Nintendo Switch Online has finally launched, bringing you cloud saves, exclusive discounts, and of course the replacement for the companies Virtual Console system. So how well does Nintendo’s new Netflix style take on the back catalogue work?
After updating the firmware on your Switch (along with firmware updates to your controllers, but more about that later), the eShop gives Online subscribers the option of installing the Nintendo Entertainment System app. At the time of launch, there are twenty games provided from obvious titles such as Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda and Donkey Kong, to less obvious games such as Tecmo Bowl, Gradius and cult favourite Double Dragon. Each month Nintendo promise to add at least three new titles to this service. Whether these games are permanent fixtures, or whether similar to Netflix their licences expire and will be removed, only time will tell.
My favourite part of this new take on Nintendo’s catalogue is the simplicity of flicking between games. It is the smoothest interface I’ve seen for a library of this nature, with literally zero loading times. The application is self-contained and loads all the ROMS in one splash screen, meaning when you press your shoulder buttons to come back to the list of games, you can select another game and zoom straight into its Press Start screen. Effortless and silky smooth. Yes they’re only NES ROM’s, and yes it’s not that difficult to achieve, but no other company or hardware has made it look so glossy and smooth, so it has to be commended.
When playing the games themselves, again the control scheme and options are flawless. On-screen instructions appear if a game varies in control, your account and any online friends also playing are in the top left, and your choice of resolution (4:3, pixel perfect, or if you’re truly retro there is a CRT mode) are all a shoulder button away. When in 4:3 or Pixel Perfect, the games all play in true high definition, whereas CRT understandably becomes a lower resolution with a filter placed on top to give it that true 80’s migraine effect.
Games that make sense to go online, now have the added appeal of working with online multiplayer. So you’re player two in the form of Luigi, or wish to play as the USSR in Ice Hockey (yup it’s still in there) you can now play via your friend list across an ocean if desired. And if a game doesn’t have a logical second player function, they can still use their touchscreen to put a glove on your display pointing out any clues or elements you might have not noticed before. There is also the smartphone app that brings Nintendo online chat between friends. Whilst some are knocking Nintendo for not embedding this into the console itself, we are now in an app based world where services such as Twitch, Skype and WhatsApp provide group based chat free of charge. So Nintendo not doing this as part of their OS, really isn’t the end of the world.
Similar to the VC on Wii U and 3DS, save states can be achieved from the menu instantly. Four states can be kept for each game, meaning you can relive favourite moments at the click of a button. Or if you can’t hack the nature of old school gaming, you no longer have to go aaaaallllll the way back to World 1-1 or the Old Man in his cave every time its Game Over.
As mentioned earlier, the controllers also receive a firmware update alongside the console for this Online service launch. This is due to the new controller option also made available to Nintendo Switch Online subscribers. Replica NES controllers have been made and available to pre-order as of today from Nintendo’s website. They dock on the sides of your console Joycon style to charge and have been modified to include shoulder buttons for the service’s interface.
At a not so cheap price of $59.99, your latest nerdy accessories for your Switch are limited to one pair per subscribed user (expect to see them at a nice marked up price on eBay in the coming day’s Amiibo style). More importantly, they will only work with the NES library. I really hope Nintendo change this stance, as games such as Sonic Mania and the upcoming Streets of Rage 4 would suit these controllers perfectly.
Overall, the service itself is flawless in its execution. The library may not have started at a Netflix quantity of content granted, but 20 full games if played properly should be enough to keep you going amongst other Switch titles until more are drip fed in the coming months. As part of a mere £17.99 annual fee, there is more than enough here to justify it. It will boil down to the individual user as to whether features such as online chat requiring an app on your phone is something that takes away some of the sheen from Nintendo’s new service. But for me, it really isn’t the end of the world and is extremely easy to work around.
I look forward to the upcoming titles being added from next month (Nintendo are keeping a calendar of upcoming games on their official website for those interested), and the all but confirmed inclusion of SNES games also coming to Switch Online.
Super Mario Kart Online here we come…
Beard Score: 9/10
Genre: Retro, Arcade
Release Date: 19/09/18
Players: 1-2, Online
Platform: Nintendo Switch