If you buy the original Nintendo Switch, the dinky Switch Lite or the shiny new OLED Switch, you’ll have heaps of stellar games to choose from. However, if you want to get access to online multiplayer and a library of classic Nintendo 64, SNES, NES and Sega Genesis titles, you should consider signing up for Switch Online and checking out its Expansion Pack tier. It also gives you access to Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ paid expansion at no extra cost.
The subscription service lets you race against faraway friends in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, battle distant rivals in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and trade with fellow trainers in the forthcoming Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. It also includes support for cloud backup of game data, access to the Nintendo Switch phone app and a few exclusive offers. Let’s take a look at the whole lot.
How much does Nintendo Switch Online cost?
The basic plan will set you back $4 for a month, $8 for three months or $20 for a year. You could also opt for the $35 family plan, which is designed for households with a bunch of people who want their own accounts — it lets up to eight people play online, use cloud saves, access the SNES and NES libraries and other basic features for a year.
You also have another option — a Nintendo Switch Online plus Expansion Pack subscription. This gives you access to a larger library of classic games, from the N64 and Genesis, along with the Animal Crossing: New Horizons Happy Home Paradise DLC expansion (this normally costs $25, and came out Friday).
The Expansion Pack is considerably more expensive than basic subscription — an individual membership costs $50 for a year, while a family plan subscription costs $80. There are no options for paying monthly or for three months, so you have to commit for a year.
Does the Nintendo Switch Online family plan have any restrictions?
The family plan lets you create a group of up to eight Nintendo accounts across multiple Switch systems, and gives each person unrestricted access to Switch Online’s features. The person who sets up the account pays the subscription fee and is designated as the administrator and parent or guardian, giving them the ability to add or remove people to and from the plan.
The administrator account doesn’t get control over the other people’s accounts and you can leave whenever you want — you’ll just revert to a single-account subscription if it’s still active or have to sign up for a new subscription if not.
It’s possible for the administrator to set other accounts in the plan as “supervised,” letting them restrict eShop purchases and viewing, as well as reviewing sign-in history.
The Expansion Pack tier doesn’t add any restrictions for subscribers on family plans, so it’ll work the same way as it does on the basic tier.
The most basic perk of Nintendo Switch Online is online multiplayer gaming — if you want to visit a friend’s island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons or battle your buddies in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, you’ll need a subscription. However, one major multiplayer game will work without a subscription: Fortnite is playable online even if you don’t have an active online subscription.
Classic Nintendo games
Subscribing to Switch’s online service lets you access a library of old N64, SNES, NES and Genesis games, like a Netflix for Nintendo games. These are all found within the system-specific apps, which you can download from the eShop.
Much like the NES Classic and SNES Classic retro consoles, you can switch between visual filters in the apps’ menus — a 4:3 mode, pixel perfect and a fuzzy scan-line-filled CRT mode for the true retro experience.
Less retro is the cheeky rewind feature — if you want to try something again, you can press and hold ZL and ZR to jump back a few frames, and it’ll be like your mistake never happened. This feature isn’t available on N64 games, but you can create suspend points so you can save your game at any time.
Nintendo has also included online multiplayer in games that were previously local-only. It’s also added online modes into some games that don’t have typical multiplayer options — you can pass the second player controller to a friend over the internet, so you can take turns. You can also try SP versions of some games, which add special features.
You’ll also lose access to your classic game libraries if your console is disconnected from the internet for more than a week — the console needs to check in with the service every seven days to make sure you’re still subscribed.
What N64 games are available on Nintendo Switch Online?
If you pay for the more expensive Expansion Pack subscription from Oct. 25, you’ll be able to play a bunch of N64 classics:
- Dr. Mario 64
- Mario Kart 64
- Mario Tennis
- Sin and Punishment
- Star Fox 64
- Super Mario 64
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
- WinBack: Covert Operations
- Yoshi’s Story
Early players have noted that some of these games are having issues, according to Eurogamer. Mario Kart 64 won’t let you save Ghost Data in time trials, while Sin and Punishment’s controls are proving problematic due to the way they’re mapped to the Switch controller.
Nintendo has also confirmed a few more games that’ll be added in the future:
- F-Zero X
- Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
- Mario Golf
- Paper Mario
- Pokemon Snap
- The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
It hasn’t given a release date for these additions yet, but typically reveals upcoming Switch Online additions in trailers on a Wednesday and adds them to the library a week later. We’ll update this page whenever the trailer drops.
Which Sega Genesis games are on the service?
Also included in the Expansion Pack will be a selection of games from the Sega Genesis (or the much cooler Mega Drive if you’re outside North America):
- Castlevania: Bloodlines
- Contra: Hard Corps
- Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
- Ecco the Dolphin
- Golden Axe
- Gunstar Heroes
- Phantasy Star IV
- Shining Force
- Shinobi 3
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2
- Streets of Rage 2
More Genesis games will be added in future, Nintendo noted, but it hasn’t hinted at what they’ll be.
