Is Nintendo Switch Online Worth It?

Image: Supplied

Nintendo Switch Online went live last week, marking the first time the Japanese gaming giant has asked its customers to pay a subscription fee to play with and against others over the internet. Like similar services from PlayStation and Xbox, there are a number of benefits to signing up, but is it worth the price of admission?

First of all, it’s worth noting that Nintendo’s service is significantly less expensive than its competitors' online offerings. You can pay $5.95 for one month of access, $11.95 for three months, or $29.95 per year. This annual fee makes for quite a contrast to the $80 you pay on other consoles, although as you’ll see below Nintendo’s offering is arguably not as strong.

There’s also an option to buy a yearly “family membership” for $54.95, letting up to eight Nintendo Accounts access the Switch Online service, which could be quite a saving depending on how many Switch players you split it between.

Online play

This is the most obvious benefit of signing up to Nintendo Switch Online, although it may also be the most contentious. Players have been able to go online in games like Mario Kart, Splatoon 2 and Mario Tennis completely free throughout the past 18 months of the Switch’s life, so asking them to pay now could put a sour taste in their mouth. Still, this is something Nintendo has flagged as coming since the beginning, and running online servers does cost money.

Ahead of the Switch’s launch, there were concerns about Nintendo’s ability to deliver a modern internet-connected device worth paying for. Its previous efforts with the Wii U, for example, certainly fell well below those seen on competing consoles in terms of complexity and stability.

Yet the company has proven over the last year and a half that it can be trusted here, with the three games mentioned above in particular providing reliable and mostly seamless online play with special tournaments and the like keeping players coming back.

There's a lot of peripheral stuff that goes into a great online experience, such as the ability to group up with buddies and chat to friends and strangers in your game session, but Nintendo does not provide much of this as part of the Switch system itself. Instead, subscribers will have to use a special phone app. It does work well, especially if you don't mind leaving your phone on loudspeaker and just putting it next to you while you play, but it isn't ideal.

Importantly, free-to-play online games including Fortnite will not require a Nintendo Switch Online subscription to play.

NES games

Nintendo’s first, and so far only, piece of software that is exclusive to Online subscribers is essentially the Netflix of 30-year-old video games. The app contains a library of games originally released on the Nintendo Entertainment System, with 20 titles available at launch and more to be added each month.

The experience of playing these games — which so far includes usual Nintendo suspects like Super Mario Bros 3, The Legend of Zelda and Donkey Kong, plus some third party fare like River City Ransom and Ghosts 'n Goblins — is extremely similar to using the previously released NES Classic Mini, except you can play the games anywhere.

For two-player games you can of course hand one of the Switch Joy-Cons to another player for some instant Mario Bros. or Balloon Fight action, but interestingly you can also connect to a friend over the internet to play these ancient games together. In addition to chatting while you play via the phone app, you can use your controller to move a little hand around the screen, pointing out secrets or applauding when your friend finds a hidden stash of coins (or when they fall down a pit, if you want to be sarcastic). It's a quirky touch, but a singular one among online gaming services.

Of course even with added online features these old games seem a bit paltry compared to what you get with Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Plus: several relatively recent full games every month. The true value of Nintendo's offering will only become apparent over time. Will it add quality games every month to eventually amass a truly worthwhile collection of classics, or will it drip feed mediocre titles while removing older ones from the service? For now, I've been having fun revisiting some of these retro goodies.

Image: Supplied

Cloud saves

Finally, this is the most pragmatic part of the subscription and will likely be of interest to the most people, if only because Nintendo is otherwise so behind the times when it comes to securing user data. Previously all save data associated with your Switch games was held on the console with no way to move it to a PC, USB key or online server. This meant that if you broke or lost your Switch you could lose hundreds of hours of progress.

This is out of step with the way other players in the industry do things. Microsoft automatically uploads all user saves to the cloud for free, while Sony allows all PlayStation gamers to move their saves to USB storage, with paying Plus customers able to access cloud storage. With Switch Online, Nintendo is providing a way for paying customers to get some peace of mind about their epic Breath of the Wild save data, providing a strong incentive to sign up.

Cloud saves on Switch are automatic and completely painless. Whenever you update a save on your console, it's sent to the cloud to update the online version. If you get a new Switch or are signed in on someone else's machine, you can pull the cloud save down whenever you like. As long as you stay a paying subscriber, your data will always be available online so you don't need to worry about a drowned or crushed console erasing it from existence.

One downside is that Nintendo says it will not enable the functionality for every game. So far the only games I've seen that do not use cloud saves are Fortnite and Splatoon 2. This is understandable in the case of the former, as all your progress is stored online anyway. In Splatoon's case, Nintendo says being able to store and restore saves could allow players to cheat and gain an advantage online, but it still sucks that you could lose all your gear and single-player progress.

So should you sign up?

Overall the Nintendo Switch Online service has some shortcomings compared to its competitors, but it's also a fraction of the price. The online experience, retro games and cloud saves are all solid offerings, if not industry-leading, and it will all likely get stronger as time goes on.

Nintendo also claims that there will be "exclusive offers" for members only, but it hasn't exactly made a great start on that front. So far the only offers are for some exclusive clothes in Splatoon 2, and the right to pay $80 for a pair of NES-themed wireless controllers you can use to play the old games.

For me personally the subscription is a no brainer, and at this price you would have to never play online, have no interest in NES games and not be worried about losing your saves to pass it up.

