The Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack: Is It Worth Buying?

No. Gosh, this was an easy post to write! …Wait, you want me to talk about this more? Fine…

I’ll be honest: For the past few months, I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing a post that revisited the Nintendo Switch Online service and judged whether or not it had finally become worthy of the $19.99 a year we were spending on it. Spoiler alert: The answer is still no.

  • The online experience for Nintendo Switch games hasn’t gotten any better (although I’m hearing some positive comments about Mario Party Superstars online; maybe Nintendo is finally figuring things out? Or maybe not…).
  • The NES game count currently stands at 58 games, which means it’s added just 18 new games over the last two years (and frankly, most of them are D-list titles no one missed that much anyway). SNES games are now available, but that number stands at just 49, and while the launch lineup was defensible, many of the additions since then have been uninspiring at best. Before confirming the numbers today, it had been so long since I’d used the service that both consoles had been kicked off of the Switch’s main menu.
  • There’s a long list of games that still do not support cloud backups, and there are some heavy-hitters among them, including Splatoon 2, Pokémon Sword and Shield, and the Let’s Go! series. Animal Crossing now support island restoration, but in limited circumstances.
  • Does anyone actually use the Switch Online app? It’s only supported by a handful of games, and setting up voice chat through the app remains a convoluted process. Were it not that the app is the only place to report Splatoon 2 players or view weapon stats, I wouldn’t use the darn thing at all.
  • The “Special Offers” advertised by the service boil down to a pair of 99-player battle royales, some retro controllers, and a few extra in-game items. In other words, it hasn’t been all that special.

Given all this, I’d argue that the Nintendo Switch Online service still isn’t worth the twenty bucks I’m already paying for it now, and I certainly wouldn’t pay anything more for it.

So naturally, Nintendo introduced a new “expansion pack” for their bare-bones NSO service. Is it worth twenty bucks now? Well, the improvements boil down to two things:

  • N64 and Sega Genesis Games: Everyone expected N64 games to reach NSO eventually, but I don’t think anything expected them to come with a separate price tag (more on that later). The launch lineup is solid but small (a mere 9 titles), and the teased later releases only reinforce that trend (sure, more good games are on the way, but only 7 in total). To be honest, none of these games (even the ones I haven’t played before) don’t interest me enough to revisit the N64 lineup, and if I really wanted to do that, I’d pull my original console off the shelf to play them. In contrast, the Genesis launch lineup doesn’t interest me at all, and I know so little about that lineup that I can’t see them adding anything to catch my interest. (And this doesn’t even take into account all the reports of poor emulation quality, bizarre controller button mappings, and lack on Controller Pak support.)
  • Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer DLC: I’ve already proclaimed my disinterest in Happy Home Designer, but I don’t think getting it through NSO makes economic sense: Why would you pay a yearly fee in perpetuity (especially when said annual fee is more than the cost of buying the DLC by itself) instead of buying the game once and owning it outright? It’s only going to interest folks who a) already have AC: New Horizons, and b) are really into the home-design aspect of the game, and everyone else is going to be paying for something they don’t want or can’t use.

So none of the additions seem appealing right now, and I’ve only hinted at the new price tier for all of this, which is more than twice the cost of the basic service (it’s jumping from $19.99 to $49.99 per year). Personally, this would still be a hard sell for me at $19.99 or even $29.99 per year—at $49.99 I’m folding my hand and leaving the table. But should you drop a Ulysses S. Grant’s worth of cash on this thing?

This one really comes down to personal preference. If you really want to play N64 or Genesis classics online and are excited about Happy Home Designer (and are okay with not actually owning the DLC), then perhaps you can stomach the massive price increase (or even better, find a group of friends to share the family plan with, although that price jumps to $79.99 per year for the expansion pack). But if you’re only lukewarm about the older games or you’re not an Animal Crossing fan, I just don’t see how this pass makes sense. Just like the original NSO service, it just feels like a way for Nintendo to milk its player base for every last dime.

Now, just because this service doesn’t seem to be worth it now doesn’t mean that it will never be worth it: More games that we currently don’t know are coming could be added, and as Nintendo Life points out, future DLC packs for other games could be tossed into the expansion pack as well. Still, there’s no point in paying now for what might be coming in the future, and given Nintendo’s spotty DLC track record over the last few years, I’m not ready to place my bets and blindly trust Nintendo to eventually make it worth my while. They’ll get my money when I think they’ve got an offering that’s worth it, and not a moment before.

