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Nintendo has offered some form of online functionality for its gaming systems all the way back to the GameCube. But unlike Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo has never charged for its online services. That’s finally about to change. Starting in September 2018, Nintendo will begin charging Switch owners a subscription fee to play their games online. Here’s everything we know so far about Nintendo Switch Online.
What is Nintendo Switch Online?
Nintendo Switch Online is a subscription service for Switch owners. A limited, free version is already available. Every time you play games like Splatoon 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Arms with other people over the internet, you’re playing Nintendo Switch Online. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. When September 2018 rolls around, Nintendo will add new features and start charging for the service.
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Nintendo Switch Online price
The service will cost $3.99 for one month, $7.99 for three months, or $19.99 for one year. That’s actually surprisingly affordable for Nintendo. After all, this comes from a company that charges $80 for new Joy-Con controllers and $90 for a Switch docking station. It’s also cheap compared to the competition. Both the Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now cost $9.99 for a one-month subscription and $59.99 for a year.
Nintendo Switch Online features
Subscribing to the service will get you a few things.
1. The ability to play games online
This one is pretty self-explanatory. It’s what Switch owners get for free right now.
2. Classic games
Like Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo will give away games to subscribers to its paid online service. Unlike the other services, the free games here will be classic NES games from the ’80s and ’90s. But they won’t be the exact games you remember playing as a kid (assuming you’re old enough). These games will have added online functionality. What that means is unclear at the moment, but playing retro classics with friends online sounds like a rollicking good time.
The games Nintendo has mentioned for the service are Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Mario Soccer, Balloon Fight, and Dr. Mario, Mario Tennis, Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., Ice Climber, and The Legend of Zelda. Nintendo announced on May 8 that 20 games will be available when Nintendo Switch Online launches in September, though it hasn’t named the remaining 10 titles. Nintendo also revealed that Switch won’t be getting the Virtual Console, a popular service for old-school games on Nintendo Wii and Wii U.
3. Nintendo Switch Online app
The Nintendo Switch Online app plays a key role in Nintendo’s online service. Instead of including all of the online features in the Switch console itself, Nintendo inexplicably decided to put half of them in a smartphone app.
If you download the Nintendo Switch Online app now on Android or iOS, you can use it to voice chat with friends and invite them to play games. It also gives Splatoon 2 players access to SplatNet, where they can access things like their in-game stats. Presumably, other games will get specific functionality in the app in the future.
4. eShop deals
The eShop is Nintendo’s online store for digital games and other downloads. Subscribers to Nintendo Switch Online will receive special offers that include discounts on select eShop games and content.
5. Cloud saves
Nintendo Switch owners skeptical about Nintendo’s online service offerings may be tempted to join Nintendo Switch Online for the cloud backup option alone. As it stands, the dozens of hours you’ve put into games like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild could be lost if your Switch console is lost or damaged. By adding a cloud-based backup option, Nintendo addresses both a common complaint about the Switch and gives Switch owners even more reason to subscribe to the online service.
What are the downsides to Nintendo Switch Online?
As with most things, the service has some obvious flaws. While it’s price is pleasantly affordable, it’s still sure to bum out many Switch owners when they have to start paying for a service they currently get for free.
And as pumped as old-school fans will be for the Classic Game Selection, I’d bet newer Nintendo fans would rather get newer games for free, like on Xbox and PlayStation’s services. The bar has been set, and Nintendo Switch Online isn’t even trying to match it.
It’s also frustrating that Nintendo parked half the features of its online service in a smartphone app. To talk with friends while playing Switch games together online, you’ll need to have your phone near you at all times. What if your phone is charging in the other room? What if you’re 10 years old and you don’t have access to a smartphone? Looks like you might be out of luck.
After many bleak years with the under-selling Wii U, Nintendo is on a roll again. Let’s hope Nintendo Switch Online keeps the party going in a player-friendly direction.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.