Update: Nintendo Switch Online has added a further two NES games to its retro games emulator: Kirby's Adventure (1993) and Super Mario Bros 2 (1988). Check below for the full list of NES games available, and where we think the online service could be going next…
The Nintendo Switch Online service was a new move for Nintendo: a paid subscription service in the vein of Xbox Live or PlayStation Plus, which offers a host of online benefits for those who sign up to the service.
Nintendo Switch Online bundles in a whole load of additional content and features for Nintendo Switch owners, including cloud saves, online play, and even a game emulator for classic retro games (you can see our full list below).
Though Nintendo Switch Online only launched in late 2018, and is still being fleshed out, it's increasingly becoming a necessary addition to any serious gamer's Switch experience. So what exactly will Nintendo Switch Online give players that they don’t have already?
- Best Nintendo Switch Online games: the best online games for co-op and versus multiplayer
Nintendo Switch Online: online play
Nintendo Switch Online gives you the online capability to play, compete, and cooperate with players around the world – which means not having the service restricts your access to all of those things.
If you don't sign up to the service, you can still play all your single-player or offline Switch games to your heart's content: you don't need it to play Breath of the Wild, or for playing local multiplayer with friends in your living room. But many players will want a Nintendo Switch Online subscription to get the most out of their purchases.
Online play was free until mid-September, and competitive games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or Splatoon have proved hugely popular, though committed players still had to make do with a fiddly workaround for enabling voice chat through the console – and which only lets you speak with your friends.
There’s also a tie-in smartphone app that provides players with in-game battle stats, voice chat functionality, and additional information on select titles – mainly Splatoon 2 and other first-party titles like Smash Bros and Mario Tennis Aces.
Sadly there are still no dedicated servers, so players will have to make do with less reliable P2P (peer to peer) hosting for online matches. On the upside, free-to-play online games like Fortnite, Paladins, or Warframe don't require a paid subscription to the service.
Or, if you're after the swag, there's a members-only outfit for use in Splatoon 2, and the ability to buy Nintendo’s wireless NES controllers for playing those retro games in style.
Nintendo Switch Online: NES games
If the warm fuzzy feeling of supporting your favorite video game publisher wasn’t enough, your extra pennies each month will also net you access to a library of classic and retro games, via the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) emulator.
This isn’t the Virtual Console from the Wii and Wii U, though. Instead of a marketplace for one-off game purchases, Nintendo Switch Online members are able to play select titles bundled into their subscription.
At launch you got 20 NES titles, including Ice Climber, The Legend of Zelda, Balloon Fight, Soccer, Tennis, Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros., Dr. Mario, Super Mario Bros. 3, Donkey Kong, Ghosts ’n Goblins, Excitebike, Tecmo Bowl, Yoshi, Double Dragon, Gradius, Ice Hockey, River City Ransom, Pro Wrestling, and Baseball.
Each title is 'remastered' in 4:3 HD, but with the option to play in a more 'authentic' arcade viewing mode with a 'CRT' (Cathode Ray Tube) style display.
These are being followed by two or three additional titles each month – see the box, right – which we're sure will include games from more recent consoles like the SNES, N64, and (god-willing) the GameCube down the line.
Handy features include being able to pause each NES game at any point, or save and reload your own checkpoints, making the experience much more forgiving than the arcade cabinets of yore. Online capability also lets you play two-player games competitively with friends, or swap over control between devices in one-player games.
Custom button mapping is absent, so you are stuck using the A and B buttons the wrong way round from an actual NES controller – unless you buy Nintendo's wireless NES controllers, which are only available for sale for Nintendo Switch Online members.
Nintendo Switch Online: cloud saves
One sore point for Switch users has been the omission of cloud saves for their games, meaning that a busted Switch console will take all your hard-earned progress with it. To prevent you having to start Breath Of The Wild all over again – again – the paid service will back all of your save files onto Nintendo’s own servers for safety.
This is in keeping with the save data on Sony's Playstation Plus program, though any Xbox One owner can access cloud saving for free. If your Nintendo Switch Online subscription lapses, your save files are protected for up to six months before they vanish from the cloud.
While Nintendo Switch Online's cloud saving will be enabled by default for most titles, developers can choose to opt out to prevent online cheating – since reloading an old save file could restore items someone had traded to another player, or even reset their online ranking. Games like Splatoon 2, FIFA 19, and the upcoming Pokemon Let's Go games will also be missing the feature.
Nintendo Switch online: price and subscriptions
While the lack of online features at launch didn’t do Nintendo any favours, it helped that players were given access to a limited version of the service for free.
This all changed when the paid service launched, requiring you to subscribe for a monthly fee – though you're able to sign up for a free seven-day trial, just to try it.
Individual users can sign up for $3.99 (£3.49 / AU$5.95) per month, with reduced rates for longer membership options (see box, right). There’s also a separate ‘Family’ option that includes allows up to 8 Nintendo Accounts to use the same subscription, for $34.99 (£31.49 / AU$54.95).
Players will also be able to buy a subscription with My Nintendo Gold Points – a rewards service that gives you spending tokens when you buy games on the Switch eShop, and came into effect earlier this year.
On price alone Nintendo Switch Online is the winner, though its limited features and lack of dedicated servers currently don't match up to competing services. But if you own a Switch, it may be what you need to get the most out of the console.