Nintendo’s Switch console has thus far been a tremendous success and a major morale boost for fans of the prolific publisher who were previously perturbed by the underwhelming Wii U. That said, while Nintendo may certainly be on to something with their hybrid mobile console, the recent launch of their Nintendo Switch Online service is—in the minds of many—a huge step backward in terms of innovation and customer support.
Nintendo’s new online platform first drew ire not long after it was announced due to its relatively anemic features and PvP paywall. Worse still was the fact that the Japanese gaming titans saw fit to hold cloud saves—a feature sorely lacking from the console—ransom behind this service. Though they may have churned out some fresh ideas in terms of hardware design, their online infrastructure is decidedly behind-the-times.
One interesting inclusion was the Switch Online subscriber-exclusive emulator which allowed users to, for the first time ever, take their NES play online. Sure, they may be charging Switch owners for a glorified emulator, but it stands as a pleasantly entertaining bonus feature. Nintendo launched the service with twenty ready-to-play classic titles, and announced that more would be coming in the future.
Yet, not even a day after Nintendo’s online service went live, crafty Switch hackers managed to crack the NES emulator and port over their own ROMs. This isn’t exactly a major deal given that Nintendo themselves have stated that they plan on expanding the emulator’s library in the future, though the fact that their software was hacked within 24 hours of launching doesn’t bode well for the rest of their service.
Those behind the hack claim that the software was remarkably similar to that released on 2016’s NES Mini, which significantly expedited the process. There are currently a few videos floating around of hackers launching games on the service which have yet to be officially introduced by Nintendo. However, this process relies on some hard-to-use home-brew software and some out-of-date Switch firmware, which means that it is far from the easiest way to load up an NES ROM.
Nintendo, though excelling in other areas, have been behind the online curve for more than ten years now. While Microsoft’s Xbox Live and Sony’s PlayStation Network have been connecting gamers for years, Nintendo has very slowly acclimatized themselves to the idea of peer-to-peer online play, the growing pains of which are still fairly obvious in some facets of the Switch experience. Splatoon 2 players hoping to use in-game voice chat will remember how totally ridiculous that process was, and it seems that weird snafus and missteps may be commonplace when it comes to the company’s attempts at providing online functionality for the Switch going forward.
Something as simple as a hacked emulator may not seem like a reason to raise the alarm, but it could be one of the nails in the online service’s coffin. Nintendo Switch Online launched on shaky ground, and their footing appears to grow less stable with each passing day. Nintendo may well reclaim control of their platform and iron out these initial issues, but, at least for the time being, it isn’t a great look for the semi-controversial and fledgling new service.