installed, be logged into your Nintendo account, hit the voice chat button, and as soon as you enter a game mode on your Switch that supports voice chat, the app springs to life. I tried it out on both Arms and Mario Kart 8, and both were seamless and easy. But as I said before, no one else was using it. It’s too bad, I was really curious if the Arms community was good-natured or just a bunch of shit talkers. It seems we’ll never know.
One of the other exciting features is cloud back up. Finally, we have a way to back up our save files in case anything happens to our Switches. I don’t mind access to the cloud being behind a paywall, but it is kind of a bummer that it’s still the only way to back up your files. Also, by default, it’s set to automatically back up your files. After almost a whole day, it had only managed to back up my Mario Odyssey file. When I manually did it, the whole process took about twenty minutes. That’s annoying, but now that everything is up there, the automatic process is working just fine. Every time I play a game and it saves, I look, and it’s been uploaded to the cloud. Pretty cool and easy to use. It’s worth pointing out that not every game supports this feature, which is a bummer.
In my opinion, the best part of the service is the library of NES games available to every subscriber. Called “Nintendo Entertainment System- Nintendo Switch Online”, because apparently no one knows how to name things at Nintendo, the service offers twenty games that have online multiplayer added. This is basically the “Netflix for Nintendo games” feature that people have been asking for since the Virtual Console.
The initial line-up is pretty solid, with Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Dr. Mario being personal highlights. All the games can be played online, even the single player ones. What that does is let the second player control a pointer on the screen. Kind of silly, but neat that it’s there. If the library grows, which Nintendo already said it will, this could be worth the money by itself, especially if they expand to other consoles.
So, a couple days into the service, is it worth the money? It depends on what you’re looking for. If you really want to play games online on your Switch, want your files backed up, and like NES games, then yes, I think $20 a year is a perfectly reasonable price. If none of those things are that big of a deal for you, then you’re fine. Personally, I’m happy to just play through Super Mario Bros. 3 on like the tenth system.