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Nintendo Switch Online: Year 1 Review

It’s crazy to think that the Nintendo Switch is in its 3rd year on sale. The console was a radical departure for the gaming industry; a home console you can take with you anywhere, at anytime. Since its release the console has been a smash hit, managing to sell over 42 million consoles in only 32 months. With the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo did something radically different with their online services. For the first time, they decided to start charging for it and offering a service similar to PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold. It was different for Nintendo because they had always offered their online service for free. However, the service was the absolute bare minimum. While Nintendo Switch Online is far from perfect, it’s a positive step in the right direction for Nintendo and shows the Big N is going in the right direction. Just a note: This review is covering the first year Switch Online was available, covering September 18th, 2018 (launch date) to the end of September 2019.

Nintendo Switch Online Overview

Before we get into the full review, let’s go over real quick what comes with a Nintendo Switch Online membership. A 1-Year membership costs $20 or $35 for a family plan. A family plan allows someone to pay for the online service for up to 8 Nintendo Account users.

  • Nintendo Switch Online Voice Chat App
  • Online Multiplayer
  • Cloud Saves
  • NES And SNES Nintendo Switch Online Games
  • Offers And Promotions

Nintendo Switch Online Voice Chat App

I figured I would start off with the aspect of Nintendo Switch Online that is the biggest area of contention. Nintendo announced that Nintendo Switch Online wouldn’t have traditional built-in voice chat services, like with PS4, Xbox One or even Wii U. Instead, people would have to download an app on their smart devices’ tenable voice chat. I’ve spent the better part of a year going back and forth on my thoughts on this. For the last few years, we’ve been spoiled by consoles like PS4 and Xbox One. Each console has voice chat built into each device, allowing you to plug a headset into the controller and chat with friends. Nintendo not doing that seems extremely strange, especially when you stop and realize they built in that support in their previous console, the Wii U. Supposedly, one of the reasons it wasn’t built into the Switch OS was to allow as much OS power to run the games versus having to use up some of that power to run voice chat service. It’s easy to understand the confusion from Nintendo fans. I also can understand Nintendo’s side of it, the idea behind this. Nintendo’s console can be taken anywhere with you, meaning you aren’t always at home to chat with friends. By having people download a voice chat app, people could still communicate with friends while on the go (presumably using cell phone service?).

That would be all well and fine if the voice chat app actually let you voice chat. For whatever reason, the app itself has so many limits and restrictions that you can only use the app at certain times and in certain games. Instead of creating an app that you open and through which you can chat no matter what you’re doing or playing, the Nintendo Switch Online app limits you to chat with friends in certain games. Only 17 games support voice chat through the voice chat app:

That’s it, that’s all. You can only voice chat with friends in those above games. Most of those games only let you voice chat with friends in select modes within those games. Even more random is that only in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is it open chat, meaning you can talk to anyone in the game lobby. None of that makes any sense in 2019. I can follow the idea of a voice chat app to a certain extent if it allowed me to voice chat whenever I wanted. The fact that I have to be in the exact same game as my friend to chat is just plain dumb. The shame is that the voice chat app and service actually work…really, really well. I’ve used the app to play games with friends, and I’m genuinely surprised at how well it works. The app almost immediately knows you hopped into a compatible game, asks if you want to create a voice lobby, and boom, you’re in. The clarity on the voice call is extremely good. All of that makes the app all the more disappointing. Nintendo, please, just let us voice chat on the app regardless of game. Let me play Luigi’s Mansion 3 and chat with my friend while they are playing Link’s Awakening or while they are going through the eShop. If I have to use your app, let me at least use it like I should.

Online Multiplayer

It works. That might at first seem like a joke statement, but it quickly should tell you the story here. Online multiplayer works, and that’s about it. Initially, people were unsure about this aspect of the service. Aside from a few past exceptions, Nintendo was never really one that implemented online extremely well. Games, especially on the Wii U, made use of online, but how well they worked was…mixed at best. In fact, on Nintendo Switch, Nintendo ran into problems with its online. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe worked quite well but would have errors that kicked you offline. Splatoon 2 regularly would have communication errors and not connect online. Mario Tennis Aces was actually unplayable online, the lag was horrendously awful. This gave people little confidence that these issues would be fixed simply by paying Nintendo for online. Guess what though? It worked. Surprisingly, once Nintendo Switch Online came, well, online, these issues started going away quickly. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a near flawless online game now, Splatoon 2 no longer has consistent communication errors and Mario Tennis Aces is actually a blast to play online.

