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Everything you need to know about Nintendo Switch Online

The Nintendo Switch officially made the jump online shortly after the Switch launched, and fans have flocked to the service to compete with friends and foes alike. The aptly titled Nintendo Switch Online is comparable to PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live in that its primary function is to grant access to online multiplayer. A subscription to the service, however, also nets you a library of select NES and SNES, N64, and Sega Genesis games. That said, Nintendo isn’t looking to fully replicate its competitors when it comes to the Switch’s online service, which is par for the course.

Here’s everything you need to know about Nintendo Switch Online.

Further reading

Individual/family subscription models

Mario and pals posing under the Nintendo Switch Online logo.

The standard Nintendo Switch Online comes in two subscription types: Individual and family. An individual subscription covers one user, and a family subscription covers up to eight. A one-year individual subscription costs $20. One-month and three-month subscriptions are also available for $4 and $8, respectively. It’s obviously most cost-efficient to purchase a year out of the gate if you plan on using the service semi-regularly.

Family subscriptions, meanwhile, cost $35 per year. To take advantage of this bulk subscription, you need to be linked to a family group. You can create a family group on the Nintendo Account website. Essentially, you and seven friends can get access to all Nintendo Switch Online features for less than $5 a piece.

Both subscription types are available for purchase on the Nintendo Switch eShop. Nintendo Switch Online is accessible via the orange navigational menu when you first open the storefront. Keep in mind that subscriptions automatically renew unless you opt out in the eShop menu.

Prepaid scratch-off cards can also be purchased at participating retailers for one-year Nintendo Switch Online memberships, as well.

Nintendo Switch Online is (mostly) required for online multiplayer

enemies get splashed in Splatoon 2.

Before Switch Online launched, Nintendo offered free online multiplayer for games like Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Now, you have to have a subscription to use the online features of first-party Nintendo games and most third-party games. The one major exception is Fortnite, which can be played online without a subscription. Other free-to-play games like Rocket League can be played without a paid Switch membership.

Nintendo Online is only needed for multiplayer over the internet, however. Those without a subscription can still use the Switch’s Local Wireless Play feature between two Switch consoles, with up to three players on each console.

You need to use the Nintendo Switch Online smartphone app to chat

If you want to talk to your friends while playing online games, you need the Nintendo Switch Online mobile app, which is available for both iOS and Android. Yes, it’s annoying to have to use two devices to take part in a traditional online multiplayer experience, but we don’t make the rules. Fortnite, again, is the exception to this rule, as it allows voice chat on the console itself. Since this is a cumbersome solution, we recommend using Discord or a different communication app that you probably have already.

Adds the ability to save to the cloud

Nintendo Switch cloud backup screen.

One of the biggest knocks on the Switch since launch was that there was no method for backing up your saves. If your console died, well, you were out of luck. With a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, you can back up your saves to the cloud, ensuring that you won’t lose progress even if your console breaks.

Cloud saves work with most Switch games, but there are a few outliers. For instance, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Pokémon Let’s Go, Splatoon 2, Dark Souls Remastered, and Dead Cells do not support cloud saves. Nintendo has said that this is to maintain competitive balance in games like Let’s Go and Splatoon 2. Nintendo doesn’t want cloud saves to disrupt competitive rankings. In a game like Dark Souls, in which it autosaves pretty much after you do anything, reverting to a previous save from the cloud could potentially undermine the developer’s design.

Cloud saves can disappear after your subscription lapses

As a feature exclusive for Switch Online subscribers, it makes sense that cloud saves won’t last forever if you cancel your subscription. Once your subscription lapses, you won’t be able to access your cloud saves. After six months, they’ll be deleted entirely.

Subscribers get access to classic NES and SNES games

Collage of classic NES games.

One of the major perks of the Switch Online program is the library of free classic games. For the first year of the service, Nintendo gave subscribers a steadily growing list of NES games. Nintendo sweetened the pot at the start of year two, adding SNES games to the program.

The games included save states, too, as well as multiple display settings (4:3, Pixel Perfect, and CRT Filter). Some of these games even have multiplayer, both local and online.

Though by default you can only play these games with an internet connection, you can download them to play offline for up to seven days at a time. If your subscription lapses, you’ll lose access to these games, just like you would with PlayStation Plus and Games with Gold offerings.

Here’s the current list of  SNES games included with Nintendo Switch Online. Keep in mind that Nintendo plans to add more SNES games to the program in the future, but there is no set schedule for new additions to the SNES library.

Bombuzal Joe & Mac 2: Lost in the Tropics Star Fox
Brawl Brothers Kirby Super Star Star Fox 2
Breath of Fire Kirby’s Dream Course Stunt Race FX
Breath of Fire II Kirby’s Dream Land 3 Sugoi Hebereke
Claymates Kunio-kun no Dodgeball da yo Zen’in Shūgō Super Baseball Simulator 1.000
Demon’s Crest The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
Donkey Kong Country Magical Drop Super Mario All-Stars
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest Mario’s Super Picross Super Mario Kart
Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble! Natsume Championship Wrestling Super Mario World
Doomsday Warrior Operation Logic Bomb Super Punch-Out!!
Earth Defense Force The Peace Keepers Super Metroid
EarthBound Pilotwings Super Punch-Out!!
Earthworm Jim 2 Pop’n TwinBee Super Soccer
F-ZERO Prehistorik Man Super Tennis
Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War Psycho Dream Tetris Attack
Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem Puyo Puyo 2 Tuff E Nuff
Harvest Moon Shin Megami Tensei Valis IV 
The Ignition Factor Shin Megami Tensei II Wild Guns
Jelly Boy Shin Megami Tensei If… Yoshi’s Island
Joe & Mac Spanky’s Quest  

Here’s the list of NES games. Nintendo added multiple NES games per month during the first year of service. Now that SNES games have arrived, however, the monthly updates are no more. We have received new SNES games periodically, but not on a month-to-month basis.

