Nintendo has not had the best track record when it comes to its online services, but with the Nintendo Switch Online – especially the new Expansion Pack level – I think they may have cracked it. Or at least found a happy middle ground …
Not only was the addition of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Splatoon 2’s DLC an extremely shrewd move, but the library of N64 and Sega Genesis games continues to grow at a surprisingly steady pace.
From Banjo-Kazooie and Mario Golf to the recent additions of Sonic The Hedgehog Spinball and Dynamite Headdy, Nintendo gives subscribers bona fide classics to play every single month, many of which have been given new life thanks to online multiplayer support. (Seriously, if you have not played Mario Tennis against a friend yet, I beg you to do so. It’s a lot of fun.)
Nintendo has also dealt with initial complaints about the state of the Switch’s emulation, which came under fire early.
3 classic SEGA Genesis games have just been made available to #NintendoSwitchOnline + Expansion Pack members! – Space Harrier II- Shining Force II- Sonic The Hedgehog Spinball pic.twitter.com/uhD21PEChkApril 22, 2022
The games come thick and fast
Crucially, though, Nintendo has also avoided the former pitfall that hampered the Wii U’s virtual console. These are no longer games that drip into the service at a glacial pace, and because they are all included as part of a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, you do not have to spend money to play The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask for fifteenth time.
Of course, there is no guarantee that Nintendo will continue this encouraging start, but it’s still gratifying to see. The fact that there are now well over 100 SNES and NES games available – something that even regular Nintendo Switch Online subscribers can access – also gives me hope that the Switch will at least get close, or in at least provide a true alternative to the Wii’s legendary virtual console.
The long-rumored additions of Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance would obviously help. If Nintendo can add three new platforms to its service and include online multiplayer as you might expect, then the value of the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack becomes even clearer. The analog pocket has shown that there is still a very real desire to play Game Boy and GBA games, and having them all on the Switch would be far more convenient and cost effective to start. After all, collecting retro games is not cheap.
More than just a nostalgia grip
But it’s not just the appeal of playing history games from Nintendo’s past that helps Switch Online establish itself. The Kyoto-based company has made a very clear commitment in the last few years to include online multiplayer in virtually all of its titles – something it was previously reluctant to do.
Nintendo Switch Sports is a prime example and has all the ingredients to become a huge hit when it comes to competitive online gaming. Throw in Mario Strikers: Battle League, Splatoon 3 and Advance Wars 1 + 2: Re-Boot Camp and you suddenly have an extremely strong case to play your Switch online that includes not only Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Still fungus for improvement
That said, there is no denying that Nintendo’s online offerings are still pale in comparison to what we’re used to on the PS5, Xbox Series X | S and PC. Voice chat requires the frankly pointless Nintendo Switch Online App, you can not send instant messages or share content directly with your friends, nor will you find Nintendo games that use lightning-fast dedicated services.
To make matters worse, even the Wii U had a stronger online component than the Switch. You did not need friend codes for one, you could video chat and voice chat using the Wii U GamePad, and it was home to the best social network ever created: the wonderful and sorely missed Miiverse.
And when it comes to sheer value? Well, your mileage will vary depending on how much affinity you have for Nintendo’s back catalog of older titles. The Xbox Game Pass Ultimate will hardly be dethroned as the current champion when it comes to value anytime soon, even by Sony’s new PS Plus.
But even though it has taken a few years longer than I would have liked, it is now becoming clear that Nintendo has an online strategy for the Switch. By including proper online support in its first-party titles, DLC for its most popular games, and an excellent library of retro games that also let you play with friends, the company manages to chart its own path in the online space in a unique Nintendo way.