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Nintendo's new online service looks like it could be every bit as bad as you feared

Switch off?

Let's get the nice stuff out of the way. Splatnet, which has just sneaked out onto iOS and Android devices as part of the Nintendo Switch Online app, is just lovely - a joyous, colourful, varied and detailed breakdown of all that you've been up to in Splatoon 2, complete with rundowns of what maps are up next in rotation and what weapons you prefer. You can even order a fancy pair of new trousers in it to pick up next time you log onto the game.

That all works wonderfully - which is a good thing, as the rest of the app is a bit of a disaster right now.

Ever since it was first announced that a majority of the Switch's online services would be delivered via a companion app - key features to online gaming such as voice chat - there have been some concerns about how exactly it'd all work. And I'm sorry to report that, right now, it's a convoluted mess.

Splatoon 2 is currently the only game to support the app, and here's how you go about setting up a room for you and your friends. First, you'll need to head to the Online Lounge in Splatoon 2's multiplayer area. From there, you'll be prompted to create a room, and you can push a notification out to your phone. It's on your phone - and only on your phone, it would seem - that you can then invite friends into a room.

It's something of a faff, and it doesn't look like it'll be worth it - at present, you can only take part in private battles, and the voice chat itself seems extremely limited. Unlike with Skype, if you flick aside to another app on your phone, you'll lose the ability to talk to your friend. So, if you need to head to an IM client as I did, to figure out with a friend exactly how to make sense of it all, you're fresh out of luck.

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You'll also need your phone screen on for that voice chat to remain connected - meaning it guzzles battery in the process. It's an almost aggressively limited service, and this is before we get into the mess of cables you'll need if you're going to want to play online with headphones in the Switch's handheld mode - something which it would seem is only possible with a separate splitter available elsewhere.

We knew it was going to be limited, of course, and in its defence it's not even early days yet for the app - the official release date is still set for this coming Friday, and even then new features are to be rolled in over the course of time. First impressions count for a lot, though, and unless something dramatic happens over the next couple of days they're going to be ghastly for a number of people. Right now there's just not enough there to justify downloading the Switch companion app, and beyond the stat-tracking of Splatnet it's more of a fuss using its voice chat than heading to an external alternative such as Discord.

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It's worse than I'd feared, essentially, and I'm sure I'm not going to be the only dissenting voice when it gets into more hands alongside Splatoon 2 later this week. Why exactly has Nintendo chosen this path? The answer, most likely and somewhat understandably, is to help keep its console a safe space for younger players by adding a certain barrier of entry for online voice chat.

Last generation, the Miiverse performed a similar trick in its gentle imitation of online message boards, but the Switch companion app - despite a couple of cute touches - has no way near the same amount of charm, or the deftness of execution. There's a long way to go, of course, before Nintendo starts charging for the service in 2018, but judging from our very first glimpse there's an awful lot of work to be done before it can in good conscience put a price on this.

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