Starting Screen is the USgamer staff's weekly column. Check back every Monday as we share our thoughts on the news as well as our favorite game music, movies at the box office, and more.
Tomorrow, Nintendo Switch Online launches. It's Nintendo's new subscription service, akin to Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold and Sony's PlayStation Plus. Like those programs, Nintendo's offering a free library of games—20 NES games to be exact, with more to come in the future—and gating online play and cloud saves behind it. (It's unclear if SNES or other consoles' games will join the service eventually.) The bright side is that Nintendo Switch Online is much cheaper than its competitors, costing only $19.99 a year. The downside is that, well, it has a lot of potential issues.
The most glaring of them is cloud saves. Cloud saves will be gated behind the service, and if one's membership lapses, seemingly players' cloud saves will be erased. While Nintendo hasn't noted a lapse period of any time, such as if an automatic renewal is declined, the FAQ for the service notes that save data is only stored in the Save Data Cloud backup "for as long as you have an active Nintendo Switch Online membership," inciting worry among the community. Contrarily, PlayStation retains cloud saves for six months after a lapsed membership. NES games will also only be playable for seven days offline, meaning the library basically requires an online connection at least once a week to be rendered as continuously playable.
Details in general about the service are wishy-washy too. In last week's Nintendo Direct, "special offers" were promised, and those offers so far amount to exclusive wireless NES controllers for subscribers (they cost $59.99 separately from the service) and some stylish in-game Splatoon 2 gear—fitting, because in order to play the majority of Splatoon 2 you'll now require its online service. Tensions seem to be high revolving around the online service judging from Reddit and social media, and I don't blame fans for their frustration around the sudden rollout.
I feel like if this system had been promised around the console's launch, say in the first month or so, the reactions around it would be much different. Yet here we are over a year and a half from the Nintendo Switch's exciting debut, with shrugs and apologies swirling around its high-profile online-centric games like Splatoon 2, Arms, and Mario Tennis Aces. Come holiday season, I wonder how many families will buy such games for their kids and relatives, only to find out they can't even properly play them without an additional yearly subscription.
When the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One first launched, the two consoles already had its respective subscription services in place thanks to its predecessors. The Nintendo Switch had no such luck, and has instead had to feel out its own path. It first drew ire after the announcement of NES games being exclusive to the service, in lieu of the Virtual Console from the Wii and Wii U's days. It's also a slim selection of offerings, though more are promised in the months to come. We don't really know how they'll be added, like if every few months will see a small batch of new games, or if a game or two will join the library per month like Xbox Games with Gold or PlayStation Plus' own programs. And that seems to be Nintendo's biggest problem in the rollout of Nintendo Switch Online: communication and transparency.
For a massive undertaking that will render many's online-centric games obsolete tomorrow if they don't pony up some extra cash, there are still a lot of unknowns and frustration over the software update. A revelation even came to light this morning when someone made an estimate over paying for their subscription using My Nintendo Gold points, where they'd have to spend around $400 to get compensated for their subscription. (Nintendo has not yet firmly confirmed any particular figure.) It's just the tip of issues people have with the service—not to mention its reliance on the messy Nintendo Online app, which I currently only use to buy Splatoon 2 gear—and it hasn't even launched yet.
I imagine Nintendo Switch Online will be a work in progress for some time. We'll have more concrete answers tomorrow, when the service officially launches. My lingering questions revolve around the NES collection and what sorts of games join it. I'm sure there are some folks out there who don't use Discord, and are left hoping the app's voice chat capabilities have vastly improved since Splatoon 2's wonky launch.
While I'm not too sour on gating online play and cloud saves behind a paid subscription service because Sony and Microsoft already do it, I understand why others are. Plus, that's a third subscription fee on top of two steep $59.99 ones; $19.99 or not, that's a lot of money overall per year to play games with your friends on consoles. People are going to have to make some tough financial decisions—and I can see Nintendo's service possibly being the least worth it of them all. In the days and weeks and months to come, we'll see if the gamble pays off for Nintendo; and we'll see if its reliance on online multiplayer in recent games hurts or helps the service as a result.
