Nobody likes the Nintendo Switch Online Service, so why do journos keep recommending it?

I’m not the type of person to rant about “ethics in game journalism” but it’s hard to avoid that the field is uncomfortably cosy with the industry, even compared to other types of enthusiast press. Most problems come down to an understandable bias; games journalists like games, and like their jobs. Nobody gets into playing, or writing about games, just to spend all day ripping things apart. Then there’s a professional bubble, in which buying, reviewing, and playing games for a living can create a disconnect from an ordinary consumer.  However, compared to other enthusiast press like home audio or photography, you’re less likely to find a thorough conversation about value in the gaming press.

The industry, and the press, have long recognised and benefitted from cultivating gaming as an identity, far beyond just a hobby, and while this came back to bite everyone on the ass with Gamergate, there are legitimate ethical implications in building a press that exists predominantly to enable and further PR hype. While journalists are often excellent at keeping the ad-men out of the room when reviewing the games themselves, wider industry practice is too often accepted uncritically. This is why I’ve found the coverage of Nintendo’s new Online Service to be so concerning.

Switch Online Logo

Paid online for consoles isn’t new. Microsoft made in mainstream on the original Xbox in 2002, with Sony joining two generations later for Playstation 4. Locking online play behind a paywall has always been a controversial choice, but a lucrative money spinner. Over the years Sony and Microsoft have eased the discomfort of the paywall by adding free games into the mix, with occasional new titles among old classics, or hidden gems that didn’t sell that well the first time around. While the Nintendo Switch has been working for over a year without a paid online service, as of this week, playing online on Switch requires a membership also.

Nintendo enters a market where its competitors were already seen as opportunistic but tolerable, with a lacklustre and lazy offering that nobody seems to actually like. This isn’t just my opinion; most reviewers covering the service express disappointment with its offered features, and frustration at their implementation.

So why are they recommending it?

Nintendo Switch Online Pricing

Let’s take just one of the most controversial aspects of the service, cloud saves. (Though, I would like to add, please read these reviews, and other coverage for yourself. The response has been similarly glum for the whole package.) Without paying Nintendo, the Switch has no way to back up save data. Coughing up cash unlocks cloud saves for some games, and if your  subscription lapses those saves are immediately deleted. Bye-Bye Breath of the Wild shrines.

As you can imagine, this didn’t go down too well. The Metro describes this as “rubbing salt in the wound”, or put most evocatively by Tom’s Guide which stated;

“Saving to the cloud is certainly a major highlight of this service, but it really shouldn’t be. Nintendo is basically kidnapping your cloud saves and asking for ransom money in order to bring them back home safely. Keep in mind that this is also the case if you own a microSD card, as you still cannot back up data to that. And what’s worse is that the company is going to ask for that money every subscription cycle, and if you don’t pay up, your saves are as good as dead.”

Seems equivocal, right? I’d recommend reading the Tom’s Guide review, by the way, which is damning in its criticism of almost every aspect of the service, and then ends like this.

“Despite my burning complaints, Nintendo Switch Online is absolutely worth the $20 per year. Even if you don’t plan to play online, the ability to back up your data is incredibly important to your well-being. I’m not taking the chance that my Switch or game cartridge will drop dead one day, erasing all 160 hours of gameplay on my Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild save. Plus, the opportunity to play classic NES is quite appealing.

What Switch Online really has going for it right now is its price, as $20 for a year is a third of the price that competitors charge. Although it offers only a third of the content as competitors do right now, that may change once Nintendo works out the kinks.”

Nintendo Switch Online Free NES games

This is a common conclusion, overall a feeling a disappointment and a forced hand, but a recommendation because *shrug* waddayagunnado. And the only justification for this seems to be that Nintendo is pricing their service cheaper. In fact, not one review I read could come up with a better reason for jumping into the Switch’s online service beyond “the Switch REALLY needs a save backup system and this is the only way to get one” and “it costs less than Microsoft or Sony.”

And worse than that, are the outlets that are silent on the quality of the service almost entirely, saving their only coverage for drooling over the exclusive (and pricey) NES joy-cons, or showing gameplay of the virtual console titles. For these sites, the existence of Nintendo’s service means nothing except new content to produce.  

I think this is a problem.

