It pains me to say it, but from the initial form of the Nintendo Switch Online app, it’s clear that Nintendo are either still desperately unprepared or simply don’t understand the demands of running an online gaming service. The one saving grace is that this is quite obviously a barebones release that’s been thrown out into the wild to prop up Splatoon 2, the first game that really demands voice chat on the Switch, while Nintendo will work to evolve and improve the app between now and the full launch of the paid subscription service early in 2018.
Upon logging in, the first thing that’s immediately obvious is that the app is bereft of self-contained features. There’s no direct access to your friends list, there’s no messaging, and instead of being able to create a lobby for party chat, you’re given a link which simply explains how you can set this up within Splatoon 2. It’s a convoluted mess, making you first head to the multiplayer lobby in game, then create a room via the Online Lounge section, and then switch over to the app to enter the room and invite friends via your friends list, Facebook, Twitter, text message, and other social networks.
Then there’s further problems once you actually get connected. For one thing, you can only have this voice chat in a private match, so there’s no way to party up and then head off to play regular, ranked or league battles. For another, the app doesn’t tie into iOS’ built in voice chat functions, so it cannot run as a background app and if you turn off your phone’s screen, you’ll be disconnected from the chat. Brace yourself for the rapid battery drain that will follow.
While it does have one neat trick in that it will automatically split players apart so they’re only chatting to their team mates, there’s no option not to do this, and the aforementioned reasons ultimately make the app practically worthless when compared to other voice apps. It’s simply too specific and limited when compared to using Skype or Discord to chat with your friends while playing.
It’s a shame because what the app does offer is actually fairly good, with a bespoke portal for Splatoon 2 called SplatNet 2. Essentially it’s a home for all the gameplay stats you have from playing the game, showing you cumulative stats, your last fifty battles, weapon usage and so on. There’s the frivolity of your lifetime turf inkage compared to real world landmarks and distances, right through to letting you view what gear and weapons your team mates and opponents were using in a game.
Another thing it offers is an app specific portal, called Annie’s SplatNet Shop, through which you can order clothes that are only available through the app at that time, potentially with different abilities to their equivalents in-game. These will then turn up with Murch in Inkopolis Plaza, where you can view it again and decide whether or not to buy an item.
That’s really all there is to the Nintendo Switch Online app at this time, outside of the feedback section of the settings menu. Letting you offer criticism on the topics of invitation function, voice chat sound quality, voice chat function, gameplay enhancement, battery consumption and features you’d like to see, I can’t help but feel an option for all of the above would have been useful.
It’s clear to see that Nintendo’s new online service isn’t really ready for the limelight, and it’s a shame to see them stumbling once again as they try to create an even vaguely modern online infrastructure. However, it’s a starting point from which Nintendo will grow. They have to shoulder these criticisms and learn from them so that, once they decide they want to charge money for this, it’s worth the price of admission.