The History of Nintendo’s Shoddy Online, Part One: The Nintendo DS/Wii Era

With the recent release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, everyone is back up in arms about Nintendo’s online service. Why? Well, because it’s crap, frankly.

We’re not talking about latency issues here – though those do exist – we’re talking about basic features not functioning as intended. Let me give you the most egregious example of it – the fact that matchmaking is just straight up broken.

When you queue online for a match of Smash, you’re asked if you want to turn on preferred rules or not. Most people will want to – otherwise you’ll get thrown into the wrong game mode. There are three of them on offer – four player free for all, team battle, and the obvious one versus one option. Personally, I’m a one versus one player primarily, who enjoys a four player free for all every now and then.

So, most of the time, my setup is the same as the screenshot above. As a matter of fact, that’s what my settings are right now. One versus one, no items, any stage, as long as there aren’t any random hazards.

So then, please enlighten me – why is it that nearly every time I queue, I get put into a four player smash, with items on, on Final Destination?

I get that if you’re waiting too long for a game, then the system will just throw you in for whatever. That’s fine, I guess. But there never is a wait. I hit online, I hit quickplay, I enter the queue, and, one second later, I’m matched with three other people. What? Why? Could you not find one other person with at least one versus one picked? Why even put me in the four man queue?

The answer – it’s a joke. A broken joke. But then again, why are you surprised? I’m not – Nintendo’s online has always been flawed. It’s just the worst, honestly, the least user friendly on the whole market.

As a matter of fact, today on Atomic Kote, I’m going to prove that to you. Over the next few days, we’re going to take a look at thirty Nintendo games with online connectivity, and I’m going to give you the low down on how they performed. To the best of my memory, anyway – I haven’t played Mario Kart DS online for about ten years, so you’ll have to cut me some slack.

I won’t be cherry picking for badness here. I’m not looking for games with bad online or good online. What I’m looking for is big name Nintendo titles with online play – so, your Mario Kart, your Super Smash Bros, your Animal Crossing. Stuff like that. I figure that’s the best way to make this whole shindig as honest as possible.

This feature is going to be split up into three parts, each covering a specific ‘era’ of Nintendo’s online service. We’re starting with the DS/Wii. Afterward, we’ll move onto the 3DS/Wii U, and finally, we’ll look at ten from Nintendo’s latest console/handheld hybrid, the Switch.

We won’t be talking about the overall quality of the game, either. For example, I think that Metroid Prime: Hunters is a bag of old balls, but I’ll be focusing purely on it’s online features.

A Quick Primer on the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection

Before we get onto the games, I’d just like to speak about the ‘Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection’. This was the branding that Nintendo used throughout the DS/Wii era.

If the box had the little blue logo on it, that meant that it had some kind of online connectivity. Fair enough, it’s a jolly enough little logo.

Let’s talk about ‘friend codes’.

Heard of them before? Well they’re infamously awful. They’re still using a similar thing on the Switch, though they have improved them somewhat. Why? Well, you can just add someone’s friend code and that’ll send them a request. Annoying to have to either write down or remember a twelve digit number, but whatever.

Back with the DS and Wii, though, there was an extra added step that made it all unbelievably convoluted. Let me lay down the entire process for you, step by step.

  1. Find your own friend code via going through an obscure menu
  2. Give the code to your friend, so that they can add it
  3. Instruct your friend on how to find their own friend code
  4. Add their friend code
  5. Finally, you can play online!

It might seem trivial, but it was an arsehole, especially compared to it’s contemporaries at the time. You wanted to add someone on Xbox Live? No problem. Gamertag is ‘MrBigDick2000’, add me later tonight, yeah? Oh, you want to play some Mario Kart as well? Er, let me rustle through my wallet to find my friend code … oh, you don’t have yours written down? You’ll have to give it to me later, add me on Xbox Live and send it through a message, yeah? Oh, you can’t be arsed anymore. Fair enough.

Sorry, did I mention that you have to do this in every single game that you want to play with your friends, too? There isn’t a universal friends list, so unless you’re willing to keep an address book full of friend codes, you’re going to need to make that exchange every single time, making it even more of an arsehole than it already was.

So, bear in mind that all of the games below are built with this irritating, inherent flaw. Before we’re even out of the gate, then, these titles are messed up if you want to play with your mates. Off to a good start!

Since I’ve grinded my teeth about the whole friend code debacle in detail now, I’ll try not to reference it too much when I’m talking about the games. Just assume that it’s there, and know, if you weren’t a part of this era, that it was total shit. 

