By Alex Daud Briggs and Mike O’Brien |
After a year of waiting, Nintendo has finally released their online service for the Switch – and fans are less than pleased. Anyone familiar with Nintendo will know that their online track record is comprised of a series of poor and perplexing decisions. But in the days of the Wii, the Wii U, and the 3DS, Nintendo’s questionable online philosophy was at least free if vexing and inconvenient. Now, Nintendo are asking fans to pay for the privilege – and whilst Nintendo Switch Online is serviceable, reception has been lukewarm at best.
First, let’s address what Nintendo Switch Online gets right. As a service, it works. Of course, just like its competitors, the quality will vary depending on the individual games you’re playing, as some games – like Rocket League – will use dedicated servers hosted by a different company. After a few hours with Splatoon 2 and BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle, my experience was smooth. If you’re purchasing this for the sole desire of playing games online, then the Switch’s service should suit you fine.
The problem however stems from the fact that Nintendo is charging £18.00 per year for the service. It may be notably cheaper than its major competitors, but Nintendo Switch Online still feels barebones and underwhelming for the cost. For one, Nintendo do not provide dedicated servers on any of their first-party titles. Given that the Switch’s hardware is already lacking when it comes to WiFi strength and range, peer-to-peer matchmaking can severely damage the experience in games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, where players may cross the line first only to find that desync issues place them fourth on the leaderboard. But the worst part is that not only is Nintendo Switch Online worse than its competitors – it’s worse than its predecessor. The original Splatoon for Wii U had a tickrate of 25hz – 30% higher than Splatoon 2 for the Nintendo Switch – and online matchmaking was free. It’s one thing to erect a paywall for a service, but another thing altogether to charge for an inferior one.
Another complaint is that the Switch has no internal voice chat, and Nintendo’s solution is the use of a smartphone app. The Switch itself is capable of voice chat, so restricting its use to a cumbersome smartphone app – especially when far superior alternatives like Discord exist – is simply maddening. It feels as though Nintendo is simply out of touch with how online works, and a rushed answer to a problem they’ve had ten years to solve.
Cloud backups of save data is another point of contention. Once again, the service itself works fine for the most part, automatically saving when connected to Wi-Fi efficiently and without intrusion. Unfortunately, certain games including Splatoon 2 and Pokemon Lets Go! cannot use take advantage. Nintendo has stated this was done to ‘prevent cheating’ – but you would think a billion-dollar company like Nintendo could find a way to allow cloud saves whilst also deploying anti-cheat measures, something that services like Steam and PlayStation Plus managed years ago. This wouldn’t be as big an issue if not for the fact the Switch does not support the option to backup saves on an external hard drive, meaning that if something happens to your Switch, you can kiss all of your game progress goodbye.
The final new feature is the NES game selection. This concept has serious potential: a retro gaming Netflix with a wide range of Nintendo’s historic catalogue as part of the service – but this promise is the source of the greatest waste of potential of all. The games on offer are just NES titles, the same ones that have been around for the last thirty years – and, as of launch, the selection is not exhaustive, with only a handful of mostly negligible games added each month. At this point, Nintendo should at least be offering SNES titles, for which there is still no confirmation. Rereleasing classics from the SNES, N64, GBA, DS, and even the GameCube for a portable system would be a worthy and attractive application of the service, and we know the system is technically capable of providing it – but as of now, it’s hard to recommend the service for its current offerings.
Nintendo Switch Online has potential, but it lacks basic necessities and variety. There is voice chat, but only through a ham-fisted phone app. You have cloud saves, but no physical saves. Classic games, but only NES titles are available. The online might be cheaper than PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live, but it’s inferior in just about every way. And most inexcusably, the Wii U’s online service was superior and free. If Nintendo iron out these glaring issues, then there’s a potentially amazing service with more than enough bang for your buck here – but it’s a long way from achieving that promise, and few in good conscience can say that its current form is worth the (albeit low) cost.