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Game On: Nintendo’s Switch Online Expansion Pack is a stretch

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 21, 2021

On Oct. 15, Nintendo announced the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack, a premium version of its online subscription costing $50 a year instead of the regular $20. It will include access to the Animal Crossing Happy Home Paradise update and a small handful of Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games.  (Nintendo Co.)
On Oct. 15, Nintendo announced the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack, a premium version of its online subscription costing $50 a year instead of the regular $20. It will include access to the Animal Crossing Happy Home Paradise update and a small handful of Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games. (Nintendo Co.)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

Despite being the most ubiquitous household name in video games worldwide, it seems Nintendo still hasn’t figured out how this “internet” thing works. On Oct. 8, Nintendo finally released a Switch model that includes a LAN port for faster internet speeds, something Microsoft and Sony have been including in their consoles for more than 15 years now. Better late than never?

But even more baffling is Nintendo’s recent unveiling of its Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack, a new premium subscription tier that costs 2½ times the base service – $50 a year instead of $20 – with the only additions being a few extra bells and whistles that cater to a surprisingly specific portion of its demographic.

For the additional $30, subscribers are granted access to nine Nintendo 64 games, 14 Sega Genesis games and the Animal Crossing Happy Home Paradise expansion starting Oct. 25. It’s a tough sell. Although Animal Crossing: New Horizons has sold more than 31 million copies, not all 85 million-and-counting Switch owners play Animal Crossing.

I’d bet good money that even fewer existing subscribers have much interest in playing games that are more than two decades old, especially when they can easily be emulated and played for free on a computer. Keep in mind I say all this as a massive Sega nerd.

Normally, I’d be jumping up and down for joy at glory days Sega content finding an additional pipeline to the mainstream. And while I think introducing a portion of Nintendo fans to some classic Sega games is a fun idea, I don’t find it reasonable to assume Nintendo Online users want to pay extra for these games they might have absolutely zero interest in now.

Retro gaming isn’t for everyone. A lot of the games Nintendo is offering to Switch users, from Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis, are timeless – but make no mistake, for anyone who hasn’t been gaming for 20-plus years, these games are going to feel very archaic.

They’re from a time when in-game tutorials were practically unheard of and directions to objectives rarely existed. Most retro games aren’t user-friendly, and I wouldn’t blame newer gamers for being turned off by that.

I imagine Nintendo executives believe it’s appropriate to creep up on competitors’ price points with “premium” online content – after all, Xbox Live and PlayStation Network both cost $60 a year – but Microsoft and Sony arguably justify it with fantastic online services. Their networks are reliable, smooth and include party chat, game discounts and plenty of free game offerings.

Nintendo’s online service is notoriously unreliable, there’s no party chat, voice communications are complicated to set up in general, and the free games they’ve finally decided to offer are 20-plus years old – and the license to play them is null and void the moment your subscription lapses. The same even goes for the Animal Crossing DLC.

The moment you stop paying for the expanded Nintendo Online subscription, you can wave goodbye to the Happy Home Paradise expansion. This attempt to market all this as some sort of hype-worthy “expansion” is almost insulting. I’m clearly not alone in thinking this given the YouTube trailer announcing all this is looking at 16,000 likes to 81,000 dislikes as of writing.

The final cherry on top is Nintendo selling controllers for the Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis titles. Yes, they’re selling wireless clones of those old controllers for $50 apiece – pretty insane when you consider they’ll only connect to a Switch console while third-parties like Retro-Bit and Retro Fighters are selling similar controllers for the same price or cheaper.

They’ll connect not only to a Switch, but also a Windows PC, Mac, Android device, PlayStation 3 and the corresponding original console. Retro-Bit’s Sega controllers are even officially licensed by Sega, so you know it’s not knockoff grade. I own one and can attest to the excellent craftsmanship.

Nintendo is counting on consumers being oblivious to alternatives – using emulators to play any old game and buying cheap, multifunctional retro-styled controllers from third parties. Time and again, Nintendo has swindled loyal fans into repeatedly rebuying the same decades-old games from them, and while it’s within the company’s rights, that doesn’t make it any less shady.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at riordanzentler@gmail.com.

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