Bottom line: If you get a lot of enjoyment out of playing games online, need your game saves backed up to the cloud, or are interested in the occasional game trial, this service is for you. However, be prepared for some games to be incompatible with cloud saves and a lackluster voice chat service. Still, for the price, it's not as bad as it could be.
- Upload compatible save data to the cloud
- Try out games during game trials
- Coupons for EU members
- Not all games are compatible with cloud saves
- Unsatisfying voice chat
- No coupons for U.S. members
Until the release of the Nintendo Switch, all of Nintendo's online services were free of charge, compared to Microsoft and Sony, which charged a fee for the use of their online servers. For the first year of the Nintendo Switch's life, online services were still offered for free, although it was announced that paid online was eventually coming. While this was disappointing initially, the content being promised by Nintendo seemed intriguing, and people were hopeful.
So is the Nintendo Switch Online service still worth it? Short answer: yes. Longer answer: it's worth it for the cloud saves alone. If you really enjoy playing online with friends, it's also a given, even if the quality of the online multiplayer connections can be a bit shoddy from time to time. The other bonuses offered, like the ability to try specific games for free, the exclusive games like Tetris 99, and discounts through the coupons, add a nice flair to a service that's pretty solid for its price point.
Nintendo Switch Online: Features
Nintendo Switch Online is a huge service with many facets, and because of this, reviewing the service as a whole would definitely be unfair. Therefore, we'll look at each of the features provided and the best and worst aspects of each.
On previous Nintendo systems, save data was often stored on the game cartridge, game disk, or memory card. Since Nintendo started offering digital games that can be downloaded, save data was stored on the internal memory or SD card. However, with the advent of the Nintendo Switch, save data is saved on the system's internal memory, regardless of whether you play with a game cartridge or a digital game. This means that the system's damage or loss would result in the complete loss of save data. For people with hundreds of hours in games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, being able to upload to and restore save data from the cloud was a reassuring feature.
However, the feature had its limits. Some of the most popular games on the Switch were exempt from cloud saves, such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Pokémon Sword and Shield, and Splatoon 2. Nintendo's reason for these omissions was to prevent cheating, much to the disappointment of fans. But the cheating ended up occurring anyway, mostly from players protesting the absence of game save security.
Although Animal Crossing: New Horizons was eventually given a solution to the issue with the Island Backup Tool, the others were not. Sword and Shield and Let's Go, Pikachu/Eevee! players could put their most valuable Pokémon in Pokémon HOME, but would still have to fear losing their entire playthrough and their current party members.
As someone who has had to acquire a new Switch without being able to access the old one, it was super disheartening to give up 200 hours of Splatoon and a hundred more in Sword and Shield. Thankfully, most of my Pokémon were in HOME, and I was able to contact Nintendo to restore my island, but I really think they should have allowed players to at least have the option to save their data on the cartridges.
- Lets you back up your save data
- Allows you to use multiple Switches by keeping saves in the cloud
- Lets you recover your saves if your system gets lost or damaged
- One save per profile is allowed
- Popular games like Pokémon, Splatoon, and FIFA do not support this feature
- There is no option to keep or move save data to an SD card or game cartridge
- Hardware failures may result in the loss of saves forever
The Nintendo Switch is the first Nintendo console where online play is locked behind a paywall. Without a subscription to Nintendo Switch Online, players can still engage in local multiplayer with friends and family in the same room. Free-to-play games, such as Fortnite and Warframe do not require a Nintendo Switch Online subscription to play.
While most games that feature online multiplayer often have a local multiplayer function that is just as good, like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, games like Splatoon 2 heavily rely on online multiplayer for the full experience. Those who are looking to get a Nintendo Switch Online subscription exclusively for the online component should probably consider whether they will really be experiencing most of the multiplayer gameplay online.
For a system that heavily advertises online play to consumers, the lack of built-in voice chat is also disappointing. Voice chat has been a staple feature on other platforms ever since online play was in its infancy. That there is no comfortable way to use a headset to chat with friends while playing is quite frustrating.
- Play with friends online in a time when local multiplayer may not be possible
- Some games rely heavily on online play for the best experience
- Nintendo's servers can be unreliable, especially around the holidays or a game's launch
- Lack of built-in voice chat
Nintendo Switch Online Mobile App
One of Nintendo Switch Online's least beloved features is the requirement to use an external service for voice chat. While most people use Discord or other services, Nintendo Switch Online members can use the official Nintendo Switch Online app for voice chat. The app offers some exclusive services for certain games, like SplatNet in Splatoon 2, NookLink for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. These applets allow users to shop for items, upload videos, and scan QR codes or message friends.
While this would have been nice to have in addition to native system-based voice chat, it's underwhelming on its own. Unfortunately, it's one of the most disappointing aspects of the online experience, and voice chat is not available to all games that offer online multiplayer support the app. I personally resort to other alternative channels to contact my friends since you must set up an entirely new room to chat on the app if your connection drops — which isn't exactly an uncommon occurrence — or if you accidentally quit the game.
- View game stats, buy gear, send messages, and upload videos in Splatoon 2, Animal Crossing, and Smash Bros.
- Both gamers and backseat gamers can participate in voice chat
- The requirement of an external device for voice chat is cumbersome
- Rooms disappear if the connection drops or you accidentally quit the game
- No way to listen to the game audio through headphones if you use a headset for voice chat
- Not all games are compatible with the app
- Only a few games have special app-specific applets
Subscribers to Nintendo Switch Online are granted exclusive access to some NES and SNES titles. The Switch's answer to Virtual Console is a catalog of NES and SNES titles with online multiplayer, save states, and titles that may have only been exclusive to one region previously.