Adventures of Lolo Double Dragon II: The Revenge Kirby’s Adventure Pro Wrestling Super Mario Bros. 3
Adventures of Lolo 2 Dr. Mario Konami’s Ping Pong Punch-Out!! Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels
Atlantis no Nazo Eliminator Boat Duel Kung Fu Heroes River City Ransom Tecmo Bowl
Balloon Fight Excitebike Kunio-kun Rygar Tennis
Baseball Famicom Wars The Legend of Zelda S.C.A.T.: Special Cybernetic Attack Team TwinBee
Blaster Master  Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light Mappy-Land Shadow of the Ninja Vice: Project Doom
City Connection Ghosts ‘n Goblins Mario Bros. Soccer Volleyball
Clu Clu Land Gradius Metroid Solomon’s Key Wario’s Woods
Crystalis Ice Climber Mighty Bomb Jack Solomon’s Key 2 Wrecking Crew
Dig Dug II Ice Hockey Mother Star Soldier Yie Ar Kung-Fu
Donkey Kong The Immortal NES Open Tournament Golf StarTropics Yoshi
Donkey Kong 3 Journey to Silius Nightshade Super Dodge Ball Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Donkey Kong Jr. Joy Mech Fight Ninja Gaiden Super Mario Bros.
Double Dragon Kid Icarus Ninja JaJaMaru-kun Super Mario Bros. 2

N64 and Sega Genesis games for Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack members

Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack list of N64 games.

During the September 2021 Nintendo Direct, a long-awaited announcement was made. Nintendo revealed the Expansion Pack for the online subscription service featuring N64 and Sega Genesis games. Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack is available for $50 per year ($30 more than the standard membership). This serves as an enhanced version of the subscription service, offering more benefits.

Below are the new N64 and Sega Genesis games as of April 2022:


  • Dr. Mario 64
  • Banjo-Kazooie
  • F-Zero Zero X
  • Mario Golf
  • Mario Kart 64
  • Mario Tennis
  • Paper Mario
  • Sin and Punishment
  • Star Fox 64
  • Super Mario 64
  • The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
  • WinBack: Covert Operations
  • Yoshi’s Story

Sega Genesis

  • Alien Soldier
  • Altered Beast 
  • Castlevania: Bloodlines
  • Contra: Hard Corps
  • Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
  • Dynamite Headdy 
  • Ecco the Dolphin
  • Golden Axe
  • Gunstar Heroes
  • Light Crusader
  • M.U.S.H.A.
  • Phantasy Star 4: The End of the Millennium
  • Ristar
  • Shining Force
  • Shining Force II 
  • Shinobi 3
  • Sonic Spinball
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2
  • Space Harrier II 
  • Streets of Rage 2
  • Strider
  • Super Fantasy Zone 
  • Sword of Vermilion 
  • Thunder Force II 
  • ToeJam & Earl

Games like Pokémon Snap and Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards are planned to launch on the service later on.

DLC at no additional cost for Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack members

Squid Kid from Splatoon 2.

Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack members also gain access to certain first-party DLC packs at no additional cost. The full list is as follows:

  • Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Booster Pass
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons — Happy Home Paradise DLC
  • Splatoon 2 — Octo Expansion DLC

Keep in mind, you’ll have access to these packs so long as you remain a Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack member. If your membership expires, you’ll no longer be able to access these expansions.

Exclusive games

Board littered with pellets in Pac-Man 99.

Nintendo Switch Online subscribers gain access to exclusive games that release periodically. One of the most popular is Tetris 99, a battle royale game that requires you to outlast 98 other opponents. Likewise, Pac-Man 99 is of the same vein. Collect pellets, consume ghosts, and dish out attacks to the other players. Another noteworthy inclusion was Super Mario Bros. 35. We say “was” because it has since been removed from the service, and was only present in celebration of Mario’s 35th anniversary. This, too, was a battle royale, in which players aimed to survive against 34 opponents while making their way through various Super Mario Bros. levels.

Exclusive NES and SNES wireless controllers

Exclusive NES wireless controllers packaged on a table.

You can also get retro NES and SNES controllers if you’re a Nintendo Switch Online subscription-holder. These devices connect to the Switch and feel more like traditional, old-school controllers, rather than something like a Joy-Con. These are great for players looking to immerse themselves with older games, with controllers to match! The NES controller pack is $50, while the SNES controller is $30.

N64 and Sega Genesis controllers

Yoshiaki Koizumi holding the N64 and Sega Genesis controllers for Nintendo Switch.

Finally, Nintendo also announced N64 and Sega Genesis controllers for Switch. These, much like the NES and SNES controllers before, are only available for Switch Online members. They will both work wirelessly with the Switch and will cost $50 each. It’s unclear when these will launch, but it will likely be around the same time the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack comes out.

Member-only offers

Splatoon 2 characters wearing exclusive gear.

Member-exclusive promotions for Switch Online include a lot of perks beyond the retro controllers. If you’re a subscriber, you can get a free Tetris 99 download (and if you’re a hardcore Tetris fan, this alone makes it worth the cost), a free Nook Inc. silk rug in Animal Crossing, and Splatoon 2 gear. Additionally, the company will regularly roll out new perks, so members should check for new benefits.

Editors' Recommendations

Jacob Roach
Senior Staff Writer, Computing
Jacob Roach is a writer covering computing and gaming at Digital Trends. After realizing Crysis wouldn't run on a laptop, he…
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