Nintendo was a little late to the online party. While Microsoft stormed ahead with its Xbox Live service and Sony got to grips with the PlayStation Network, Nintendo was languishing with inconvenient friend codes and limited voice chat options. 

So far the Nintendo Switch’s online offering is unproven. Its servers haven’t been live during this pre-release preview phase, so we haven’t been able to try out multiplayer gaming or the eShop, and more worrying is that the Switch’s complete online service isn’t due to launch properly until ‘fall 2017’. 

We’ll have a full review of each of these services when they launch on their respective dates, but read on for our experiences so far.

Online multiplayer

  • More basic service available now
  • Full service to launch in fall of 2017

Online multiplayer is available in compatible games from the console’s launch. Initially it will be free, but functionality will be limited. 

There will initially be no online voice chat and no ability to get friends together into a group, two functions that have become staples of online gaming. 

For this functionality you'll have to wait for the full – and paid – service to launch in the fall.

For now however, basic online functionality is available and functions similarly to how it did on the Wii U. There is no support for online parties of players, and there is also no voice chat. 

In a game like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, for example, playing online feels like playing against a much better performing group of AI characters since there's little ability to interact beyond simply racing. 

At launch adding friends to play online with will rely on the cumbersome 12 digit Friend Code Nintendo has long insisted on using. 

However, in Switch OS 3.0, you  you can now add friends from your Nintendo 3DS and Wii U Friend Lists and receive notifications when they come online. It's expected that more ways to add friends will come in future. 

You'll can also send friend requests to people you've recently played with and those who are using the same local wireless connection as you. 

Local wireless multiplayer

  • Easy to set up and join other players
  • Supports up to eight Switch consoles

We recently tried the local wireless multiplayer mode using the new Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and found that it worked very well. 

Using 3 consoles, each with 2 players, we found the entire process simple to set up and experienced no lag or connection problems. 

To set up an online multiplayer game using local wireless players simply start up Mario Kart and select local wireless mode for either one or two players within the game itself. After this one player will set up a room which the other players then join and the player that has set up that room will select the race rules. 

Each player will be given the chance to vote for their track preference and the game will randomly choose a track from those that players have voted for, much like online play works. 

If you have two players to one console the screen will split for each of you to see your place in the race, but you won't see what everyone else is seeing on their screens unless their consoles are in front of you.  

In the specific case of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe the maximum number of players that you can have in a single race over local wireless is 8 with one or two players per Switch. 

However, if you don't have multiple consoles up to four friends can play on a single Nintendo Switch console in TV mode, or in tabletop mode.

Alternatively, if you have a lot of friends and a lot of consoles to hand up to 12 consoles in TV mode can be connected via LAN Play, with one or two players per connected Nintendo Switch, however with each player required to have their own USB Ethernet adaptor, it's unlikely that many outside of tournaments will end up using this functionality. 

Online service

  • Limited functionality at launch
  • Full service to launch in 2018

Nintendo’s online service certainly looks better than what it’s offered in the past, but it still falls short of what competitors Sony and Microsoft are offering. 

The service will cost $3.99 (around £3.10/AU$5.40) for a 1-month membership, $7.99 (around £6.20/AU$10.80) for a 3-month membership and $19.99 (around £15.50/AU$27) for a 12-month membership.

However before the service launches officially, you can still play online with friends for free. Functionality is currently limited, lacking such features as voice chat and party support, but it's there in a basic form. 

When the full service launches, large parts of it will function through an app on your phone, through which you’ll organise your online lobby and voice chat. This means you’ll have to have your phone on you if you want to use this functionality – the functionality isn’t present on the console itself.

The service also offers its own version of Sony’s PlayStation Plus free games and Microsoft’s Games with Gold which it initially said would allow you to download free NES and SNES games each month.

However in more recent months, reports have emerged that the classic games might include GameCube games, which would be a lot more modern. 

Although Nintendo originally announced that you'd only be able to play these free games for a month each, as opposed to on competing services which allow you to keep the games, its stance now appears to have changed to allow users ongoing access to these titles

The full service will be launching at some point in 2018, but a more limited version of the service will launch in Summer 2017. Hopefully this will answer some of our more pressing questions about the functionality. 

Though the Switch has launched without the popular video streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime we've come to expect from consoles, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Amie has said in a recent interview that these are services that will come to the console 'in time'. 

Nintendo is apparently in talks with these services to bring their apps to the console but there isn't any indication of when exactly that will happen. 

With the service not yet released into the wild we’re not ready to pass a final judgement, but suffice to say that on paper it doesn’t compare well to the competition.

eShop online store

  • eShop available at launch with modern games
  • Retro games through Virtual Console not available at launch

Like the Wii U before it, the Nintendo Switch features an online store that will allow you to download games rather than buy them in-store. 

If you’re looking to download your games rather than buying them in a physical format then you’ll want to invest in a microSD card. The console’s internal memory is limited to 32GB, an amount which is already too small for one game, Dragon Quest Heroes.

Later on the console is also expected to feature a Virtual Console similar to Nintendo’s past consoles, which you'll be able to use to purchase retro games. Unfortunately this won't be available at launch.

Although the eShop is sparsely populated at the moment, we like its minimalist design. Along the left are sections for 'Recent Releases', 'Coming Soon' and 'Redeem Code' and there's also search functionality. 

You can add upcoming games to your 'Watch List', and there's also a section for downloading previously purchased titles. 

Nintendo is clearly planning to continue to add to the store as time goes on, too, as recently it added the ability to store your credit card information so that you can now purchase your games without having to re-enter your details every time.