What’s good. What’s not so good.
The Nintendo Switch online service is scheduled to go live later today (September 18, 2018). Nintendo is promising some features to enhance the Switch experience but it is not without concern. Below are the major facts you should know before buying a subscription.
WHAT IS NINTENDO SWITCH ONLINE
There are five major components to Nintendo’s online strategy. The first and perhaps most important is online play. Since the Switch launched, games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Arms, and Splatoon 2 have offered free online multiplayer. This is about to change. If you want to play online, you will need to purchase a subscription. You can bet the number of subscriptions will increase on December 9th when the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate launches.
The next is the ability to play classic Nintendo games. To start, 20 NES games will be available in September 2018 with a few games set to be released each month. It is a little disappointing that only NES games are available but at least Nintendo went back and added online multiplayer support where applicable. More on this below.
Third are cloud saves. Saving to the cloud means your save data will be protected from worst-case scenario situations. One of the most heartbreaking things that can happen to any gamer is losing your 100s of hours of progress in Skyrim, Xenoblade, or Zelda. Be warned, however, that your cloud save file will disappear if your subscription expires. You might want to set a reminder on your phone a week before your subscription expires to renew if you plan on heavily using this feature.
The worst addition to Nintendo’s online subscription is most likely the connectivity to their smartphone app. Using the app allows players to speak in real time using voice chat.
Finally, Nintendo is promising exclusive deals and specials to subscribers. For example, Xbox Live and PSN users receive access to special discounts each week and Nintendo will probably follow this trend. Will this include other classic games? Discounts on eShop titles? More bonus Gold MyNintendo Coins? DLC discounts or pre-order savings? Time will tell.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST
There are a total of three tiers along with a family plan.
1 month = $3.99
3 months = $7.99
12 months = $19.99
Family membership for up to 8 accounts = $34.99 for 12 months
A 7-day free trial is also available.
Subscriptions can be purchased from Amazon, Gamestop, and BestBuy. No word yet if Walmart and Target will become subscription dealers.
Starting today, September 18 2018, the following games will be available to Nintendo Switch online subscribers:
River City Ransom
Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Bros. 3
The Legend of Zelda
Then, sometime in October 2018, these three games will also become available:
NES Open Tournament Golf
Super Dodge Ball
November also currently has three games set:
Mighty Bomb Jack
And here are December’s additions:
Adventures of Lolo
The coolest aspect is being able to play these classic games online for the first time. Nintendo is also including a feature where apparently you can watch a friend play and interactive with their game by tapping on the screen to indicate a hint or even congratulate them by sending an emoji-like indicator. This means it is only a matter of time before players start uploading videos tapping on Abobo’s junk or doing inappropriate things to Toadstool. Save states are also included and these games are stored locally on your Switch so they will take some SD card space. Luckily, NES games are small file sizes by themselves but these new features could increase file size. Also, the Switch console must connect to the internet at least once per week to keep the license active as a check-in period.
The worst part about this current library of games is the disappointing roster. These are all NES games. NES games gamers have been playing for years and probably just re-purchased with their NES Classic console, on the Wii Virtual Console, and even on Wii U. Nintendo will most likely release SNES and probably N64 and even some Gameboy games in time but limiting gamers to NES titles at launch isn’t a great way to get people excited. I mean, I like Balloon Fight just as much as the next guy but I can play this game by swiping my e-Reader cards if I really wanted. Also, original Tennis is awful, the original Zelda doesn’t hold up well, Yoshi isn’t a fun game, and Ice Climbers has some of the worst jumping in gaming history. Playing online is neat, but if Nintendo was going to go through the hassle of re-engineering their classic games to support online play, why not include totally new features? For example, the original Zelda wouldn’t be so bad if you can play co-op as two Links with a friend. Or what if Baseball supported a current roster or added new All-Star teams? Or what if Super Mario Bros. 3 was patched with the exclusive e-Reader levels? What if Excitebike actually included a two-player mode and could upload and download your custom tracks? Instead of dumping these 30 year old games with patched online support, give us something new. At least they were kind enough to not grace us with Urban Champion or CluClu Land.
One very important gameplay element to remember when playing these classic games is playing with Joy-Con controllers. What is the problem with Joy-Con controllers? They do not have a d-pad! The original NES made the d-pad a staple on all controllers to this day so being forced to play these old games with a nubby analog stick could prove difficult. It might work well with Ice Hockey but will probably cause some accidental errors when playing Dr. Mario, for example. It seems as though Nintendo knows this, as they want you to ante up for a pair of wireless NES controllers for $60. If they were nice, they would release wireless SNES controllers first, which are backwards compatible with NES games, but they want to first milk their NES library and NES controllers before releasing the good stuff.
USING THE APP
Back in 2002, Microsoft launched Xbox Live. Besides being able to play online, games included built-in voice chat through the use of a headset that simply plugged into the controller. It is now 2018, 16 years later, and Nintendo still has not figured this out.
In 2006, Nintendo launched Metroid Prime Hunters on the original DS. When this game was announced with online multiplayer support, gamers lost their minds when they found out that voice chat was going to be included using the built-in microphone. Unfortunately, voice was only available in-between matches; there was no voice capabilities during actual gameplay. This was obviously a major disappointment.
Later, Nintendo tried voice chat using a peripheral on the Wii called the Wii Speak. This USB mic attached to the system and players talked into it as if speaking into a speaker phone. The problem with this was obvious. It picks up noise and sounds coming from the TV, you have to shout to hear anything, and conversations were not private.
Not learning from their mistakes, Nintendo wants users to download the Nintendo app, log in, boot up a corresponding Switch game, put the phone down and on speaker mode, then talk into it during gameplay. Just like the Wii Speak, this means anyone can hear the conversation, anyone can participate in the conversation, and all the background noise probably coming from the game itself will cause horrible feedback and interference. Also, why not just call your friend and put it on speaker phone? Or just talk on a Bluetooth headset? Why go through the hassle of making an account, logging in, and syncing to you game when players can use their phone without the app? Nintendo has said the app might support additional features like displaying a map or menu screen, but the voice chat is an unacceptable joke.
To be fair, $20 is one third the cost of PS+ and Xbox Live Gold. However, I would rather pay a little more to get better online features. If Nintendo wants the Switch to be your main console, there is no question this needs to be better. However, Nintendo has always lagged behind in the online playing field so having a paid service is at least a step in the right direction, albeit a small one. Hopefully 2019 and beyond will lead to better things when it comes to Nintendo’s online component. In the meantime, enjoy playing the NES version of Donkey Kong… again.