What Nintendo has introduced here is a bad product. Nobody wants to buy it, none of the reviews I can find seem to express any genuine enthusiasm for it, and the only feature is offers that didn’t exist in Switch already, most people feel should exist in some form for free. This is all made worse by the fact that it has launched a year into the console’s life cycle meaning the entire service is based on taking things away, not adding to them.

The value of the service can not, and should not be assessed based on its relative price to Xbox Gold or Playstation Plus, it needs to be assessed on its own value, what it offers to Switch owners and Nintendo customers who are not, necessarily, Sony or Microsoft’s customers. It needs to be assessed without entering the presupposition that this service needs to exist, will exist, and that we are all inevitable its customers.

This is not an unavoidable problem. The PC gaming market reviews, and criticises intrusive DRM decisions, the Home Video press has been critical, over the years, of over abundant streaming services, poorly implemented digital copy services, or controversial advertising schemes in blu-ray players. Games don’t need to just be a platform for free marketing, they can take a stand, this might be the time to do it. I’m not suggesting all journos down tools and refuse to cover multiplayer Nintendo titles, but going forward, perhaps more critical assessment of the service’s value, and wether or not individual games justify the monthly cost. Anything other than the fatalistic coverage that sees Nintendo’s service as a done deal we just have to get used to.

We are faced with a problem now, while the gaming press is comfortable criticising games it will not extend its critical faculties to wider industry practices, and Nintendo is benefitting from a widespread decision to treat their online service as if it is an inevitability. This is bad for consumers, bad for the press, and if the Nintendo Switch Online Service ends up being as unpopular with customers as it seems to be for journalists, probably quite bad for Nintendo.

Has the Switch said goodbye to Nintendo’s favourite gimmicks?

Nintendo Switch ConsoleThe trailer for the Nintendo Switch dropped this morning, and while there are certainly unannounced features still to come, a few details were conspicuous by their absence. The Switch could be the first Nintendo hardware in 12 years to launch without dual screen functions, a touch screen, or motion control. While the Handheld, Console hybrid looks like a slimmed down gamepad, touch and dual screen features do not appear in the clip. Neither do motion or gyroscopic controls. While it’s possible Nintendo is choosing simply to downplay the features, excluding them completely is out of character for the company which likes to emphasise the interrelation of its hardware functions.

Take a look at my breakdown of the Switch trailer here:

The company first shook up their hardware with the DS in 2004. It launched with two screens in a clamshell design, and a touch screen operated by stylus. Since then, they continue to be experimental. The Wii kicked off the motion control boom, and the 3DS added some basic gyroscopic motion control’s to the DS’s features. Their last home console release, the WiiU, combined those elements into a twin screen, touch and motion control gamepad. It hasn’t been a success, and critics have grown louder in their calls for Nintendo to return to plain and simple hardware.

Nintendo switch

The Switch isn’t quite that. It has some new neat tricks of its own, however the approach is more conservative than Nintendo has been in years. While the console features detachable controllers and a unit that can connect to a TV via hub or be carried around like a handheld, the emphasis is very clearly on traditional controls and buttons when it comes to playing the games. Nintendo is possibly hoping to capture that “what you always wanted but never realised” feeling that made the DS and Wii such successes.

The removal of these features suggests disappointing news on the horizon for anyone hoping for backwards compatibility with WiiU or 3DS games, but overall Nintendo’s appears confident. Only time will tell if they can pull it off.

Daily Painting – Day 2


I feel like this wasn’t a great choice for my second daily painting. I wanted to do something a bit quirky, and a bit geeky so I went for the Mario Power Mushroom. My source image was CGI and so there wasn’t a huge amount of detail, just a lot of very smooth, sterile lighting that was tough to get rough. I feel like the face turned out well, whereas there just wasn’t enough to do with the cap to bring it to life. Still, it could have been worse. Tomorrow I think I’ll return to something more naturalistic. A leaf perhaps.

