Now that we're well over two years into the launch of the Nintendo Switch, just what is the state of their online service? This is a question that new Switch buyers have frequently asked, especially those used to the more complex, refined networks of PSN and XBL. While its asking price is relatively meager, Nintendo has recently begun charging for its online service, leading many to view their service with a more critical eye.
Thankfully, Nintendo has at least partially answered by fleshing out their system with a handful of new perks and refinements - but is it enough? In what ways has the Big N improved Nintendo Switch Online, and what more can be done to truly warrant the $20-per-year investment?
We'll go over these details here, as we cover 5 areas this service has indeed improved, and 5 things it still needs.
One of the biggest worries for Switch gamers was the lack of a feasible means to back up and access old game saves on new consoles. While you could painstakingly swap out save data with micro SD cards, there was no real failsafe to access save files if, God forbid, your Switch happened to break down after pouring 75 hours into Zelda: BotW.
Now, at least if you purchase the online service, Nintendo includes the option to simply back up your save data, in addition to creating an easier, more streamlined means of retrieving previously bought digital games. This also makes transfers more painless if you're looking to move data to your newly purchased Switch Lite; after coupling it with account sharing.
Given the massively robust Nintendo online eShop, which continues to add more titles just about every day, there can certainly be better means of honing in on games more ideal for you.
Nintendo has added some categories, such as the "Great Deals" tab that shows games on sale, along with the ability to search by genre. But one key feature is still missing, and it's one that even some of their older consoles had - the ability to rate and view ratings for these games. Given the sheer quantity of games, thanks partly to the influx of indies, it can be far less overwhelming for shoppers to sift through this catalog and make buying decisions if there were a 5-star rating system.
Let's be honest - one of the major reasons you've likely decided to invest the $20 per year for Nintendo Switch Online is the ability to access older games through their streaming service. In particular, though, many gamers had been anticipating the release of Super NES games, more so than the older NES variety it began with.
Well, just weeks ago, Nintendo finally came through, releasing 20 of their most classic SNES games as part of the service. These include Super Mario World, Star Fox, Yoshi's Island, and Breath of Fire, to name a few. It's a relatively small selection, which will likely be coming out at a trickle, but it's a start. Now we just need those N64 and GameCube games!
Sure, you've got games like Diablo III which have built-in achievements, but we've still yet to see a centralized Xbox Live-style achievement system. Of course, this feature is, and has always been, a peripheral one which doesn't really add to the games themselves. Still, it'd be a cool little addition that would be relatively painless to implement. If you're going to charge Switch users for an online service, why not add additional perks that bring it closer to the more elaborate XBL and PSN systems?
Ok, so we're still waiting on a truly integrated voice chat system on Switch that would allow you to communicate with players online, but at the very least, Nintendo now offers a means to chat with friends. Unfortunately, you'll need to opt for a separate app on a mobile device, which is used as a sort of glorified walkie-talkie. Still, it's a company-supported feature that gives you a way to chat with friends online; one that's fairly easy to set up. It's a step in the right direction, and it at least shows Nintendo isn't completely disregarding the importance of voice chat.
It's true that the process of adding and communicating with friends has been streamlined quite a bit from the archaic days of the Wii, thanks to enhanced search features and friend profiles being accessible through your system. Regardless, the need to painstakingly punch in a 12 digit code every time you want to add a specific friend still feels outdated and unnecessary.
It makes sense to a degree, as Nintendo has made sure to protect children online, given its family-friendly nature. And yet, it's difficult to see the implementation of XBL-style gamertags making a significant difference when it comes to user security and privacy.
Regardless of the rather annoying friend code system, it becomes fairly easy to access the profiles of friends once they have been added. While the Wii and DS offered only a limited glimpse into the happenings of friends, the Switch allows you to see a more fleshed-out palette of information.
This includes games your friend has been playing, how long they've been playing, and when they were last logged on. As a side note - you can now also directly invite a friend into a game you both own as part of the 9.0 update, further streamlining communication between friends. Again, it's not quite on the level of Xbox Live, but it's a step in the right direction.
To their credit, Nintendo and its second/third parties have been getting more generous about offering game demos - which can now directly be searched for in the eShop. This includes some pretty robust demos; one of which includes the first 10 hours of gameplay (give or take) for Dragon Quest XI.
Still, the quantity of demos and free-to-play software is basically a drop in the bucket compared to the countless hundreds of games which have been released. Given the lack of a rating system, it would at least be a sound idea to crank out more demos, in order to give users a sense of what to purchase.
It's tough to sell consumers on the value of your online service without a plethora of enticing games that come with online functionality. While Nintendo could still improve a bit on this front, they've certainly come a long long way since the Wii and Wii U days - whose significant online games could probably be counted on two hands.
With Switch, you have the more fleshed-out online gameplay of Smash Bros. Ultimate, Splatoon 2, and Mario Kart 8: Deluxe, which offer tons of replay value and function relatively smoothly. But on top of this, you've also got Nintendo finally getting in on the multiplat online-heavy titles such as Fortnite, Minecraft, Terraria, and Rocket League. There are even countless indie games that support online multiplayer.
This is the area in which Nintendo is still almost universally criticized for when it comes to their online features.
Let's face it, having to tinker with your smartphone while playing a game isn't the most ideal option for Switch gamers looking to chat during online games. In an era that allows you to seamlessly jump into lobbies and begin chatting with naught but a mic, having to run an app on a separate device feels cumbersome and unnecessary. You might as well just use Discord, a far superior voice chat app. Obviously the issue is privacy and security, but surely Nintendo could offer integrated voice chat while also implementing more restrictive privacy settings.