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Nintendo Switch Online is terrible — and it’s only getting worse

an image showing Nintendo Switch Online
(Image credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo Switch Online is a bad service, and it’s only getting worse. Having to pay extra to play your games online is a pretty unpalatable proposition in the first place, but Nintendo Switch Online makes it even harder to stomach. 

When the service launched in 2018 it was met with a sizeable backlash and even the most ardent of Nintendo fans seemed resigned to grim acceptance rather than satisfaction. From day one the service was seen as a bit of a joke, especially when compared to competitive services offered on PlayStation and Xbox. 

This week Nintendo Switch Online expanded with its new Expansion Pack offering. What was a chance for the lackluster service to improve and finally begin justifying its cost has instead turned into a complete farce. Remarkably, the online subscription service now offers an even worse value for money package. 

My Nintendo Switch Online membership expires in the first few weeks of 2022, and I’ve already made the decision that I won’t be renewing. Here’s why I’m unsubscribing from Nintendo Switch Online. 

Off to a rocky start 

a photo of a Nintendo Switch

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

When the Nintendo Switch launched in March 2017 the ability to play games online was completely free. But Nintendo was quick to warn customers that early in the console’s lifecycle the functionality would be moved behind a paywall. 

While it took longer than expected, likely to allow enough time for the console to build up a library of games actually worth playing online, in September 2018 Nintendo Switch Online launched and the reaction was mixed. 

There was some appreciation for the lower cost of $20 (compared to $60 for online services on PlayStation/Xbox) but the decision to gate the ability to store game saves in the cloud behind the online paywall was met with some criticism. Not to mention popular games like Splatoon 2 and Animal Crossing: New Horizons don't even support the feature at all, for reasons that are flimsy at best. 

The service also launched with a selection of NES games playable on Switch. Eventually, SNES games were added as well, and currently, Switch Online members can access more than 100 classic games from both retro consoles libraries. Nevertheless compared to its rivals, which offer a rotating selection of more recently released games, it’s a pretty poor membership perk. 

Nintendo Switch Online

(Image credit: Nintendo)

In October this year, Nintendo looked to have finally got the memo on the need to improve the service. It was announced that a selection of beloved Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games would be added to the service, as well free access to the upcoming Animal Crossing: New Horizons DLC, was coming to Switch Online. 

Then Nintendo went and spoilt it all by confirming this was actually an expansion pack and would come with an additional annual fee of $35, bringing the total cost of Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack to $50 per year — this makes it arguable one of the worst deals in gaming. Yes it's cheaper than Xbox Game Pass and it's $10 monthly fee, but Microsoft offers a vast raft of games from multiple generations, including new releases. 

Emulation errors

The ability to play classic Nintendo 64 games like Mario Kart 64, Star Fox 64, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the Switch may be worth an extra $30 to some, but even those easily-pleased players have been let down by Nintendo. 

Earlier this week when the Nintendo 64 games went live on the service users started to notice serious problems. Some of the issues reported have been the fault of dodgy internet connections causing lag, but the evidence of graphical glitches, audio delays, and bizarre button mapping (which cannot currently be corrected) is all on Nintendo. 

The Switch’s ability to emulate these games isn’t in question. The handheld/console hybrid is certainly capable of running software that's more than 25 years old. It’s a lack of care on Nintendo’s part. The beloved classic Ocarina of Time seems to have come off particularly bad. This version of the game suffers from input lag and an inability to handle atmospheric flog

You don’t need to search social media far to find plenty of examples of unhappy Switch Online customers struggling to enjoy the new perk of a service they pay for. In fact, even an actual developer has criticized the state of these games noting that “community emulation efforts” are superior. 

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Not to mention, the offer of free Animal Crossing: New Horizons DLC has come under fire. While it’s technically $25 in value, if you don’t own the base game it’s essentially worthless. Although the latest Animal Crossing has sold 33 million copies to date, so it’s likely that many (if not most) Nintendo Switch Online subscribers will have purchased it already, so this complaint feels a tad nitpicky. Not every perk of Switch Online can appeal to every subscriber after all. 