I won’t be upgrading my NSO service, and I don’t think you should either until Nintendo gives us something that’s worth the heftier price tag. The whole thing still feels like a cynical cash grab, and at a time where everything seems to be getting more expensive, you’ve got better things to do with your money.

Song Review: Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads”

You can probably already guess where this review’s going…and you’d be 100% right.

Honestly, I’m tired of putting up with Jake Owen. This will be the seventh single of his that I’ve reviewed, and none of previous six have managed to score above a 5 out of ten. His work ranges from mind-numbingly mediocre (“Homemade,” “Made For You”) to outright offensive (“If He Ain’t Gonna Love You,” “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)”), and while Greetings From… Jake seemed to have turned around his chart fortunes, his recent slow crawls to the top (“Homemade” took nearly ten months to hit #1, and “Made For You” took nearly a year) suggest that the popular response to his work has been lukewarm at best. In the nearly five years that I’ve run this Korner, Owen has consistently failed to give me a reason to enjoy or care about anything he’s done, and unfortunately that trend continues with his first post-Greetings release, “Best Thing Since Backroads.” It’s an incredibly weak attempt to take a generic country trope and shoehorn it into a love song, and the result is neither romantic nor interesting, and only deepens my desire for Owen to take the nearest dirt road out of Nashville and never come back.

The production boils down to the same uninspired copy-paste guitar-and-drum mix that everyone in Nashville uses these days (seriously, can we get some new people behind the sound boards with some fresh ideas?). The producer tries to give a track a retro feel by opening with a electric guitar using a tone reminiscent of the late 70s/early 80s, but that vibe lasts about ten seconds before a stock acoustic axe jumps in to cover the verse, and it gets completely obliterated when the drums and more-conventional electric guitars arrive with the chorus. (The song tries to be ‘sexy by association’ through it sonic callback, but all it does is make me think of better songs that I’d rather be listening to.) The use of suspended and added chords gives the song an surprisingly unsettled and even ominous feel, and the song’s slow, deliberate tempo drains causes it to get bogged down and stuck like (wait for it) a truck on a muddy back road. The general atmosphere here is decidedly not romantic—in truth, it doesn’t really inspire any feelings at all, and the listener just sits there unmoved as the song plays. In short, this is a terrible mix for a love song, with its old-school guitar failing to distract you from the fact that there’s no feeling or emotion behind the sound.

After fifteen years on the radio, I’d expect Owen to have a much better idea of how to sell a love song than this. The range and flow demands of the track are moderate at best, but Owens’ performance suggests a limit to his power output: When he tries to add more volume and emphasis on the chorus, his voice loses whatever emotion it had on the verses (which wasn’t much to begin with, but he sure seemed smitten with those dirt roads). As a result, his delivery loses its feeling just when it’s needed most, and what we get is so measured and matter-of-fact that it leaves the audience with doubts about how much he really cares for the other person. (There’s also a noticeable odor of sliminess, especially when Owen delivers the more suggestive and stereotypical lines, that doesn’t help his case.) Tack on background vocals that make Owen sound slightly robotic, and all the audience sees is a typical Bro meathead disingenuously professing his love for someone they just want to make out with. It’s yet another disappointing performance that won’t melt even the softest of hearts, and while I think Owen should be better than this, he keeps on demonstrating that he isn’t.

The lyrics here find the narrator attempting to flatter someone by saying they’re “the best thing since back roads,” a comparison that feels very unflattering to me (and calling someone “hotter than a leather seat” isn’t any better). The whole song feels like nothing but a word salad filled with every “country” cliché and buzzword they could stuff into it: Creeks, coolers, crosses, red dirt, two-lanes, driving with the windows down…seriously, my bingo card was filled by the time I got to “rearview.” For as much as the narrator claims to place the person they’re singing to above back roads, much of the song is dedicated to extolling the virtues of said roads, to the point where the other person isn’t really mentioned as all. The writers would also like you to think that this relationship is deep and long-lasting, but the song doesn’t go beyond driving down a river and getting “a little moonlight mud on the tires, if you know what I mean” (we get it bro; Brad Paisley not only wrote the song, he wrote the song about the song). The whole mess feels like a cheap attempt to drop all the same rural references every other song has and make a halfhearted effort to market it as a love song, and the whole charade falls apart under the slightest hint of scrutiny.

