For years, Nintendo fans have fantasized about a paid online service that would grant access to Nintendo’s rich, decades-long library of classic games. For years, Nintendo has demurred.
In 2018, that fantasy is finally becoming a reality, through the Nintendo Switch Online service.
Nintendo’s new service costs $20 per year ($4/month, $8/three months), and is scheduled to launch in the second half of September. With that subscription price, you’ll get access to a library of classic games, the ability to play various Nintendo Switch games online, cloud saves for some games, and voice chat through the Nintendo Switch online smartphone app.
When the service arrives next month, it’ll only be available on the Nintendo Switch — Nintendo’s newest game console, which operates as a portable handheld and a home console.
So, what’s in the classic game library? “20 games, with more added on a regular basis,” Nintendo said in a press release on earlier this year.
Nintendo also announced the first 10 of those 20 games: “Super Mario Bros. 3,” “Dr. Mario,” “Balloon Fight,” “Donkey Kong,” “Ice Climber,” “The Legend of Zelda,” “Mario Bros.,” “Soccer,” “Super Mario Bros.” and “Tennis.”
Even better: Every classic NES game on the Switch will have new online functionality. In some games, you can play co-op online with friends or go head to head, and in all games you can watch a friend play remotely. Friends can even “share” the controller online by handing off control of a game over the internet.
The classic games library only includes Nintendo Entertainment System games, at least for now — it’s specifically referred to as a collection. Nintendo even gave the classic game library its own name: “NES – Nintendo Switch Online, a compilation of classic NES games.”
Perhaps a “SNES — Nintendo Switch Online” library will be added later? Or something similar for Nintendo 64, GameCube, or other Nintendo console games? Perhaps — Nintendo isn’t saying. The Japanese game company told Kotaku last year, “Super NES games continue to be under consideration, but we have nothing further to announce at this time.”
But the classic game library isn’t Nintendo Switch Online’s primary component — the service is intended as a paid subscription for access to online gameplay.
Games like “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” and “Splatoon 2” rely on an online infrastructure for multiplayer, which Nintendo has yet to provide for its Switch console. Both games can be played online, but the Switch console itself lacks system-wide functionality for online interaction — stuff like joining an online party, and voice chat, barely exist on the Switch.
Online services are the crucial flaw of the Nintendo Switch.
It lacks basic functionality that Microsoft and Sony had in their respective consoles over a decade ago. Beyond missing stuff like voice chat and parties, the Switch also doesn’t have access to services like Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon. The Nintendo Switch app for iPhone and Android enables voice chat for select games, like “Splatoon 2,” but it’s not a feature that’s built into the system.
It looks like Nintendo intends to remedy that situation with Nintendo Switch Online.
More than just offering multiplayer and a classic game library, Nintendo Switch Online promises cloud saves — the ability to upload your save data to Nintendo’s servers, then easily re-download it. As Nintendo puts it, “This is great for people who want to retrieve their data if they lose, break or purchase an additional Nintendo Switch system.”
One thing Nintendo didn’t mention is the much requested Virtual Console service, which was a digital storefront for classic games on previous Nintendo consoles.
Though the Nintendo Switch launched with a digital storefront (the “eShop”), there’s no way to buy classic games through Nintendo’s long-running Virtual Console service. That’s an especially big shame on the Switch — a console more-than-capable of running classic games, and one you can bring with you anywhere.
Nintendo hasn’t offered details on the whereabouts of the Virtual Console service. A Nintendo representative gave us the following statement via email earlier this year:
“There are currently no plans to bring classic games together under the Virtual Console banner as has been done on other Nintendo systems. There are a variety of ways in which classic games from Nintendo and other publishers are made available on Nintendo Switch, such as through Nintendo Entertainment System – Nintendo Switch Online, Nintendo eShop or as packaged collections.”
That doesn’t mean it’s never going to happen, but you probably shouldn’t hold your breath in anticipation either.