Nintendo Switch Online in 2021- NS Oh-No!

Nintendo Switch Online

Truth be told, I don’t hate the Nintendo Switch Online offerings of late. If anything, they further diversify the Nintendo Switch’s already robust and eclectic lineup. Games such as Claymates might not be Earthbound, however, they are titles that the masses won’t have played. While they’re likely tired and aged, for a lot of people they will offer something new, however fleeting. While discourse seems to be the name of the game on social media, the level of ridicule aimed at Nintendo every time they announce some new legacy content is somewhat hard to comprehend.

Let’s just clear something up, and at the same time hopefully shed some light on something else that we could possibly call Nintendo out on. It’s important to remember that the third parties responsible for these legacy titles are actually paying Nintendo for the pleasure of having their games hosted within the digital database of NSO. So, while we’d all love to see titles such as PLOK rock up as the monthly offerings, if the owner of the game’s rights doesn’t want it there, we won’t be seeing it. If anything, this approach could be considered lazy on Nintendo’s part, as instead of curating a list of SNES masterpieces akin to the service’s launch and subsequent one year anniversary, Nintendo is simply adopting a Field of Dreams approach. If you pay us, they will come... to NSO.

NSO like it’s 1999

Nintendo Switch Online

I expressed dissatisfaction with Nintendo around this time last year when the two year anniversary came and went without even a mention of a new platform; be it N64 or Game Boy/Game Boy Advance. Moreover, I found their silence during the pandemic to be a source of frustration and felt genuine chagrin that, at a time when so many people were locked away in their homes, they weren’t actively flooding NSO with content to keep us all entertained. Upon reflection, I concluded that perhaps I was becoming the thing that I hated – an irrational Internet fanbaby – but then Sony went and announced their Play at Home campaign.

This wasn’t just content for the sake of content, but a meticulously curated list of acclaimed indies, a slew of select VR titles, and a list of games that finished with a pair of PS4 exclusives in Ratchet and Clank and Horizon Zero Dawn. While those titles could be seen as promotional products ahead of the release of their PS5 sequels, the fact remains that they are still PlayStation Studios titles being given away, not just to PS Plus subscribers, but to anyone with a PlayStation connected to the internet.

While this announcement was met with universally positive reactions from all corners of the internet, rightly so, it once again made me question Nintendo’s own internal operations. Could they have not released the original N64 Pokémon Snap to advertise New Pokémon Snap? Would a legacy Mario Golf game have helped drive the hype levels for Mario Golf: Super Rush up to 11?

Birthdays for dayyyyyys

September 11th marks the 3 year anniversary of  NSO’s release, and while there are now over 100 titles on the service, all available to play for an incredibly miserly monthly or annual fee, something has to change.

Would a tiered membership offering work in Nintendo’s favour? What if Nintendo Switch Online as we know it remained – offering basic online functionality and the drip-fed titles that we’ve become accustomed to – alongside a new option that provided a more robust offering. The PS Plus model remains the most appealing, and logical, to me due to its blend of free monthly games and discounts. But imagine a complete remodelling of the Virtual Console drawing inspiration from Xbox Game Pass; a Netflix-Esque rental service with the promise that by the end of this generation, everything that was ever released across the Wii, Wii U and 3DS family of systems would be playable on it. More importantly, moving into gen-ten, the service would continue from day one, allowing access to a legacy library unlike any other.

As someone who invested heavily digitally in the Wii U and 3DS generation, it would be fictitious of me to say that I wasn’t deeply disconcerted by the complete and utter dismissal of my eShop collection upon moving into generation Switch. Video game preservation is something that I often think about deeply and the idea that everything that I own prior to the release of the Nintendo Switch, in non-corporeal form, could be lost to the whims of a hard drive failure or eShop closure is hugely distressing. It’s to the point where my Wii U collection is backed up separately three times on expensive SSDs and stored in the closest thing I could create to an environmentally neutral safe zone. 

The digital cross generational preservation society

Nintendo Switch Online

As PlayStation and Xbox owners know, moving between generations allows access to your digital library and while I’m not naive enough to think Nintendo would say: Oh, hey! We see you own Pikmin 3, Super Mario 3D World and Hyrule Warriors (along with many, many more) digitally on your Wii U, please enjoy playing them again on your shiny new Switch, it certainly would have been nice to be able to play Super Mario Bros 3. or Super Metroid in handheld mode. You know, considering that I’ve purchased them umpteen times! As I learned on the current holiday that I’m so decadently enjoying, NSO doesn’t work in flight mode. As my daughter and wife slept beside me, the idea of a few rounds of Excite Bike filled my weary mind with the promise of some respite. Alas, it wasn’t to be. The Nintendo Switch Online app simply refuses to open when not connected to the internet. If only I had my Wii U with me, I half-jokingly mused…

It would be naive to think that Nintendo will use the upcoming anniversary of the service to spruce things up and give NSO the fresh lick of (Mario) paint that it so desperately needs. Remember, 2021 marks the anniversary of The Legend of Zelda and we all know what happened there. We got our collective hopes up for an offering akin to All-Stars, despite no evidence of its existence, only to be burned when what we actually got was an HD port of an underappreciated gem. The recent reveal of Metroid Dread once again drove this point home. Metroid Zero Mission and Metroid Fusion became top sellers in the Wii U chart, as Samus Returns for the 3DS did on Amazon, simply because they weren’t available on Nintendo Switch.

It seems like madness that Nintendo didn’t prepare some paid VC options to tie in with the Dread announcement. They’ve done it before, with Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light and while I didn’t agree with a title that should have been used to enrich Nintendo Switch Online being sold, I understood it as a business decision. Not releasing – at least – Zero Mission and Fusion as paid content on Nintendo Switch remains one of Nintendo’s most baffling choices in recent memory.

Donkey Kong also celebrated its 40th anniversary on July 9th, with absolutely no fanfare. Food for thought.

Barrel Blast

Nintendo Switch Online

Speaking of barrels, many have argued that Nintendo has scraped the bottom of the barrel so intensively that the bottom of the barrel no longer exists and instead what they are scraping at is the gateway to the realm where our hopes and dreams dwell, desperately clawing away in search of something to scratch the Earthbound itch in our respective libraries. Perhaps the conversation should be directed in the direction of commending these offerings for further diversifying the already incredibly eclectic array of gaming experiences available to play anywhere, at any time, with anyone.

If you want to read some more coherent thoughts on this, check out this post from Abram over at BDG.