Important note: It is finally possible to transfer save data for Animal Crossing: New Horizons between two Switches at will. Scroll to the bottom of the page for more details or check out our Animal Crossing Island Transfer guide.
Automatic Cloud Save Downloads are also now a thing! Watch the video above or skip to the relevant section below for more info.
So, you've gone and got yourself a lovely new Nintendo Switch Lite in addition to your regular 'old' Switch. Maybe one's going to be for the kids, or you're just tired of sharing. Perhaps you couldn't resist the cute hardware revision and plan to use Switch Lite as your smaller 'out-and-about' handheld and then put your feet up with a Pro Controller and the 'flagship' model when you arrive home to your TV. Sounds extravagant, but reasonable!
Obviously, the regular Switch console is designed for exactly that type of - what shall we call it? - 'switching' and although possible, it's clear that Nintendo doesn't really intend for individuals to have more than one Switch console. Cloud saves and the automatic Save Data option introduced in firmware update 11.0.0 make that reality less of a hassle, and digital game sharing is possible, too, although you can only play using your account on one console at a time. A Nintendo Switch Online subscription makes living the 'Johnny Two-Switches' dream relatively simple, and it's also possible to transfer saves manually between two nearby systems (remember, saves are stored on the console, not the cart).
In this guide we present how to play your games across two Switch consoles, including the restrictions, caveats and the potential issues to look out for. We'll update this guide as necessary, but the following represents the easiest way to play a single save file across two systems whether you own the game digitally or physically.
This guide does not refer to a full-on System Transfer which enables you to move all your save data and details to a different Switch on a more permanent basis - something you might do if you were selling your old console, for example.
How to play a game on one Switch, and then continue from the same save file on another
As things stand, anyone with a Nintendo Account can designate one Switch as their 'primary' console (by default the first console they connect to the Nintendo Switch eShop with) and another their 'non-primary' console. Playing your games on the non-primary Switch requires you to use your Nintendo Account and have a constantly active internet connection. The game will pause if it loses that connection, and also if the same software is played on the same Nintendo Account on the primary console.
Still with us? If those caveats haven't put you off the idea, read on for instructions on how to pick up where you left off in a game across two Switches...
For the purposes of this guide we'll assume you already own a standard model and have just got a new Switch Lite, but this would work just as well between two standard Switches (or two Lites, although we can't imagine a use case where that would be desirable). It makes sense to make your new Switch Lite your primary console (which therefore won't require an internet connection to play your games), with your docked home-bound Switch becoming your non-primary.
Be subscribed to Nintendo Switch Online
For the most convenient way of syncing game saves across two Switches, you'll need to be subscribed to Nintendo's online service and have cloud saves enabled. Please note that not all software supports cloud saves, so check that the game you wish to play is compatible - check out our full list of games not compatible with Nintendo Switch cloud saves. If you don't have a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, skip ahead.
Download the game(s) you want to play
Digital games should be purchased on your main Nintendo Account. Owning the physical cartridge means you'll obviously have to move it between consoles, but remember that save data remains on the console itself, NOT THE CARTRIDGE, so you'll still need cloud saves activated to switch between consoles and continue playing where you left off (without transferring the data manually, that is).
De-register your original Switch as your primary console
On your standard Switch, hit your profile picture in the eShop (top right) and scroll to the bottom of the options on the right. Here you'll be able to deactivate this Switch as your primary console ready for your new Switch Lite to take up the mantle.
Check that save data is backed up to the cloud
Highlight your chosen game(s) on the Switch Home menu and hit the '+' button. Select 'Save Data Cloud' and check to see that the software is backed up with a tick beside your user account. If you want to be extra sure, tap on the user and you'll get additional details with a timestamp of the data on the server and the same information for 'this console'. Make sure it's the same.
Fire up your new Switch (Lite) and sign into your Nintendo Account
Powering up your new console and signing in to the eShop will make it your primary Switch, meaning you can play all your games on it without being tied to an internet connection. Unfortunately, none of your games are actually on console yet, so you'll have to redownload the lot from the eShop on the new primary console. Time for a cup of tea...
Check the cloud save has downloaded and start playing
Once the downloads have finished, hit the '+' button on the game(s) as you did on the other console to check the cloud save data has synced. Assuming everything matches, you're good to go.
From now on, check the cloud save has uploaded/synced before changing between Switches
To prevent problems, it's probably a good idea to double check that your save data has uploaded to the cloud on whichever console you're using before switching to the other, just to be super safe. Likewise, you might want to make doubly sure that the other console has synced before resuming the game there, too. Better to be safe than sorry.