Mario Kart DS

The first western DS game launched underneath the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, and the second worldwide. Random bit of trivia – the first was in Japan (obviously) and it was a Mahjong game (obviously) called Yakuman DS, but let’s just pretend that didn’t exist for the sake of this article.

Since this was Nintendo’s first foray into the wonderful world of Wi-Fi, you’d expect this to be a total shitshow, right? Well, wrong. It was actually a surprisingly decent effort. You could do anything you wanted to, really – play with friends, play with strangers, play with a mix of both. As long as you were just doing regular races at least, anyway.

There wasn’t a great deal of incentive for extended play, because they hadn’t incorporated anything like proper matchmaking or anything like that, so there wasn’t any score that went up or down depending on how well you did. This also meant that you’d get thrown against people who were miles better than you, or people so crap that they couldn’t give you a decent race.

Sure, you couldn’t do Battle Mode online, there was a four player limit, and there was more than the odd dropped connection, but that’s to be expected on a handheld device. In the case of connection, most people were probably playing off of McDonald’s Wi-Fi or something. Having your own Wi-Fi hotspot back in 2005 was more of an exception than the rule that it is nowadays.

Anyway. Not without it’s flaws, but Nintendo were off to a decent start. 

Metroid Prime Hunters

Metroid Prime Hunters was Nintendo’s attempt at making a first person shooter on a system that only has a d-pad for directional control, and, as a result, it’s incredibly maligned. Doesn’t matter, though – there’s an online mode, so we’re going to talk about it.

The online mode actually had some pretty decent features, though. There were multiple characters to choose from, a whole host of varied maps and bloody voice chat of all things. Sounds like something from a dream, right? Voice chat? In a Nintendo game? In a shooter, nonetheless? Isn’t that a recipe for disaster?

Well, not quite. There’s a catch.

Guess the catch, though. Go on, have a guess.

Seriously, have a guess.

Ten points if you guessed ‘friend codes’.

Yup. Unless you had a friend who also owned the copy of this game, or masochistic enough to put yourself through organising something on a message board, you couldn’t even play this game online. It was complete garbage.

Pokémon ‘Whatever’

There’s not much point in covering any of the Pokemon DS games individually, because they all pretty much offered the same things in terms of online content. And, you know what? It was reasonably solid, actually.

It didn’t require friend codes to function, which was absolutely excellent. This meant that you could trade with random people and battle with random people, too, pretty much at your whimsy. You could even voice chat with your mates, if you so desired.

The transition to online for Pokémon felt like an extremely natural move, and it only served to benefit the game overall. No longer did you need to have a friend who owned the opposite version to you if you wanted to complete the Pokédex, you could just trade online for your version exclusives. To do this, all you have to do is search for the Pokémon that you want, and then you’ll get a list of people who are wanting to trade that, and what they want to trade it for. Simple, easy stuff..

Nice one, Nintendo. This is how it’s supposed to be done. Well, almost. There’s always the issue of friend codes.

Starfox Command

Remember Starfox Command? No? Well, it was like that game Starfox, except it was for the DS, and it had elements of a strategy game, sort of. It was all about tactically moving ships around a map, and then engaging the enemy in more typical Starfox gameplay.

It was decent enough, and, you know what? Nobody really played it, despite the online multiplayer being quite fun. There was a ranking system, where you had to work your way up the alphabet starting with Z, with the max rank being A.

Unfortunately, the player base for the game was quite small, and it was difficult to find a match for the game after a few months. It wasn’t the best game or anything, but it was alright for something to play in bed.

Anyway, the multiplayer worked. Let’s leave it at that.

WarioWare D. I. Y.

WarioWare D.I.Y. was Nintendo’s Wario Maker, a game where you could create your own microgames, and, yes, share them with other people online. As well as microgames, you could also create comics to be viewed by others, and even music.

Novel idea – could’ve been as popular as Mario Maker, even – but, as usual, there were hoops to jump through. Tiny hoops. Annoying hoops. Tiny, annoying, hoops.

In terms of accessibility to user generated content, there were hundreds of Nintendo mandated micro games that you could download, including some made by people famous inside and outside of the gaming industry.

In terms of directly sharing your own content, though, your only option was, you guessed it, friend codes. As I seem to remember, you even had to connect to something called WiiConnect24 through, yes, your Nintendo Wii, in order to be able to do it.

I can’t remember the exact process, and I can’t find much online about said process, but all I’ll say is that it was fairly inscrutable and required a lot of friend code and application juggling.

In the end, it wasn’t really worth the effort, especially since these were microgames that were ten seconds long at most.

Mario Kart Wii

Nintendo pretty much stuck with the online formula that they’d established in Mario Kart DS, though it was, of course, expanded on, since the Wii offered a lot more processing power compared to the handheld DS.

