[Nintendad Coffeehouse] The Archaic state of Nintendo’s Online services

Written by Kieran Fifield

Nintendo Switch Offline

As the uncertainty of 2020 brings more questions than answers, one constant from the previous decade remains. It lingers like the remnants of the night before, carried into the morning after. Of course, I’m referring to the manner in which Nintendo embraces this most decadent of digital ages we live in.

While the company has famously always been a little behind the times with the technical prowess with their hardware – choosing instead to offer innovative ways to play as a means of compensating for less power – the way in which they implement companion apps and online infrastructure has been, for lack of a better word, embarrassing.

When Super Mario Maker arrived on the Wii U, a bookmark site eventually launched to compensate for the Wii U’s lack of networking prowess. By logging onto this web page with your Nintendo Network ID, you could peruse other people’s courses at your pleasure. You could browse on a whim during a coffee break at work perhaps, and then, wait for it, bookmark levels to enjoy from the comfort of your own sofa upon returning to your most humble of abodes. Aside from the sharing aspect, the site also provided a plethora of stats. And if we know nothing else, we know that people go ape for stats!!

What the bookmark site offered was a portal into your frameworks whilst away from your beloved Nintendo home console. Fast forward almost four years later, and Super Mario Maker 2 graces everyone’s favourite formidable hybrid console, the Nintendo Switch. Surely, we would see such features – at the very least – available from the get-go. In fact, Nintendo already had the foundations in place to accommodate such a service, via the Nintendo Switch Online Service and its accompanying application.

Karen, set my phone to silent

Up until this point, the app had been severely underutilised, with just a pair of first party Nintendo titles using it – Splatoon 2 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Inevitably and in equal parts unfortunately, Super Mario Maker 2 support never came to pass. Largely, the app still remains obsolete, an unfathomable feat when you consider that the Nintendo Switch has neither the bandwidth or grunt to host even slightly complex networking tasks on its own.

It would seem that the Nintendo Online app has all but suffered the same fate as the Wii U. It failed to depict its function in a coherent enough manner to capture the attention of the masses, and in the same vein as the Nintendo Switch’s predecessor, suffered a fate worse than death – near obscurity when it should’ve been thriving.

While this may seem like an overly negative piece, it’s important to bear in mind that – akin to the mythical Phoenix – the Switch rose from the scorched ashes of the Wii U, and has seen exponential success. Could Nintendo simply be washing their hands with the Online app, in favour of a new and improved companion app? It’s possible, but doing so takes more than a smartphone application to be a successful relaunch. Along with offering a fully fledged, feature rich app, it would require rebranding to entice in the zombie-like army of mobile addicts that populate this present day dystopia we live in. Something along the lines of Nintendo Switch Mobile would immediately be synonymous with the console of which it complements.

Home is where the Heart-Gold is

With Pokemon Sword and Shield – the latest iterations of the ever popular Pokemon franchise – having been available for four months now and the blueprint for DLC fully laid out – more Pokemon set to become available through two new Wild Areas to explore – an online foundation is being laid to support this new content. Pokemon Home is finally available across mobile devices and the Nintendo Switch, allowing us to export all of our Pokemon from Pokemon Bank, its predecessor application, for organising years of little critters. While the app itself is perfectly respectable, providing a clean UI and simple interface – transferring all of your Pokemon from Bank can be a lot of hassle.

Rather than allowing you to log into your Bank from within Home, you have to perform a transfer from the 3DS to access your legions of legendaries and mythical ‘mons. Once again, Nintendo showed its lack of woke-ness, as in the case of this humble scribe, I was presented by a plethora of problems, right from the get-go. 

To begin, I had to find my 3DS which has been long since retired – in no way Nintendo’s fault – however, upon locating my New 3DS, I found that it’s battery was, unsurprisingly, depleted. Sitting proudly right next to him however was its burlier brother, my A Link Between Worlds 3DS XL, full of beans (battery). I assumed that I would be able to log into the eShop, download Pokemon Bank and have my wicked way. How wrong I was. Despite verifying that my NNID login details were correct, I was still presented with error messages. Upon a lengthy meander through the pages of Reddit, I realised that the error was related to the fact that my 3DS XL wasn’t set as my primary console. The only way to remedy this problem was to either disable my New 3DS as my primary, which had to be done on the console in question, or engage in a few sets of email tennis with Nintendo customer support.

Eventually, I opted to order a cheap USB charger from Amazon and the very next day I was filling my primary console with juice. Soon, I encountered my next problem, as,despite having performed a system update (bringing with it unrivalled levels of stability), upon opening Bank I was told that I had to update the app, with no option to do so. This time, I took to Twitter and discovered that I had to do this in the eShop. Update performed, I finally gained access and transferred my entire collection over to Home and subsequently to Pokemon Shield, albeit in the most convoluted of manners. 

The long and short of it is, I never should have had to dig out previous generation hardware to access cloud-based data. Can you imagine if, when the PS5 or the XBOX Series X release, you had to transfer any backwards compatible data from your PS4 or XBONE, despite using a paid cloud service? There would be riots in the streets of Plumpton!!!

With Animal Crossing breaking every sales record set so far on the Nintendo Switch, it will be interesting to see if Nintendo has learned from their mistakes so far and bring a must-have QOL companion app to the party. As it stands, the Parental Control app remains Nintendo’s MVP in the video game to mobile app scene. 