Automatic Save Data Downloads - NEW!
But wait! As of firmware update 11.0.0, Nintendo introduced a feature that automatically downloads backed up cloud Save Data from one of your systems to the other (assuming both are connected to the internet, of course).
To use this handy feature you'll have to enable it first. Do this by heading to System Settings > Data Management > Save Data Cloud and make sure 'Automatically Download Save Data' is turned on. Nintendo does state that "Save data will not be downloaded automatically unless save data for that software exists on the console. The first time only, users must download the save data manually".
Once it's up and running, however, we're very pleased to report that it appears to work very well and the save data will automatically download even if the system's in sleep mode.
So, to recap:
- Play your game on Switch A
- Save (or reach an autosave location)
- Close the game on Switch A from the Home Menu (using the 'X' button to ensure the software is completely closed)
- After about one minute or so, Switch B will have automatically downloaded the updated Save Data, even if it's in sleep mode
- Play game on Switch B with updated Save Data
- Repeat as necessary
If you're playing on your primary Switch and it isn't connected to the internet (remember, it's impossible for the same account to be used on your non-primary Switch without an internet connection), it's possible to create conflicts where two sets of save data are generated.
Fortunately, the system warns you when you try to open the game with two sets of save data. Still, be careful you don't wipe progress by selecting the older data.
And that's it! Not quite as simple as 'switching' with a single console, but entirely possible when you know how. Check out the lovely Alex's video at the top of the page for a full demonstration in video form.
How do I transfer save data for games that don't support cloud saves?
Well, for those games (or all games if you're not subscribed to Nintendo Switch Online) you'll have to transfer the save manually to a 'nearby' Switch. You're not copying save data here, you're transferring it to a 'target' system - it'll be erased on the 'source' system. This works just as well as the cloud save option for moving save data between the same Nintendo Account on two systems (note: the same account), although it'll need to be done every time you change from one system to the other and it also requires an internet connection.
On the 'source' Switch...
- On the Home Menu of the Switch you're finishing with, select 'System Settings' and then 'Data Management'. Then tap 'Transfer Your Save Data'.
- Then tap 'Send Save Data to Another Console' and choose appropriate account.
- Then select the specific game save data from the list that you want to transfer and choose 'Send Save Data'. Remember, the data will be erased from the current Switch.
On the 'target' Switch...
- As you did on the 'source' system, select 'System Settings from the Home menu, then 'Data Management' and finally 'Transfer Your Save Data'.
- Choose 'Receive Save Data' this time. You'll get the option to Overwrite Save Data if it already exists for that account, so make sure it's definitely the right data! Overwritten data obviously can't be retrieved.
- Once the transfer is finished, hit 'OK' and you should be good to go with the same game data now on your other Switch.
How do I share my digital games between Switch consoles?
So, you've registered one console as your 'primary' and another as 'non-primary' as detailed above. If you want to be able to play the same games at the same time and effectively 'share' your digital games with somebody else, the person on the non-primary console must use the main account (and be connected to the internet) and the person on the primary console must play using a different account (entirely possible because any account can access and play your digital library on your primary console).
If the same account is used to play the same game simultaneously, the game on the non-primary console will pause (the same will happen is you lose your internet connection). Assuming you're happy to juggle accounts and have the requisite Switch Online subscriptions activated, it's entirely possible to play online with each other, although it's impossible to play multiplayer locally using the same software across two consoles (for that you would need two copies of the game).
One thing to bear in mind is that the person on the primary Switch must remember to use a different account if you want to avoid cloud save confusion. For example, if you're in Flight Mode on your primary Switch and accidentally used the main account — while someone else is playing the same game on that account on the non-primary console — two unique sets of save data would be produced and this might cause confusion when the primary console is connected to the internet again. Cloud save clashes are best avoided if you're concerned about progress, so check with account holder if you go to play a game and a message flashes up showing a save data conflict or error. No-one likes to lose progress!
How do I transfer my Animal Crossing: New Horizons save data between two Switches?
After eight long months, it finally became possible to transfer Animal Crossing: New Horizons island save data and even residents between Switches. Nintendo had previously implemented a system allowing for one-time save data recovery (for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers) in case of hardware failure, loss or theft, but it is impossible to transfer your save data between Switches in a casual manner.
Fortunately, you can now download an Animal Crossing Island Transfer Tool from the Switch eShop and transplant your island to a different console. Check out our guide for more details.
Convoluted? Yep, it's not as straightforward as one might hope, although the addition of automatic save data downloads in update 11.0.0 certainly makes things less painless. Let us know below how you've got on playing between two Switches, especially if you've experienced any issues.