Editor's Note: This review was updated to reflect some of the ongoing changes of Nintendo Switch Online.
Nintendo's long-awaited Switch Online service is finally here, but is it all it's cracked up to be? Well, no. But is it worth the $20? That's a different story.
Nintendo Switch Online highlights five features: online gameplay, the NES app, the Nintendo Switch Online smartphone app, Save Data Cloud and Special Offers. Before I systematically break down what all these mean for you, let's look at how much it costs.
How Much Is Nintendo Switch Online
|Individual Membership||Family Membership (Up to 8 Account Holders)|
|3 Months||$7.99 (Save $3.98)|
|12 Months||$19.99 (Save $27.98)||$34.99|
If you decide to sign up for Nintendo Switch Online, we highly recommend getting one of the yearly subscriptions, as you'll save a nice chunk of change. Not to mention, yearly subscribers (family or individual) get access to exclusive content (more on that later).
How to Get Nintendo Switch Online for Free
Nintendo offers a 7-day free trial for Switch Online, which is simple to activate.
First, you go to the Nintendo eShop, select “Nintendo Switch Online” and then click on “Free Trial” (the option won’t appear if you’ve already used it on that account). After you choose your membership and select your payment option, you’ll have seven days to get all of the socializing you can out of your body. If you decide not to continue Switch Online, just remember to cancel the auto-renewal before the seven days are up.
Nintendo Switch Online
Yes, you are getting charged for a service that was previously free, but from Nintendo's standpoint, this business model makes sense. The company couldn't charge its players for a service that lacked titles, so it had to wait until the Switch built a nice, chunky library. Not to mention, the competition — Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus — charge for that same service, so why wouldn't Nintendo?
However, what annoys me as a consumer is that Fortnite doesn't require Nintendo's service to be played online. While it may seem like an act of kindness (and it is), it actually diminishes Nintendo's service. The company assigned a price to being online, but that value is thrown out the window for Fortnite, which is arguably the biggest online title on Nintendo's console at the moment.
The decision represents both a business mistake by Nintendo and a misunderstanding of how consumers think. When some games require Switch Online and others don't, it could get frustrating as more games come through, like Warframe.
Save Data Cloud
Saving to the cloud is certainly a major highlight of this service, but it really shouldn't be. Nintendo is basically kidnapping your cloud saves and asking for ransom money in order to bring them back home safely. Keep in mind that this is also the case if you own a microSD card, as you still cannot back up data to that. And what's worse is that the company is going to ask for that money every subscription cycle, and if you don't pay up, your saves are as good as dead.
So, if your Switch breaks while you're renewing your subscription, you're going to have to collect those 999 moons all over again. This system is ridiculous, and this is where Nintendo needs to follow in its competitors' footsteps for once. Xbox Live offers free cloud saves without a subscription, and while PS Plus does charge for it, both services allow you to transfer your data onto a USB drive.
On top of Nintendo Switch Online's bizarre save model, some games can't be backed up whatsoever, including Nintendo's own Splatoon 2. The company says this is meant to prevent cheating. However, competitive players work relentlessly to rank up and get better gear in games like Splatoon 2, so the least Nintendo could do is recognize that effort by coming up with a better solution.
If cloud saves weren't such a big deal, NES classics would have been the biggest selling point. On launch, Nintendo is providing 20 NES games, including The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong. The games can be played solo, with certain titles also allowing for two-player local co-op and even joinable online co-op. Even in single-player games, NES allows you to "pass the controller" to the online player so you can effectively take turns. However, only the host of the session will be able to keep the saved game. All of the games are accessible through Nintendo's specific NES app, which can be downloaded from the Nintendo eShop.
Similar to the NES Classic console, the app lets you choose from different visual filters as well as create suspend points for each game. Nintendo plans to add more games every month. The company has since added 11 new tites: Solomon's Key, Super Dodgeball, NES Open Tournament Golf, Adventures of Lolo, Metroid, Mighty Bomb Jack, Ninja Gaiden, Wario's Woods, TwinBee, Blaster Master and The Legend of Zelda II.
There is one little caveat, however, for players who are always on the go. If the Nintendo Switch isn't connected to the internet after seven days, access to the NES app will lock.
Overall, this service seems a little outdated compared with Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus, which offer free, relatively new AAA games every month. But $20 a year for a library of NES games that are added to month after month is a sweet deal — if you're into retro titles.
Nintendo Switch Online Smartphone App
While I could write 3,000 words on why players shouldn't have to use their smartphones just to access voice chat, I'll avoid busting a blood vessel and actually judge what we have.
The Nintendo Switch Online app currently supports four games — Mario Tennis Aces, ARMS, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate — as well as the NES app. When you launch an online-specific game mode, the app will ask if you want to enter chat. The voice quality is actually pretty decent, but the problem is that the chat acts as game chat and that's it; there's no option to message, or even private chat with, friends.
On the other hand, Nintendo does include a unique feature called Game-Specific Services. The only game it supports so far is Splatoon 2, and it provides access to rankings, stage info, personal stats and the SplatNet Gear Shop.
This kind of tool is actually pretty cool and useful, since it can keep you connected with your game when you're not playing. If Nintendo had prioritized this kind of service instead of focusing on voice chatting through an app, I think it would have been much more useful to players. Because if chat is not already implemented in the game, you'd better believe I'm opening up Discord.
I thought it would be hard for Nintendo to mess up its Special Offers program, which is specifically designed to provide interesting deals or content. But boy, was I wrong.
First, let's break down the NES controllers: they can be used only with NES games. Even if you did want them, they're limited to just one purchase per membership and cost a whopping $59 (nearing the $79 retail price for fully functional Joy-Cons). Nintendo also announced exclusive in-game gear for Splatoon 2. Awesome, right? Except this specific perk is exclusive to members with 12-month subscriptions.
To be clear, Nintendo's subscription service is not set up in a tiered system; it's based on when you renew your subscription. But Nintendo is running it as if the longer your subscription is, the more rewards you get.
Therefore, Nintendo is not only isolating players without subscriptions, but also players with subscriptions that are on a one-month or three-month cycle. Of course, you could just say, get the yearly plan, then; it's cheaper anyway. But folks paying for the same service shouldn't be treated differently.
Nintendo's online service is relatively cheap, but it's missing some features its competitors offer. I would love to see an achievement/trophy system and more classic systems like SNES or N64. We also desperately need a concrete, universal party system similar to that of Xbox Live or PlayStation Network. Hopefully, most of these features will drop in at some point, but they would have made Switch Online a more compelling day-one buy.
Is Nintendo Switch Online Worth It?
Despite my burning complaints, Nintendo Switch Online is absolutely worth the $20 per year. Even if you don't plan to play online, the ability to back up your data is incredibly important to your well-being. I'm not taking the chance that my Switch or game cartridge will drop dead one day, erasing all 160 hours of gameplay on my Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild save. Plus, the opportunity to play classic NES is quite appealing.
What Switch Online really has going for it right now is its price, as $20 for a year is a third of the price that competitors charge. Although it offers only a third of the content as competitors do right now, that may change once Nintendo works out the kinks.