The Nintendo Switch Online app is embarrassingly awful

Nintendo’s online Switch app is out now on iOS and Android, ahead of Splatoon 2’s launch on Friday. Media members are just now getting their hands on Nintendo’s convoluted voice chat method and I am not being hyperbolic when I say: It’s a fucking nightmare.

So let’s refresh. The Nintendo Switch Online app is the only way you can communicate with players during online games like in Splatoon 2. So let’s say a Call of Duty, Destiny, Overwatch, etc ever came to Switch, right now players would have to use this app. So you either use your phone’s speaker to chat or a two way splitter with the Switch itself if you want game audio AND voice chat.

It doesn’t stop there.

The Switch Online app has countless limitations that not only make it a terrible way to have players communicate in 2017, it doesn’t even have features that apps from 2007 had. Like being able to continue to run in the background while answering text messages. Let’s summarize:

  • Your phone can’t go into sleep mode.
  • Your screen has to be on at all times, using a ton of battery.
  • You cannot use any other application, even text messaging, while using the Switch app.
  • If you pull down your notifications bar on your phone, all voice chat stops until you go back to the app.

It is bad enough that the Switch even uses friend codes in 2017 when the Wii U didn’t need them, even if they aren’t as intrusive to the user experience as they were with Wii and DS. I understand Nintendo likely wanted to offload some bloat in the OS by forcing online communication on an external device, the Switch’s OS is lightweight and speedy. I wouldn’t want to lose that.

With the app as a requirement for voice chat, you are virtually guaranteed to never speak to another player online with your Switch.

At the same time, basic voice chat on the actual game system itself is such an elementary feature that its laughable that Nintendo is doing this. They can’t even pull off the app experience and make it continue to work despite the user responding to messages or looking at their notifications. The PS2 had basic in-game voice chat done on the system itself in 2002 yet here we are, 15 years later, and Nintendo still doesn’t have a clue on how to build a quality online system despite having some of the best online games in Splatoon and Mario Kart.

I could forgive, no that’s not the right word, I could tolerate the Switch not having a basic party system. Its a feature made standard by the Xbox 360 a decade ago but I figured hey, Nintendo is still new to this whole online gameplay thing. But forcing players to use a smartphone application, much less a half-baked app that limits the user experience in so many ways, is a turn-off altogether.

I am all for Nintendo doing things the way they want to do things. They should innovate with gameplay inputs, hardware design, etc. Voice chat is not an area they needed to be different. Not being able to perform voice chat on the Switch natively in 2017 is disappointing but the execution of the online services app makes this entire situation downright embarrassing.

All we can do as consumers is let Nintendo know, review the app on iOS/Google Play and let them know we hate this approach to voice chat. This isn’t a case of “we’ll get use to it because we have to” its “go-away heat”, a term used when professional wrestlers aren’t getting booed by fans because they’re good at being a bad guy but because the fans genuinely feel like their time is being wasted.