Nintendo Direct’s featured a terrific one-two last night, starting with the unexpected announcement of Luigi’s Mansion 3 and ending with the insidious Tom Nook rather effectively revealing Animal Crossing for Switch.
Between these two points, games like Diablo 3: Eternal Collection, Game Freak’s new RPG, simply called Town, Yoshi’s Crafted World, Starlink: Battle for Atlas and Daemon X Machina all impressed. That wasn’t the problem.
The Nintendo Switch Online service launches next week, September 19th in the UK, and this was the company’s chance to really sell it to us, to convince the sceptics. Unfortunately, as some might have expected, Nintendo proved once again that their understanding of the online space is limited — to say the least.
The Direct, essentially, gave us a few new details on the basic features. Firstly, it’ll cost £17.99 a year or £3.49 a month and for that:
- You can play games online.
- You’ll be able to play NES games each month. NES games are added every month.
- You can back up your save data to the cloud.
- The smartphone app enables voice chat.
- There are exclusive offers for members
So, let’s examine each of these:
It’ll cost £17.99 a year, or £3.49 a month
That’s a good price. Xbox Live comes in at £39.99 and PS Plus at £49.99 for a year. But…
You can play games online
Nintendo has taken its time to launch the service, so, by removing something people have already grown accustomed to — playing games like Splatoon 2 and Mario Tennis Aces online for free — they are almost always going to feel cheated unless value is added elsewhere. Does the extra cost improve the online gameplay with better servers, for example? We don’t know and we should do by now.
You’ll be able to play NES games each month. More NES games are added every month.
Cool? I find it hard to believe, considering the duration the service has been worked on since the Switch’s launch, that NES games are all Nintendo can offer here. The idea of playing ‘80s games with added netcode is novel but hugely insignificant in this day and age. Nintendo has the option to create a low-cost Netflix-style service with access to an incredible library of games across the SNES, N64, GameCube, Wii etc. Few could do that, and yet here we are.
What’s more, you’ll need to connect at least every week in order to guarantee access to these NES games — even if your subscription is a long way from expiring. It’s just not practical for travel at all. PS4 and Xbox let you play offline as long as the games are downloaded first.
You can back up your save data to the cloud
A welcome, modern addition in line with PS Plus and Xbox Live… that is, until Nintendo revealed that not all games could be backed up. The reasoning behind this? Fundamentally, they don’t want people to cheat in games like Dark Souls or Pokémon. Scratching your head like me? Take Splatoon 2, Nintendo stores the save data locally instead of online, meaning cheaters do and will prosper with a backup feature. Separating the single player and multiplayer save data in games like Splatoon 2 is the easy fix here.
What’s more, Nintendo will not keep your cloud save data if your online plan runs out. These are kept for six months after a user’s subscription lapses on PS4. Xbox goes one better and keeps them indefinitely.
The smartphone app enables voice chat
You need a companion smartphone app for voice chat. It’s awkward and overly complex. Enough said really.
There are exclusive offers for members
Sounds good, like discounts on games? What are they? ‘We’ll have more to announce in the future’. But it launches next week, shouldn’t some offers be ready to announce? ‘Here are some NES Controllers’.
The Online Proposition
I feel like the Nintendo Direct, instead of selling the online service, reinforced the idea that it offers little of value, and that’s probably why it’s cheap. In that case, what’s the point of it other than for a quick monetary boost?
Let’s alternatively, pretend, that Nintendo offered the following service:
- You can play games online with more robust servers – for those that want a premium online experience.
- You’ll be able to play a selection of NES, SNES, N64 and GameCube games each month with online added in. Achievements for these titles are an optional extra that can be enabled.
- You can back up your save data to the cloud for all games. Cloud data is stored indefinitely.
- The smartphone app has been deleted from history. You can talk to friends via the console itself. Friend codes have also been deleted from history.
- Custom themes, menu music and folders are available as part of the service.
- There are exclusive offers for members, including discounts on games and a free Switch game every month.
Does all of that sound entirely unreasonable, given the time they had? I personally don’t believe so. They could even raise the price to reflect this — most would pay a little bit more for it, I would think. I’m aware that all of this could be added in the future without much difficulty, but I get the feeling we’ll be waiting an awfully long time. And they’ve had plenty.
Wise Yet Strangely Naive
The truth is: I’m not even particularly bothered by online services in general. When I get chance, I spend a great deal of time playing deep single player games, or games locally with others. It’s more the fact the offering from Nintendo is so uncharacteristically poor when compared to their usual workmanship.
I imagine Nintendo to be a master artisan when designing games; inspiring, bold, passionate perfectionists that are almost peerless in their craft. It’s telling that the video they presented to us, with the use of Mario characters to explain the online service, was, on a creative level at least, the best part; Bowser and his son playing together, Lakitu being the literal cloud save data:
The Switch itself is a smart portable, a cool slice of tech for console quality gaming out and about. It’s a great proposition and the sales show people are engaged with it. When it comes to online infrastructure, however, I imagine Nintendo as a bumbling, misplaced clown that has lost the ability to make people laugh. Genuinely speaking, I don’t understand why they find it so hard to get right. It’s like the department for online services at Nintendo is from a different company altogether, with computers still running Windows XP.
The internet is an entitled, odd place. It has its daily, often wild rants, the mutterings or cries of ‘I want this’, things are either absolutely terrible or absolutely amazing. There’s no real logic or sense of balance. I could digress. In a nutshell: this piece shouldn’t come across as one of those — I’m just stating it would be really quite nice to see an online service worthy of Nintendo’s name.