The idea is fine, but I would much rather see an expansion of the library, including GameBoy Advance and Nintendo GameCube games, which have previously not been available outside of special situations. With NES and SNES games being widely available since the GameBoy Advance and Wii, and the NES and SNES classic systems releasing not too long before the Nintendo Switch's release, I must say that I am experiencing a bit of 8-bit and 16-bit game fatigue.
Subscribers can also play games like Tetris 99 and PAC-MAN 99, where they can team up against several other players online with a Battle Royale-style gameplay. Unfortunately, Super Mario Bros. 35, a similar Battle Royale game released as part of the Super Mario 35th Anniversary celebration, became unavailable after Mario's death on March 31, 2021, but Tetris 99 and PAC-MAN 99 will still be available to all subscribers for the foreseeable future.
- NES and SNES save data can be saved to the cloud
- New and exclusive retro games are added to the service
- Online games like Tetris 99 and PAC-MAN 99 are unique experiences
- New retro additions seldomly happen
- No GBC, GBA, or GCN games are available
- Games like Super Mario Bros. 35 got canceled after a short time
Bonus Items in Games
Nintendo Switch Online subscribers also get access to bonuses for select games. For Animal Crossing: New Horizons, players can access a special rug and a Nintendo Switch Lite furniture item. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate players can redeem a Spirit Set with one randomly selected Legend- and Ace-class spirit. In Super Kirby Clash, subscribers can redeem 100 Gem Apples, the game's currency. These quirks are cool, but definitely aren't the highlight of the service's features.
- The items do not give players a significant advantage over other players
- In Animal Crossing, multiples can be bought and gifted to friends
- New items not regularly added to the pool of member exclusives
One of the best features, alongside the obvious online play and cloud saves, is the ability to try games for free. From time to time, Nintendo Switch Online subscribers can download the full version of a specific game and play as much as they want for an entire week. Following the trial, that game is usually on sale in the eShop for those who participated. Some featured games were Mario Tennis Aces and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. This feature is a great way for players to try out some of the system's most popular games if they're unsure about buying. I personally have had a great experience with the service and ended up buying Dead Cells at a great price because of it.
- Allows players to try games they've been on the fence about
- Gives players access to the full game for one week
- Players can buy the game for a reduced price after they've tried it
- Not all regions get the same games for trial
- The most popular games are usually not offered
Nintendo Switch Online Coupons
If you have a European account, you can purchase a coupon for €99 or £84, which allows you to buy two eligible games at a discounted price. This means that you save around €20 or £16 if you buy two full-price first-party titles. The offer was previously available to subscribers in the United States and Canada but was discontinued. Given that first-party Nintendo titles seldom receive a substantial discount, it's a shame that this great deal isn't available to subscribers everywhere.
- Allows for players to save a significant amount on games that don't often go on sale
- Is usually covered by almost all first-and second-party games
- Not available in the U.S. or Canada
- Expire if not used within a year
Nintendo Switch Online subscribers can get exclusive access to certain physical goods and priority access to items in the Nintendo Online Store. Special wireless NES and SNES controllers are available in Nintendo's online storefronts to any account that is also a Nintendo Switch Online subscriber. The NES controllers slide onto the system like a Joy-Con, and both the NES and SNES controllers make playing retro games via the online service a treat.
- Offer a unique way to play retro games on Switch
- Great quality official wireless NES and SNES controllers
Nintendo Switch Online: Expansion Pack
Despite fans clamoring for more retro Nintendo content, even in the form of a Nintendo 64 Classic system, Nintendo wasn't budging. That is, until the September 2021 Nintendo Direct, where they announced the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack, which came with various popular Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis titles. It seemed like a good deal, with promise for some great titles like Ocarina of Time and Banjo Kazooie.
However, that was until the price was announced. The October 2021 Animal Crossing Direct revealed that the Expansion Pack would include access to the Animal Crossing: New Horizons — Happy Home Paradise DLC, an offer that initially seemed reasonable. But when the price was revealed to be $50 for an individual subscription and $80 for a family subscription, with no payment options outside of a full 12 months, fans began to hesitate.
Things got worse when subscribers saw that many games had terrible lag, and that remapping controls is impossible. Sure, you could purchase official wireless Sega Genesis and Nintendo 64 controllers, but stock shortages mean that you may have to wait months to get them. The performance issues coupled with the steep price increase made some question whether it's worth it, and what Nintendo could do to fix the Expansion Pack.
- More quality retro games are available
- Access to Animal Crossing DLC
- Official N64 and Sega Genesis wireless controllers
- More than double the price of the base subscription
- No other DLC or special offers
- DLC access is revoked if your subscription lapses
Nintendo Switch Online: Should you buy it?
For its price, the base service is definitely worth it. While not every game supports cloud saves, there are some solutions for games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons and the various Pokémon games. The cloud saves are, in my opinion, the main selling point of the service outside of the obvious online play feature. I haven't personally had too many negative experiences with Nintendo's online servers, but for games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, input lag is a critical issue.
The other features, like the special offers, bonus items, game trials, and coupons, are also neat and definitely add to the service. However, features like the cumbersome voice chat are so disappointing that I would recommend instead using third-party applications like Discord or Skype instead.
With the family membership, it's even cheaper if players who know and trust each other get together to pay for the service. You pay up to 75% off of the 12-month individual plan if you pay for it as a group. If this service was priced the same as those offered by other gaming companies, I'd be a bit hesitant. But for $5 to $20 a year? Sign me up!
I feel differently about the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack, though. It's an addition to an already good service that feels like it needed some more time baking in the oven. With the slow drip of new games, performance issues, and steep price, I wouldn't say that the Expansion Pack is a must. The Animal Crossing DLC is available for purchase separately, so unless you're a huge fan of the N64 and Genesis titles, or have multiple Switch systems that want to use the Animal Crossing DLC, you may want to pass on it.