I am going to rant about the Switch Online Expansion Pack
I am going to rant about the Switch Online Expansion Pack.
I have been a subscriber to the Switch Online service since its inception. I would not call it a great service, but I have found its value justifies its price. I was a huge fan of Mario 35 (which came free with the service) last year, although I am of course enormously frustrated that they took the game down in March. I get that they launched the game to celebrate Mario’s 35th anniversary, but why develop a game to just have it available for a limited time? It would be one thing if the player base had fallen off and the cost of maintaining the game wasn’t worth it anymore. But all the way until the end it seemed to me like Mario 35 had a very engaged audience. I tried PAC-MAN 99, which was sort of a follow-up game, but it just didn’t engage me like Mario 35. Then there’s the online multiplayer aspect of the service. I don’t play a lot of online games on the Switch. I got my fill of Splatoon on the Wii U, and I mainly use the Switch online functionality to play Mario Kart 8 on very rare occasion with family and to download levels for Super Mario Maker 2.
The most appealing feature of Switch Online to me has always been the NES and SNES games that become accessible through the subscription. That said, I don’t think there is really much special about the NES and SNES libraries on the Switch. Most of the main draws are games that I personally have played to death on other platforms and, in some cases, I’ve technically bought multiple times over in some fashion or another. (For instance, I own Super Mario Bros. 3 on NES, Game Boy Advance, 3DS Virtual Console, Wii U Virtual Console, and NES Classic Edition.). And to make matters worse, these libraries grow at a trickle with months going by without any new additions.
And yet despite all of its shortcomings, I still find myself using this feature of the service the most. There are times when I’m in a funk, and I don’t want to play a new game, I just want something old and comforting. Times when I just want to decompress and boot up Donkey Kong Country for the umpteenth hundred time. I think these retro games offer two benefits that appeal over just playing something more modern. The first is that they are nostalgic comforts. I mentioned I own numerous copies of Super Mario Bros. 3, and the reason for that of course is that sometimes I just want to play Super Mario Bros. 3 on a whim. That game holds a special place in my heart, some of my earliest memories are of playing that game. And there are times when I’m feeling down that I can go to that game and be reminded of all I’ve been through in life and all the challenges that I’ve faced and then I feel better because I realize that what I’ve been feeling is just another bump along the road.
The other reason why I like to have this library of retro games just waiting for me there on the Switch is that there is a straightforwardness to many retro games that is difficult to find in more modern offerings. Modern games can often be really hard to zone out to. They have lots of cutscenes and story elements and tutorials and other bits that you have to pay close attention to, even in situations when you just want to shut off your brain and engage with pure mechanics. A lot of older games tend to put a significantly lower mental load on the player. You don’t need much of a tutorial to play Donkey Kong Country, it’s just a game about running and jumping. You don’t need long cutscenes to convey the Shakespearean tragedy of the plot in Kirby’s Adventure. You just boot the game up and play. At the end of a long, hard day, it’s nice to just have a collection of games that you can just peruse and boot any one of them up at random with no worry given to how much time you’re going to have to spend getting the introductory cutscenes and tutorials out of the way.
So of course I was thrilled a few weeks ago when Nintendo announced it would be expanding the Switch Online service to include N64 and Genesis games. I was slightly annoyed by the plan to charge extra over the existing subscription fee, but I figured the new price couldn’t be that much, maybe ~$10 more at the most. After all, despite it’s shortcomings, Switch Online’s rather small $20/year fee has always made it rather easy to balance out the cost-benefit equation for this product. …..And then the actual price came out……$50/year……meaning a $30 up charge over the existing service……over twice the price of the base subscription.
That’s a lot. Well beyond what I ever thought could have been a worst case scenario. And really, not that many games are included at launch. A mere nine N64 games and fourteen Genesis games. Of course, they promise more will be coming, but with how they’ve slowly trickled out NES and SNES games, the safe assumption is that it will be a long time before this “expansion pack” sees any sort of expansion.
I also worry about the Genesis games. There is an existing retail collection of Genesis games on the Switch: the “SEGA Genesis Classics” collection. One would assume purchasing this collection of games outright would be a better option than paying $30 year after year to play these games on your Switch, but the emulation in the retail collection is actually quite poor. There is noticeable input lag that makes the fast arcade style games that the system is known for less responsive and more of a slog to play. Much as I’ve scoured the news on this service, I can’t find any details on the emulation for the Genesis games being released on the Switch Online service. My fear is that its the same emulation that is currently used for the retail classics collection, and if that’s the case, then these games simply won’t be worth playing on the Switch. If it’s better emulation, then that would be awesome and make the service quite a bit more appealing (although at the same time I suppose it would be a kick in the shins to the people who bought the classics collection).
As excited as I was for the service initially, I do not have plans to pay for the upgrade when it comes out. Maybe down the road when a significant number of new games have been added (if that ever happens) I will reconsider. But the thing is that while I can rationally reject this as an overpriced product, I know myself well enough to foresee how I could potentially break down and pay for this. Some day I’m going to come home frustrated and tired from work and in my ill temper I’m going to think “Hey, it would be a real great pick-me-up to just be able to play Star Fox 64 right now.” All it takes is really just one moment of weakness to cave in and pay for something you feel like you shouldn’t.
And is that so bad? Probably not really. I’m deeply annoyed by the pricing of this service upgrade and don’t want to support it. But ultimately, this is not some sort of great moral crisis. The only principle at stake here is the principle of not paying for something that is blatantly overpriced. There is no reason to abstain from buying it other than that. Nintendo is not really scamming customers here. They are, if anything, being brutally honest about how little value they’re delivering for the price. And I don’t know of any issues with employee wellbeing that might lead me to want to boycott their products. Of all the scummy things that happen in video games, this is extremely tame in the grand scheme of things. The world will not flood and children will not starve if all of a sudden I break down and pay the money. So if it happens, it happens. I’ll feel like a hypocrite for a little bit, but life will go on.
But…….seriously……thirty dollars……what are they thinking.