Looking Ahead for the Rest of the Week
- The Bard's Tale 4: Barrows Deep (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux) [September 18]: In our weekly meeting earlier today, our editor-in-chief Kat Bailey called The Bard's Tale series "Etrian Odyssey if it were good." Take that statement as you will. (I definitely shook my fist at my laptop's screen.) The latest in the acclaimed dungeon-crawler RPG series from Brian Fargo was crowdfunded through Kickstarter in 2015, and it's out tomorrow across most platforms. It's the direct follow-up to The Bard's Tale 3, which released 20 years ago in 1998. Last year The Bard's Tale 4 even got its own little VR spin-off, leading up to the events of The Bard's Tale 4.
- Capcom Beat 'Em Up Collection (Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One) [September 18]: Last week in the Nintendo Direct, Capcom revealed another retro collection: the Capcom Beat 'Em Up Collection. It's a special collection of seven beat-'em-up games; some, like Battle Circuit, are making their way to consoles for the first time ever. It also had a short turn around from its announcement to release, as it's out tomorrow. Unfortunately, the PC version has been delayed to an unspecified date.
- Transference (PS VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC) [September 18]: You may remember Elijah Wood being creepy in a live-action trailer for Transference, a VR project from Ubisoft. Last year, I played a bit of it at an event, not knowing that it was a psychological horror game. No thank you!!! But if that sounds like your jam, it's coming to virtual reality and traditional platforms this week.
- Undertale (Nintendo Switch) [September 18]: The big indie hit Undertale has made its way to virtually every console over the years, and now it's finally come to Nintendo Switch. Last year, it made its way to PlayStation Vita, so the other big portable console seems like a natural fit for the morality-driven RPG.
- The Gardens Between (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PC) [September 20]: The Gardens Between from The Voxel Agents first got some attention when it popped up in a sizzle reel at Sony's presentation during Paris Games Week last year. Since then, it's made appearances at many shows, dazzling many with its puzzle design and cute art style. It hits consoles and Steam this week.
- Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna DLC (Nintendo Switch) [September 21]: An interesting fact about Xenoblade Chronicles 2's big standalone DLC expansion is that it's designed as an entrypoint for players. I saw it back at PAX West, where a Nintendo rep led me through how the combat's more streamlined and how its other quality of life changes shift how the DLC is played. It's an interesting approach for a prequel that takes place hundreds of years before Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but it also promises plenty for fans of the base game to enjoy too. If you're a season pass holder for Xenoblade Chronicles 2, then you can already hop into the meaty DLC.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Subject Name Here (Portal)
Playing nearly any 3D game is an invitation for me to suffer motion sickness, but I can power through most games. Unfortunately, a few games are on a personal blacklist because they just make my stomach go topsy-turvy. Portal (and by extension, Portal 2) is one of those games. All that … teleporting.
Thankfully, we're long past the moment in time when playing a game was the only way to appreciate its music. Whenever I want to appreciate my favorite track from Portal, "Subject Name Here," I need only hit up YouTube. You might wonder why I hold this particular piece above the now-legendary "Still Alive," and I guess it's fair to point out Subject Name Here doesn't have lyrics that've been turned into sausage by the Internet Meme Factory. More importantly, it's just a weirdly soothing bit of music that suits a sterile, undeniably sinister company like Aperture. You're a test subject, and you're going to die, but until the neurotoxins actually flood the test chamber, try to relax.
Mike's Media Minute
So, The Predator took #1 at the box office this weekend, but it was a soft #1. Folks were feeling good about the announcement of the Shane Black-written and directed film, but a confusing ad campaign combined with the controversy surrounding actor Steven Wilder Striegel, who is a convicted sex offender that Black has included in a number of films, led to a soft opening. The Predator had a domestic take of $24 million, nearly the same as Predators back in 2010. Worldwide, The Predator took $54 million worldwide, which isn't burning up the charts.