If you’d like to see me painting in action, I recorded this one as I painted it.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass – Review

Don’t I spoil you, dear Zelda fans? Don’t worry, I have only one more Zelda review lurking in my archives after this one, and I might not post it. It’s a piece I wrote about the GBA port of A Link to the Past and is concerned much more with the port than the game itself. I know I’ve been swamping you with Zelda reviews over the last few days, but I’m really trying to get my old dooyoo reviews here where they belong. This is a review for one of my all time favourite Zelda, Phantom Hourglass on the DS. A divisive title, to be sure, and overshadowed by recent successes like Nintendo’s 3DS ports, and A Link Between Worlds. Still, I liked it then, and I like it now. Read on, dear Zelda fan, and let me know what you think. 

Zelda Phantom HourglassThe Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is the first game in the Zelda series to see a release on the Nintendo DS. As such it has a lot to prove, not only in proving that the DS is capable of adapting to the series’ varied gameplay but also demonstrating that the massive and lengthy stories that the series is famous for can be squeezed into one of those tiny little cartridges. It rises to both these challenges superbly.

Firstly, Phantom Hourglass is a little unusual in the series in that it follows on directly from a previous game. Most entries in the series take regular components, the hero Link, the Princess Zelda and the villain Ganon and then place them in a totally self-contained story. This time around we pick up not long after the conclusion of the last home console entry in the series, The Wind Waker. Fortunately the game does not depend on too much back story but for players of The Wind Waker it’s nice to find yourself in a familiar world.

The game begins upon a pirate ship populated by some of the most cheerful pirates I’ve ever seen. You play Link, a young boy this time around, a member of the ship’s crew under Princess Zelda who has taken to playing captain. While the whole set up will probably make more sense to players of the previous game it doesn’t matter too much as thirty seconds in the jolly pirate ship runs afoul of the ghost ship. A fog clouds the entire vessel and Zelda is abducted. Link being the hero that he is, dives overboard in pursuit only to get caught in the current and wash up on a strange beach. And so it is that all is washed away and we embark upon a new adventure.

Link soon becomes acquainted with a fairy, a wise old man, a sea captain and a fortune teller. Between them all they piece together enough clues about the ghost ship and set sail. Players of The Wind Waker will remember sailing from island to island in their personal yacht. This time around Link has access to a small paddle steamer and so things move a fair bit faster.

The first thing you’ll probably notice about this game is that it has some of the most beautiful graphics ever seen on a DS game. When The Wind Waker was released on the gamecube, a surprising uproar erupted from Zelda fandom about the graphics. The Wind Waker demonstrated a very well designed example of cell shading at a time when games didn’t dare to be different. The visuals were very stylised, bright and colourful with a hint of ancient chinese art about them. Character designs were very exaggerated, water was a mix of pure blue and pure white, great explosions blew out in a flurry on inky spirals.

It remains one of the most beautiful games I have ever played. Apparently some of these “fans” however, had been operating under the delusion that Zelda was and ever should be an ultra realistic, gritty fantasy series with polygon perfect characters. While that doesn’t match any Zelda game I’ve ever seen, this corner of fandom was particularly vocal and objected strongly to the direction The Wind Waker had taken. Shigeru Miyamoto, the game’s designer was a little hurt, I believe and when the next major Zelda title arrived we were presented with a dark and gothic tale set in an ultra realistic, fantasy world. It was a great game but really only a fraction as innovative and as fun as The Wind Waker.

All is not lost however and The Wind Waker’s visual style has been kept for Zelda’s handheld titles, where gamers don’t seem to take themselves too seriously. Phantom Hourglass benefits so much from the heritage of The Wind Waker, it’s hard to imagine the game being possible without it. The diminutive child version of link makes a perfect little hero to guide around the world and while the power of the DS pales in comparison to the Gamecube, a more stylised more is far better suited to its hardware. Textures here are the biggest weakness with most being blocky and rough, however the whole game is assembled beautiful and I was overjoyed to see that explosions still blow out into inky spirals. I think Phantom Hourglass is probably the best looking DS title that I own, while it doesn’t push the hardware as much as some it always presents a consistent image that suits the game. In the end it is games such as these that we remember.

The game also makes use of the entire DS capabilities, often in very clever ways. Controlling Link is done via the touch screen however, unlike Super Mario 64 which expected you to use the touch screen like an analogue stick, here you merely touch the stylus to the screen and Link will run to that point. The stylus must be held down allowing Link to follow but unlike other titles you aren’t require to push forward; it’s much handier. Links typical range of sword attacks are all here and made highly intuitive. Simple quick attacks are done by tapping the screen while more complicated attacks are done through a series of swipes. The spin attack is probably easiest and just asks you to draw a quick circle around Link. It’s quick and easy to do, most players will probably get to grips with it in minutes. Phantom Hourglass also makes use of the microphone, though only for a few specific events. As they’re part of some very entertaining puzzles, I won’t spoil them here, I’ll just say it’s nice to see developers using this feature.

