Why the Nintendo Switch Online Service is Terrible

A few days ago, Nintendo revealed various additional details about the Nintendo Switch Online service. Including various features like voice chat, save backups and video game subscriptions, the service is meant to bring Nintendo’s online infrastructure into the 21st century, as well as offer something comparable to Microsoft and Sony’s affairs in the same space.

It’s an ambitious task for sure, but have Nintendo succeeded?

Is the Switch’s online service finally on par with Sony or Microsoft’s? Or heck, even something people will actually want to pay for?

No. No it isn’t.

In fact, the service feels exactly like we feared it would: the same old crap as before, made worse and stuck behind a paywall.

And the Direct made that pretty obvious within the first five minutes of the presentation for the feature, with the first item on the list. Why?

Because said item was ‘this lets you play games with people around the world’. Yeah, pretty self-explanatory really.

Which is evidence Nintendo never really had enough selling points to market this service. Why advertise the obvious like this? Why promote the obvious? It’s like promoting Amazon with the words ‘you can buy stuff’ or marketing Google because it searches for websites. Yes it does. That’s the point. It’s not gonna make the service stand out from others.

And the Switch online fiasco continues even after that. Namely, with the last item on the list, the one about exclusive deals for the service.

Which in turn doesn’t actually offer any examples of said deals. Hmm, okay. Feels like another ‘feature’ meant to pad out a list, not a priority of the service.

Still, the Switch online setup does offer some new things, so it’s not quite as pathetic as it could have been. Cloud save backups are a nice include, as are the NES games you get access to through the service.

Unfortunately, like with most things Nintendo do, these promising inclusions aren’t done anywhere near as well as they could be.

For instance, cloud backups don’t actually work with every game. Instead, anything multiplayer focused (Splatoon 2, Pokémon Let’s Go games, etc) disables the feature for ‘security’ reasons. In other words? Cause Nintendo is so paranoid about cheating, your save data is put on the line. It’s pretty sad really.

And it’s indicative of how old fashioned Nintendo’s attitude is in general. Things like cloud saving or screenshots should not be ‘game specific’ things that devs can disable, they should be across the board OS ones. For instance, imagine if Windows let programs disable print screen, or the clipboard, or keyboard use or saving to certain directories. It’d be seen as rightly ridiculous.

Yet Nintendo allows just that. It’s proof of their very old fashioned/very Japanese salaryman sequel attitude that you can only use their products one way, and to sod off if you disagree.

But the cloud backup woes don’t end there. Nope, if your subscription runs out… well your cloud saves are toast. Gone. Kaput. Unrecoverable.

That means you’d better make sure your card is set up right and what not, otherwise you’re stuck up a creek without a paddle. It’s very consumer unfriendly, and jarring given how other systems give you a certain amount of leeway here (or keep your data save until you renew access/say you’ll leave).

Then there’s the NES games. When you subscribe to Switch Online, you get access to a set of NES games you can play ‘free’ as part of the deal. In theory, that’s a decent enough deal. You’ve got some classic games, and they’ve been fixed up a bit to have online multiplayer and what not.
Problem is… well they’re the same games we’ve seen a million times already. Seriously, imagine being a Nintendo fan who buys their NES games every time they’re released. How many copies of these games might you have by now?

  1. The originals on NES/Famicom
  2. Nintendo e-Reader card versions
  3. NES Classic GBA versions
  4. Wii Virtual Console versions
  5. 3DS Virtual Console versions
  6. Wii U Virtual Console versions
  7. The ones on the NES Classic
  8. And now the new ones available on the Nintendo Switch Online service.
Mario Bros e-reader Cards
Granted, most people probably didn’t buy an e-Reader/these cards

In other words, someone who supported Nintendo for a few decades has literally bought some of these games 8 times. And probably played it a bunch of others too, since many of the same times are included as demos in Super Smash Bros Brawl and Wii U, included as extra games in various versions of Animal Crossing and used for parts of NES Remix 1 and 2 as well. It’s kind of ridiculous really, especially given all the great games Nintendo has its in library.

Think about it for a minute. We’ve got hundreds or thousands of games from the SNES, Nintendo 64, GameCube, Wii, Wii U and Nintendo handheld console libraries just waiting to be rereleased on a Virtual Console like service, yet Nintendo’s here giving us Mario Bros and Ice Climber and what not for the tenth time in a row? That’s pretty lame to be honest, especially given the GameCube era has still gone ignored after all this time.

Mario Sunshine Artwork
When the hell are we gonna get this game on VC/Nintendo’s online services?

What’s more, given this is the usual ‘rental’ service, losing your online subscription nukes your access to these games too. Oh, and they can’t be played offline for very long either (just 7 days). So yeah, it’s not great if you’re internet’s spotty/you want to go offline for a while.

It’s a pretty shoddy effort really. Just another set of minimum effort rereleases to pad out this cash grab of a service.

Which brings us to the last aspect we need to discuss here.

The smartphone app.

Yeah, it’s this thing again. For those who are somehow out of the loop on this one, basically Nintendo decided that their online service would revolve around a separate app rather than get truly integrated with the console’s hardware. This means that for things like voice chat and Splatnet 2, you’ll need to download a secondary app and set up a somewhat convoluted connection rather than just using the console itself.

Splatoon 2 Headset Setup
Granted, Nintendo’s system is much more convenient than Hori’s nightmare of a setup…

And unfortunately, the whole sordid affair has not been made any more convenient with the recent presentation.Instead, it’s just the same old app system, with all the downsides that implies. It’s not simpler or easier to use, it’s not more convenient for users and to be perfectly honest… just feels kind of redundant in general.

I mean, why another app for this? Why another mobile phone based setup for voice chat or what not?

Because at the end of the day, here’s the thing:

No one really uses other systems’ voice chat or online features because they’re necessarily better than the competition.

No one truly thinks ‘oh cool, this Xbox Live/PlayStation Network deal will totally provide me with a good Discord or Slack alternative’

They use them because they’re convenient, built into the system and are ‘mostly good enough’ for the there and now. They’re like a shop in an airport or train station; no one specifically wants to use them, and they’re not particularly good when pitted against real competition… but they’ve got a nice captive audience who find them convenient at that particular point.

By putting this functionality in an app, Nintendo have kinda blown that whole deal. It’s like sticking an overpriced airport shop in the middle of downtown; you lose the one reason anyone has to actually go there.

Still, at least the features here are okay. Voice chat is nice to have, even if there are many more convenient solutions out there that don’t involve this service and its app.

It’s just that (like virtually every other aspect of this service), they’re included in a system with so many random caveats that the thing becomes an inconvenient mess. It just doesn’t make sense for a paid service, and doesn’t offer enough to justify the price you’re paying for it.

Still, what do you think here?

Do you agree that the Nintendo Switch Online service is poorly thought out, or that many of the ideas shown off here don’t really work too well?

Or are you more optimistic about the thing based on the trailers?

Let us know your thoughts in a comment below or over on social media sites today!

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Ethan

Nintendo Switch Online is the unholy ass.