Lacklustre online experience

You could argue that the Nintendo 64/Sega Genesis games are only part of the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack package. The base Nintendo Switch Online service continues to exist and offers an acceptable deal for a (relatively) low price. I’d have to disagree with you there. 

The Nintendo Switch’s online functionality is lagging more than a decade behind its rivals. Basic features like a proper messaging system, a friends list that's easy to manage, party-chat functionality, and a unified way to invite players to your game are all missing. 

How to add friends on Nintendo Switch - entering friend code

(Image credit: Alan Martin)

It’s doesn’t help matters that many of the Nintendo Switch Online features have to be accessed through a separate smartphone app, which just feels cumbersome. No other console forces you to download an app on a separate device just to manage basic online settings.  

When you actually play a game online the connection quality isn’t especially smooth either. While the amount of lag experienced does depend on connection quality and other factors, I experience issues when playing my Nintendo Switch online significantly more than on either my PS5 or Xbox Series X

Both PlayStation and Xbox have been (rightly) criticized for charging for online, but at least the core infrastructure and online functionality of these platforms feels modern and user-friendly. On the Switch, playing a game online is often more frustrating than fun.  

It’s no PlayStation Plus 

an image showing PlayStation Plus Collection feature

(Image credit: PlayStation)

Nintendo Switch Online only offering a range of retro games starts to look particularly bad when you compared it to a similarly priced rival service, such as PlayStation Plus. 

Not only does PlayStation Plus give users online play, cloud saving and regular PlayStation Store discounts, but each month users are offered four games to download and keep for the duration of their membership. These are often relatively new titles, and it’s not uncommon for games to be included in PlayStation Plus from day one — last year’s online multiplayer hit Fall Guys launched on the service.  

In 2020, the value of games subscribers were given via the service totaled $749.42. That’s a pretty staggering return on a $60 investment. Furthermore, PlayStation Plus is regularly available at a discount during the Black Friday deals period, which makes it an even better deal. 

God of War Kratos shouting

(Image credit: Santa Monica Studio)

PlayStation Plus members on PS5 also get access to the PlayStation Plus collection, which is a library of 20 high-quality PS4 games that can be downloaded and played whenever. Among the titles are titles like God of War, Bloodborne, and Uncharted 4. The service simply blows Nintendo Switch Online out of the water. 

Xbox also has its Game Pass Ultimate membership, which is a fantastic membership scheme and is regularly touted as the best deal in gaming. A sentiment I echo. However, it costs $180 annually so I’d argue direct comparisons to Nintendo Switch Online are a little unfair due to the price discrepancy. 

No incentive to subscribe 

Even at the $25 tier, Nintendo Switch Online isn’t giving me adequate incentive to subscribe. The inclusion of NES/SNES games is a nice perk, but paying $25 to essentially rent these games is a poor value proposition. When you factor in the outdated online infrastructure, the whole package starts to fall apart. 

If Nintendo had added the Nintendo 64 and Sega Mega Drive games to the base $25 tier I’d probably have been convinced to stick around. However, doubling the yearly price for poorly emulated versions of games that were previously available on the Wii and Wii U virtual console for $10 apiece is pretty galling. 

Nintendo has already confirmed that additional N64 games will be added in the future — including Banjo-Kazooie and Majora’s Mask — but I doubt even those classics will be enough to convince me to part with my money. After all, I don’t even have faith these games will launch on the service in an acceptable state. 

If Nintendo made the effort to improve the online infrastructure of the Switch, and adds more current monthly games a-la PlayStation Plus, then I’d probably be tempted back to Nintendo Switch Online fold. However, at least for now, it’ll be one subscription service I won’t be renewing in 2022. 

Rory is a staff writer at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics including tech news, deals, gaming, streaming and more. When he’s not writing hot takes on the latest gaming hardware and streaming shows, he can be found watching a borderline unhealthy amount of movies and being thoroughly disappointed by his terrible football team.