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Nintendo Switch Online is now fully live: Here's what's included

Nintendo goes pay-to-play online for the first time. Here's what you'll need to pay and what you'll get once you sign up for the service.

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This is our first look at the interface for Nintendo's NES Switch service.

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Playing Nintendo Switch games online is no longer free. The company fully launched its Nintendo Switch Online service -- complete with retro games and updates to the Nintendo Switch smartphone app. For instructions on how to activate your paid account or seven-day trial, head here.

The paid online service costs $3.99 a month, $7.99 for a three-month period or $19.99 a year -- and is now required for Switch owners who want to play multiplayer games over the internet. In other words, the service is effectively putting parts of major titles like Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 behind a paywall.

If you were wondering about one of the most popular games in the world, Fortnite, don't fret. You're still able to hop into the battle royale even if you don't have a Nintendo Online account -- it's one of the few games that will continue to allow online multiplayer without a subscription.

The online service also includes library of Nintendo Entertainment System titles, including Mario Bros., Excitebike, Dr. Mario, Balloon Fight and other NES classics -- all sequestered into a special "Nintendo Entertainment System -- Nintendo Switch Online"  app. It's a mouthful of a name, but it actually works pretty well. It even has the same visual filters Nintendo baked into its miniature NES Classic console: 4:3, pixel perfect and a retro TV mode, complete with distortion and scanlines.

These games all have a tacked-on online functionality, letting "player 2" join in remotely. In our brief testing with the feature, this actually worked fairly well -- just select online play from the app's menu and join a friend in progress, or wait for one. When we had a strong connection to another user, it worked great. When we didn't, input lag turned fun into frustration.

There are 20 games in the NES library for now, but Nintendo says it'll be growing the library over the next several months.

The Nintendo Switch smartphone app is still primary means of communicating with other players during online play -- and it's still a bit of an awkward experience. If you want to chat with a friend online, you'll need to make plans offline before you jump in the game, start the game on your switch, then start the app on your phone, then connect via the app as if you were making a call on speakerphone. 

It's still cumbersome, but the latest update made it a little better -- at least in some games. If you're using the Nintendo Switch Onine app with the new NES library's multiplayer functions, the app will detect you're in a game and automatically connect you to your friend. Unfortunately, this seamless integration isn't in every game on the service: when we tried it in Splatoon 2, we still had to make our own chat lobby ourselves. Bummer.

Nintendo also teased special offers for subscribers, including a pair of wireless Switch controllers that will look and feel like the classic NES gamepad, and can dock with the Switch to charge.

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Other special offers are coming, but Nintendo would only say it'll have "more to announce in the future."

An individual annual subscription costs $19.99 -- but if you have multiple accounts you can save a bit more with a 12-month family membership, available for $34.99.

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The online service has been long subject to speculation from fans wondering how it'll stack up to Sony's PlayStation Network and Microsoft's Xbox Live. Both of those are required to play most games online and offer free monthly games, but cost $59.99 for yearly subscriptions.

The Switch will be the first Nintendo console to require a paid subscription to access online multiplayer, and its first console to offer cloud saves, which Nintendo says will back up your games to the cloud automatically (though there are several exceptions to that). Switch owners will be able to sign up for a seven-day free trial for the service before its limits go into full effect.

Nintendo's announcement had previously been planned for last week, before being delayed due to an earthquake in Hokkaido, Japan.

You can watch the Nintendo Switch Online segment of the presentation below.

Now playing: Watch this: Nintendo Switch Online details announced
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