Nintendo Switch Online won’t turn into a paid subscription service until early 2018, but a smartphone app with limited functionality was originally planned to launch alongside Splatoon 2 on July 21. Instead, Nintendo has decided to release it for free download today, July 19, on both iOS and Android devices.
Once the Nintendo Switch receives additional multiplayer games, presumably around the time the Switch Online service becomes paid, the app should support numerous exclusive games, but it is currently limited to Splatoon 2 and its “SplatNet” service. From SplatNet, you can check on the current and future stages across the regular, ranked, and league modes, as well as your statistics in recent matches. You can also see your performance across particular stages as well as how much experience you’ve earned with particular weapons, and there is exclusive gear available to order.
What you can’t currently do in the Nintendo Switch Online mobile app is chat with a friend who isn’t playing Splatoon 2. Entering chat requires both players to be online and in the game, and a mobile notification alerts them that a lobby is available to join. You can also send invitations to friends via your favorite social networks.
The Nintendo Switch Online app doesn’t function in the same manner as the Xbox or PlayStation apps do — there is no way to add friends via the app, nor can you see what your current friends are playing. There is also no way to purchase additional content directly through the app.
While the app is free for now, it will become part of the paid Switch Online service beginning in 2018. Subscribing to this service, which will set you back $20 per year, will be the only way to participate in online play for the majority of games on the system. It will also grant access to a library of classic NES Games including Super Mario Bros. 3, Dr. Mario, and Balloon Fight. Though the service was originally going to swap out games each month, Nintendo has decided to take the Netflix approach and allow players to choose from a larger selection of titles at any time — the service will also offer discounts on certain digital games in the Switch eShop.
The app could do a lot worse than Splatoon 2 for its sole supported game. We liked Nintendo’s goofy multiplayer shooter quite a bit, calling it a “must-own multiplayer bonanza.”