Years after continuing to pump elixir into Wii U's veins, Nintendo has finally thrown in the towel for the embattled, oft-mistaken Wii accessory, and has come out with a brand new console that has a much better name and concept: the Switch — a home console that doubles as a handheld device, with instant and seamless "switching" between those two orientations.
That's right, the Switch is a home console owners can take with them and go east of wherever. Nintendo revealed key metrics about the system Thursday, Jan. 19, showcasing a slew of games scheduled for release, explaining the technology behind its detachable controllers called the Joy-Con, and announcing its plan to offer a paid online multiplayer service.
Here's everything we know so far about Nintendo's plan to offer a paid subscription tier akin to Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus.
Nintendo Switch Online Service
It's creatively called the "Nintendo Switch Online Service" and it kicks gear the same time as the console launches, upon which it will be free to try. The service, however, won't fully open its full pack of features until late 2017, and when it does, Nintendo will start applying monthly or yearly fees to users who want to take advantage of the service.
This is the first time Nintendo has ever introduced such a service: online multiplayer for virtually all its past consoles was offered for free, albeit with the service lacking certain features as one would find on Microsoft's or Sony's subscription schemes.
Let's break down what players will get with a Nintendo Switch Online Service subscription.
According to the chart, those without a subscription can get access to the Nintendo eShop, register and manage friends, share screenshots to social media, and take advantage of the parental controls app.
The paid tier includes all benefits mentioned above, along with online gameplay, which presumably refers to a game's multiplayer matches, access to an online lobby and voice chat app, a free monthly game download, and exclusive deals from Nintendo.
Monthly Game Downloads That Aren't Really Free
There are, however, a few caveats.
First is the monthly game downloads. Those with a subscription will be entitled to a free NES or SNES game per month, which sounds pretty good. But players can only play whatever game is being offered for a month only, at which point the game will be removed from a player's library. Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America's president, pretty much confirmed this in an interview with Wired on Jan. 13.
"Essentially you've got access to that game for a period of time, and then after the month there's a new selection," he said, noting that players can buy the game should they wish.
To be clear, players don't get one free game a month — they simply get access to a different game each month for free, with no means to get said game for free on their library.
Voice Chat Via Smartphone
Another troubling caveat concerns the online lobby and chat app. Instead of letting players plug in a dedicated headset/mic accessory on the system itself, voice chat will be handled via an app on the user's smartphone. Many users are balking at this idea, and reasonably so. Their retort surprisingly holds water: what's to stop them from simply using a free conferencing app, such as Discord or Skype, instead of having to pay in order to access such a feature?
Another thing to note is that only the service's multiplayer feature will be accessible when the system launches, so users on the fence about shelling out money for a subscription won't get to try online voice chat, free monthly games, and such. That will arrive, as previously mentioned, late 2017.
We'll see if Nintendo's new online service is a step in the right direction.
Nintendo Switch Pricing And Availability
The Nintendo Switch comes out March 3, retailing for $299. To be launched alongside the system is Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, 1-2-Switch, Just Dance 2017, Skylanders Imaginators, Super Bomberman R, and The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+.