Nintendo's new online service is a laughably bad deal

Back to the nostalgia mines.

Do you want to play Sega Genesis and Nintendo 64 games on your Nintendo Switch? After all, who doesn't want to revisit certified gaming classics like Sonic 3 & Knuckles and Ocarina of Time, right? Well, hope you're willing to fork over $50 for the privilege, because good old Nintendo says so.

Nintendo recently unveiled its confusingly-named Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack service, and to be frank, it's a rotten deal. For $50 a year, you get the regular Nintendo Switch Online service, which is required to play games with your friends online and also includes a library of NES and SNES games. This so-called "Expansion Pack" adds a smattering Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games to the mix, along with the newly-announced Happy Home Paradise DLC for Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Wearing thin — It's no secret that Nintendo loves to coast on goodwill and nostalgia for bygone gaming days, but this is a bridge too far. For one thing, the nine N64 games that will be available at launch might include beloved classics like Ocarina and Super Mario 64, but it also includes less-than-stellar entries like Dr. Mario 64 and Yoshi's Story, as well as the truly forgettable WinBack: Covert Operations.

Bizarrely, the Genesis list is a lot better, as it features a varied list of classic games of different genres, including lesser-known hits like Ristar and Contra: Hard Corps. However, it only has one Sonic game — two if you include Mean Bean Machine, which you shouldn't — and that's just professional malpractice.


Fuzzy math — Classic games aside, New Horizons players have been begging for new content for months now, and now Nintendo is asking them to pay $25 for the privilege. (A free update with some new stuff will accompany the DLC's launch, which is fair enough.) Paid DLC is better than no DLC, sure, but it seems a little odd for Nintendo to go to the well on New Horizons like this, especially considering that the game has sold a mind-boggling number of copies — well north of 30 million, according to Nintendo's late 2020 financial results.

Paying $20 for a year of Nintendo Switch online just to play Smash Bros. online with your friends is already a drag, but now Nintendo wants you to pay more than double that price for an Animal Crossing DLC based off a mobile game that no one liked and 20-something ancient games that you can emulate in an internet browser. It's a bad deal, pure and simple, especially when you consider the Genesis and N64 gamepads that the company is selling for $50 each.

Paradigm shift — The video game industry has been headed in the direction of Netflix-like subscription services for a long time, and big companies like Sony and Microsoft have ponied up hundreds of free games through PS Plus and similar services to sweeten the sting of paying an annual fee for basic features like online play. Many of us have a soft spot for Nintendo — heck, they just published an excellent sequel that fans have been asking for for years in the form of Metroid Dread — but this seems like a transparently terrible idea on every level.

If the right to play the most middling Metal Gear Solid ripoff of all time on-the-go is worth $50 a year to you — or if you want an excuse to force your kids to play Star Fox 64 — go for it. From a more objective vantage, however, it's hard to see how this service compares to what's being offered by other companies in the space. Unfortunately for Mario fans, Nintendo is going to Nintendo, and that means that they're probably going to keep offering laughably bad services like this for the sake of some easy nostalgia. We suggest you vote with your dollars. And if you really want to play Star Fox 64, but you don't want to bust out the old N64, you should Google "RetroArch." Emulation is pretty much painless to set up these days.