The (OS)trich in the room

While the library of Switch games expands at an exponential rate with indies, AAA ports and Big N mega-hitters all pumping the console with more content than even the most dedicated of folk will ever have the time to see 10% of, one thing remains the same as it was at launch: the operating system.

The overall look of the home menu is shockingly unchanged since launch. With its dual ‘night and day’ aesthetic, incredibly simplistic layout, and lacking organisation options, it’s not only uninteresting but cumbersome. With well over 3000 games available at the time of writing, this user interface doesn’t suffice. The lack of a competent UI, something that gamers yearn for, is a huge oversight on Nintendo’s behalf Nintendo, but it isn’t the only one.

The lack of achievements on Switch is an equally large issue. Achievements are, for lack of a better word, maddening, but wonderfully so. While some gamers may not engage with them, there is no escaping the immense replay value that they add to games. They tap directly into the addictive need to collect that is buried within all of us. On rival systems, you can check the requirements of what is needed to unlock achievements and trophies, adding extra value to games as you actively seek out certain items or set conditions within the game.

Imagine dropping back into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with the added goal of completing every course on every difficulty with the objective of getting out in front of the pack and staying there to unlock the ‘Pace Setter’ trophy. As I said earlier, maddening seems like the appropriate word to describe how we’d feel trying, but as someone who has put over 300 hours into this game across two platforms, the incentive to jump back in with some form of target in mind, paired with the euphoria of achieving the speculative goal, would more than justify the inevitable frustrations and rage quits.

Devs doing what Nintendon’t

Games such as the stellar Luigi’s Mansion 3 already have a built-in achievement system which shows that it’s something game developers are keen to explore on the machine. Now, it’s up to Nintendo to bring the OS and features of the Nintendo Switch barnstorming into 2020 to meet that demand! In fact, there is an ever growing list of titles available on the Nintendo Switch which utilise in-game achievements, including Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Dragon Quest XI S, Ori and the Blind Forest, Yoku’s Island Express, Dead Cells, Xeno Crisis, The Knights, Shovel and Hollow respectively, to name but a few.

Here’s the baffling thing, Nintendo already has a rewards scheme in place: the My Nintendo service. It’s humble in its design, the rewards offered really aren’t worth writing home about. Lost gems such as Miitomo utilised it for aesthetic purposes, but beyond very sporadic, iffy implementation, it remains – certainly in the case of this humble scribe, a forgotten service, an afterthought if you like, that is only incredibly rarely perused. With the introduction of an achievement system linked to the My Nintendo service, it could really breathe a well-needed fresh lease of life into something Nintendo never really saw through to fulfillment. 

Pairing the seeming pointless My Nintendo rewards program with Nintendo’s own unique spin on achievements could potentially shake things up. Sony and Microsoft, and the PS4 and Xbox One respectively, each handle the integration of Achievements (Trophies in Playstation’s case) differently. If Nintendo were to look into adopting a system that saw My Nintendo points earned through gameplay, it could be huge. Imagine a situation that was a culmination of the Club Nintendo and My Nintendo rewards programmes – offering digital and physical rewards simply for playing your games. It would be a game changer. To further add value, they could have leaderboards and unique physical rewards, such as the Club Nintendo Gold Nunchuck (how about a Gold Joy-Con?) that would only be available to people who have completed top tier My Nintendo challenges.

Examples of Top Tier My Nintendo Challenges:

  • Defeat Calamity Ganon in Breath of The Wild, without using health items, Divine Gifts and with all four Blights present on Master Mode.
  • Collect all 999 moons on Super Mario Odyssey 
  • Successfully oversee a campaign on Fire Emblem: Three Houses, on the aptly named Maddening difficulty, with Permadeath on, without suffering a single casualty
  • Play Link’s Awakening for more than fifteen hours without growing fatigued

99 Red Balloons

When Tetris 99 released after the stellar direct of February 2019, it provided a sense of optimism within the ranks of the Nintendo fanman army. For a fleeting moment, it seemed that Nintendo was looking at the content provided to Nintendo Switch Online and willing to offer more than just Virtual Console titles. However, over an entire year later, Tetris 99 remains the sole entry under the category of unique NSO offerings. No Mario Kart Battle-Royale, no Golden Eye Online (I know!!). Zilch. Zip. Nada.

The recent Nintendo mini Direct showed off one particular title that seemed to fit the bill perfectly, and in the current climate would certainly be a welcome release. The Nintendo-published follow up to 42 All Time Classics – 51 Worldwide games – felt like an ideal candidate for an NSO exclusive. With the implementation of online play, this diverse range of classics would be perfect for the long days and nights ahead during the unprecedented times we live in, whilst also being similarly suited to play in local mode.

Sometimes it feels like Nintendo doesn’t particularly want to shake up a winning formula. It seems as if there is a certain arrogance around it all, something along the lines of, ‘the Nintendo Switch continues to sell, so why bother allocating resources to improve the quality of the OS?’ Unfortunately, as we sail past the three year mark, essentially the halfway point in the console’s life span, the time is nigh to improve, innovate and invigorate what has become a somewhat stale point of an otherwise competitive and wildly successful system for Nintendo. 

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