Online play, upgraded NES games, and cloud saves coming this autumn.
Nintendo has always had an unconventional approach to online play and interactions. Actually, "unconventional" is kind – usually it's kind of a mess.
Case in point: the Nintendo Switch has been out for more than a year now and it still doesn't have a fully-featured online network. But that'll change this autumn when Nintendo Switch Online launches. It's a subscription-based service like PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold that'll bring access to free games, along with online play and other features.
Nintendo just took the wraps off of the service and what to expect, so here are the five things you need to know about Nintendo Switch Online.
1) ONLINE PLAY WON'T BE FREE ANYMORE
There aren't many Switch games with online multiplayer right now, but the ones you'd actually want to play – like Splatoon 2 (shown), Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Arms – are all freely playable without a subscription fee. That won't be the case anymore once Nintendo Switch Online launches.
You'll have to pay the subscription fee to play online and use the iOS or Android smartphone app for voice chat and other features. Accessing the eShop and things like online leaderboards will still be free, but actual live interactions will be for members only.
2) IT INCLUDES UPGRADED NES GAMES
One intriguing perk of Nintendo Switch Online is the availability of complementary NES games from way back in the day. But these aren't just ports: they've also been upgraded with online play and voice chat support for competitive and cooperative games.
The launch selection will include 20 NES classics, with these 10 games initially revealed: Balloon Fight, Donkey Kong, Dr. Mario, Ice Climber, The Legend of Zelda, Mario Bros, Soccer, Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros. 3, and Tennis.
3) THERE'S NO VIRTUAL CONSOLE
Nintendo giveth and Nintendo taketh away. When the Switch launched without a Virtual Console – that is, a store full of classic games across various retro systems – we were perplexed, but we figured it was being saved for the full service launch.
Nope. The company confirmed to Kotaku that there are currently no plans to launch a Virtual Console on the Switch. Maybe they're cooking up something else, or plan to expand beyond just NES titles for Nintendo Switch Online, or maybe those older games will just be released to the eShop without the Virtual Console branding. But for now, that's disappointing to hear.
4) CLOUD SAVES ARE COMING
Did you know that if your Nintendo Switch is irreparably broken, there's no way to reclaim your save data? It's true, frustratingly enough: currently, you can't back up your saves to the cloud or even locally to an SD card and access them from another Switch console. It's one of the practical oversights that fans have been raging about since the Switch's launch.
Luckily, cloud saves are coming with Nintendo Switch Online. The company hasn't detailed the feature just yet, but we can expect to be able to upload copies of our saves to the online service and access them from other consoles – perfect in case of disaster.
5) IT ARRIVES IN SUMMER 2018
Unfortunately, we'll have to wait a few more months before Nintendo Switch Online is available. Nintendo will launch the service sometime in September – but at least that means you'll have a few more months of free online play before the fees start kicking in.
How much will Nintendo Switch Online cost? Your best bet is to pay annually, which seems pretty reasonable at just $29.95 per year here in Australia. Quarterly is $11.95 and monthly is $5.95, and all of those options include access to online play, cloud saves, and free upgraded NES games.
That's a lot less money than Sony and Microsoft charge for their premium online subscriptions, but on the other hand, there are few online Switch games right now and fewer perks in the mix. So it makes sense.