Nintendo's new online service offers subscription access to classic games for $20 a year

For years, Nintendo fans have fantasized about a paid online service with access to Nintendo’s rich library of classic games. For years, Nintendo has demurred. 

In 2018, that fantasy is finally becoming a reality through the Nintendo Switch Online service.

Nintendo’s new service costs $US20 per year ($US4/month, $US8/three months), and is planned for launch in 2018. When it arrives, it will only be available on the Nintendo Switch — Nintendo’s newest game console, which operates as a portable handheld and a home console.

Nintendo SwitchNintendoAt home, you dock the Nintendo Switch to play it on your TV (left). It can also be taken on-the-go (right).

So, what do you get for that price? Access to “a wide variety of classic games,” says Nintendo.

The first three games Nintendo showed off were “Super Mario Bros. 3,” “Dr. Mario,” and “Balloon Fight.”

In a statement to gaming site Kotaku, Nintendo explained the service more directly: “Users can play as many of the games as they want, as often as they like, as long as they have an active subscription.”

Nintendo also said that “More games wil be announced at a later date.” It’s not clear how many more games the service will get, or what other classic game libraries Nintendo might support with its online subscription service; thus far, it seemingly only supports games from the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) library. Nintendo told Kotaku, “Super NES games continue to be under consideration, but we have nothing further to announce at this time.”

NintendoIt’s unclear if games like ‘Super Mario World,’ from the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), will be part of the service.

Notably, the classic game library isn’t Nintendo Switch Online’s primary component; the service is intended as a paid subscription for access to online gameplay. Games like “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” and “Splatoon 2” rely on an online infrastructure for multiplayer, which Nintendo has yet to provide for its Switch console. Both games can be played online, but the Switch console itself lacks system-wide functionality for online interaction — stuff like joining an online party, and voice chat, don’t exist on the Switch. 

Online services are the crucial flaw of the Nintendo Switch.

It lacks basic functionality that Microsoft and Sony had in their respective consoles over a decade ago. Beyond missing stuff like voice chat and parties, the Switch also doesn’t have access to services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Amazon. Nintendo says those services may come in the future, but it’s not clear when.

Another question mark is Nintendo’s Virtual Console service, which was a digital storefront for classic games on previous Nintendo consoles. 

Super Mario 64 box coverSuper Mario 64 box artYou could buy, download, and play games like ‘Super Mario 64’ on Nintendo’s Wii, Wii U, and 3DS consoles.

Though the Nintendo Switch launched with a digital storefront (the “eShop”), there’s no way to buy classic games through Nintendo’s long-running Virtual Console service. That’s an especially big shame on the Switch — a console more-than-capable of running classic games, and one you can bring with you anywhere.

Nintendo hasn’t offered details on the whereabouts of the Virtual Console service, though it’s possible that the classic game library component of the Nintendo Switch Online service will act as a replacement. That would mark a major change for Nintendo — moving from a la carte classic game sales to a subscription model. For now, Nintendo’s not saying.

Nintendo Switch Online is planned for launch at some point in 2018 — check out the official website here for a few more details.

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