- After years of waiting, Nintendo fans finally have a Netflix-style subscription service for classic games.
- The service, dubbed “Nintendo Switch Online,” is just $20/year.
- Though Nintendo Switch Online is light on features, it’s worth the incredibly low cost of entry.
Nintendo is the Disney of video games.
There are plenty of arguments for why this is the case, but the most obvious parallel is Nintendo’s vast library of classic games. Starting with the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the early ’80s and going all the way up to the Nintendo DS and Wii in the early ’00s, Nintendo has a wealth of classic games that people still want to play.
And, for years, people have clamored for a way to access that library. “Why not offer a Netflix-style subscription service?” they shouted, while throwing money in the general direction of Nintendo’s Kyoto, Japan headquarters.
Earlier this fall, on September 18, Nintendo finally offered just such a service … sort of.
Behold: Nintendo Switch Online!
After months of using Nintendo’s Netflix-like subscription service, I’m left wanting much, much more than what’s currently available. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad – you should still check it out anyway!
Allow me to explain.
1. The list of games is paltry.
20 games sounds like a lot of games, but we’re talking about original NES games here – outside of maybe “The Legend of Zelda” and “River City Ransom,” these aren’t very lengthy experiences.
There are somewhere in the realm of 700 NES games. Starting with just 20 – and no games from the Super NES, Nintendo 64, GameCube, Game Boy, or etc. – is underwhelming to say the least.
That said, since Nintendo Switch Online launched in September, Nintendo has added several games to the service every month at no additional charge. That initial list of 20 games has already expanded to 28, and it’ll reach 31 games in total by the end of 2018.
2. The games that are included aren’t especially thrilling.
The list of games on Nintendo Switch Online is padded out with stuff like “Soccer,” “Tennis,” and “Ice Hockey.” Nothing against sports games, but these aren’t particularly iconic choices.
The inclusion of the original “Mario Bros” is similarly puzzling – the series didn’t take off in popularity until “Super Mario Bros.” (seen above). “Mario Bros.” is … it’s not very good. There’s no nice way to say that: It just isn’t very fun to play.
Nintendo fans are better served by the other two “Super Mario Bros.” games included on the list (“Super Mario Bros.” and “Super Mario Bros. 3”).
The addition of games like “Solomon’s Key” and “Ninja Gaiden” helps a lot, but there are still countless classic games missing from the service.
3. The addition of online functionality to games is extremely limited.
More than just putting NES games on the Switch, Nintendo Switch Online adds online multiplayer functionality. In two-player games, you can compete with a friend. In single-player games, you can switch off with a friend. In co-op games, you can play together with a friend.
The language I’m using there – “with a friend” – is crucial, as you’re only able to play with people you’ve previously added to your Nintendo Switch Friend List. There’s no way to find an online game of, say, “Balloon Fight” with a stranger. You’re only able to play with people on your Friend List.
It’s something many Nintendo fans are used to dealing with. It’s also ridiculous in 2018 that the most iconic video game company in the world isn’t providing online matchmaking services – especially in the context of this being a paid online service.
4. There’s an awkward online sign-in requirement.
Part of the promise of Nintendo Switch Online’s classic games library is being able to take those games with you anywhere. “Super Mario Bros. 3” on the subway! “Double Dragon” at Aunt Linda’s house!
But the Nintendo Switch requires an online “handshake” with Nintendo’s servers once every seven days to verify you’re still a paying subscriber. “These games can be played offline for up to 7 days as long as you have an active Nintendo Switch Online membership,” Nintendo says in an FAQ. If you’re going away for longer than one week with your Switch, and you don’t have access to WiFi, say goodbye to those NES classics.
Admittedly, it’s not that big of a deal – but it’s an awkward requirement that reflects Nintendo’s insecurity about piracy.
5. The service otherwise operates almost exactly like Nintendo’s “Classic Edition” consoles do — for better and worse.
Each game in the Nintendo Switch Online classic games library has four “save state” slots. What that means in human speak is that you’re able to save at any spot in any of the games, with four different saves per game, and return to that same spot later on exactly as you left it.
Think of it as a way to save a paused game. It’s very useful!
Nintendo’s first use of the save state concept was in its miniaturized “Classic Edition” consoles, starting with NES Classic Edition. In fact, much of the Nintendo Switch Online classic gaming library operates exactly like the Classic Edition consoles do.
As you can see above, there are options to select different display resolutions for the games – since the NES is from a time where TVs weren’t high-definition, ultra-wide affairs, it has a few different display options. It’s a nice inclusion alongside the save states.
What would be even nicer would be some nod to the “classic” nature of these games – original instruction manuals, access to their soundtracks, and original artwork to name a few things.
This is all the information you get:
None of that stuff is required, but just imagine if Nintendo treated this service like an interactive museum for classic games!
6. Something especially cool: Nintendo is offering new versions of gaming classics on Nintendo Switch Online.
The original “Legend of Zelda” is a difficult game with little guidance. It’s been decades since it launched, and time has not been kind.
Nintendo clearly knows this, as the company released a far easier version of the game through the Nintendo Switch Online classic games section. It’s named, “The Legend of Zelda: Living the life of luxury!”
Why the silly name? Because it’s essentially the same game from the ’80s, but with a bunch of items given to you up front (which makes it far less difficult).
“You’ll start with a ton of rupees and items! You’ll begin with all equipment, including the White Sword, the Magical Shield, the Blue Ring, and even the Power Bracelet,” a description from Nintendo’s eShop said. For anyone not familiar, that means that the game’s main character, Link, will start the game with a load of in-game money (rupees) and powerful weapons. It’s kind of like playing the game with a cheat code that grants you a bunch of free stuff.
All that said, if you own a Switch, you obviously should pay for this service for one reason: It’s incredibly inexpensive.
At just $20 for a full year, Nintendo Switch Online is a pretty big no-brainer. If it were just $10 more, it would be a much harder sell.
But, at $20 annually, and with a 7-day free trial, it’s hard to say no.
That’s just $1 per game, and that’s before Nintendo adds more games to the service – the company says it’s adding three NES games per month through the end of the year, bringing the total up to 31 games by 2019.
What about Super Nintendo games? Game Boy games? Perhaps Nintendo 64? None of that has been announced thus far. Nintendo is certainly capable of releasing digital versions of those platforms – the company previously sold classic games a la carte through its “Virtual Console” service on several different Nintendo platforms. Whether or not it will is another question. It remains to be seen.
What about the other stuff you get with Nintendo Switch Online?
For $20/year, Nintendo Switch Online offers a few different things:
1. Online multiplayer access.
2. The NES classic games service.
3. The ability to upload game saves to Nintendo’s cloud.
4. A smartphone app for voice chat.
5. Access to “special offers” like the ability to buy these wireless NES gamepads.
If you’re big into playing “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” online, or are worried about losing save data if your Switch breaks, it’s worth it to pay for Nintendo Switch Online. That stuff works exactly as you’d expect.
But, realistically speaking, most people are going to pay for this to access the instant library of NES games. And, thus far, it’s extremely underwhelming – but it’s so inexpensive that it’s impossible to say no. Touché, Nintendo.
Get a closer look at Nintendo Switch Online from Nintendo directly in this brief video: