In theory, the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack is a great idea. However, in its opening months, it has disappointed somewhat. Too few games on the platform’s N64 and SEGA Mega Drive emulators prevents Nintendo’s upgraded games subscription from fulfilling its potential. This is exacerbated by the service drip-feeding members with additions. Preservation of classic titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Mario 64 introduces these games to a new audience, but have been dogged with performance issues. These problems rationalise fans’ aggrievance at the upgraded service’s price, which caused its YouTube announcement video to become Nintendo’s most disliked ever. Although it pales like a Boo in comparison to its rivals, promising rumours suggest there’s still hope that the Expansion Pack can turn things around.
Nintendo Must Broaden Their Horizons
A measly collection of 10 N64 games and 19 Mega Drive titles fails to justify the Expansion Pack’s £34.99 membership price. Although the Expansion Pack’s mini library is full of timeless classics, including Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario 64, members should be getting more for their money. Despite being almost double the cost of a year-long subscription to the basic service, the upgrade offers little more.
Value from the Expansion Pack is greatly dependent on your Animal Crossing: New Horizons usage, with the Happy Home Paradise DLC being its star attraction. However, interest in New Horizons fluctuates and members need to own the base game to access this content. Besides this, designing homes for cuddly animals isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Buying the DLC outright is cheaper, removing the risk of Animal Crossing enthusiasts losing access to the content if their membership expires. Another issue is the service only offering 12-month memberships, unlike the basic subscription. This acts against fans who would benefit from a one-month subscription. Nintendo is also yet to offer an Expansion Pack free trial, only allowing fans to sample the basic platform’s content. As such, players who are only interested in a handful of the service’s games are still required to pay the full yearly fee to access the collection. Splitting the cost of the £59.99 family membership with your ‘family’ offers a cheaper option, however, few of us are lucky enough to know a group of seven avid Nintendo fans.
Expansion Is Needed
Nintendo announced that at least 7 more N64 games would join the nine launch releases, however, the roll-out of these titles has been far too slow. Paper Mario graced the service last December and is the only one of these to have been released so far. Rival subscription services Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now regularly update their bountiful game catalogues, with the former adding popular titles such as Halo Infinite and Stardew Valley to its library in December. Other than Paper Mario’s release, the Expansion Pack’s only December update was the addition of five more SEGA titles. There was also the announcement of Banjo-Kazooie, but this was ruined by fans needing to wait until January for it to come to the service.
Banjo-Kazooie will be one of the N64 emulator’s best games but was already available to Xbox Game Pass customers at the time of Nintendo’s announcement. This version projects in 1440p quality on the Xbox Series S, far superior to the Switch’s 720p. It’s also cheaper as a one-month Game Pass membership only costs £7.99 and comes with the game’s sequel Banjo-Tooie. Comparing the Expansion Pack to established subscription services sets the bar high, but Nintendo could be doing much better. Even the Mega Drive library is subpar, with most of its premier titles accessible through the Mega Drive Mini, the readily available Sega Mega Drive Classics game and Steam. There are so many brilliant games that would be welcome members on the subscription’s N64 roster, not least of all 1080° Snowboarding or Diddy Kong Racing. If Nintendo continues to broaden the N64 emulator’s library with single monthly additions, it would take until summer for just the confirmed 16 to reach our screens. Considering that the service was launched last October, this isn’t good enough. The expansion pack needs expanding.
Performance Issues Bug Players
Performance issues have plagued the N64 emulator since its inception. A fresh coat of paint to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was awaited with eager anticipation, however, fans were appalled by the game’s horrendous input lag when the Expansion Pack launched. Acclaimed Zelda speedrunner ZFG described the Switch version as being worse than its Wii U counterpart.
However, Ocarina of Time isn’t the only Expansion Pack game marred by input lag, with Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64 suffering from the same problem. Mario Kart 64 is also hindered by texturing issues and multiplayer gaming being made difficult by the emulator’s online connectivity issues. This is disappointing for a game which is meant to be played with friends. The platform’s bizarre controller layout is another frustrating issue, altering the placement of the A and B buttons. This will no doubt have caused Mario to plummet to several unnecessary deaths.
Even Star Fox 64 and Yoshi’s Island aren’t without their flaws, both of these titles suffering from regular frame rate drops. Throw distorted music tracks into the mix and it’s easy to see why customers are annoyed. Rather than the Expansion Pack deterring third-party emulation, the platform’s bugs encourage players to look for alternative means of playing classic titles. Months have passed without these issues being fixed, meaning they continue to prevent the Expansion Pack from being great.
Aside from the Expansion Pack being rife with performance issues, the Nintendo Switch’s lack of a functional messaging service, game achievements and a standardised way of inviting friends to multiplayer games hurts the service. Years behind the times, the Nintendo Switch is the only modern console not to have a universal in-built party chat. The Nintendo Switch Online mobile app has a voice chat feature but it’s far from ideal, being incredibly awkward to use. Another problem with the service is there being no extra incentives for fans spending their hard-earned money. Whereas Xbox Games Pass and PlayStation Plus offer store discounts to members, being an Expansion Pack subscriber doesn’t net you any rewards. The existence of MyNintendo and its predecessor Club Nintendo proves the company has the ability to create such a scheme, however, Nintendo still fails to create a worthwhile experience for Expansion Pack customers.
A Colourful Future
Despite the platform’s flaws, there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Expansion Pack’s future. A promising datamine in October 2021 propounded that the Expansion Pack will feature at least 38 N64 titles, including fan favourite Super Smash Bros., and 52 SEGA Mega Drive games. Even more intriguing, it suggested that an additional emulator will join the platform, corroborating with rumours that a Game Boy Color virtual console will appear on the service.
These suspicions still haven’t been confirmed by Nintendo and must be taken with a pinch of salt, however, their materialisation would eliminate all doubt concerning the membership’s value. It could also pave the way for Game Boy Advanced, GameCube and Wii emulators, which would leave members spoiled for choice.
Another potential improvement would be Nintendo using the Expansion Pack as a hub for DLC. As Splatoon 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sequel are both set for 2022 releases, Nintendo could offer the bonus content for previous instalments in these series to build interest in their launch. The Pokémon: Sword and Shield Expansion Pass would be another worthy addition. This would be a Bowser-sized step in the right direction, making membership to the service worthwhile. There has been no confirmation from Nintendo that it plans to add more DLC to the Expansion Pack, but the company could’ve been testing the waters with the inclusion of the Happy Home Paradise package.
While we shouldn’t count our Torchics until they’ve hatched, the Expansion Pack’s untapped potential gives it hope. This doesn’t acquit the service of its flaws but there are many ways that Nintendo can improve upon it, with adding more DLC the pick of the bunch. Who knows, the Expansion Pack may even be a contender to Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now one day? Nintendo certainly needs to act fast but let’s not give up on its venture into the game subscription market just yet.
Words by Julius Lawless-Master