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Using a Switch Lite as your second Switch? It’s harder than you think

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Using multiple Switch consoles is still a pain

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Photo: Michael McWhertor/Polygon

The release of the Nintendo Switch Lite — the smaller, lighter, handheld-only younger sibling to Nintendo’s flagship console — this Friday has prompted a few people to ponder the possibility of owning a second Switch. The idea of leaving one Switch safely nestled in its dock while bringing a lighter Switch on a daily commute, or on a long plane flight, has a certain appeal.

But Nintendo’s account management probably will make that idea a lot more cumbersome than you may expect. While the company has made small steps forward in its account services with Nintendo Switch Online, which allows users to back up their save data to the cloud as part of the subscription service, there isn’t a convenient way to play games purchased digitally on multiple consoles.

It’s a shame. While I’m not ready to give up plugging games into my television, I spend nearly two hours commuting each day. The Switch Lite is really darn comfortable to hold, based on my short time with it, and I’d imagine a lot easier to haul around during my day-to-day travels. I’d love to be able to take that on the road without having to rebuy all my games.

Polygon asked JC Rodrigo, product marketing manager at Nintendo Treehouse, if folks could pursue this exact scenario.

“The way I’d prefer to do it is to just do a full transfer,” he said, going on to explain that someone who owns multiple Nintendo Switch systems could designate their first Switch as the “primary system,” and the second system as the “secondary.”

“The way it works is your secondary system will actually have to use the internet to play a digital game, and check to see if the first one is being played [on the other Switch],” he said. “Obviously you can’t buy one copy two places and have them running at the same time.”

The secondary Switch will need an internet connection, at least upon loading a game, which is bad news if that Switch was somewhere without an internet connection. Which is a lot of places, even in 2019. And who wants to get on public WiFi any time they load a game?

One potential workaround: setting the original Nintendo Switch as the secondary system, since it’s more likely to remain at home (or another place with a reliable internet connection), and making the Switch Lite the primary device. When I ran this idea by Rodrigo, he mentioned that some Treehouse employees testing the Switch had done this, and others were planning on doing it when it hit retail. This is the way our own Ben Kuchera handled games when reviewing the Switch Lite, as well.

But it’s not just a matter of the Switch phoning home to Nintendo every time you load a game. While cloud saves are now available to Nintendo Switch Online users, they don’t seem to work as seamlessly as options offered by Steam, Xbox via its Play Anywhere, or Sony. Nintendo’s website says cloud saves automatically back up “when you have an internet connection,” but another copy of the game isn’t checking Nintendo Switch Online to make sure it’s playing on the newest save file.

As Rodrigo explained it to me:

“There are two ways to do it. One is that you can transfer the save data if you’re connected to the same wireless system, and you would transfer it completely,” he said. “It’s a full transfer, not a copy. It would transfer from the primary onto the Nintendo Switch Lite.

“Another way you can do it is sync them both. You can log into [Nintendo Switch Online] and if the game supports cloud saves, you can download your save data that way. Either way, you can still take your save data with you.

“There’s a couple exceptions, but most games [support cloud saves]. And if you don’t want to deal with cloud saves, you can just do a local transfer. I would just prefer you just do a local transfer, that way everything transfers.”

Polygon hasn’t been able to test this yet, so I’m not sure how smoothly either of these processes go in practice, but nothing about these systems sounds convenient, or even easy to understand.

So what should you do if you want to pursue a dual Switch lifestyle? One solution might be to purchase physical copies of your game when possible, so you could just move the cartridge itself from system to system, thus avoiding the need for the system to phone home to authenticate the game. It’s an antiquated solution, and it may be cumbersome to carry multiple cartridges with you, but sometimes the old ways are best.