That’s not to say issues are forever gone with online. When Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Super Mario Maker 2 launched, both had online issues. However, for the most part, those issues were fixed pretty quickly and now both games are a delight to play online (I should note that some people still have issues in Super Mario Maker 2, although I personally have not run into them lately.) The online multiplayer just works, and that’s all it needs to do. It’s not fancy, but it works. More recently, OS version 9.0 added the ability to send friend invites online, which is exactly as it sounds. The only issue is that only 1 game supports this function right now (Divinity: Original Sin II).

Cloud Saves

Despite Nintendo’s weird naming convention on this one (they call it Save Data Cloud), this is one of the Switch Online’s more impressive aspects. In short, it works exactly like how cloud saves work on any other platform. What makes it so impressive on Switch is how quick and easy it is. Odds are if you paid for this service already, you didn’t even realize all your save data was put in the cloud. It works that easily….on 99.9% of Switch games. Select games (currently 27 titles) do not support Switch Online cloud saves. To be fair, some of those titles use their own cloud save-based system (Fortnite, Lightseekers, and Civilization VI). That said, it seems really odd to me that this isn’t a universal system like on PS4 or Xbox One. Nintendo currently has 4 games that don’t support cloud saves (1-2 Switch, Splatoon 2, Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pickachu/Eevee!), citing “cheating” as the reason why. Again, to be fair to Nintendo, there is logic behind that decision. Save manipulation has been a normal thing in Pokemon games for years, Splatoon 2 has seen its fair share of hacking since release and 1-2 Switch….to be honest, I think this is the one game no cares about (so no big loss). Those games all have their save data on the console, which leads to another important aspect of Cloud Saves.

Data transfer. If you’ve ever tried transferring data from previous Nintendo consoles, then you know what a headache it can be. It’s never been an easy thing, and it’s always time-consuming. Surprisingly, with Switch Online, it’s incredibly easy. Your save data is linked to your Nintendo Account, so all you have to do to get your save data on a new system is simply hit the download button. No, seriously, it’s that easy. Your Nintendo Switch automatically updates your cloud saves immediately after you close a game. This means that you can turn on another Switch console 10 seconds later, download your cloud save, and pick up right where you left off. It’s a refreshing change from past Nintendo consoles. These two aspects of cloud saves alone make paying for Switch Online worth the money.

NES and SNES: Nintendo Switch Online Library

This is the part of Nintendo Switch Online that makes it absolutely worth the subscription, even if it was the only thing offered. To be fair, I grew up on these games. My love of video games began on the NES and SNES and took off from there. If you didn’t know already, there are a number of classic titles in here you will absolutely enjoy.

When the Switch launched in March 2017, a vital aspect of previous Nintendo systems was missing…Virtual Console. Since 2006 we had been able to purchase digital versions of classic games on Nintendo’s previous systems. Yet, for Switch…there was nothing. That all changed when Switch Online launched, when 20 NES games became part of the service. However, it wasn’t just a simple “ROM dump”-type package. Nintendo took the time to make sure the games looked good on Switch (as well as any 8-bit game can look), ran great, had suspend points (save whenever you wanted in a game) and more. You could, for the first time, play these classic games ONLINE with friends. Additionally, you could play with your friends online and voice chat with them too (through the Switch Online app). It might seem like a rather small thing, but it really is quite amazing. Co-op games from 30 years ago now supported the ability to be played online. First thing I did? Got a friend to play an hour straight of Dr. Mario. It’s an underrated feature of Switch Online and one that I highly suggest people try.

However, I didn’t just stop at 20 NES games. Nintendo decided to release “new” games to this service every single month. Most of the time you would get two-to-three “new” titles, with one or two “remix” games included. “Remix” games on Switch Online basically was getting an already existing game on the service but with some unique twist, like booting up Metroid and instantly being at the final boss or playing Gradius and instantly having every weapon available to you from the start. It was a unique take on these titles, and each month brought something new. The problem with this model was that some months were really exciting (February 2019 got us Super Mario Bros. 2 and Kirby’s Adventure), while other months were just not great (July 2019 had Wrecking Crew and Donkey Kong 3). By no means were they awful, but it led to some months feeling…less exciting than other months. In all, some 46 NES games were (and still are) available. Yet, that would change in September 2019.