This meant that the four player limit was expanded to a hearty twelve, that you could do Battle Mode online, if you were so inclined, and, finally, there was a ranking system introduced in the form of Versus Rating and Battle Rating. If you’re unfamiliar, this is essentially a persistent ‘score’ that goes up or down depending on whether you lose a match. The idea is that you get matched to people with a similar score. If you’ve ever played a game with a system like this, you’ll know that it works about 70% of the time. It was the same in Mario Kart Wii – every now and then, you’d get matched up against someone with a billion VR, despite the fact that you only have a couple of thousand.

There was also the Mario Kart Channel, a seperate application where you could download ghost data and participate in tournaments. No complaints there.

Anyway, it was great. No complaints from me. It worked well, and improved upon the somewhat basic online offering that was in Mario Kart DS. Nice one, Nintendo.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl

If you think that Smash Bros. Ultimate has bad online, then just remember that Super Smash Bros. Brawl was much, much worse.

If you had plenty of friends to play with, then, great – you could play with whatever rules you wanted – so you could pick stock, timed, and even stamina battles with whatever items on that you wanted. You could also communicate, somewhat, via adding text to your taunts, but this just amounted to telling your mates to ‘fuck off’ when you killed them. Good stuff, and it worked reasonably well.

Unfortunately, when it came to playing with strangers, you only had one option. A two minute timed battle. With items on. With four players.

Yes, there was no dedicated one versus one option at all. There was literally no way that you could opt into that. There was also no matchmaking rating to speak of, meaning that you were just thrown into a game with whoever was queueing at the time.

It was awful, and there was no point to playing it. There are no more words.

Animal Crossing: City Folk

In Animal Crossing: City Folk, you could visit other peoples towns, and they could visit yours. You were able to trade furniture, send letters to the other persons villagers, and even indulge in a spot of fishing or bug catching in a foreign land.

You could even chat to other players via a microphone called the Wii Speak, a bizarre little microphone that was designed to sit on top of your television, rather than by your mouth. This meant that it picked up the sound of the television more often than not, rather than the person that you were trying to talk to.

Unfortunately, you could only do this with people who you’d exchanged friend codes with. I don’t need to go on, do I?

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games

Mario & Sonic is a fairly average game, but it can be enjoyable when it’s played with other people. It’s one of those games, you know? So, having online functionality is perfect. I mean, it’s right there on the box.

Well, dickhead, if you bought it thinking that meant it had online play, then you should’ve read the back of the box, rather than the front. The only online functionality you have here is leaderboards. Yes, not even friend codes can save you here.

If you enjoy trying to beat some knob in Spain who can do the hurdles as Wario in fifteen seconds or whatever, then this one is for you. However, if you’re a sane person, then it’s utterly lacking, and not worthy of the branding on the box.

Pokémon Battle Revolution

Despite getting off to a decent start in the DS Pokemon titles, the ball was somewhat dropped here.

For those unfamiliar with Battle Revolution, it’s a little like the Pokemon Stadium games, and for people unfamiliar with those, allow me to explain them briefly. Rather than going on an epic Pokemon journey like in the traditional games, the Stadium titles instead give you access to pretty much every Pokemon available at time of release in order for you to do a bunch of challenge battles.

In essence, this meant that for online play, you could pick whatever Pokemon you wanted and then go head to head with people online. With friend codes, it was fine – a whole bunch of rules could be established – but with random people, then your options were a bit more limited.

You were unable to establish any kind of ruleset, meaning that you couldn’t ban Pokemon, which meant that every battle basically boiled down to a bunch of legendaries fighting it out. Why make an interesting team when you can just load in six broken Pokemon, right?

This attracted a lot of controversy – fans, understandably, wondered why Nintendo couldn’t just make it so that online matches adhered to official tournament rules. A while after launch, legendary Pokemon were finally banned. Players rejoiced, but hopes were quickly demolished when this turned out to just be a bug, and legendaries were unbanned only a few months later after.

Oy vey.

In conclusion, the only way that you could have real, consistent fun with online play was with the Mario Kart franchise and a few other select titles. Most everything else, like Smash, required arsing around with friend codes for maximum enjoyment.

Next time, we’ll be looking at the Nintendo 3DS and the Wii U. Will things get better? We can only hope. See you next time.

Atomic Kote is a blog that focuses on delivering the best content that I can manage, dealing with entertainment and gaming primarily. It’s all written independently by one person, me.

Which is why if you enjoyed this, I’d really appreciate your support. It’s as simple as following the blog itself via WordPress, or even throwing me a follow on Twitter. Thank you thank you thank you.


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