Since the release of the portable-only Switch Lite last week, I’ve tried setting up my account on both the Lite and my original Switch so that my wife and kids can play games like Super Mario Odyssey and Yoshi’s craft world on one without erasing my backup data or interrupting my reading Puzzle quest the other. Nintendo didn’t make it easy. Here is how we made it work.
In theory, this should work without any fancy workarounds. I have two switches, the new Lite and an original Switch which I bought in March 2017. I also have a huge library of games, mostly digital. I want to be able to share these games on these systems. I also want to be able to stop playing on one console, transfer the save data, and pick up where I left off on the other.
The obstacle is that Nintendo won’t let you do that. They require Switch owners to have a Nintendo Account, which is used to purchase games digitally. A Nintendo Account can be added to multiple Switch consoles, but only one console can be designated as a “primary” console at a time. This is where the problems lie.
The problem with setting up two switches on one account
First of all, in order to play a game on a non-primary system, that system must connect to the Internet to ensure that the user owns and can access the content. While a non-master 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-master switch cannot connect to the internet, it will not play games.
Second, a non-master switch cannot launch a game if the master switch is already playing a game downloaded from the same user account. For example, if I play Puzzle quest on my main Switch and my wife is trying to play any game on my Switch Lite using my account, she will get a message that the game is on hold because the account is in use 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 will receive 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 needs to be signed in under my Nintendo Account.
My solution was to set up my Nintendo Account on the Switch Lite. This gave anyone playing Lite the ability to download and play any game on my Nintendo Account. It works fine as long as my Switch Lite is the only one in use, but I ran into issues because I had set my original Switch as the primary Switch. It turns out that was not the best solution.
Change the main switch
The first Nintendo Switch to log into the eShop for a specific user is referred to as its primary console. The main console of any Nintendo Account can download and play any game purchased under that account without limitation. No internet verification is required to ensure that a main console’s software is playable.
A single console can be a primary console for one Nintendo Account at a time, although multiple accounts can claim the same Switch as primary. I have three Nintendo accounts: my main account and two to access European and Japanese eShops. All three accounts have my original Switch set as primary. Any additional user added to a Switch console can also freely play any content uploaded by primary users of that Switch.
A Nintendo Account holder can change the primary Switch console at any time. To do this, log into the eShop on the main console, go to the account settings and choose the option to deactivate the console. After that, the next Switch that connects to the eShop will automatically become primary.
The best configuration for two switches
If you plan to run two Switches sharing a single Nintendo Account, the system most likely to end up somewhere without convenient internet access should be the primary console. This is because a non-primary switch needs to connect to the Internet to verify ownership of downloadable content, unlike a primary console.
That’s why I decided to make my original Switch my non-primary. 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 verification before playing a game. The Switch Lite, which I imagine I will take wherever I go, will be the new main one, so I can play games that don’t require internet connection anywhere I want.
Since the Switch Lite is primary and any account can play a game purchased by the primary account on a primary system, my wife can create her own username on the Switch Lite and play all games that I accumulated without worry. Better yet, if she’s playing on her account on the Switch Lite, when my normal Switch does the pre-launch check to see if my account is playing games on the main 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 more sessions.
How to exchange backup sets
You can juggle backing up files on two switches, but it requires manual effort. It is neither automated nor transparent.
There are two ways to share saves between two Nintendo Switch consoles: cloud saves and local transfers. Cloud backups are the most convenient and easy way to share backups between two switches. Users simply go to the Switch data management menu and choose the “Save Data Cloud” option to access a list of games with saved data. Make sure the save data timestamp matches the most local save timestamp, download and play.
Cloud backups are fairly easy to manage, but there are a few caveats. A user must be subscribed to Nintendo’s paid online service to have access to cloud save. Additionally, not all games support cloud saves.
Backups for games that do not support cloud saves must be transferred locally. This can be done via a short range (RIGHT?) Wireless connection. The source and destination switch consoles must be nearby for the transfer to be initiated. An important thing to remember is that local backup transfers are a one-way process.
The backup is moved to its destination and deleted from the source. Not realizing it, I transferred 20 hours Puzzle quest save on the Switch Lite, after which my wife started a new game, effectively erasing my save. Plan accordingly.
Or just buy physical games
The easiest way to share games between Switch consoles is to simply purchase physical copies of games where possible. None of the nonsense of internet verification or account swapping applies to a Nintendo Switch game cartridge. Any account can read a physical cartridge at any time. Maybe I’ll hit my local play store before I lose more Puzzle quest progress.