Nintendo does many things delightfully well, but getting its consoles set for online play is not one of them. Even the Nintendo Switch, which is currently the newest gaming console on the market, wasn’t ready to go from launch in that regard.
The full online ability of the Switch won’t be unleashed until sometime next year, but in the meantime, the Nintendo Switch Online app has arrived for iOS and Android devices. It’s a free download, which is good because the online service itself will cost money when it arrives in 2018 — either $3.99 per month or $19.99 if paying for an entire year.
So why release the app now if the online component of Switch play is still months away? Well, as Polygon explains, Nintendo is using it as essentially an extended trial run for the full service, beginning with just one game: Splatoon 2. So if you have that (and it’s worth giving it a shot if you don’t, because it’s a lot of fun), you can see tomorrow’s online features today, as it were.
The biggest selling point for the Nintendo Switch Online app is voice chat, which you’ll only be able to do while using the app. This is far from ideal, and it remains to be seen how gamers will react to it in the long term, but it fits both with Nintendo’s safety first online approach (as you’ll probably have to be friends with people to chat with them) and its general non-awesomeness in the online space in general.
You’ll also be able to use the app to invite friends from social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Line to play with you. The sign-in uses your Nintendo account, which you’re already familiar with if you have a Switch. If you don’t yet own a Switch, the app is pretty much useless to you at this point, and it will in fact tell you to log out as a result.
And that’s about it for now. Future Switch games will all be able to offer different functionality through the app, so the features available for Splatoon 2 aren’t necessarily the be all and end all. At the very least, you can use it now to get an idea if you’re going to want to pay for the full service when it launches.