Nintendo Switch Online Service: Everything You Need To Know


The Nintendo Switch isn’t only incredibly successful, the little hybrid console from Nintendo also happens to be one of the best and most versatile gaming platforms you can buy today.

As a standalone device it’s already worth every penny, but you can get more from your Switch by paying for a Nintendo Switch Online service subscription.

Online Gameplay

The main value proposition of the Nintendo Switch Online service subscription is of course the ability to play games online. Without the subscription you’ll be limited to only playing the single-player mode and for games that are only online in nature, you won’t be able to play at all!

Cloud Game Saves

The Switch is a portable system, which makes it much more likely that you could lose or break it while out and about. Digital games can always be downloaded again and your Switch cartridges are unlikely to break, but your game progress is irreplaceable. 

If you subscribe to the Nintendo Switch Online service, you can make cloud backups of your saved games every time you connect to the internet. Now, there is a major caveat! A given game has to support cloud saves to take advantage of this feature, so make sure the games you care about lists cloud saving as a feature.

Voice Chat Features

Voice chat is a pretty standard feature in online gaming these days. All you have to do is connect a headset to your PC or console and you too can have rude children screaming profanity in your ear within minutes. 

Not so for the Nintendo Switch. Inexplicably, the console doesn’t support headsets at all. You can use a regular set of headphones, but USB-C, Bluetooth and wired headsets are a no-no. 

If you pay the subscription fee, Nintendo does have a workaround for voice chat. It requires the Nintendo app and a smartphone, that lets you chat to other players. Honestly, this is a pretty clunky way to get voice chat in games. You might as well use an alternative like Discord instead, which you can use for free.

Access To Classic Games

The Nintendo Switch sadly lacks any form of virtual console, as has been the case with past Nintendo machines. On older Nintendo consoles, you could purchase classic NES, SNES, N64 and other classic games to play them on newer hardware. 

The only way to play classic Nintendo games, other than through a re-release, is to subscribe to the online service, as this gives you access to the Switch Online NES and SNES applications. 

Within these apps, you’ll find curated collections of classic games from the first two Nintendo home consoles. You don’t get to choose which titles are included, but Nintendo periodically adds more games at no further cost to you. Moreover, the titles that are included include some properly beloved titles. 

On the NES side of things, you’ll find Mario Bros 1-3, The Legend of Zelda and other heavy hitters from the Nintendo catalogue. For the SNES selection there are titles such as Zelda: A Link to the Past, Mario Kart and Star Fox 2. A title which is only available on the SNES Classic, having never been released on the original hardware.

Given what Nintendo has charged for these titles in the past and the fact that you had to re-buy them with each new console, the subscription-based libraries of games represent incredibly good value for money. The deal will also only get better with time, as new titles and (perhaps) new systems are added.

Exclusive Controllers

Being a Nintendo Online subscriber gives you access to special official retro controllers, which can only be ordered by those who belong to the club. These controllers are meant to give you a more authentic experience when playing the classic games. 

To be honest, the standard Switch Joy Cons and Pro controllers work just fine for these classic games. Also, you can buy some very nice third-party classic controllers from companies like 8BitDo which are 100% Switch compatible, cost less and work great. Not really a selling point for the service, unless you are a particularly hardcore Nintendo fan.

Game Vouchers

While being a Nintendo Switch Online service member doesn’t give you access to special discounts in the same way that, say, Playstation Plus does, it can save you money. Nintendo has introduced digital vouchers for a select list of games.

You buy the voucher for a set price and then you can have any two games from the list. You can also claim one game now and then use the other voucher when another supported game is released. As long as it’s within one year of purchase.

How much money this saves you varies, since not all of these games have the same retail price. However, you’ll generally save about $20 for each pair of games you buy. Just pay attention to the normal price so you don’t waste vouchers on cheaper games.

What Does it Cost?

Like most online services, the longer the period you pre-pay for, the less it all ultimately works out as. If you want to pay month to month, you’ll have to stump up $3.99 at the time of writing. Three months will cost you $7.99 and a whole year will cost about $19.99. Going for the annual plan will save you almost twenty-eight bucks. So clearly that’s the best one to go for. 

Don’t forget, there’s a 7-day free trial you can sign up for before committing yourself and four bucks is not too much for another four weeks if you just can’t decide if this is for you or not.

If you have more than one Switch in the house with multiple players, the Family Plan is an absolutely fantastic deal. For $34.99 a month, you can cover eight Nintendo Accounts for a year. You can figure out how to make the best of that yourself, but that works out to a miniscule $4.30 per account for a whole year.

What You DON’T Need Switch Online For

Not every game requires a Switch Online service subscription to use online multiplayer services. Free-to-play hits like Fortnite and Paladins can be downloaded and played on any Switch with an internet connection, with no need at all to pay anything to Nintendo. Games that don’t require a Nintendo Online subscription will usually clearly say so in the eShop description or on their own official home page.

Obviously, you also don’t need the subscription to log into the Nintendo eShop and buy games digitally. It’s only the multiplayer aspect of the majority of games that need this subscription.

You do NOT need a Nintendo Online subscription for games that support local multiplayer. For example, a game like Torchlight II or Mario Party will let you play with friends who bring their own Switches along without a Nintendo Online subscription or, indeed, an internet connection.

So there you have everything you currently get as part of the Nintendo Online Subscription. Of course, whether these features are worth the money depends entirely on how much you value them. We do expect that Nintendo will sweeten the deal over time, but since this is Nintendo we’re talking about there’s no telling when or how. 

Is Nintendo Switch Online Service Worth It?

OK, so let’s sum up the value proposition here and figure out if this service is for you. If you want to play games online that require the subscription, this is a no-brainer. You should go for the service and have a blast with your friends who are too far away for local multiplayer.

If you’re a retro-game lover and there are titles you want to play in the NES and SNES collection, then $20 a year for a portable classic game collection is a steal. So that alone is definitely a reason to pay the fee.

If you’re going to buy two or more games from the voucher list in a given year, then the money you’ll save already pays for a year of individual membership, effectively making it free. So that’s also a good scenario and most of us are going to buy two AAA Nintendo games per year from that list. It’s free money in this case.

Cloud saves are the other killer feature, but it’s not quite enough by itself to make the service worth it, but if you value your save games at more than $20 a year, then by all means pull the trigger.

Overall, the Nintendo Switch Online service subscription is worth the money for the vast majority of users and you should at least give the week-long trial a go before dismissing it entirely.