Nintendo finally announced the details of the Nintendo Switch Online service, which is slated to go live in September but had basically no details outside of a release date. I can’t really fault Nintendo for adding a subscription service to a console that’s ostensibly connected online (though most of the time you’d be hard pressed to prove it)… that sort of service isn’t cheap to provide to millions of customers.
However, as people who use Xbox Live or Playstation Plus know… there is an expectation that the service should offer something to users in exchange for money other than just unlocking a gate somewhere. Both Microsoft and Sony offer games and discounts, and Microsoft artificially gates off some apps from working unless you pay for the service as well, but they are also kind of pricey at $60 a year.
Nintendo in joining the mix now, and has announced the pricing of the service: $20 for an individual / $35 for a family for 12 months (like the other two, individual and 3-month options are also available, but the best deals are for a full year). That’s far cheaper than the others, but let’s be honest… it also offers quite a bit less.
The big feature is online play… something that was provided for free up until now, but in Nintendo’s defense, they said it was always going to be tied to a subscription eventually, it was just free for the initial release. It’s unclear if multiplayer games like Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon 2 will get the rug pulled out from them when it launches, or if it affects games going forward.
Outside of that, the other one that’s desperately needed on one hand, and awful that it’s tied to a subscription on the other, is the introduction of Cloud Saves. In case you’re not aware, the way the Switch handles game saves is placed somewhere between ridiculous, stupid, and asinine. Saves were tied to a hardware console and encrypted. They could not be backed up and saved. Machine damaged and has to be replaced? Kiss the 120 hours you put into Zelda goodbye. It’s good that these are coming, though in the Q&A after the announcement they let it slip that not all games will support the feature… but declined to say what games would.
The last big piece of note is the one that’s more of adding a problem, and that’s the introduction of classic games access as part of the subscription. They announced that 20 classic titles under the banner of “Nintendo Entertainment System Online” and made available to subscribers. The initial titles have the usual suspects, like Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Dr. Mario and the Legend of Zelda, as well as some new entries like Tennis and Soccer.
However, what this means, and what Nintendo later confirmed, is that the Virtual Console isn’t coming to the Switch, effectively killing the product. It’s a shame, because while I love the NES, I have an NES mini (and they are coming back in the summer if you don’t). I would like to see some NES games on the switch, but don’t feel like buying them again, and the hope was that it would be available to people who already purchased them. More than that, getting SNES, GameCube, and N64 games was a huge highlight of the Virtual Console on previous systems.
It’s so weird to me how Nintendo continues to struggle to solve problems that have been solved elsewhere for years. I love the Switch, it’s a fantastic system and has had some fantastic releases in its short life… but how Nintendo does things is strange even by their standards. I mean, I appreciate the humor of calling their “social app” a feature and not an elaborate (and buggy) practical joke, but how does a company release features that have been available everywhere else for a decade and have it look like a great deal for consumers?
On one hand, $35, max, for a family for a year is solid… on the other, it feels like being charged for stuff that should have been part of the console from the get-go. What are some thoughts of other Switch owners out there?