In contrast, second-place winner The Nun continues to perform strong for its franchise. The newest entry in the Conjuring universe hit $18 million domestically for the weekend, with a total of $229 million worldwide. Given a budget of only $22 million, The Nun is already far in the black. And it still has to release in Japan, France, South Korea, Russia, and Italy next weekend.
In other performers, The Meg and Hotel Transylvania 3 each crawled their way over $500 million worldwide this weekend. Crazy Rich Asians is well on its way to $200 million worldwide; domestically, it's the ninth-highest grossing romantic comedy of all time.
The next biggest release is Venom on October 5, 2018. Sony is looking on to see if it can replicate the success of Spider-Man: Homecoming with its own project. The company has other Spider-Man-related projects planned like Morbius, Kraven the Hunter, Black Cat, Silver Sable, Silk, and Nightwatch, but a number of them are probably waiting on Venom's performance to really move forward.
This Week's News and Notes
- The craziest releases of September 2018 are behind us with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Destiny 2: Forsaken, Spider-Man, Dragon Quest XI, NBA 2K19, and more scurrying out into the world the past couple of weeks. While this week is no sleeper, October's right around the corner. In its first week alone, Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Super Mario Party, Forza Horizon 4, and Mega Man 11 are hitting us. It will surely be an exhausting month.
- Tetris Effect, Tetsuya Mizuguchi's entrancing take on the popular puzzle game, will be out on November 9, 2018. Now where's Rez 2?
- We've been hitting the Spider-Man beat hard this month. For those of us who finished it, Mike, Jake, Matt, and I teamed up to dream up what we want in the inevitable sequel. Also, Mike dove deep into Spider-Man's comic history, serving up a primer on every character in the game and how they're different from their comic counterpart.
- Destiny 2: Forsaken's new raid Last Wish launched on Friday. The first fireteam to complete it did so after tackling it for 19 hours straight. I'm still dancing around power level 505, so I have a ways to go until I'm raid ready. I'm looking forward to the challenge though, as I mostly enjoyed my time figuring out Leviathan, except for those stupid dogs and that annoying final boss. Curse them both.
- Speaking of Destiny 2, I've been bitten by the Destiny bug again. I lost a lot of my weekend to it and watching the entirety of season two of American Vandal (which, despite a slow start, is incredible). I also started Dragon Quest XI, which is very chill and weirdly feels like what I wish Ni No Kuni 2 was. Man, I'm still sour on how bad Ni No Kuni 2 was.
- Number 15 on our ongoing Top 25 RPGs of All Time rankings is Mass Effect. Mike wrote about how it's maintained its salience over the years, and you can listen to our live Axe of the Blood God podcast from PAX West with special guests Austin Walker and Matthew Allen where we discuss BioWare's classic.
- Last week was Steam's 15th anniversary, so we dug up the first games we bought on Valve's platform and talked about them.
- Back at PAX West, I played a bit of Killer 7 on PC and talked to its writer, designer, and director Goichi "Suda51" Suda about its creation. He talks about everything from being annoyed at politicians to his favorite character in Killer 7.
- The Yakuza team at Sega recently unveiled its next game: Project Judge, due out this year in Japan. It takes the familiar formula of the Yakuza series, but drops it into a very J-Drama-esque setting. It even stars Takuya Kimura, which is pretty wild. Mike, our resident J-Drama expert, played the demo from Japan's PSN and wrote about it last week.
- If you missed last week's Nintendo Direct which brought news of Animal Crossing on Switch, Isabelle in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Luigi's Mansion 3, and more, then you can catch our extensive recap.
- Axe of the Blood God: On this week's episode, we talk to RPG legend Brian Fargo about his career, Wasteland 2 on Switch, and The Bard's Tale 4, of course. Subscribe here!