In case you had any illusions about sneakily avoiding the system update that enables Switch Online, think again. Attempting to access the online features of games that require a subscription will fire off an error telling you to update your console. Luckily, the update is quick and painless. If your device has been plugged in, it probably already downloaded the v6.0 update. It only takes a minute to restart and install. However, make sure you have the right Nintendo account tied to your console — online content going forward will be tied to that account and cannot be changed.
Nothing will look immediately different once you get on the latest firmware build. However, most games with online components will require Switch Online. You’ll be directed to sign up for the service when trying to access these features. Titles like Splatoon 2, Mario Tennis Aces, and Mario Kart 8 all do this.
Okay, so signing up for Switch Online — you’ve got several options. There is a new section in the eShop for Switch Online subscriptions, so head there first. The most cost-efficient way is to drop $20 for a year of service. You can also get a single month for $3.99 or three months for $7.99. There’s also a yearly family plan for multiple accounts at $34.99. You can dive right in with a subscription or take advantage of a 7-day free trial to try it out.
Unfortunately, Nintendo’s cloud saves won’t work with all games — for example, Splatoon 2. For games that support cloud saves, the uploads happen in the background automatically. You can see your cloud save status in the system settings, plus there’s an option to manually back up your older saves to the cloud. You cannot let your Nintendo subscription lapse, though. Unlike Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo will nuke your cloud saves if you cancel Switch Online.
Online gameplay is seamless and works more or less as it did before. That means you still have to deal with Nintendo’s clunky friend codes. Yuck. Switch Online adds voice chat, but it’s tied to a smartphone app rather than the console itself. Again, this is clunky and weird.
Many Switch owners have scoffed at paying for an admittedly limited feature set. So, Nintendo is sweetening the pot with a bundle of classic games. There’s a new NES game client in the eShop, and anyone can download it. However, it will only run if you have a Switch Online subscription. The client also needs to check in online every week to make sure your account is still active.
At launch, the NES hub includes games like Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda, and Double Dragon. There are about 20 games right now, and more will come to the hub every month. Later this year, Nintendo will add titles like Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, and Solomon’s Key. These games play the same way the always did, but there are a few improvements to multiplayer: You can play with a friend online, and there are a few new mechanics in select games. You can also save game states and reload from that point later. Nintendo offers to sell you some NES-style controllers with your subscription as well.
Nintendo isn’t going to reverse course, so you’ll have to get used to spending $20 per year to use your Switch with online features. There are definitely some advantages like cloud saves and the NES hub, but now everyone needs those. You can get along without Switch Online for now, but Nintendo will probably make that harder as time goes on.
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