Nintendo Switch online review: An essential buy, but skip the upgrades

Nobody likes being forced to buy too many subscriptions, but sometimes they are necessary. If you are hoping to play online games with the nintendo switch, you will need a Nintendo Switch Online membership. Xbox and PlayStation require subscription plans to enable online multiplayer gaming, and Nintendo Switch Online is a similar proposition.

The good news is that Nintendo Switch Online costs less than PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold or Xbox Game Pass, at $20 per year. (You can also pay in installments, at $4 a month or $8 for three months, but the $20 for 12 months plan is the best value.) This plan lets you play online, save online in the cloud and access free games that you can play. as long as you subscribe to the service. But this will only cover one Nintendo Switch account holder.


  • Low annual cost
  • Family package option
  • Lots of retro Nintendo games included

Do not like

  • Optional expansion pack offers N64 games at a hefty price

Families with multiple Switches, or anyone with multiple accounts on the same Switch, will need to pay $35 per year, which covers up to eight family members. Otherwise, the only way to play many online games will be through the individual account that has the Switch Online subscription.

Online game: For me, it’s essential

You don’t need to play Nintendo Switch games online, and Nintendo’s games are arguably the friendliest experiences offered by the big three console makers. (You can also get tons of local products, multiplayer in the same room games.) Still, many of Nintendo’s games have online multiplayer, and that alone makes the service essential. Nintendo’s online multiplayer features aren’t always great, but they’re slowly improving over time: Switch Sports, Mario Strikers: Battle League, and Animal Crossing are all web-focused, and many of Nintendo’s recent games have online features.

Some games don’t need Switch Online, and most of them are free games such as Fortnite or fall guys. So there are ways to live with a Switch without Nintendo Switch Online.

Cloud backups: they are useful

Cloud game saves are useful if you have multiple Nintendo Switches. Switching between Switches to play a game is much easier when you can simply load your game save from the cloud. If you have multiple Switches in your household, only one can be configured to play games offline, but the others can be used when Wi-Fi is connected.

Even if you’re a solo-Switch household, you might want this to upgrade, for example, from the original Switch to the new OLED version. If you don’t have a cloud save, game save data can still be transferred between systems.

A screenshot of the retro games available on the Switch

Nintendo’s retro game collections are a tantalizing archive of nostalgia.

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

‘Free’ games: Nintendo’s retro offerings are a nostalgic treasure

Nintendo is giving away a few free games to Switch Online subscribers, but far fewer than PlayStation Plus (which recently added new tiers for additional premium and retro games) or Xbox Live Gold or Game Pass Ultimate, which cycle through games monthly .

Nintendo relies on its classic NES and SNES games, both of which are available in Switch apps that semi-regularly update their libraries with new titles. There are 62 NES games right now and 54 SNES games, so that’s plenty to keep you busy. NES and SNES apps mimic what Nintendo offered on those nice NES and SNES Classic plug-ins retro consoles, or in “Virtual Console” games on the old Wii and Nintendo DS and 3DS. A fun bonus to these games is that many of them are playable online.

My favorite free online game is Pac-Man 99, a competitive battle royale game like Tetris 99 where you play Pac-Man against 99 others to try to survive. I love him deeply.

Pikachu rides a surfboard in Pokemon Snap

Games like Pokemon Snap are great to have, but are they worth the extra yearly price tag?


The Improved Expansion Pack: You Don’t Need It

Nintendo has a top tier called the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack which adds collections of retro Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games (about 16 N64 games and 25 Genesis games so far). These two compilations contain excellent games, including Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, Sonic 2, Phantasy Star IV. They also come with built-in game save features, but they’re not worth the extra price of the progressive plan unless you’re a die-hard N64 or Genesis fan. N64 games are hard to find otherwise, but there aren’t many available yet. Genesis games can be obtained in other ways; there is an excellent, sold separately Sega Genesis Classics compilation on the eShop, as well as standalone Sega Ages games. At $50 more per year for the expansion pack (or $80 for a family subscription), it doesn’t seem worth it.

Nintendo has also started adding other DLC content with the expansion pack to sweeten the deal: a Splatoon 2 expansion, additional Mario Kart 8 Deluxe courses, and Animal Crossing extras. These can be purchased separately at around $25 each.

The best value among console subscriptions? Not entirely

You could argue that, for $20, Nintendo’s Switch Online fee is a better deal than Xbox Game Pass or PlayStation Plus. It doesn’t have the discounts or the continuous stream of premium free games that the others have, but it certainly costs less. I also appreciate that there is also a family subscription for Switch Online, given the number of Switch gamers in my house.

I’m not crazy about having to pay annual fees for game consoles, but $20 for a Switch Online subscription is fine. The Expansion Pack service, however, is probably not worth it unless you have a serious love affair with N64 games.

About Jason Zeitler

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