Nintendo Switch Online seems like a poor deal

Nintendo has finally announced the details for its paid online service – and it seems a little underwhelming, to be honest. In a nutshell, you now have to pay £18 a year to play games like Splatoon 2 online, and for that money you also get access to cloud saves, a library of NES games with added online features, some extra bits and bobs for the Nintendo Switch Online smartphone app, and access to ‘exclusive offers’.

The Good News

So, to start with, the pros. Well, £18 a year is a lot cheaper than the comparable deals from Sony (PS Plus for an RRP of £49.99 per year) and Microsoft (Xbox Live Gold for an RRP of £39.99). It basically works out as £1.50 a month, so small change really. And the £31.49 ‘Family Membership’ could potentially make it even cheaper, as you get eight accounts – it looks like you might be able to split those accounts between all your Switch-owning friends and relatives and so pay as little as £3.94 each per year, if I’m reading it correctly. That seems a little too good to be true though – I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a limit to the number of Switches you could split the accounts between.

The other pro is those online-enabled NES games. Finally the Switch gets some Nintendo classic games to fill the gaping void left by the lack of a Virtual Console – which incidentally, Nintendo has now confirmed won’t be happening on Switch. That’s right, there will be no Virtual Console on Switch – it seems that Nintendo Switch Online will be the only way to play Nintendo games from yesteryear, at least for the time being, anyway.

The Bad News

The massive elephant in the room is that Nintendo’s online service has always been free – and now it suddenly isn’t. Nintendo said they were going to introduce a fee for online games before the launch of the Switch, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the company is making something that was free… well, not free any more. Persuading people to pay for something that they’ve previously had for gratis is always going to be a hard sell.

It will be free to play Splatoon 2 online until September. And then it won’t be.

Even worse, Switch owners have already had a year to get used to playing online for free. Perhaps if the online service was paid-for from the launch of the console, it would be different. But right now, Switch owners are basically having something taken away from them – and having something taken away is far more painful and frustrating than paying for something you never had in the first place.

To make that frustration tolerable, you really need some honey to soothe the pain of transition. And frankly, a few crumbly NES games isn’t really much of a sweetener. Here’s the initial ten, and there are another ten to be announced before launch:

  • Ice Climber
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Balloon Fight
  • Soccer
  • Tennis
  • Mario Bros.
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Dr. Mario
  • Super Mario Bros. 3
  • Donkey Kong

Did you leap out of your seat, punch the air and shout ‘YES!’ after reading that list? No, neither did I. Yes, Super Mario Bros. 3 is a classic game that I loved back in the day, along with pretty much everyone who owned an NES. But that was nearly 30 years ago. And since then I’ve owned it least three times on different systems. It strikes me that these ancient games are really the bare minimum that Nintendo could get away with.

It’s-a-me, Mario! Again.

Kotaku asked Nintendo whether games from other platforms will appear on the Nintendo Switch Online subscription, to which the reply was the company had “nothing to announce on this topic.” So there’s a possibility that we might see SNES, Nintendo 64 or – please, please, please – GameCube titles on the service. It might be that in a couple of years’ time, when the list of playable titles has grown considerably, Nintendo Switch Online will easily justify its asking price to gain access to an enviable library of games.

But right now, the announcement may as well have been accompanied by the sound of a deflating balloon for all the excitement it has generated.