This article originally appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald, which is published by Kotaku Australia's parent company Fairfax Media. Read the original story here.


    Importantly, free-to-play online games including Fortnite will not require a Nintendo Switch Online subscription to play

    Stuff you Microsoft, greedy sons of manwich

      As pointed out in the article, Microsoft have free cloud saves, which is much more important to me.

      Do you have to have Xbox gold to play fortnite online?

    To be honest I don't play online very often any more, worry too much about backing up my saves or have much interest in nes games. So unless a new game comes out that I want to play online I'm happy to skip for now.

      Smash Bros should be good. Animal Crossing and Pokeyman also look to be pretty important with online.

        Yup, I'll probably be joining up once AC comes out, especially as I'll probably become paranoid about backing up my town

          You can't back up AC because you could trade rare items and then restore your backup.

          Only half sarcastic.


            I bet you're right. Damn.

    Right now - for me - no. Will that change? Probably?

    Irrespective of price comparisons to other online offerings, two weeks ago I could play Splatoon 2/Mario Kart for free, now I can't so how can I ever say that it's a good deal/worth it? If we're comparing value propositions then the MS Game Pass deserves a mention here because for similarly $cheap you get a much better selection of games - albeit without the online - from a much more recent era (same argument could be levied at the PS Classic too tbh).

    There's the argument that they need subscriptions to fund improvements to the online stuff - seeing people defend a company they don't work for though is just perplexing - whereas I definitely think that they can and should use the funds to improve the offering, it's their role/responsibility to make something I want to invest in in the first place, not get half-way and then iterate using my money - this isn't an early access title from an indie developer and last I looked, Nintendo were/are sitting on some pretty healthy cash reserves?

    All that being said I do want this to be a success for them long term, it just needs to be better - each of the respective areas (online functionality, free retro games, cloud saves) is only meh/10 and comes with substantial caveats, it needs to be far more compelling for me - and perhaps others - to invest just yet. Ironically, having a solid library of SNES/N64/GC (or even just adding 2 per month akin to ps/xbox now) would probably tempt me (personally) more and as such be willing to spend more than they're asking for such a thing.

    Credit where it's due, I think the family offering (although it's of no use to me so haven't worked out exact value/if it's really that good) looks like a great incentive at first glance and good that they're catering.

    I'm a bit annoyed at the 'Family Membership'. It seems a great deal for multiple regular gamers who can split the cost between them. However I've got an actual family with kids who previously enjoyed having their own ARMS profiles.

    So for me I've got to pay an extra $25 on top of the base $30 just to allow the kids to have their own online profiles. Considering that they only play ARMS on rare occasions, I'll probably just get the single Online pass and the kids will miss out.

    But it makes me think what's the point of the 'Family Membership' if it doesn't work out for actual families.

      You get 8 spots. If you have less than 7 kids, you can still split it with a friend.

      I plan have a wife and two kids with a third on the way. No way the last one needs a profile yet. That leaves me with 4 spots, so I am going to join with some friends. I would be wary of strangers though.

    Charging for multiplayer is bad enough (albeit industry standard now apparently), but charging for cloud saves? Yeah no thanks. I really want a switch, and a PS4 for that matter, but being able to save your game and play with other people should be part of the base experience for games as far as I'm concerned.

    No interest in online games - check
    No interest in old NES games - check
    No interest in cloud saves - Check

    Sounds like a no brainer alright

    I probably will subscribe at some point, maybe if they add N64 games.

    I've subbed for a year. I'm happy enough with it. Local back ups of save would be nice but cloud saves are fine with me. Though I hope they sort out Splatoon 2 soon. Though I wouldn't be upset if my switch dies and I lose my Splatoon progress.

    For me personally the subscription is a no brainer, and at this price you would have to never play online, have no interest in NES games and not be worried about losing your saves to pass it up.Well, looks like I'll be using the money I save from not subscribing to buy offline games then.

    Come on people the Nintendo Switch Online membership wouldn't hurt if you would purchase a 12 month individual membership for $30 a year and although I'm not interested in NES Games. I think I would be better off in doing Online Play for games like Mario Tennis Aces, Super Mario Party, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. But Nintendo really need to fix this Cloud save issue and the Nintendo Switch Online voice chat issue to make us use voice chat on our Nintendo Switch not on our smartphones.
    Nintendo if your listening shut up and take my money I'm definitely all in to sign up for a 12 month Nintendo Switch Online Individual membership.

    This shows the greed of a company like Nintendo. The fact that people have had to buy their old games across generations of consoles is absolutely insane and greed at it's finest. Nintendo should just have an Online Nintendo account, in which you buy Super Mario World once, and you can use it across every new console.

    This service is in no way worth it now, especially with just 1980s content. As I always say about Ninty, for every amazing thing they do, they do 2-3 stupid/greedy things to counter it. As a nintendo fan for life, this is very frustrating to constantly see.

      Interesting that Nintendo cries poor when it is rolling on literal cash mountains and it refuses to allow real discounts of hardware and software. No, instead of adjusting price to market, it would prefer to freeze out anyone who can't afford the 'premium' experience. If Nintendo didn't get enough money from subscriptions to at least offer a recent indie title each month, I'd eat my hat. Pure greed!

    wow cloud saves and some nes roms? sign me the heck up! /s

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