Finder is committed to editorial independence. While we receive compensation when you click links to partners, they do not influence our opinions or reviews. Learn how we make money.
Nintendo Switch Online
Back up saved data, play your favorite games online and access a library of classic SNES games.
Nintendo has always been slow to embrace the world of online gaming. Through the birth and death of the Wii and Wii U, it mostly shied away from online multiplayer games, with a few exceptions. So finding and playing games with your friends was a major hassle, involving impossible-to-remember friend codes and a lack of voice chat. The only consolation was the price tag — unlike PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live, Nintendo’s online service had always let you play against your friends over the Internet for free.
With Nintendo’s latest console, the Nintendo Switch, all that changed. This time around, Nintendo is offering a premium online service called Nintendo Switch Online, which, like Sony and Microsoft’s offerings, will require you to pay to play games online. It’s not all bad news, though, as Nintendo is following in its competitors’ footsteps and throwing in free games and discounts on its digital store for all subscribers. And while the service isn’t as robust as PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live, its cheaper price makes it a considerably more accessible alternative.
The main reason to purchase Nintendo Switch Online is to play Switch games online against your friends. There are currently more than 60 NES and Super NES games available on Switch Online, including Super Mario Kart, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong and more.
Free games have proven an effective salve for the sting of paying for online play. Both Microsoft’s Games With Gold initiative and Sony’s PlayStation Plus free games program have become immensely popular, to the point where they provide enough value on their own to justify the monthly subscription.
Nintendo is taking a similar approach with Nintendo Switch Online. While it originally planned on a more Netflix-style model, where subscribers would receive a few games every month but only be able to play them for that month, the company has since backpedaled and redesigned its free-game offer to work the same way as Sony’s and Microsoft’s.
Each month, Nintendo Switch Online subscribers can download a compilation of classic Nintendo games that’ve been modified to include online play. While functionality differs between titles, some games offer competitive play, co-op multiplayer or the ability to hand the controller over to an online friend while you spectate. All classic games also support voice chat via the Nintendo Switch Online app.
Subscribers can play these free classic games as much as they want, as long as they maintain an active Nintendo Switch Online subscription.
Just a few of the free online games you’ll have access to include:
- Tetris 99
- Realm Royale
- Arena of Valor
- Pokemon Quest
- Super Kirby Clash
- Fallout Shelter
- DC Universe Online
- Fortnite: Battle Royale
Nintendo also offers exclusive discounts on the Nintendo eShop for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers. If Nintendo plans to compete with the deals offered through PlayStation Store and Microsoft Store, we’ll likely see subscriber-only sales and preorder discounts on a semi-regular basis.
Dedicated mobile app
Where features like voice chat, messaging and friend invites are built into the basic operating system of the PS4 and Xbox One, the Nintendo Switch offloads them onto your mobile phone. To chat with your teammates while you’re playing Splatoon 2, you’ll need to plug a headset into your phone, boot up the Nintendo Switch Online app and leave your phone sitting next to you while you play. Similarly, you’ll need to use the app to send game invites to players on your Nintendo Switch friends list, as well as join games you’ve been invited to.
However, the portability of a mobile app allows for some handy features that Playstation and Xbox lack. In Splatoon 2, for example, the Nintendo Switch Online app can be used to track the results of your previous battles, check the gear and weapons other players have been using and view what stages are coming up in the game’s rotation.
It remains to be seen how many games will take advantage of the mobile app’s unique functionality, but if enough do, it could be the edge Nintendo Switch Online needs over PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live.
If there’s one thing Nintendo Switch Online has going for it, it’s the price. At $19.99 for a 12-month membership, it’s less than half the cost of Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus. This makes it far easier to look past its basic functionality and slimmer online games library.
If you’re not ready to commit to a full 12 months, you’ll have other subscription options as well. Here’s the full rundown of your options and the price tag:
- One month: $3.99
- Three month: $7.99
- 12 months: $19.99
- Family membership: $34.99
Ask an Expert