June 11 Update: Nintendo revealed at E3 2019 that it would add "matching with friends" to Super Mario Maker 2, which is one step forward in the right direction to fix the company's multiplayer issues.
Nintendo is alarmingly bad at implementing online multiplayer in its games. You know it. I know it. But why? Why can't Nintendo get online multiplayer right?
With the report about Super Mario Maker 2's lobby system, I was both concerned and livid about the future of Nintendo's games. However, at E3 2019, Nintendo revealed that it would add "matching with friends" in a future update, so that gives me some semblance of hope.
However, most of Nintendo's online-capable games still have issues embracing an effective multiplayer system, and that's because the company has always been partial to couch play instead of online play. It's the reason why the Nintendo Switch is so portable: It has a built-in kickstand so you can easily take it anywhere, plop it down and play with your friends.
Despite that, Nintendo's misunderstanding of how multiplayer should work is stunting the growth of some of these games. Not only that, but it's isolating people who make friends and connect with people online, which is almost everyone in this day and age. And most important, it affects those who are physically unable to get around easily. This is not just some angry gamer's sour complaint (OK, maybe it's a little of that), but it's also an accessibility issue.
Let's go through some of Nintendo's recent hits and upcoming releases to break down how Nintendo's online systems are fundamentally flawed, and how the company could fix them.
Super Mario Maker 2
The most recent perpetrator to participate in Nintendo's archaic online multiplayer system was Super Mario Maker 2, a level-building platformer. One of the biggest, and most exciting, announcements to come out of Nintendo’s Direct was that Super Mario Maker 2 would have online versus and co-op play.
However, after NintendoWorldReport was told that there wouldn't be lobbies to invite friends by a Nintendo Treehouse representative, the explanation NintendoWorldReport got was "with global leaderboards, the matchmaking for competitive play would be compromised if you could play with friends." The explanation didn't make any sense, because Nintendo could simply partition the mode into Ranked and Casual tiers. On top of that, the restriction on playing with friends also applies to co-op.
Despite that, Nintendo backed out of its stance and revealed at E3 2019 that it would in fact add "matching with friends" in a future update. Given Nintendo's track record, I'm skeptical, so we'll see how well it functions when it arrives.
Additionally, while you are able to create maps with two players, you can do so only in local play, not online. Mapmaking has a leaderboard, but it shouldn’t be impossible to include multiple publishers on a map. And as it stands, if you create a map locally, the second player doesn't get any credit whatsoever.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
While Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has the least offensive online multiplayer in any modern Nintendo game, that fact doesn't make the system any less annoying to deal with. You're able to gather a total of eight friends together in a lobby to fight against each other, but you can play with only four people at a time in a match, so the other four people are forced to wait or spectate. That system is especially frustrating because players have to be in a specific position in the lobby to spectate. This means that players will occasionally get locked out if they're not attentive.
Of course, that shouldn't be an issue in the first place, considering that one of the most hyped modes in the game was 3 vs. 3 and 5 vs. 5 Squad Strike. But Nintendo couldn't even manage to fit 10 players in an online lobby, let alone expand beyond four in a match. It's possible that the player count is limited to prevent performance issues, but it still doesn't make sense that we can't even play simple 2 vs. 2 quickplay matches with a friend online. And even though Squad Strike is restricted to local play, only two people can be connected at the same time.
Another paralyzing issue in Smash's online system is that you cannot change game settings after you've created the lobby. In order to change the settings, you have to create an entirely new lobby. Come on, Nintendo.
Super Mario Party
The capital offender of Nintendo's poor online implementation is Super Mario Party. You can play online, but naturally, Nintendo doesn't let you play the actual Mario Party board game online, which practically kills the entire point of the game. The only thing you can do online is play minigames. While Super Mario Party features more than 80 minigames, the online mode forces players to complete in five randomly selected minigames at a time from a preordained list of nine specific games. What's the point of Super Mario Party even having online play to begin with?
Splatoon 2 was the earliest sign of Nintendo's lack of multiplayer know-how. First, there,s no lobby system, so if you're trying to team up with a friend, the only way you can do so is to join their game and hope that you end up on the same team together. Besides that, if you want to play Splatfest with friends, you'll need a full team of four. If you have fewer than three friends present, you're on your own.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
While Mario Kart 8 is a product of the previous generation, it's online play was by far the most well implemented. You can play modes like Grand Prix, Vs Race and Battle all online with your friends or even with random people. In addition, you can have a local second player join you for your online matches. However, even Mario Kart 8 has a small caveat: There's no simple way to play with both friends and random people. Similar to Splatoon 2, you have to hop in their public game and hope that there's enough room for you, otherwise you’ll have to spectate until someone leaves.
How This Affects Nintendo Switch Online
Nintendo's poor implementation of online services also makes its way to Nintendo Switch Online. One thing that stands out is that cloud saving is gutted for online games like Splatoon 2. Nintendo explained, "To ensure that Save Data Cloud backups cannot be used to unfairly affect online multiplayer rankings, the feature will not be enabled in Splatoon 2." That explanation is straight up baloney. There are plenty of games that use cloud saving and do not have any issues with rankings, such as Fortnite and Apex Legends. Let's not forget that you actually have to pay $20 a year to back up your saves at all. Our own Marshall Honorof failed to pay Nintendo's ransom fee, so his saves were lost forever after his Switch died. But his Splatoon 2 save would've been lost either way.
Another issue is Nintendo's voice chat system. Instead of having a simple party chat, like Xbox or PlayStation, Nintendo requires you to download an app on your phone to chat with your friends. If Nintendo is going to make players use an external app to communicate with one another, why use its proprietary app instead of a more popular one, like Discord or Skype?
Games That Need Online Support
Of course, Nintendo also has a long list of games that don't have online support at all. What’s to complain about here? Well, the issue is that Nintendo is delivering awesome titles that have the potential to be so much more. Some examples are Yoshi’s Crafted World, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe and Kirby Star Allies. If any of those games had online co-op play, I would buy them in a heartbeat.
Nintendo seems to be treating the online community as second-class citizens. Anyone who's partial to playing online, or physically can't leave the house to play video games (or have people over), gets screwed over in these scenarios. If indie games can do it properly, there's no reason that a company pumping out AAA titles shouldn't be able to. Nintendo, I humbly ask you to get your toads together. Signed with the data of fallen save files and the spirit of estranged friendships, a gamer who just wants to play with his brother.
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