“Best Thing Since Backroads” is a loveless love song and a mediocre effort that is probably all we can expect from Jake Owen at this point. What little is done to try to stand out (mostly the throwback guitar) is a token effort to disguise the track’s true lowest-common-denominator nature, as if the people behind this are saying “Hey folks, here’s a song that includes all the country stuff you loooove to hear, but with a paper-thin love story and a guitar that reminds you of other songs you like, so you’ve got to like this one!” It’s kind of sad, but after nearly five years of Owen dragging me over this metaphorical bed of coals, he’ll get no sympathy from me. It’s long past time to put this joker out to pasture.

Rating: 4/10. No thank you.

Song Review: Elle King & Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)”

It’s about time we got a party time that actually feels like a party.

Elle King burst onto the music scene with “Ex’s & Oh’s” back in 2014, but her discography is surprisingly sparse since then, with her most notable performances being features on other singles (most notably Dierks Bentley’s “Different For Girls” in 2016). She’s returned to country music this year, and while she’s in a co-starring role once again, at least this time she’s sharing the top billing, with veteran artist Miranda Lambert joining her on “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home).” The song had already found some traction on the Billboard rock charts before getting pitched to country radio, and it’s not hard to see why: It’s a devil-may-care party song in a genre that’s been drowning in such things for the better part of the last decade. While I wouldn’t call this a great or even good song, it does a better job of establishing a fun, raucous atmosphere than anything Florida Georgia Line has ever done, and it helps establish King’s credentials as she crosses over into the genre.

The main thing that catches your attention with the production is the booming kick drum that opens the track and ends up driving the track forward by virtue of having the most constant presence. Everything else in the arrangement tends to come in waves: The verses are simple affairs with only an electric guitar and dobro providing occasional riffs (the percussion line becomes a bit more intricate over time as well), while the choruses are dominated by a frenetic banjo (there’s even a fiddle that offers a few opinions, but it’s buried deep in the mix for some unknown reason). The dichotomy works: The drums infuse the song with raw energy and a ton of momentum, and the bright banjo tones give the song a positive feel that put a happy face on the craziness contained within the lyrics: Sure, the narrators are throwing caution to the wind, but the sound projects confidence that everything will turn out all right in the end. It’s the sort of party mix that wouldn’t feel out of place at an actual party (unlike many of the deliberate, sluggish Bro-country mixes foisted on us during the 2010s), and it help entice the listener to get in on the fun.

My main question about the vocals is this: What was the point of bringing in Lambert as a second singer? King and Lambert sound almost identical, the song isn’t really written to be a duet, and King acquits herself well enough to carry the song on her own, avoiding any technical issues and bringing enough of a devil-may-care attitude to the table to seem believable and comfortable in the narrator’s role. (The answer likely has nothing to do with Lambert’s voice: King isn’t well-known by country radio, but a devil-may-care attitude has been Lambert’s calling card for most of her career, and she’s got the track record and name recognition to convince on-the-fence listeners and program directors to see what this song is all about.) Much like the production, both artists radiate a strong confidence that regardless of how crazy the night gets, they will remain in control of the situation and everything will be okay when the sun rises the next day, which minimizes the specter of a Randy Houser-like scenario in the listener’s mind (regardless of how unfounded said confidence may be). It’s a solid showing from both artists, as both seem to be having fun while still ultimately staying in control.

The lyrics here document a wild, alcohol-fueled night out on the town, with the narrator proclaiming that they’re “drunk and I don’t wanna go home.” This is probably the weakest part of the song: It’s kind of a “meh” hook, the ‘ooh-ooh’ parts do nothing but fill up space, and the copious drinking and random hookup are kind of par for the course for songs like this. There are a few details that help the song stand out (most notably “getting handsy in the [bathroom] stalls,” which isn’t a line you’ll find too often in a country song), and it does try to couch its craziness to avoid any worst-case scenarios (the narrator gives up their keys, repeatedly assures the audience “don’t worry, I’ll be fine,” and even in the “handsy” event, they are at least fully aware of the situation and how it might impact them), but their impact on other people (such as the “missus” mentioned in the second verse) isn’t really considered. It’s very dependent on the singers to keep the song from veering into the gutter, and while King and Lambert are able to hold the track together, it’s still a lot to ask of the artist, and I would have preferred for the writing to be a bit more steady on its own two feet. Still, the bar for party tracks is fairly low, and by leaving enough hooks to let the singer work their magic and elevate it, it gives itself a fighting chance.