While the gameplay is strong, I was a little disappointed int the storytelling which seems to have taken a step backwards this time around. Ostensibly the game places its emphasis on exploration but this is far too easy to be truly diverting. The game doesn’t feature a wide range of other characters and those that are around often aren’t that interesting. he game also doesn’t last as long as I’ve come to expect from a Zelda title. The story can be worked through in a good few days and the ocean has somehow shrunk since The Wind Waker. However, it is playing the role of an epilogue more than a completely new adventure so perhaps that’s intentional.

There’s a lot of really solid gameplay to be found here and peeks of a really solid game hiding beneath the surface. The dungeon segments have the added twist of a time element that makes them somewhat more interesting than usual and I often felt like this could have been a classic with perhaps a better story. There’s a lot to love including a fantastic visual style and a control scheme that’s a dream on the DS but I was left wishing the visuals were all they’d taken from The Wind Waker. The game feels more tied down by the ocean setting than liberated and as much of the vast world has been cut out it seems somewhat pointless. I keep finding myself drifting off to a world where I was playing with exactly the same engine but a whole new story. Perhaps next time, eh?

If you’re considering buying Phantom Hourglass, don’t let this review put you off. It’s a first rate game that not only looks stunning but is fun and compelling. However, if you’re coming over from other entries in the series then I would advise you to think of it more as a short trip than a whole new world to fall into.

This is available at most game stores and online for around £20, it will run in any Nintendo DS console.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening – Review

I was surprised to discover another Zelda review lurking in my dooyoo archives, but here it is. I hope you enjoy it!

Our hero has changed a bit over the years.
Our hero has changed a bit over the years.

Link’s Awakening for the original Gameboy was the first Zelda title released for a handheld device, and only the fourth in the series when it launched. Developed at a time when the franchise was still working through unfamiliar territory, it doesn’t have any of the usual cliches inherited from Ocarina of Time on the N64 and remains a remarkably solid adventure.

The story is a direct sequel to the Super Nintendo game, A Link to the Past. Our hero Link is shipwrecked on a the small Koholint island and discovers that all is not well. Monsters are roaming the island and Link is stranded, to escape he must wake the mythical Wind Fish that is supposed to watch over the island. In typical Zelda fashion this means working through a series of puzzle laden dungeons and retrieving some powerful artefacts. In this case, eight magical instruments. Hey, I didn’t say it was completely free of cliches.

The plot develops in a surprisingly intricate fashion and though the story has developed a reputation for having an “it was all a dream” twist ending, that is a little inaccurate. As Link explores the island, he discovers more about its nature. Things become a little surreal as questions are raised as to the island’s reality and more importantly, the role the Wind Fish plays in all this. As Link completes more dungeons he becomes embroiled in sentient nightmares trying to stop him from waking the Wind Fish. It’s a surprisingly sophisticated narrative that one would not expect to find on a Gameboy title and is probably the best RPG to ever see release on the system.

Link's Awakening GameplayGameplay is very simple, taking its cues from the original Legend of Zelda on the NES and A Link to the Past. The player controls Link from an overhead perspective and is equipped with a sword and shield. Most monsters are relatively simple to defeat but large in number with some challenging boss battles scattered throughout. The game is challenging when it comes to puzzles but keeps combat manageable, the focus here is the adventure as a whole and the game rarely disappoints.

Graphically, Link’s Awakening is a gem. The Gameboy’s power was in the same region as the original NES but this title is so much more stylish than the original Zelda that you would think the hardware was a world apart. Developed in a very similar style to A Link to the Past it really fits as a sequel and looks absolutely beautiful.

Links Awakening was released twice back in the day. The original Gameboy version was followed by a Gameboy Colour release that added a few new dungeons and some nice use of colour. Both are largely the same though both are also quite difficult to find. If you want to play this, and I would recommend it to anyone, then your much better off playing the virtual console re-release on the 3ds.

