I think it’s fair to say that Nintendo Switch Online has been, at best, a mixed bag. Its relatively poor online infrastructure is a far cry from the quality we get from PS Plus and Xbox Live, with semi-frequent disconnects and lag spikes occurring in even the most popular Switch titles including Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2. And that’s before talking about its archaic approach to friends lists and in-game chat.
The base monthly subscription cost, thankfully, is appropriately priced, and Nintendo has done its best to balance out its online service’s poor connection quality with a helping of NES and SNES titles, available to play through dedicated apps on the Switch. These are somewhat nice additions, featuring several great titles (many of which support online play), but it’s insignificant compared to the incredible sold-separately Virtual Console offerings of the those halcyon Wii and Wii U days.
Enter Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack, the company’s latest crack at bolstering its online subscription service. This higher tier plan adds N64 and Sega Genesis / Mega Drive games to its roster of retro collections, with 30 titles available on day one between the two of them. The latter addition of Sega games would have seemed impossible back in the console’s heyday. It’s also attracted the attention of Animal Crossing: New Horizons fans, who can access the upcoming Happy Home Paradise DLC as part of the Expansion Pack plan.
It all sounds pretty great, right? Shame about that price tag.
Expanded service, expanded price
To appreciate just how disappointing Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack’s price point is, we have to look at its base counterpart. A subscription to Nintendo Switch Online costs $19.99 / £17.99 for a whole year. That’s pretty agreeable, rightly costing less than its competitors on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, and throwing in retro titles alongside hugely fun multiplayer exclusives in the form of Tetris 99 and Pac-Man 99 (and Super Mario Bros. 35, may it rest in peace).
For all its extra goodies, Nintendo seems to have severely overestimated how much Switch owners are actually willing to pay for the Expansion Pack service, launching on October 25, 2021. For it, Nintendo hiked up the cost to an eye-watering $49.99 / £34.99 per year. Strangely, UK players are getting a somewhat better deal here, but it’s still double the cost of the base subscription. US Switch owners will be paying roughly 2.5 times as much if they want to opt into the Expansion Pack service. Ouch.
Unsurprisingly, Nintendo fans haven’t taken this one lying down. The official Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack overview video, uploaded to the company’s YouTube channel, has garnered over 89,000 dislikes at the time of writing. And the number of likes? Just 16,000. If I were Nintendo, I’d be embarrassed, to say the least.
A sugar-coated online experience
It’s perhaps most insidious that Nintendo chose not to unveil Expansion Pack’s price point when the feature was initially announced. That was during the September 23, 2021 Nintendo Direct, where fans were delighted to see N64 and Sega Genesis / Mega Drive games finally arrive on Switch. Of course, most of us expected (and were willing) to be paying a little more for this expanded service. The keyword there being “little.”
Instead, Nintendo opted to quietly announce Expansion Pack’s price during another anticipated showcase, that being the Animal Crossing: New Horizons Direct, detailing free updates and a paid expansion coming to the island life sim on November 5. If we weren’t so intensely relaxed by Animal Crossing’s wholesomeness, we’d surely have been more incensed in the moment. It wasn’t until just after that the reality set in.
But what really stings most here is that the benefits offered by the Expansion Pack are great. Fans have been clamoring to get N64 represented on the Switch since the launch of NSO, and tossing in Genesis / Mega Drive is a wonderful bonus. And we’d like to hope both apps are updated with new titles on the regular, adding even more value to the service.
That’s about where my compliments end, though. Having access to New Horizons’ Happy Home Paradise DLC is nice, but it’s arguably better value to just buy it outright for the asking price of $24.99 / £22.49, which in itself is a little steep, but at least you’ll own it. If, for whatever reason, you need to unsubscribe from Expansion Pack, you’ll most likely lose access to the DLC.
Stacking up to the competition
Yes, Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack is still slightly cheaper than the competition. PS Plus weighs in at $59.99 / £49.99 for the year, while Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is much pricier at $15.99 / £10.99 a month.
However, the latter makes certain that its premium service is worth the cost, bundling the incredible Xbox Game Pass subscription service with both Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Cloud Gaming which allows you to play Game Pass titles on a device of your choice, including Android phones and tablets.
Throw in the fact that all first party Microsoft Game Studios titles land on Game Pass on day one, and you have a service on Xbox consoles that justifies its relatively higher cost. Nintendo Switch Online, when you really break it down, is just giving us games we’ve played countless times before, many of which people who’ve held onto their Wii and Wii U consoles already own.
Perhaps the price point of NSO’s Expansion Pack service would also sting a bit less if the quality of online play was at least passable. But as it stands, Switch is far and away the least stable in terms of connection quality when it comes to the big three console makers. Even with the base subscription’s low cost, I’ve often thought to myself, “why am I paying for this?” when being ejected from a Splatoon 2 match for the third time that day for absolutely no reason.
How can Nintendo fix this, and should it?
Given the overwhelmingly negative response to Expansion Pack’s lofty price point, I think it’s fair to say that Nintendo should reconsider its value proposition. I think there’s two different ways the company could go about this.
First, Nintendo could sweeten the deal by offering even more enticing perks. N64 and Genesis / Mega Drive are nice additions, but what we’re all really waiting for is outliers like the Gamecube and Sega Dreamcast.
Those would be groundbreaking extras, especially as physical copies of games on those consoles can be notoriously expensive, and would be something the competition couldn’t hope to achieve. This is obviously more of a pipe dream response, though, and something Nintendo is unlikely to achieve whether it wants to or not.
The second, more realistic option would be to simply drop Expansion Pack’s price, and not even by that much. I think $39.99 / £29.99 is a more palatable price point, and honestly that’s about as much as I’d personally be willing to pay, unless Nintendo does genuinely plan to greatly expand the service beyond what’s currently been announced.
And while I’ll likely be buying Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ Happy Home Paradise DLC separately, offering it as part of Expansion Pack’s bundled content is a novel idea. I’d be interested to see Nintendo make this a trend: offer substantial DLC packs as part of the Expansion Pack roster of extras. Realistically, I can see this happening for Splatoon 3, if that game is to feature paid content akin to Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion.
If Nintendo is playing the long game with the Expansion Pack service, then, it absolutely should have communicated this better. As it stands, the subscription cost is overpriced, with nothing in the way of genuine improvements to the service overall, such as connection strength and other basic quality of life features enjoyed by the competition, such as creating party and game invites.
Expansion Pack has the potential to grow, eventually, into a very worthwhile subscription. But right now, I simply can’t justify the extra cost for a bunch of (still great!) retro games I’ve played before and access to a DLC expansion that I’m going to be buying anyway.
Hopefully, Nintendo has taken on board the criticisms levied towards the initial Expansion Pack service. The problems lie in both price and content, and when the company is missing the mark on both, then it should be doing everything in its power to remedy the situation by offering a higher tier subscription service that’s worth the cost.
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