Since last week’s release of the portable-only Switch Lite, I’ve been trying to set up my account on both the Lite and my original Switch so my wife and kids can play games like Super Mario Odyssey and Yoshi’s Crafted World on one without erasing my save data or interrupting my playing Puzzle Quest on the other. Nintendo hasn’t made this easy. Here’s how we’ve made it work.
In theory, it should just work without any fancy workarounds. I have two Switches, the new Lite and an original Switch that I purchased in March of 2017. I also own a vast library of games, mostly digitally. I want to be able to share these games across these systems. I also want to be able to stop playing on one console, transfer save data over, and pick up where I left off on the other.
The obstacle is that Nintendo won’t just let you do this. They require that Switch owners have a Nintendo Account, used to digitally purchase games. A Nintendo account can be added to multiple Switch consoles, but only one console at a time can be designated the “primary” console. That’s where the issues lie.
First off, in order to play a game on a non-primary system, that system has to connect to the internet to ensure the user owns and can access the content. While a non-primary Switch can still download digital games or content owned by a Nintendo account, there are limitations on when and how those games can be played. If a non-primary Switch cannot connect to the internet, it will not play games.
Secondly, a non-primary Switch cannot launch a game if the primary Switch is already playing a downloaded game from the same user account. For example, if I am playing Puzzle Quest on my primary Switch and my wife attempts to play any game on my Switch Lite using my account, she will get a message indicating the game is suspended because the account is being used on another system. If my wife is actively playing on the secondary and I start any digital game on my primary Switch, her game will pause and she’ll get the same suspend message.
Also note that a non-primary Switch cannot share games between different users. While any user can play my purchased games on my primary Switch, to play my games on the non-primary Switch Lite, my wife has to be logged in under my Nintendo account.
My solution has involved setting up my Nintendo account on the Switch Lite. This has given anyone playing the Lite the ability to download and play any games on my Nintendo account. This works fine as long as my Switch Lite is the only Switch of mine that is being used, but I’ve run into problems, because I’d established my original Switch as my Primary Switch. Turns out that wasn’t the best solution.
The first Nintendo Switch to connect to the eShop for a specific user is designated their primary console. The primary console for any Nintendo account is able to download and play any game purchased under that account without limitations. No internet check is required to ensure a primary console’s software is playable.
Only one console can be a primary console for a Nintendo account at a time, though multiple accounts can claim the same Switch as their primary. I have three Nintendo accounts: my main account and two to access the European and Japanese eShops. All three accounts have my original Switch set as primary. Any additional users added to a Switch console can also freely play any content downloaded by that Switch’s primary users.
A Nintendo account holder can change which Switch console is their primary at any time. This is done by logging into the eShop on the primary console, going to account settings, and choosing the deactivate console option. After that, the next Switch that logs into the eShop will automatically become primary.
If you’re going to run two Switches sharing a single Nintendo account, whichever system is more likely to wind up somewhere without convenient access to the internet should be the primary console. This is because a non-primary Switch needs to connect to the internet to verify ownership of downloadable content, while a primary console does not.
That’s why I’ve decided to make my original Switch my non-primary one. My plan is to keep my original Switch at home for docked play. Since it will never be far from my wireless router, I can afford to always have the online check before I play a game. The Switch Lite, which I imagine I’ll be taking everywhere I go, will be the new primary, so I can play games that don’t require an internet connection wherever I want.
Since the Switch Lite is primary, and any account can play a game purchased by the main account on a primary system, my wife can create her own user name on the Switch Lite and play any of the games I’ve amassed without worry. Even better, if she is playing on her account on the Switch Lite, when my normal Switch does the pre-launch check to see if my account is playing any games on the primary console, it won’t detect anything. I can play my games, she can play hers, and I won’t get yelled at for interrupting her bathroom Puzzle Quest sessions anymore.
You can juggle save files across two Switches, but it requires manual effort. It’s not automated or seamless.
There are two ways to share save games between two Nintendo Switch consoles: cloud saves and local transfers. Cloud saves are the most convenient and hassle-free means of sharing saves between two Switches. Users simply pop into the Switch data management menu and choose the “Save Data Cloud” option to access a list of games with backed up data. Make sure the backup data timestamp matches the stamp of the most local save, download it and play.
Cloud saves are pretty easy to manage, but there are a couple of caveats. A user has to be subscribed to Nintendo’s paid online service to have access to cloud saving. Also, not every game supports cloud saves.
Saves for games that do not support cloud backups must be transferred locally. That can be done over short-range wireless (RIGHT?). The source and destination Switch consoles must be in close proximity for the transfer to be initiated. An important thing to remember is that local save transfers are a one-way process. The save is moved to its destination and deleted on the source. Not realizing that, I transferred a 20-hour Puzzle Quest save to the Switch Lite, after which my wife started a new game, effectively obliterating my save. Plan accordingly.
The easiest way to share games between Switch consoles is just to buy physical copies of games whenever possible. None of the internet checking or account swapping nonsense applies to a Nintendo Switch game cartridge. Any account can play a physical cartridge at any time. Maybe I’ll hit up my local game store before losing any more Puzzle Quest progress.