Nintendo is late. What’s new, right? Nintendo’s paid service Nintendo Switch Online has finally been released more than a decade and a half after their competitors. It’s understandable, of course. Between the maintenance fees, electricity bills, employee wages, and server costs, maintaining an online game in 2018 can sometimes be more expensive than the initial development. Developers genuinely need a steady flow of cash to run these high-profile games-as-services. Nintendo is no exception.
Sure, Nintendo has never been known most for their online games — but that doesn’t mean they’re completely without them. Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 are Nintendo Switch mainstays at this point, as will Smash Bros in a couple months. But in order to stay that way, they need support beyond that first 60-dollar purchase.
So that’s where this new Nintendo Switch Online service comes in. Starting this week, any online multiplayer in games that aren’t free-to-play (a la Fortnite) will be locked behind a yearly $20 paywall. In exchange for your 20 bucks, Nintendo offers a couple features alongside online play — but they’re a bit underwhelming, to say the least. Online cloud saves are a welcome (and necessary) feature, but aren’t supported on all Switch titles. Playing NES games online is a novelty, but nothing more. And of course, there’s the infamous NSO voice chat app, available for convenient use on your phone with a separate headset.
Nintendo Switch Online is good or at least functional. But let’s not fool ourselves here — it could be so much more. There are two flawed components in Nintendo’s approach to online infrastructure: Voice chat, and their NES library catalog. To be clear, these aspects aren’t broken beyond repair, but they sure need some revision.
The Smartphone App
First of all, let’s address that smartphone app. When Nintendo first mentioned the voice chat app over a year ago, it seemed like it had potential. After all, both Xbox and PlayStation have had similar communication apps for years, and they both communicate seamlessly with your consoles. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Nintendo. Not only is there a complete lack of a messaging system in the app, but there’s no ability to tell what your friends are playing either. So essentially, you have to communicate with your friend in a separate app like Discord or Messenger to coordinate play sessions.
Then, if you manage to snag your friend and boot up a game with them, you’ll be greeted by a convoluted voice chat system. Get this: you have to initiate the call from the Switch itself, then switch over to your phone to talk. And there’s no native in-game voice chat on Switch (Fortnite being the only exception). If you don’t like draining your phone’s battery, sorry? There’s no other option.
As it stands, the voice chat app is nothing more than an inferior, proprietary version of Discord — you’d be better off using the latter. But imagine what it could be. Imagine if you could message or call your friend’s phone through a messaging app directly on your Switch, then hook up a game of Rocket League and continue chatting. It’s a nice dream, right?
Nintendo Entertainment System Online
Let’s give credit where it’s due: The NES is arguably the most influential gaming console ever developed. It launched the gaming industry back into the public eye after a massive market crash that threatened extinction. Without the NES, video games, as we know them, likely wouldn’t exist. That doesn’t mean its games have aged well.
There’s a certain lack of depth in the NES library. Maybe that stems from the hardware limitations, maybe from a lack of developer experience in the early age of video games. Who knows? By and large, games of the NES era were much shorter, unfairly punishing, and not as story-driven as the hallmarks of the Super Nintendo or Game Boy. It’s undeniable that the SNES’s library pushed the envelope much further than NES could. Games like A Link to The Past, Super Metroid, and Super Mario World were masterpieces that topped their predecessors in almost every way, and hold up incredibly well in 2018.
That said, limiting NSO’s catalog of games to the NES is a mistake. An entire generation of gamers have no interest in these titles, because they never grew up playing them. But even if they subscribe to the online service, I would bet that most who pick up Ice Climbers or Tecmo Bowl or Pro Wrestling will quickly put these games down. They’re too simplistic and obtuse for a modern audience. Will a few people appreciate them? Of course! But that’s a small minority of the overall Switch-owning crowd.
But let’s ignore that. Let’s assume there’s a large crowd of gamers who do want to play NES games in 2018 — there’s still a problem. Nintendo hasn’t even put all the best NES games on the catalog! Sure, there’s Super Mario Bros 3 (a masterpiece) and The Legend of Zelda (which is fantastic), but where’s Castlevania? What happened to Contra? Why is there no Mega Man 2? What’s up with Final Fantasy, Punch-Out!!, Bionic Commando, or Metroid? These are some of the most beloved NES games, and they’re all missing! Why on earth is Ice Hockey and Baseball on the roster when not even Nintendo’s own Super Mario Bros 2 can make it on? What’s going on here?
Frankly, Nintendo’s approach to their own catalog is baffling. They have the richest history of video games in the industry — why not take advantage of it? Hopefully they’ll roll out more games from some of their later systems to the online platform eventually. Metroid and Ninja Gaiden are coming out a few months down the line, so the possibility for a collection of Super Nintendo games isn’t completely off the radar. Or, at the very least, we might get more classic games like Mega Man 2 or Castlevania. We can only hope.
If you do the math, Nintendo Switch Online is technically worth the price. For $1.67 USD per month, you’re getting access to an increasing library of games that would normally cost $5 a piece, in addition to online multiplayer and the security of cloud saves. But wouldn’t you like a little more? Wouldn’t you like access to SNES games or a built-in voice chat for a higher price tag? I certainly would. Maybe that’s not reflective of the Switch audience’s overall opinion. I would like to think that more than a few people would agree with me.
At the end of the day, this is just a first step in the process. Nintendo is slow! Just like it took them a while to build a robust online eShop, it will take them a while to flesh out their online multiplayer. Just like they were the last to reach HD visuals, they’ll be the last to make a compelling game subscription service.
It takes Nintendo a while to catch up, but they’ll do it.
As always, let us know what you think! Are you satisfied with Nintendo’s current online service, or do you think it should change drastically? Would you be willing to pay more for a more fleshed-out service? Give us your opinion!
I’m that crying kid in the corner of gym class. Hi!
oh, I guess I also write about video games – mostly Nintendo.
You can check out my personal site at ethangbraun.com, and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org