Link's Awakening Egg

The Legend of Zelda – The Wind Waker – Review

Hey guys, this is another review carried across from my old DooYoo account. I believe this is the last of my Zelda reviews, but I like to save the best ’til last. This was written before Wind Waker HD hit WiiU.

Zelda WWNintendo’s Legend of Zelda series is easily one of the most well designed and superbly executed series of games around. They are, to me, the definitive adventure, puzzle and RPG titles; offering superb gameplay and excellent characterisation that has something for everyone. While the gameplay style is fairly consistent from game to game, we rarely see more than one or two titles a generation and so it doesn’t get old as you’d think. Often, playing a new Zelda title is more like slipping into an familiar old jumper. I suppose what I’m saying is that if you’ve played a Zelda game before, you know what to expect. Usually, excellence. While the series has branched out a bit in recent years with sequels and side stories on the DS, Nintendo’s home console is always the place for the main adventure, the significant chapters that contribute most to the overall story. This is definitely one of those chapters.

The Wind Waker was the first Zelda title released for the Gamecube and presented a major change in direction from its predecessors, Ocarina of Time and its direct sequel Majora’s Mask. From the start Nintendo seem intent to push the series into new ground, the influence of Ocarina of Time is never far off however. As the game opens, we are informed that many centuries have passed since the Hero of Time defeated the evil Ganon and sealed him away in a magical prison; referencing the events of Ocarina. Since then, the world has changed a great deal and thanks to a great catastrophe, much of it is underwater. Here we find Link on his tenth birthday, he and his family live on a small island surrounded by a vast ocean. To mark the special day, he is given an outfit resembling Link’s usual green gear, complete with his famous pointed hat. Young Link isn’t too impressed with this dorky getup but his grandmother politely reminds him that all boys are dressed like the famous hero on their tenth birthday, it’s tradition. Trouble soon erupts on the island as Link’s sister is abducted by a giant bird, rumours that other young girls have been snatched leads Link out into the wide ocean to save the day. Along the way, he strikes up a friendship with a talking boat, visits the flooded land below and even faces off against an ancient enemy. It’s a vast world to explore and the story is great; a good foundation for any Zelda game.

The Wind Waker distinguishes itself from other entries in the series somewhat with its distinct style. The most obvious element of this is the unique artistic direction taken with the visuals. Unlike the more realistic Ocarina of Time, Nintendo developed Wind Waker to resemble a living cartoon. Using early but excellent cel-shading techniques they have created a game in which the very environments seem to have been formed up out of acrylic paint. It’s very effectively done and is probably one of the most beautiful games ever made. Stylised art also dates far more favourably than realism in the video game world and so Wind Waker is still easily one of the best looking games around.

Wind Waker SailingThis visual approach suits the games back to basic approach very well. We are following a Link that is very young, similarly to earlier titles such as A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening. While the game inherits the stronger puzzle elements of Ocarina of Time, it really strives to play on different sides of the series’ heritage. It’s an approach that works very well, creating a Zelda story that is more accessible for younger players while still being deep and challenging.

Unfortunately, Zelda is a long running and very successful series which leaves it contending with its own fans. The Wind Waker suffered from a great deal f criticism from these fans before it even saw release. Despite a history of varying styles, Wind Waker’s more stylised graphics and colourful story were attacked as selling out. Nothing could be further from the truth, this game is absolutely excellent throughout and produced with a real caring hand. Still, it performs the biggest crime in the eyes of fandom, it attempts to be different.

While Zelda titles released on the Gamecube and Wii since have reverted back to the style of the Nintendo 64 games, it’s nice to see that Wind Waker’s influence is carried on in a series of titles for the Nintendo DS. These offer a lot of new gameplay ideas but maintain the cel shaded style that suits the system very well.

If you’re a newcomer to the Zelda series or just missed this one the first time around, The Wind Waker is an easy one to recommend. It’s as long lasting and intelligent as other entries in the series but has a nice feel to it that sets it apart. It’s easily one of the best home console versions and much better than Twilight Princess a few years ago.

This title will also play on a Nintendo Wii, however it will require a Gamecube controller to play. It is, unfortunately, a little hard to get a hold of and will set you back around £15. It’s as good as any new title though and well worth the investment.