I’m not much of a “party song” guy, but if you’re in the market for a good time, you could do a lot worse than “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home).” The production is inspired and well-executed, the vocals from both Elle King and Miranda Lambert give the song a fun and confident feel, and the writing manages to avoid enough pitfalls to allow the other components of the track to carry it. Most importantly, I think it does a better job capturing the fun of a good time than most of the party tracks that have been dumped on us over the last few years. I’m not sure I’ll remember this track in four months, but I’ll enjoy it for four minutes when it comes on, and if King is looking to establish a more-permanent presence in the genre, this is a decent place to start.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a few spins to see how you feel about it.

Song Review: Logan Mize, “Better Off Gone”

Because the phrase isn’t “when you love someone, you should try to sleep with them immediately.”

Logan Mize is a Kansas native who has been kicking around Nashville since 2010, but hasn’t managed to break through the radio blockade and find a place on the airwaves. We’re only now getting “Better Off Gone,” the second single from his Come Back Road album, after “Ain’t Always Pretty,” barely cracked the Top 40 on Billboard’s airplay chart three years ago. Timing is everything, however, and by waiting until the genre’s Bro-Country and Metropolitan fevers had broken, Mize may have found the right moment to step back into the spotlight. Unlike the meatheaded “gotta have her right this second” tracks that have littered country music for years, “Better Off Gone” has the awareness that a relationship must work for both parties, and that sometimes love means putting another’s well-being above your own.

On some level, this is the guitar-and-drum you hear on most every track on the radio, but there are a couple of differences to note here. For one, the guitars are mostly acoustic (an electric axe does pop up before the bridge for some moody notes, but that’s it), and they a nice job driving the melody with some energy and tempo (even though it’s nice really a fast song). The drum set seems to be snare-less, and the bass-heavy percussion gives the mix a nice punch to go with the guitar. I like how the sparseness of the arrangement keeps the focus on the lyrics (in fact, I wish it had been more sparse: The piano on the bridge is fine, but the stomp and clap lines on the final chorus felt unnecessary), and how the minor chords and somewhat-darker tones of the acoustic guitar underscore the narrator’s inner turmoil: He knows that letting his partner go is the right thing to do, but that doesn’t make it any easier or less painful. Overall, it’s a nice mix that keeps things simple and fits the song well.

I hear a little bit of Rodney Atkins and John Michael Montgomery in Mize’s voice, and he seems to have the same sort of earnest charisma that Atkins surprised us with back in the early 2000s. While Mize’s flow isn’t tested much here, he demonstrates the range to smoothly handle the lower verses and climb the ladder to apply some power on the choruses. He reminds me a bit of Aaron Watson because of the way he makes you feel like he’s really straining to drive his point home, yet he hits every note in the end. Most importantly, he’s able to capture the narrator’s conflicting emotions over doing the right thing and knowing how painful it will end up being. In doing so, he makes himself a likable and sympathetic character to the audience, and and deepens the impressions he leaves on them after the song is over. Yes, we have far too many young male artists like this in the genre today, but at least Mize’s skill and charm keep him out of the lower tier.

The lyrics here stand in stark contrast to most of the songs I’ve covered over the past couple of years. Relationship songs these days seem to focus on either getting into the backseat or bedroom as fast as possible (“I Don’t Know About You,” “Make Me Want To,” etc.) or getting as much pleasure out of a doomed relationship while it lasts (“One That Gone Away,” “Just A Phase,” etc.), but “Better Off Gone” features a relationship where one partner has their eyes on something big over the horizon, and instead of holding on too tightly for their own benefit, the narrator selflessly steps aside and lets their partner leave, noting that they are “better off gone.” (Think of it as a prequel to Eric Church’s “Round Here Buzz.”) I like the use of detail here, both the novel (country stations fading out) and the not-so-novel (all that clothing the other person took? They’re taking it off and giving it back), and I really like the narrator’s perspective on the whole situation: If you really love someone, you want to help them achieve whatever dreams they have, even if you yourself lose out in the end.  Too many artists look at love as something to milk for all the fun that it’s worth, so to see someone turn away from that because it was the right thing to do (and more importantly, frame its so the audience believes them) is a refreshing sight.

“Better Off Gone” is not a great song, but it’s a pretty decent one, something that might earn Logan Mize the breakthrough he’s been looking for. The production is solid and suitable, the writing’s sentiment is laudable, and Mize himself does a great job selling the story and convincing a jaded audience that yes, he truly want what’s best for his soon-to-be-ex partner. I know there’s no shortage of artists like Mize coming off Nashville’s assembly line, but at least this particular artist showcases enough talent to warrant sticking around.

Rating: 6/10. Give it a listen and see what you think.