Out of the blue (but still somewhat expected) on the first anniversary of Switch Online, Nintendo announced the Super Nintendo titles were coming to Switch Online. 20 SNES titles would join the service, all supporting previous features like online play. They also chose to pick some of the greatest games from the SNES (and some of the greatest games ever made) to be a part of the launch list. They even chose to take a unique approach and include games that have never been released or re-released (Stunt Race FX and Puyo Puyo 2). It took an already impressive aspect of Switch Online and made it much, much better. With this addition came a subtraction. Nintendo would no longer add games monthly to the online service but add more titles “in time.” To be fair to Nintendo, while I liked the attempt to make each month exciting and special, I’m not that upset they ditched the monthly model. Let them have time to add a larger number of games, including beloved titles, which will make it more special. In short, this aspect of Switch Online is worth the money by a long shot. $20 a year gets you 66 classic games…which would have previously cost you around $400 on past Nintendo systems.

Offers and Promotions

This was the most vague section of Switch Online when it was first announced. That’s because nothing was announced for it, we just knew that it existed. However, over time it got better. It started shortly after Switch Online launched, when “exclusive” Switch Online gear was added to Splatoon 2. It was nothing that special, and in-game it didn’t add much value, but it was something. Then Switch Online members could purchase NES Joy-Cons , which not only worked with NES games but also with a number of Switch titles. That part always felt odd as being a member of Switch Online only granted you the ability to buy them rather than get them for free or something. This option was extended further when SNES games came to Switch Online, adding SNES controllers. Again, you had to be a member to have the ability to purchase these controllers, but yet again, it felt like something not fully implemented. Yes, by definition these things were “offers and promotions”, but it all felt…not that special.

Then in February 2019, Nintendo added an exclusive game to Switch Online members, Tetris 99. It took the classic Tetris game and mixed it with a 99-player battle royale. It was different, unique, and highly addicting. The game was free, and it finally felt like something special for the Switch Online service. Since then, Nintendo has continued to play around with Tetris 99 and other offers. New modes were added to Tetris 99 (like offline mode), and over the past few months, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has been receiving exclusive content. To be fair, this content isn’t really that special. It’s normally a download pack that gives you credits, spirit board items, etc. It’s not mind-blowing nor game-breakingly unfair to those who don’t subscribe. It’s just a nice, added bonus for those who do. Ultimately, I still feel like this aspect of Switch Online hasn’t met its potential. Tetris 99 is awesome, and I’d like to see Nintendo do something more for subscribers. Right now it sort of just feels like an afterthought section that occasionally gets something.

The Verdict

In the end, Nintendo Switch Online is a good service for the price you pay. That’s important to remember because it’s easy to compare Switch Online to PS Plus or Xbox Live Gold (rightfully so). However, you’re paying three times more for those services each year, meaning you absolutely should get more for your money. For $20 a year, you aren’t paying much (obvious statement is obvious). Yet what you are getting for $20 is worth it. I would say it’s worth it to pay $20 a year just for cloud saves and have that peace of mind knowing my long hours in a game won’t be lost if anything happens to my Switch. If you’re someone who wants to play games online (and there are plenty to be played online that require Switch Online), then $20 is worth it. Then add on top of it the 66 classic games you get with it. Is Switch Online worth getting? Yes. Does it have its flaws? Absolutely. The voice chat app is kind of a bit of a joke still, despite it actually working pretty well. The fact that not every game supports cloud saves is odd, especially in 2019 and especially considering your competitors support it. So yet again, I’ll ask, is Switch Online worth it? Yes…just be aware of the shortcomings the service has. Over the first year of Switch Online, we’ve seen Nintendo listen to feedback and add more to the service. If Nintendo continues that trend, then the value will continue to be worth it for Switch Online. It may not be perfect, but for $20 it’s hard to go wrong. Now if we could just get Nintendo 64 games…

Do you agree with our review of Nintendo Switch Online? What are your thoughts? Tell us in the comments below.

 

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