Since it was announced, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the launch of Nintendo’s Nintendo Switch Online service. So even though I wasn’t big on playing online games, I signed up for the service as soon as it launched. It’s been roughly a month since I signed up so it’s a good time to really assess whether the service was worth the cost (from my perspective).
What Did it Cost?
Before even talking about the benefits of being a Nintendo Switch Online subscriber, let’s get the cost out of the way as early as now. I signed up for the annual plan – that’s USD 19.99 for twelve months, or roughly $1.67 per month. And as early as now, let me say that this amount is so cheap, I don’t mind paying it if it let’s me support Nintendo – it doesn’t matter to me what I’m getting in return. Of course, that’s just me and not everyone is going to share this point of view.
But I do want to say that out loud too. I’m a person who, if I’m a fan of a certain company, I don’t mind throwing them some financial support. I did it with Supercell when I bought some gems back then for Clash Royale, and I’ve done that with Epic Games when I bought a starter pack in Fortnite, and I did that for Hi-Rez when I bought some Crystals during their Paladins Crystal sale (and I love Paladins so much, I’m likely to buy more Crystals in the future). Supporting Nintendo by giving them $1.67 a month is something that I’d like to do.
And again, that’s just me. Let’s take a look at each of the features that I’m getting for that $1.67 each month.
This is probably the most painful feature to talk about because before this generation, playing online on a Nintendo platform has always been free. And in a lot of aspects, we got what we paid for – the issues with Nintendo’s online service is numerous. In several of the Nintendo games that can be played online, there are no game lobbies. It’s hard to set up a game between yourself and your friends. Performance is inconsistent due to Nintendo doing online via P2P instead of employing dedicated servers. And online communication is almost non-existent.
What’s funny about me signing up for Nintendo Switch Online is… I barely play anything online. And the games that I do play online don’t require a Nintendo Switch Online subscription (Fortnite, Paladins, Arena of Valor). And to be honest, I don’t see myself playing any of the upcoming Nintendo Switch releases online – not Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and not even Diablo III. I might change my mind when those titles come out, but right now it’s safe to say that I did not sign up for the service because I want to play Nintendo games online.
Looking beyond my perspective though, I can see why some people don’t think that the service is worth the cost (even if it’s just $1.67 per month). A friend of mine isn’t going to sign up for the service until he’s got at least two titles that he wants to play online, and right now he’s only looking at Splatoon 2 and nothing else. I can see a lot of people having the same perspective. I think the safe answer when it comes to online play is this: the more Nintendo Switch titles you want to play online, the more worthwhile the service is going to be. I think that’s kind of obvious, isn’t it?
One topic that I don’t really know much to make an informed comment on is the quality of the online service, since I don’t play any of the titles that require the service. I’ve seen people make comments about how Nintendo is still employing P2P and has yet to have dedicated servers. I don’t know if that’s true, but if that’s the case then this is another issue about the service that Nintendo needs to address. It wasn’t a big issue in the past when the service was free; now that we have to pay for it, we need better service.
Free NES games
Despite having played video games since the 8-bit generation, I really don’t appreciate older games anymore. Of the 23 NES games currently available with the service, I’m really only considering replaying ONE title – Super Mario Bros. 3, because I was never able to beat it back in the day without resorting to cheats. And even if we look at what’s unreleased, whatever NES title that I want to revisit is unlikely to be part of the NES service due to licensing issues (the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games) or because it doesn’t make sense for the company who owns the rights to them (Capcom’s Mega Man titles or Konami’s Castlevania titles).
The most value I’ve gotten out of these selection of NES titles is by showing them off to friends who I know played NES games back in the day (“Hey, I can play Super Mario 3 legitimately anywhere I go now, ain’t that cool?!”) or by showing the titles that were referenced by current titles (Excite Bike’s stages in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the Ice Climbers in Super Smash Bros.). But that’s about it.
So I really don’t care about whatever NES titles that are set to come out for the service. Maybe if Nintendo decides to include Game Boy titles or more importantly, Super NES titles. I don’t care for 8-bit titles anymore but 16-bit titles, especially the ones released late in that generation, still look great in my eyes. Can you imagine being able to play games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past or Final Fantasy III for free? What about Super Mario RPG or any of the Donkey Kong Country titles?
Nintendo is no longer continuing the Virtual Console brand, but there is still a clamor for their old games. If Nintendo starts including SNES, GBA, N64, and Gamecube games in their Nintendo Switch Online library without significantly increasing the cost of the service, then maybe a lot more subscribers are going to be so much happier. As it stands, only fans of the NES era are appreciating the free games that currently come with the service.
Why is Nintendo not allowing game save backups via SD card? That’s not really related to their online service, which I am talking about so let’s take that off the board now. What I really paid for when I signed up for the online service is this; I see it as “life insurance” for my game saves, at just $1.67 per month.
Me and my friends were talking about this very topic and someone did pose the question of, why is this important now when it wasn’t so important back then? Well, for one thing, the Switch is a portable game console. I’m the kind of Switch owner that brings the Switch with me everywhere I go, so the risk of me losing my Switch or damaging it is higher than someone who leaves his/her Switch at home. And losing game saves has killed video games as a hobby for me at least once – I actually stopped playing video games back when the batteries of my GameBoy Advance cartridges died and it took years before I went back into the hobby.
Not having the ability to back up your saves actually dissuaded me from getting a Nintendo Switch at launch and it is the reason why I put off playing Breath of the Wild despite owning the game for several months now. The issue of bricked Switches when used with third party docks also freaked me out quite a bit; it’s easy enough to buy a new Switch even if it’ll be painful to my budget, but the value of countless of hours spent for game progress is immeasurable. To be honest, $1.67 is worth it if it means preserving my game progress in the event of accidents.
I don’t have much to say about Nintendo’s online app, to be honest. As mentioned earlier, I don’t play online games a lot and the ones that I do play don’t require Nintendo’s online service. I installed it to see if it had any features that would be useful for me, but aside from voice chat for a limited selection of games there doesn’t seem to be any.
At the time of this writing, there are only two special offers for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers. The first one is a free pack of Splatoon 2 cosmetic gear for 12-month subscribers – neat but that’s all there is to it. The second is the ability to purchase a pair of wireless NES Controllers for just $59.99.
Maybe that sounds great at first but I didn’t like them at all even at the moment that they were announced. As faithful recreations of the classic controllers, the NES Controllers have just two face buttons and only work with the NES games that you get with the online service. If they at least worked with some other games (there are a lot of retro indie titles that only need two buttons) it would have been better but because of its limited use, I’d much rather spend the $59.99 on 3rd party controllers that can function like an NES controller when needed and do so much more. Heck, for just $20 more you can already get a pair of JoyCon – sure, they don’t have good D-Pads but you can use them for just about any Switch game.
And that’s about it. Hopefully there will be more special offers for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers in the future. Early subscribers only have these available for them.
I hate to say it but the only value that I’m really getting from the Nintendo Switch Online service comes from the cloud saves. I’d gladly pay that $1.67 a month for the feeling of security that I’m getting, knowing that the time I’m spending on the Switch won’t be a waste. The NES games are neat but not really necessary, and I still haven’t seen a Switch game that would entice me to play online (maybe Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that title).
Hopefully, this service will improve later down the road – it’s easy to think of several quick and seemingly easy to implement improvements already. At this point, I can only recommend subscribing to the Nintendo Switch Online service if you are playing at least two games online regularly, or if your gameplay habits put you at a higher risk of losing your game saves (e.g. bringing your Switch with you often during travels).