What about the SNES games?
The SNES library is included in a standard Switch Online membership — you don’t need the Expansion Pack tier to play these:
- Breath of Fire
- Breath of Fire 2
- Brawl Brothers
- Caveman Ninja (aka Joe & Mac)
- Demon’s Crest
- Donkey Kong Country
- Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
- Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble
- Doomsday Warrior
- Jelly Boy
- Joe & Mac 2: Lost in the Tropics
- Kirby’s Dream Course
- Kirby’s Dream Land 3
- Kirby Super Star
- Magical Drop 2
- Mario’s Super Picross
- Natsume Championship Wrestling
- Operation Logic Bomb
- Panel de Pon
- Pop’n TwinBee
- Prehistorik Man
- Psycho Dream
- Spanky’s Quest
- Star Fox
- Star Fox 2
- Stunt Race FX
- Super Baseball Simulator 1.000
- Super E.D.F. Earth Defense Force
- Super Ghouls’n Ghosts
- Super Mario All-Stars
- Super Mario World
- Super Mario Kart
- Super Metroid
- Super Punch-Out
- Super Puyo Puyo 2
- Super Soccer
- Super Tennis
- Super Valis IV
- The Ignition Factor
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past
- The Peace Keepers
- Tuff E Nuff
- Wild Guns
- Yoshi’s Island
And the NES games?
Like the SNES games, the NES library is included in the standard subscription. Some have modified SP versions, which let you jump to the last level, start with a bunch of powerups or otherwise tweak the experience:
- Adventures of Lolo
- Balloon Fight
- Blaster Master (SP)
- City Connection
- Clu Clu Land
- Donkey Kong
- Donkey Kong Jr.
- Donkey Kong 3
- Double Dragon
- Double Dragon 2: The Revenge
- Dr. Mario (SP)
- Eliminator Boat Duel
- Fire ‘n Ice (aka Solomon’s Key 2)
- Ghosts’n Goblins (SP)
- Gradius (SP)
- Ice Climber
- Ice Hockey
- Journey to Silius
- Kid Icarus (SP)
- Kirby’s Adventure (SP)
- Kung-Fu Heroes
- Mario Bros.
- Metroid (SP)
- Mighty Bomb Jack (SP)
- NES Open Tournament Golf
- Ninja Gaiden (SP)
- Ninja JaJaMaru-kun
- Pro Wrestling
- River City Ransom
- S.C.A.T: Special Cybernetic Attack Team
- Shadow of the Ninja
- Solomon’s Key
- Star Soldier (SP)
- Super Dodge Ball
- Super Mario Bros.
- Super Mario Bros. 2
- Super Mario Bros. 3 (SP)
- Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels
- The Immortal
- The Legend of Zelda (SP)
- Tecmo Bowl
- TwinBee (SP)
- Vice: Project Doom
- Vs. Excitebike
- Wario’s Woods
- Wrecking Crew
- Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (SP)
Can I play the Japanese versions?
You can access more classic games via the Japanese eShop, at no extra cost. Here are the steps for this:
1. Create a second Nintendo Account and set Japan as the region. You’ll have to use a different email address than the one linked to your regular account.
2. Create a new profile on your Switch and link it to your Japanese account.
3. Download “Family Computer — Nintendo Switch Online” and “Super Famicom — Nintendo Switch Online” apps from the Japanese store. Don’t worry about the language barrier; you’ll spot the English “Nintendo Switch Online” option.
These apps are similar to the NES and SNES ones, in Japanese. They also contain that country’s versions of games and a few that aren’t available in the West:
Japanese SNES (Super Famicom) exclusives
- Dead Dance (Tuff E Nuff)
- Doomsday Warrior
- Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War
- Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem
- Shin Megami Tensei
- Shin Megami Tensei 2
- Shin Megami Tensei If…
- Sugoi Hebereke
Japanese NES (Famicom) exclusives
- Adventures of Lolo 2
- Atlantis no Nazo
- Clu Clu Land: Welcome to New Cluclu Land
- Downtown Nekketsu Kōshinkyoku: Soreyuke Daiundōkai
- Famicom Wars
- Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light (SP)
- Joy Mech Fight
- Route 16 Turbo
- Smash Ping Pong
- Tsuppari Oozumou
- Yie Ar Kung-Fu
There are also some SP versions that are exclusive to Japan and some regional differences in games, beyond the language.
Your main Nintendo Account’s subscription will give you access to the apps from the Japanese store, so you won’t need to pay for a separate subscription. If you can overcome the language barrier — all the text will be in Japanese — it’s worth giving these games a try.
