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  • John Bush

Nintendo Switch Online: A Model Subscription Model

Author: John Bush

I love Nintendo’s subscription model for its online services; probably more than I like Playstation Plus or X-Box Live. For one thing, it’s cheaper. Sure, it has fewer features, but I’m not sure I need many of the “missing” ones anyway. Voice chat is commonly cited as an important omission, but it’s pretty easy to do over Discord or some other app on my phone. Sure, it means I need to have another device handy when I’m playing my Switch online, but I honestly can’t remember the last time my phone wasn’t within arm’s reach when I’ve been playing games anyway. It’s not much of a sacrifice to save forty bucks, is what I’m getting at.

I’ve also seen people cite the free games provided by PS+ and XBL as worth the difference in price. While the games provided through those services are more current, I honestly can’t say they’re as attractive to me as the NES and SNES games that come with Nintendo Switch Online. I only claim games for the PS4 or XB that I’m interested in; last year I only claimed like four games between the two of them. I would have claimed more if I didn’t already own some of the offerings, but the point remains – or perhaps even gets strengthened? – that the PS+ and XBL offerings have no real value unless you claim them. I’m certainly grateful that the service is offered; I’ve found some true gems that way, most notably Sleeping Dogs, but having the selection limited to games that are well past their initial sales window almost always means that I’ve already made my decision about whatever games are offered.

Nintendo, on the other hand, offers a variety of classics whether I claim them or not. It allows me to play some of my favorite retro games without having to dig out my NES and figure out how to hook it up to a TV that only has HDMI ports. The SNES games are especially valuable to a kid who didn’t have an SNES growing up; my brother and I chose Genesis. I don’t regret it (largely due to Square-Enix’s dedication to re-releasing Squaresoft’s SNES output on every platform available) but there are still plenty of SNES classics I’ve never experienced. Moreover, considering the console’s popularity with families and kids, I imagine that NSO exposes a lot of younger players to retro games they’d never have thought about twice before, allowing them to easily experience gaming history firsthand – again, hooking those old consoles up to modern TVs is a bear.

With some of its releases, Nintendo has even brought up an interesting possibility with its online service; bringing previously unreleased games across the Pacific for the first time, notably Super Puyo Puyo 2 and Panel De Pon. Sure, Panel De Pon was technically released as Tetris Attack internationally, but that was after some heavy editing to the game’s assets so that it featured Yoshi’s Island characters instead of the original cast. They did no localizing for Super Puyo Puyo 2 and didn’t appear to do any localizing for Panel De Pon; some of the text is in English, but most of it is still in Japanese. I hope the numbers are encouraging enough that Nintendo considers bringing other Japan-only games to the service and that they maybe even give localizing them a little more thought. There are plenty of Fire Emblem games that haven’t been remade and/or released in the West. Panel De Pon is an Intelligent Systems game, too. I’m just getting desperate at this point, aren’t I?

The biggest weakness of NSO, however, is that the platform mostly features first-party games. PS+ and XBL both regularly offer third-party releases; in fact the majority of their offerings are third-party. A company like Square-Enix might have no interest in releasing their back catalogue on the Switch’s service – or at least not any of their major franchises. And that’s not a problem for me; I don’t foresee a time where the Final Fantasy series isn’t available in some form, and accessibility is what’s most important when it comes to preserving the history of gaming. But as I lamented a little while ago Enix isn’t getting the same amount of love as Squaresoft. This is the perfect avenue to expose a new generation to games like Illusion of Gaia and Actraiser. Heck, they don’t even really have to localize a game like Terranigma; while it never made it to North America; it has an official English translation from its PAL release, which Nintendo published.

The good news is that there are a number of third-party games on NSO, too, so it’s not out of the question for other underappreciated classics to make the jump. Breath of Fire is a personal favorite, and Capcom has shown little interest in giving the franchise much love recently. Both SNES entries in the series are available through NSO for a new generation of players – and older ones that never had an SNES – to discover. Hopefully other developers see the value of Nintendo Switch Online as a place to keep their franchises alive and potentially as a way to gauge customer interest in franchise revivals. I assume porting an SNES game to the Switch isn’t especially expensive, but I’m basing that on literally no evidence or direct experience with the process.

A lot of what I’ve said is down to wishful thinking on my part, to be sure. Sony brought a few Japan-only Playstation Classics to the PS3 a few years ago, and my impression was that they did not exactly set the world on fire. No localization was done for the games, either, so that may have been a big turnoff for some. Perhaps I am simply underestimating the costs of localization – again, no direct experience with it – but it seems to me that releasing an unlocalized game is pretty much a death sentence if you actually expect people to buy your game. Since the NSO is a subscription model, perhaps the number of players who give games a try will be greater and encourage companies to try localizing more retro content.

The world of video games is big and beautiful. Nintendo Switch Online is a great tool for exploring and experiencing the history of gaming in a way that no other console’s online service is matching – although XBL is making a decent attempt by offering some backwards-compatible digital games as part of its service. I hope Nintendo realizes what a special opportunity they have created for themselves with their online platform to share the wonderful past of video games with its future. They even have the rare chance to widen gamers’ experience and knowledge of their hobby’s history by exposing them to games that weren’t previously available in their region. I look forward to seeing what direction NSO takes in the future. And seriously, someone just give me a North American release of Terranigma. It looks so good!

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