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Nintendo Switch Online is failing fans on its retro games

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo Switch Online was always going to be playing catch-up. Launching years after competing online services from Xbox and PlayStation, while having to convince gamers to start paying for online capability they had previously been getting for free on the Nintendo Switch, it was an uphill battle from the start. Even now, it’s clear there’s more room for improvement.

Subscribers are definitely getting something for their money – online play, cloud saves, and a growing collection of retro NES and SNES games – and aren’t having to part with too much of it each month ($3.99 / £3.49 / AU$5.95).

But compared to PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold, Nintendo Switch Online still isn’t able to stick to a steady release schedule for what it offers, mixing and matching free games each month and often not releasing any at all. That’s… not ideal.

Quid pro quo

It was clear from the outset that Nintendo Switch Online would take a while to get into gear. It launched in September 2018, a full 18 months after the Nintendo Switch console entered markets. 

The meagre launch lineup of 20 NES games was disappointing, too, given how bulked out the Virtual Console libraries eventually became on Wii and Wii U. It took months of added releases to really make the NES emulator worth the subscription price.

Golf (NES, 1984)

Golf (NES, 1984) (Image credit: Nintendo)

While SNES games started being added in late 2019, the tap was also quickly turned off, with subscribers receiving no other games throughout the following October, November, and January – even if games like Star Fox 2 and Super Punch-Out!! in December went some way to allaying that.

It’s the inconsistency that’s disappointing: if Nintendo expects users to pay the same amount of money each month, we need to feel like we’re getting equivalent returns. As it is, some months feel worth the cost while others really don’t.

Some of this is inevitable, of course. Even on PlayStation Plus, some free games are more notable than others, and each month may not hold the kind of titles you’re after – but Nintendo really needs to figure out a steady release schedule to make Switch Online feel like a reliably-maintained service.

Fans don’t know that they’re getting anything in March, or April – and whether Nintendo is indifferent, saving its goods for later, or genuinely struggling to get retro titles ready for the service.

Mystery machine

Animal Crossing-themed Nintendo Switch console

Animal Crossing-themed Nintendo Switch console (Image credit: Nintendo)

We hope to see Nintendo 64 and even GameCube titles arrive at some point, but probably not before their mini console versions arrive. So what exactly do Nintendo Switch Online subscribers have to look forward to this year? 

With the PS5 and Xbox Series X launching before 2020 is out, this could be the year that Nintendo loses some of the limelight, and it would do well to make sure its fans stay engaged. A steady game release schedule, and some hints of what’s in the pipeline, would go a long way towards that.