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Switch Online + Expansion Pack feels like a real deal now

Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack just got a huge power-up. During Wednesday’s Nintendo Direct, the company announced that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe would receive new paid DLC in the form of 48 classic courses. The series of updates will keep the ever-popular racing game alive through 2023, ensuring it’ll stay dominant on Switch software sales charts.

The best news? It’ll be available free of charge to anyone who has an Expansion Pack subscription. No need to spend an additional $25.

That small announcement single-handedly rewrites the narrative for Nintendo’s controversial online service. While the company didn’t offer players a strong reason to sign up originally, the overall value is looking much better with the potential of more complimentary DLCs regularly coming to the service.

Extra, extra!

When Nintendo first announced its Expansion Pack service, it was met with immediate hostility. That was due to what may turn out to be a case of bad marketing. Nintendo’s initial pitch was that players could get access to Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games with their subscription. As an added bonus, they’d receive Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ Happy Home Paradise DLC, but that was more of a perk than the focus.

For $50 a year, it seemed like a terrible value. The service would only launch with nine Nintendo 64 games. Players didn’t have hope that it would get a ton of updates every month considering the state of the NES and SNES service, and they were right to worry. Nintendo has only added one N64 game a month since the service launched. It didn’t help that the ports weren’t terribly elegant either, with a lack of button remapping options making games like Banjo-Kazooie difficult to play.

Nintendo games available on Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack.

At the end of the day, paying to play old games isn’t a strong deal. Savvy players know how to emulate classic games with relative ease. Unless Nintendo was offering the full N64 library, it was never going to win over skeptics in the Xbox Game Pass era.

With the Mario Kart DLC coming to the service, Expansion Pack is pulling a U-turn. It shifts the emphasis of the service to something that’s more valuable. Rather than gaining access to old games they’ve played to death, players are getting new content for modern Switch games. Want to try Mario Kart 8’s new-old tracks, but not sure if you want to spend the money? You won’t have to make that decision with an Expansion Pack subscription.

An old Mario course appears in Mario Kart 8.

It’s less the addition of Mario Kart DLC that’s exciting and more what it means for the service down the road. If Expansion Pack gives players access to every piece of new paid DLC in its first-party titles, the value of the service will quickly climb. Pokémon Legends: Arceus, Splatoon 3, and Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes are all likely candidates for add-ons this year. Those, plus Mario Kart’s $25 track pass, could potentially cost players $100. An annual Expansion Pack membership is half the cost and comes with two libraries of retro games as an added bonus.

When I think about the potential here, I think back to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Fighter Passes. I bought both of them, costing me around $55, and barely played with my new characters. It was more a pricey curiosity purchase than anything. Frankly, that’s what most DLC is. I would have loved to have that included in my Nintendo Online subscription, alongside add-ons like Pokémon Sword and Shield’s Isle of Armor. A DLC subscription service is a perfect idea for someone who is casually interested in a lot of games, not heavily invested in a few.

DLC should have been the star of the service in the first place — they’re literally expansion packs, after all. Mario Kart 8’s track packs are a sign of life for gaming’s most ridiculed service, showing that Nintendo might have had a better long-term proposition all along. The question is just whether or not it can keep up that momentum … and with Nintendo Online, consistency is always dicey.

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