Is Nintendo’s “Online Service” Really Even Worth It?

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In a digital world like ours, it’s really no surprise that we’ve found all sorts of ways to be social online. What once required an adapter or hub, is now an integrated, if not the entire purpose behind all modern-day gaming systems, from console to PC. The PC offers most mass multiplayer games that are on the PlayStation or Xbox shortly after release, if not immediately. Outside of the one or two games that require your account to “get on with the boys”, your scot-free, with the right rig and hookup. It can be a little cumbersome to set up if you don’t know what you’re doing, but free is free, and the in-game experience is limited only by the hardware you are willing to put into it. Both Xbox and PlayStation offer a much more smooth and convenient setup, for the “plug-and-play” experience we all prefer for online gaming. Both systems make starting chats easy and inviting to games seamless, all without the quirky nonsense that any PC gamer is all too familiar with. These do, however, come at the cost of about $60/year for each systems basic online services. Not a bad deal at all when you also lump in the added features of each, like free to play gaming libraries, along with other discounts that can easily offset the cost over the course of a year. Then there’s Nintendo’s online service – Nintendo Online… It sure does stand out like an ugly duckling, trying desperately to keep up in an online space that it is only now attempting to join… after generations of their competitors paving the way…and it looks like they couldn’t have watched and listened less!

First things first: the price. Nintendo’s online service clocks in at around $20/year. Now you may be thinking that next to PlayStation and Xbox, “that’s a steal!” It all comes down to what you’re actually paying for. In this case, you’re getting a half baked excuse for a social space, laggy (at best) online play, with (STILL) no dedicated servers, and a laughably small library of retro games that manage to be the best, if not only, reason to purchase the service. 

(Are Digital-Download Only Consoles Worth It?)

SOCIAL SPACE

So what comes to mind when you picture turning on your favorite system to see who’s online and down for a round of the most recent craze? Is it taking out your smartphone? How about logging onto a Nintendo app to then simply call your friend who also must be logged into the app? I really don’t know where to start with this one. For one, the connectivity is horrible. On the rare occasion that I have actually convinced my friend to call me using the app, instead of Facebook Messenger or Discord, the call would drop constantly and the clarity was laughable. In addition, if you’ve planned on chatting with your friends using headphones, the app, in all its uselessness, does not have any volume pass-through to integrate the game volume and chat. You will actually have to choose if you would rather hear your game clearly or whoever is on the other end of the chat. Even written messages of any kind are beyond the scope of this so called “online service”. 

ONLINE PLAY

Having had this service since its inception in 2018, NIntendo Online has offered the least consistent experience of anything of its kind. Games such as Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart all play half-decent, without much of a hitch. Responsiveness is reasonable, and it keeps the competition alive for the most part. There is the occasional freeze up here and there…somewhat more often than the online experiences I have had with the other gaming giants, but I would still call it playable. Then take a game like Super Smash Brothers and others like it, that require high button inputs and faster response times, you are met with simulated lag. Yes, you read that right: in an effort to keep their games from crashing online, instead of implementing dedicated servers, Nintendo has added simulated lag as high as 10 frames to provide a “smoother” experience. For those of you who ever attempted online play on the WiiU, you know what a less smooth version of a 10 frame slowdown looks like. Though it may now be leaps and bounds ahead of any previous online attempt Nintendo has done, but nothing takes the fun out of online competition quite like missed inputs and misplays from lag. I suspect Nintendo never integrated a LAN port into their Switch dock to afford them the plausible deniability of “it’s your internet service provider” to be an acceptable response. 

FREE RETRO LIBRARY

If you’ve read this far in, chances are you love Nintendo enough to willfully ignore their faults (much like myself), and cling to those nuggets of nostalgic glory that have kept you loyal to the franchise since the age of RF modulators and Channel 3 inputs. Herein lies the only reasonable purpose to actually pay for this service. Favorites ranging from Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros.3, Ice Climbers, Metroid, Donkey Kong Jr., and many more are easy to play for free after the cost of your yearly subscription. Nintendo continues to add more to this library, with no sign of stopping. If you really want to dig your heels into the retro style gaming, Nintendo has also licensed different variations of the NES and SNES remotes to suit your style. Other than that, the interface allows for the easy saving and resuming of all games, and is overall straightforward and easy to use. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

My final thoughts on whether or not the Nintendo Online Service is worth it would be, NO. That said, I will still be maintaining my subscription. To clarify, I truly feel that $20 is too much for what is actually offered here, and the online play frustrates me more than it’s worth. All said, I can’t help but love being able to boot up and speed-run Super Mario Bros. 3 on a 40” flat screen without having to blow into a cartridge and say a prayer for 10 minutes just to pull on the remote a little too hard and lose all my save data. If you are looking for an ultra-competitive online outlet on a budget, look elsewhere. If you have a $20 burning a hole in your pocket and you might get a kick out of playing some of the classics, then it might not be such a bad deal after all.

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Kevin May (TheCleverPotato)

I haven’t had a lot of experience w/ Nintendo Online directly. But I can’t say that there is anything about the service that has made me want to gravitate toward it. but it does allow my daughter and a couple of her friends to do some gaming online with each other on the switch, so I suppose from that standpoint, the $20 was worth it. Considering the far more limited scope of the services available versus on Xbox and PlayStation, the $20 price tag seems rather inline with what it offers. So I guess if you are looking for full service online gaming, Nintendo Online is pretty limited. It seems like Nintendo could do alot more, but they do seem to have a knack for making some strange decisions, and I dont understand why there online services are as limited as they are.

You hit the nail on the head. Honestly, only reason why I pay for the service is to play the old retro games. For a few dollars a month I don’t notice the premium that I’m paying for a shoddy online service that still uses friend codes that everyone hates.

[…] for free to Nintendo Switch Online customers starting October 1, 2020, adding new reasons making Nintendo Switch Online worth the money. Surprisingly, Nintendo has announced that this game will be playable only through 3/31/2021. […]

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