The Nintendo Switch Online service launched yesterday, but you don’t have to look at Nintendo’s official Twitter account to see how ill received the service has been. No, the mixed to negative reception really started picking up steam with the September 13th Nintendo Direct. While I can say that I’m normally an apologetic Nintendo consumer, I do have to side with the vast number of gamers who are displeased with Nintendo’s latest online offering.
Over the course of the Nintendo Switch’s young lifespan, Nintendo had been rather vague about what their online service would actually entail. We understood that the online service would enable us to play games like Splatoon 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate online. Additionally, Nintendo affirmed that classic NES games would also be available to download and with online support no less.
Here’s the summary of what Nintendo Switch Online is:
- Play your favorite Nintendo Switch games online.
- Access to NES games with online play (more NES titles available each month).
- Backup your saved game data to the cloud.
- Special exclusive offers.
- Smartphone app (voice chat).
You might argue that a price for a year’s subscription is not a bad deal. At $19.99 a year, that doesn’t sound as bad as $59.99 you would pay for PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live. However, where a lot of gamers are taking issue is what you’re actually paying for.
Having your favorite games, for online play, restricted behind a subscription was going to happen. We knew this well before the launch of Nintendo Switch Online. It’s become a standard practice for console gaming nowadays. However, I admire what Sony did with the PlayStation 3 and the introduction of PlayStation Plus. Before the launch of the PlayStation 4, online gaming on PS3 was an afterthought because you didn’t need a PlayStation Plus subscription to play online. Come to think of it; you still don’t.
On PS4, with a subscription, you get free games monthly out of it too. While the same can be said about Nintendo Switch Online, how many times can you redownload Super Mario Bros. for use on your latest Nintendo peripheral, especially if you’re a dedicated consumer? I understand that all these games are supposedly available at no additional charge with a subscription, but what if you have them already on an NES cartridge, or the Wii, 3DS, and Wii U Virtual Console, or the NES Classic?
Saving game data to the cloud is a great idea, but why does it need to be kept behind a paywall to do so? Is it an issue of money keeping those servers up and running? There’s also the issue of fine print. Not all games feature support in the cloud, such as Splatoon 2. Supposedly, unless your subscription remains regularly active between renewal periods, there’s the chance your cloud save data will be deleted. Gamers will have to tread extra carefully if they decide to take a break from renewing their online service. Now they’ll have to make efforts to save, not only to the cloud but locally on their personal device.
Nintendo also hasn’t had the best track record lately when it comes to special rewards lately. If you recall Club Nintendo, which was a customer loyalty program that was discontinued in 2015, allowed gamers to register their physical software and hardware to accumulate points. These points could be exchanged for some rather nice physical rewards. For example, the last item I exchanged points for was an exclusive tote bag for The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D. For a limited time Nintendo had offered everyone a chance to get the soundtracks for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as well as The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. However, a common complaint from customers in the loyalty program’s later years was that Nintendo would push digital Virtual Console games many of those customers already had. Club Nintendo’s successor, My Nintendo, uses this approach as the forefront of its program.
That being said, Nintendo Switch Online’s first special offer is a bundle of two wireless NES controllers for use with Nintendo Switch that is being offered exclusively to anyone with an active online subscription. The controllers can even slide into the standard Joy-Con slots on the Nintendo Switch console itself. Definitely a nice nostalgic throwback that will surely sell well, at $59.99 by the way. Who knows, perhaps with the passage of time, these special offers may make a subscription worth it.
Yet what truly irritates me about this service is that it demonstrates Nintendo’s failure to adapt to an increasingly advancing industry. Sometimes it’s okay to take a page out of your rival’s playbook when it comes to online features. It took PlayStation Plus some time to match the alluring fidelity and breadth of Xbox Live. Yet with each generation that passes, I’ve grown tired of Nintendo’s proclivity to stay two steps behind the competition. Of course, I allude to the use of the smartphone app.
The smartphone app or, more accurately, the voice chat feature is Nintendo’s crowning achievement in being behind the times. Xbox Live launched over 15 years ago. It revolutionized the way we could enjoy games with our friends over an internet connection. While today is very smartphone forward, nothing beats the use of plugging in your headset into a controller and hearing your friend on the other end. With this app, Nintendo once again refuses to get with the times. Alternatively, if you do wish to use your phone to communicate, apps like Discord are superior in many ways.
What’s more is that this mindset carries over into a lot of Nintendo Switch’s most successful multiplayer titles such as Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, where communication always comes back to using an external peripheral when in-game speech bubbles or drawings aren’t enough to interact with those around you.
Nintendo Switch has been wildly successful since its launch early last year. I’m very happy to see Nintendo finally turning a profit after being weighed down by the Wii U’s disappointing performance. What Nintendo Switch managed to do was get me excited for a Nintendo home console again. It got gamers excited again. It even got third party support to be excited about a Nintendo console again. Nintendo seemed to be growing up a fair bit more. I was hoping the same would also extend to their online service. Instead, I find myself disillusioned for the big N and wondering just how and why it doesn’t click with them. How can’t they see that Nintendo Switch Online doesn’t click with their most passionate customers? A subscription feels unwarranted at the present time. Personally, I’m more caught up in single player games that a subscription isn’t all that necessary. I can’t deny the fun that Nintendo games have online, and I’m sorry I won’t be able to dip my toe in those waters as freely as I could before. Fool me once, shame on you; full me twice, shame on me.
What is your stance on Nintendo Switch Online? Is the investment worth it solely to play games online? Could there perhaps be more of an influence in your decision to subscribe or not subscribe? Let us know.