The good, the bad and the ugly of Nintendo’s Online Service

From cloud saves to NES games, we run the rule on some new features

The good, the bad and the ugly of Nintendo’s Online Service

Nintendo has always enjoyed a different aura of nostalgia to its platform development counterparts.

For us, anyway, it comes from the developer’s ability to innovate and provide something different than that on offer.

From Mario to Link, rarely have characters stood the test of time so well and consoles like the Wii and Switch hold a sense of charm that’s difficult not to admire.

Catching up with rivals

Yet where its games can stand the test of time and the company often innovates with hardware, it can often be slow to adopt new tech and business models.

As such, Nintendo’s decision to launch an online subscription-based service is as peculiar as it is interesting.

The likes of Microsoft and Sony have been hashing out the more delicate details of what a reasonable subscription model looks like for years, which makes Nintendo somewhat late to the party.

With the service's official launch today and a good year of chatter behind it, we've delved into the features of Nintendo’s maiden voyage into the choppy waters of the subscription-based online service to see what it gets right and what it gets wrong.

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 The Good: Price

    Paying for something that was once free is seldom something that appeals to everyone.

    In fairness to Nintendo though, we've long been aware that an online subscription-based service was on the way and the infancy of the Switch's online functionality would serve only as a temporary freebie.

    That said, the pricing model seems entirely fair given the process of tweaking that’s likely to come as Nintendo figures out its online service.

    One month will set customers back $3.99 while three months will cost $7.99 and the full year will is priced at $19.99.

    A family package that extends to eight accounts is also available for the full year and will cost $34.99. A nice addition to a console that is typically family friendly and oriented. 

    On top of that, Nintendo has confirmed that subscribers will get special offers that may include discounts on certain games on the eShop.

    Comparatively, Sony’s PlayStation Plus will set subscribers back $9.99 for one month, $24.99 for three and $59.99 for the year, with Microsoft’s Xbox Live costing the same.

    Sure, Microsoft and Sony’s inflated fees come with much bigger offerings and a, mostly, honed online experience. But Nintendo’s asking price is realistic for what’s on offer.


  • 2 The Good: Retro games

    As games have aged retro fanfare has unsurprisingly become commonplace. 

    The NES Mini released last year and is currently attainable for around $50, although should they sell out and make their way onto eBay or Amazon you may need to part with more than $200 to snag one. 

    Even Sony has gotten into the act with the PlayStation Mini recently announced, which will go for $99.99 and come with 20 games. 

    All things considered, a steady stream of NES classics for $20 may not be so bad - if that's something you want. And it's certainly not the big games PS Plus offers fans each month.

    Currently up for grabs is Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong, Yoshi and slew of other formative classics that helped kick-start each franchise. Consistency and quality remain to be seen, but it is a nice touch thus far.

    A sticking point, however, is that you’ll need to sign into your online account once a week to maintain access.

    Internet access isn’t hard to come by, sure, and most will probably log in at least once a week, but it’s an odd requirement that has puzzled fans.

    According to an FAQ on Nintendo’s site, Nintendo Switch Online can be played for up to seven days without a connection, which may ease the fears of some who may have fleeting access to the internet as they travel.

    But, for lapsed fans or those who are busy, it is viewed an odd caveat that doesn’t seem to benefit anyone.

    Another for the retro column for US and Canadian subscribers is the NES controllers. It'll set you back $59.99 for a pack of two, and you can only buy one set, but it may prove delightful for collectors.  

  • 3 The Bad: Voice chat

    The appeal of online gaming lies mostly in the social experience. As Sony learned with the PlayStation 3, a place to talk to friends who are playing with you is a must.

    The Nintendo Switch launching without such a feature has already proven to be an eyebrow raiser, but there isn’t much here that alleviates the problem.

    Members do gain access to a mobile app that must be downloaded separately, but it only allows for voice chat in compatible games such as Mario Kart Deluxe 8, Mario Tennis Aces and Splatoon 2.

    Using third-party apps on phones or PC may be nothing new to social Switch players, as the likes of Discord are usually favoured for games meetups.

    But it's an odd setup for an online games service, and one that Nintendo is charging for.

  • 4 The Ugly: Cloud saves

    Perhaps the feature that has gained the most traction of late is that of Cloud Saves only being available to members.

    A fine perk for sure, but many feel it should be something that comes with the base Switch experience.

    The situation was aggravated somewhat when it became apparent that those who let their memberships lapse would lose their data.

    In an FAQ on Nintendo’s website, a question concerning what would happen exactly if membership was to lapse answered: “Save data stored with Save Data Cloud cannot be kept outside of the duration of your Nintendo Switch Online membership.

    “Nintendo Entertainment System – Nintendo Switch Online also uses the Save Data Cloud, so the same applies.

    “However, if you keep the Nintendo Entertainment System – Nintendo Switch Online save data saved locally on your Nintendo Switch console, then you can use it again if you purchase another membership.”

    As stated you can, and probably should, back up your saves locally to avoid losing progress. However, the ease at which someone can lose all their save data after forgetting to renew is an avoidable sore spot.

    The issue of cloud saves is one that even Sony and Microsoft are figuring out, but their solutions come with some wiggle room at least.

    If your PS Plus subscription were to run out, then Sony will hold your data for six months, giving you plenty of time to back up your precious data.

    Microsoft, meanwhile, allow cloud saves to remain indefinitely, even for those who decided against renewal.

  • 5 Verdict

    Nothing in life is perfect on the first try and Nintendo’s online service seems no different.

    A modest price is fair and does reflect what’s on offer, but there are issues to iron out going forward.

    Frequent additions of NES games are a lovely sight for retro enthusiasts, but a requirement to log on once a week is odd and only time will tell how consistent the quality of these releases are.

    We’re unlikely to see support for voice chat and the ability to host rooms for players within the Switch anytime soon, as such an app that supports voice chat is the next best thing. But it's an odd solution that doesn't scream ease of use or accessibility.

    That said, general extensions to users not playing one of the compatible games, or even to users not playing the same game but are still online, would certainly be a welcome sight.

    Cloud saves is another that could be improved. Both Sony and Microsoft also charge for the service but allow for wiggle room for those who lapse.

    And some similar wiggle room for Switch players would surely go a long way.

Staff Writer

Iain is a freelance writer based in Scotland with a penchant for indies and all things Nintendo. Alongside PocketGamer.Biz, he has also appeared in Kotaku, Rock Paper Shotgun, PCGamesN and VG24/7.


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