Unless you’ve had been living in a cave the last few weeks, you’ve probably witnessed the furore around the Nintendo Switch Online (NSO) Expansion Pack. Our very own Gareth Tucker gave his thoughts on the matter recently too, where he took issue with the pricing, in particular when taking account of the content available and in the pipeline.
Much of the collective fury stemmed from the pricing initially, before moving to performance issues once the service released. Things have been so bad that the overview for the Expansion Pack has apparently become Nintendo’s most ‘disliked’ YouTube video ever.
I’ve had a jolly old time debating the merits and disadvantages of the expansion on Twitter over the last few weeks, and spent a good bit of time playing each of the games on the service. I’m going to put my head above the parapet here and say something unthinkable. You’re all wrong!
There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
Now that you’re done booing, hear me out! The price for a year’s NSO comes in at a mere £17.99. The expansion doubles the cost to £34.99 (or £59.99 for a family membership). I was fortunate enough to be in the position to set up a family group with my friends, meaning the service breaks down to roughly £7.50 per head (or the equivalent of around 62p per month).
For a solo member, that breaks down to the equivalent of £2.91 a month. You would spend more on a trip to Greggs!
Now I recognise that Nintendo doesn’t offer a way to pay for the expansion monthly, but when you break down the costs it does start to look a little petty when folk are complaining.
The approach isn’t perfect, as all the content isn’t on there at launch, but if you look at it in terms of the cost per month, you can’t go much lower or you’re getting to the point you’re expecting a free service. Yes, that would be lovely, but we need to be realistic. I think in time the value of the service will become much more justifiable as additional content is added. If the Rare library is added, and the rumours of GoldenEye being part of that deal turn out to be true, I think a lot of people will change their tune!
A little part of me is glad to see the hubbub around the pricing, as it makes me hopeful that Nintendo will double down on their efforts to drive sales. Who knows, maybe the backlash could be the spark that leads to Nintendo adding down the line. GBA content, in particular, seems ripe for the picking.
I’ve not even mentioned the Animal Crossing DLC which will be included when it launches and will be otherwise available separately for £22.49, or the Mega Drive games which are also included and seem to have gone under the radar compared to the N64 content.
“OMG Trash Tier Service”
The price issue rumbled on for a fair while, and still does, but perhaps an even bigger binfire is the discourse around issues with the emulation.
Within hours of the launch, the internet was awash with howls of derision. The games suffered from horrendous input lag, so bad they were unplayable. Visual issues (in particular with Ocarina of Time) were unforgivably bad. Online play was useless due to lag. As is often the case with internet outrage, most of it was heavily exaggerated.
I like to think I have a pretty good eye for N64 content. The console is definitely my favourite of all time, and Ocarina of Time is probably pretty high on my list of all-timers too. Up until the day before the expansion pack came out I had my N64 set up in my living room. I also spent a lot of time in the last year looking at N64 emulation on the Retroid pocket 2. It’s fair to say that if something was off with this pack, I’d notice.
Despite a good few hours spent travelling across Hyrule for what must be close to my 20th play through, I noticed no obvious perceptible issues with input lag. Combat feels responsive and I’ve been having a great time. Far from the experiences of the internet boo boys. GameXplain carried out some analysis on the input lag and found that Ocarina of Time on the original hardware took 11 frames to swing a sword after a button press, as opposed to 13 frames on the Switch. There is obviously a difference here, but the impact is negligible and not likely something I would have noticed had I not read into the nonsense online.
The fog issue, which appears to be most prevalent in the area where the Dark Link battle takes place, is definitely a problem. Side by side comparisons show a Switch version which has a radically different look to some textures and lacks any fog, which provided much of the atmosphere for that area. That said, this is one small area in the game where you are unlikely to spend more than 10 minutes and unable to return to upon leaving.
In my experience I’ve yet to find any noticeable issues with the visuals. I’ve made it as far as Zora’s domain, which has given me some insight into a good number of areas.
Rose Tinted Glasses?
I’ve found the colours in the Switch versions of these games to be bright and the visuals very clear and cleanly rendered. This is a far cry from the darkened releases on WiiU and definitely an improvement on the muddy outputs from the original hardware.
My N64 setup uses an RGB modded Japanese console, which I run through a Rad2x line doubler then an mClassic upscaler, which also provides the option to add a form of anti-aliasing. Even with all those additional factors, the output on original hardware simply cannot match the visual quality of the Switch versions.
Anyone who has spent some time playing around with N64 emulation will know that it is among one of the more finicky consoles to get right. I’ve found both Ocarina and Majora’s mask to share similar issues when emulated over the years, which shows the challenges anyone faces when attempting to emulate these games. It seems fair to say that if the emulation community couldn’t get it perfect over the last 25 years or so, then Nintendo weren’t likely to do much better.
Nonetheless the visual issues described seem to be very specific and short lived. Certainly not worth of the vitriol shared online.
There does seem to be a slight delay on audio, quite noticeable in Mario 64, with Mario lifting off the ground very slightly before the jumping sound effect, but again this is something that I only noticed after reading about the issues online.
I’ve yet to experience any issues with lag during online play. I played a good few hours of Mario Kart and Mario Tennis online on launch night and also spent some time with a friend remotely controlling my game in Ocarina. I was blown away by how smoothly the online play was, albeit on a full strength wifi connection. Some may be disappointed you can’t play Mario Kart online against randoms or without split screen, but the chance to relive the glory days of N64 multiplayer once again is a real treat!
In the footage I have seen showing laggy online gameplay, there has been a clearly visible poor connection, as demonstrated by the bar at the side of the screen. Rollback netcode would perhaps resolve this issue to an extent, but anyone who expects good performance on any game with two bars on their connection is deluded!
Everything is Awesome?
It’s fair to say that the NSO expansion isn’t perfect. The price might be off putting to some, but in my eyes it compares well to the thought of buying all those games again at £8 odd a pop. I definitely do find the drip-feed approach disappointing, as the price isn’t tapered to reflect the gradual release of content. The performance issues highlighted aren’t anywhere near as severe as suggested and online play is great provided you have a reasonably good wifi connection (as is the case with most online games).
I’m hopeful that some of the performance issues can be improved upon with patching, but in all honestly they are really a non issue. I’d be surprised if the majority of people even remembered what the fog and textures were like during the Dark Link battle.
I think people’s perceptions of the service will improve over time, as more content is added and some of the admittedly minor technical issues are ironed out. Despite these niggles, I’m having an absolute blast playing some of the greatest games of all time, with the added benefit of the Switch’s hybrid form factor.
I cannot wait to see what other games are in store, and I’m beyond excited for the release of Banjo Kazooie and F-Zero X. I would urge anyone put off by the discussion online to take a step back and consider the reality of the service, as there’s a whole lot to love here, and it’s only going to get better.