How does cloud save data work on Nintendo Switch Online?
For subscribers, game data will automatically be backed up to Nintendo servers if you have an internet connection. If you sign in to your account on a new console, you’ll be able to download that data and pick up right where you left off. It’s an easy, simple way to protect the time you’ve invested in Nintendo Switch games.
Certain titles aren’t compatible with this feature, to prevent cheating. On the surface, that seems to make sense — players can’t hack their Pokemon Sword and Shield data to get all the starters — but it means that competitive multiplayer games with a single-player component aren’t protected. If you lose your Switch and want to pick up where you left off in Splatoon 2’s single-player campaign, you’ll be out of luck.
If you cancel, you have six months to resubscribe before your cloud data is potentially deleted, Nintendo told IGN. That’s the same amount of time Sony gives PlayStation Plus users.
How do I get the retro N64, Genesis, SNES and NES controllers for Switch?
For those who want to feel legit old-school when playing the console’s retro library, you need the controller to match. Subscribers can preorder wireless, Switch-compatible Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis controllers from Nintendo for $50 apiece. These expensive controllers are currently sold out, and Nintendo noted that the N64 one won’t be back in stock until 2022.
The N64 controller has built-in rumble, so you won’t need an unwieldy Rumble Pak add-on like gamers in the ’90s did. If you’re determined to get one, you should probably be ready and waiting for stock to come in — they’ll almost certainly sell out again.
For the other retro games, SNES and NES controllers are available for subscribers as well. It’s $30 for a single SNES pad or $60 for a pair of NES pads.
Does Nintendo Switch Online include any other perks?
Subscribers will get access to free content, discounts, in-game items or the ability to play a Switch game for free during a set period.
Alongside Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ free 2.0 update, Nintendo released a paid DLC expansion for the game called Happy Home Paradise. You can purchase the expansion for $25, or it’ll be included if you subscribe to the Expansion Pack tier. However, you’ll lose access if you unsubscribe.
To download the expansion, you can find it on the Switch’s eShop or through the Switch Online tab on the console’s home screen.
It’s also offered free original games, like Tetris 99, which came out in February 2019. A physical version has since become available for $30, in a bundle with a 12-month Nintendo Switch Online subscription.
There’s also the Nintendo Switch Game Vouchers promotion, which lets you download two qualifying Switch games for a set price of $100, instead of paying $120 to buy them separately.
If you subscribe for a year, you’ll get in-game items for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Super Kirby Clash.
Voice chat and the Nintendo Switch app
Online multiplayer is great, but without the ability to talk to other players, it’s a weirdly solitary social experience. That’s why voice chat is so important. Unfortunately, Nintendo’s solution to voice chat is a little strange.
Most game consoles allow you to plug a headset into the console’s USB port or audio input jack and talk to players directly through the game. But most Nintendo Switch games that support voice chat require the user to piggyback off a phone, using the free Nintendo Switch Online app, available on Android and iOS.
To chat with other players in Splatoon 2, you’ll need to download the app on your phone, invite your friends to a Skype-like VoIP chat in the game, then fire up the app and, finally, connect to your match. You’ll be talking with your team on your phone while playing the game on your console.
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An update made it a little better, in certain games. If you start a multiplayer session in the Switch’s NES library, the phone app will automatically detect your play session and connect you to your friend. Some games will even let you chat with other players who aren’t on your friends list: Mario Kart 8 will tell you that other users are in voice chat, prompting you to open the app.
If you want to have a traditional console experience, you’ll need to buy a complicated audio splitter to literally tether your Switch to your phone. It isn’t a user-friendly experience, which is why some games sidestepped it — you can chat in Fortnite by plugging a headset into the console and playing.
The app also lets you access special features in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Splatoon 2.
Can I try out Nintendo Switch Online for free?
If you want to sample the goods before shelling out any money, Nintendo is offering a one-week free trial. The seven-day trial offers almost all the benefits of the core service, but it won’t let you access special offers, like those retro NES and SNES controllers.
If you don’t like the service, however, you’ll have to manually disable auto-renewal to avoid being charged a $3.99 monthly fee at the end of your trial.
You need a Nintendo account to sign up
If you’ve been playing Nintendo Switch for a while, you probably already have this sorted. Just in case, let’s break it down. Your Switch has individual profiles for each user. The company also has a Nintendo account to manage your profile and purchase-history on its website, console devices and phone apps. To use Nintendo Switch Online, you’ll need both and they’ll have to be linked.
Just make sure you link your profile to the right account — any Switch profile linked to a Nintendo account will be permanently locked in.
How do I sign up?
Prepaid subscription cards are available at select retailers, but the easiest way to buy the service is simply to try to play a multiplayer game on your Switch — it’ll take you directly to the eShop to complete the sign-up process.