The Nintendo Switch is a portable console with a bad account system, and that’s becoming a bigger problem as more games are released for the hardware.
Things were fine when there was just The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and a bunch of smaller, digital games on the eShop. But those days are over, and we are officially in the age of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Puyo Puyo Tetris. You have choices when it comes to whether you buy these games digitally or on a cartridge, and neither option is great.
Why cartridges suck
The biggest problem is that — and please excuse me for going back to the basics here — cartridges are physical objects.
You have to remember to pack them if you’re traveling, and you can lose one if you’re playing your Switch while you’re out and about. You have to find a place to put these tiny things, and if you want to play another game, you have to remove the cartridge that’s in there and put in the other game.
These are tiny annoyances that add up to a bad experience when you’re taking your system out of your house, and the portable nature of the Switch is one of its selling points. Having all of your games stored on system memory so you can’t lose any of your purchases and you can swap games at will is very nice, especially with a house filled with little kids.
There is also the fact that physical Switch games may be more expensive than the digital versions, and that extra $10 adds up if you buy many games throughout the year. You’re getting gouged if you buy third-party games on cartridges, and that sucks.
Why cartridges are great
I don’t want to be completely down on cartridges here, since you can loan them to your friends to play on their systems, or sell them to someone else if you get bored and want to raise some money for your next game.
They save system memory so that you don’t have to worry about filling up the Switch’s hard drive. You can put them in your mouth to find out if they taste as bad as everyone says.
There’s a lot to like! Besides, why buy digitally?
Why eShop games suck
Digital purchases and saved games are locked to your system, which means you’re basically out of luck if your system breaks until Nintendo moves your data to a replacement. If the company can’t do so, you’re really out of luck.
There are no cloud saves; you can’t log into your account from another system and re-download your games ... none of the expected features of a functional account system exist on the Nintendo Switch.
I’ve spoken to many people who refuse to buy any digital games until this is fixed, and I don’t blame them. It’s a ridiculous issue to have in 2017, especially when this is a solved problem on every system that isn’t manufactured by Nintendo.
There are real, valid reasons to avoid buying digital games on the Nintendo Switch, and these issues don’t exist on other platforms.
Why eShop games are great
Being able to load a game quickly without swapping out a cart or worry about losing your copy of a game is great. I’ve played my Switch in some weird places, and having your library of games right there is a very nice feature.
Digital copies of third-party games may also be cheaper, which is another selling point, even though tracking that price difference is itself a pain in the ass. If you’re not following news of how much a game will cost physically versus digitally, you’ll need to do some extra research on prices when you’re ready to go buy a game.
So where does this leave us?
Each option is great, and each option is terrible. The problem is the Nintendo Switch puts you in a situation where you have to look at everything from pricing to your plans on how often you’d like to play the game before making the decision to go physical or digital.
Will you save money getting the game one way or the other? Is this a title you plan on loaning to a family member or are interested in trading in when you’re done? How crushed would you be if a kid spilled their juice on your system and you lost everything?
Going through that flowchart with every game release is a pain in the ass, and Nintendo has no one to blame but themselves. Until the pricing issues and account management tools are fixed, this situation is going to continue. Buying a new game should be fun, not a headache, and Nintendo has a ways to go before that fun is part of the buying experience.