A little way into my time with Animal Crossing: New Horizons I was confronted with an ancient relic. No, I’m not talking about a T-Rex skull or a deep-sea dwelling coelacanth – I’m talking about the Nintendo Switch Online smartphone app. Like many Switch owners, I downloaded it when I first got my Switch, decided it didn’t do anything useful, then deleted it from my phone and forgot about it completely.
However, fast forward to March of this year when I wanted to make a custom flag featuring my doggo’s face for my Animal Crossing island, I found myself having to re-download the app. Via a QR code system, you can use the app to transferreal life pictures into your game. Utilising this site to generate QR codes for your favourite images, custom designs can be imported directly from your camera roll, or from older Animal Crossing games and it’s completely brilliant! Want a giant poster of your favourite video game character on the wall of your house? A T-shirt styled to look like your old Game Boy Color? No problem! You can do all of this and so much more with QR codes and the Switch Online smartphone app.
Additionally, a Voice Chat function in New Horizons allows you to talk audibly with the friends you’re playing with, which is a lot better than using the game’s text-based messaging system. This means that, if one of your best friends starts messing around with your perfect five-star island, youcan shout at them properly, rather than having to furiously type ‘STOP THAT!’ on the text chat. Thankfully, Voice Chat is clear and stable, and it’s undoubtedly a feature that we’ll never be able to go without in future Animal Crossing instalments.
On the downside, setting up Voice Chat isn’t as easy as it could be. It requires you to first engage in online multiplayer using a specific lobby, and only then can you begin to chat. A better system would involve setting up a lobby on the app itself, or having a means of messaging a group of friends via the app to subsequently kickstart a group multiplayer session. Alas, this is not an option, so you often have to use another means of communication to get everyone to open their Voice Chat in order to communicate through the game. Obviously, that’s a pretty convoluted system.
Surf The Splat Net
Of course, Animal Crossing isn’t the only game to utilise the Switch Online app. The app launched in Summer 2017 alongside Splatoon 2 and SplatNet 2, an in-app ‘Game-Specific Service’ for the inky third-person shooter. SplatNet 2 allows players to keep tabs on an impressive amount of stats and also access the Gear Shop, where it’s possible to purchase SplatNet exclusive gear with in-game currency. There’s also a menu for keeping an eye on the upcoming stage schedule in online multiplayer.
Splat Net 2 gained plaudits for its clear, colourful presentation but, similarly to Animal Crossing, the Voice Chat is something of a nightmare to set up. To get it working you have to go to the online lounge in Splatoon 2 and create a room, then you have to send a notification to your phone, then from your phone screen you have to invite people to play. Once again, that’s far too complicated and, frankly, I wouldn’t have known how to do it without using a guide.
On The Super Horn
Luckily, Voice Chat isn’t terrible for every Switch game. After I installed the app for Animal Crossing-related reasons, I started to see a little phone symbol pop up on my Switch screen during Mario Kart 8 Deluxe online sessions. I realised that, during online races, there is a function that allows you to chat with anyone in your Global or Regional room who enables Voice Chat.
Perhaps even more surprising, the communities I’ve found whilst playing Mario Kart online have (largely) been pretty wholesome. Most people I’ve talked to have been polite, interested in where other players are joining from and keen to learn what everyone’s experiences with Mario Kart through the years are.
Of course, if it’s trash talk you’re after, when I created a private room and invited real-life friends there was no shortage of it. Insults were flying across Voice Chat at the same rate as Blue Shells, Bananas and Bob-ombs on screen. I guess it just depends what you’re in the mood for.
It's a Small (Smash) World
Another game ideal for Voice Chat, at least in theory, is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – of course I want to yell at people when they Home-Run Bat my beloved Kirby into the stratosphere! Sadly, when compared to other online Switch games, Smash exhibits a lot more lag during gameplay, which is seriously frustrating. I’ve found having Voice Chat running only makes this lag more jarring. Plus, similar to the games discussed above, Voice Chat on Smash is cumbersome to set up. Smash does boast more of those in-app Game-Specific Services though, this time in the form of ‘Smash World’.
Smash World allows you to upload the videos you’ve made whilst playing Smash, browse other players’ videos, and it also lets you view and download custom stages. There are a huge number of incredible custom levels that players must have spent hours and hours designing, and I’ve downloaded more than a few of them.
What is incredibly frustrating is that there is no advanced search option, you can only look at ‘Recommended’ stages and then refresh the page to see new ones once you get to the bottom. The video search function is only slightly better, allowing you to search for captures according to which characters are featured in them.
So, nearly three years on from its release, is the Nintendo Switch Online smartphone app worth a download? Well, it depends. It’s certainly worth it for the QR scanner functionality in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and for Voice Chat in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Mario Tennis Aces also has a decent Voice Chat system). But, beyond that, the app is severely limited.
There are so many baffling questions. Why can’t I make a lobby with friends in the app without booting up a game? Why can’t I invite people to play with me through the app?
Nintendo seems to be pretty far behind the industry standard in terms of online functionality. And that’s a real shame because, if you don’t play New Horizons or Mario Kart, the app is virtually redundant. The saving grace? A huge proportion of Switch owners do play either Mario Kart or Animal Crossing!
Do you make regular use of the Nintendo Switch Online app for your smartphone? Let us know by voting in the poll and leaving a comment below.