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Do you need to download Switch games if you have the cartridge?

The short answer is no – you do not need to download anything additional if you have the physical cartridge for a Nintendo Switch game. The game data is fully contained on the cartridge, so no downloading or internet connection is required to play. You can simply insert the cartridge and start playing right away!

However, there are some benefits to also downloading digital versions of games you own physically. Let‘s explore this in more detail…

The lowdown on Switch cartridges

Nintendo Switch game cartridges are read-only memory cards that contain all the data needed to play the game – the graphics, sounds, game logic and engine, etc. This is different from platforms like PlayStation and Xbox that use optical discs. Discs store part of the data and need to install large game files to the console hard drive.

Cartridges plug straight into the Switch and run the game directly with minimal installs. This makes them super fast to load up and start playing!

Key facts about Switch cartridges:

  • All game data is on the cartridge – no mandatory installs or downloads.
  • Small amounts (up to 500MB) may cache onto the console for faster loading.
  • Save data is stored on the console, not the cartridge.
  • Updates are downloaded to enhance features, fix bugs and enable online play.
  • Supports offline play even without downloading updates.

So in summary, the Switch cartridge itself contains everything needed to play the game offline with no additional downloads required!

Reasons you may still want digital games

While cartridges are fully self-contained, here are some benefits for downloading digital copies of games you physically own:

Downloading games you own allows:

  • Playing your games on multiple Switch consoles through the primary/secondary system feature.
  • Re-downloading your game on a new Switch if your console is damaged, lost or replaced.
  • Potentially getting access to your game faster by pre-loading it digitally before launch.
  • Not having to carry cartridges around to have your full library accessible.

Digital purchases are tied to your Nintendo Account and can be redownloaded at any time. So even if you lose or break your Switch, you can restore your entire library on a new console.

Physical cartridges don‘t have this flexibility. If you lose the cartridge, you‘ve lost the game! Having both physical and digital copies covers all bases.

The case for physical cartridges

Physical Switch games have remained popular for some key reasons:

Benefits of physical cartridge games:

  • Usually cheaper than digital version – by $10 or more when new.
  • Retains resale value much better compared to digital.
  • Collectors enjoy displaying and collecting game boxes & carts.
  • Can purchase used physical copies at reduced prices.
  • Can share or trade cartridges with friends & family.

Physical games allow you to recoup some value by trading in or reselling when you are done with a game. Digital games have no way to get back any of your money.

As you can see, both formats have their own advantages. Some gamers prefer physical, others digital, and some like myself get the best of both worlds by buying certain games physically and others digitally!

Do you need Nintendo Switch Online?

A Nintendo Switch Online subscription is required for online multiplayer gaming. But it is not needed to simply play games on your Switch, both physical and digital.

However, a Switch Online membership provides other benefits like:

  • Access to classic NES/SNES games.
  • Cloud save data backups.
  • Voice chat via the app.
  • Special offers like Tetris 99 and Pac-Man 99.

So in summary, online play requires a subscription but you can still enjoy online-free games perfectly fine without it.

Many single player focused games like Zelda Breath of the Wild don‘t even use online features. The subscription is an optional extra to enhance the experience.

Switch digital game sizes

One consideration for going digital is having enough storage space. Here‘s a look at how much space some popular Switch game downloads take up:

Game Download Size
Breath of the Wild 13.4 GB
Super Smash Bros Ultimate 12.8 GB
Super Mario Odyssey 5.5 GB
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe 7 GB
Animal Crossing New Horizons 6.2 GB

As you can see, some major titles are over 10GB. So if you plan on going mostly digital, a larger microSD card such as 128GB or 256GB is recommended to store your library.

Switch cartridge capacities

Switch game cards come in a range of storage sizes:

  • 1GB
  • 2GB
  • 4GB
  • 8GB
  • 16GB
  • 32GB

Smaller indie titles may only need a 1-2GB cartridge. Bigger games like The Witcher 3 use 32GB cards to fit everything.

The cost of producing higher capacity carts is more for Nintendo. However, this doesn‘t appear to have translated to noticeably higher prices for consumers. Physical and digital versions of the same game are usually similarly priced.

Game sharing with family members

A nice benefit of downloading games digitally is that you can share your library with family members. Here‘s how Nintendo‘s game sharing feature works:

  • Set your console as the "Primary" device.
  • Other Switch consoles can play your downloads by logging into your account.
  • Up to 8 accounts can share games across multiple devices.
  • Only 1 console can be the Primary playing your games at a time.

This is a handy way for siblings or couples to access each other‘s games without buying twice. Do note game sharing only works with digital titles, not physical cartridges.

In summary…

While physical Switch cartridges contain everything needed to play games, downloading digital copies can also be beneficial. Some reasons to go digital include easier access to your library across multiple Switch consoles, re-downloading games if your Switch is damaged or lost, and sharing games with family members.

However, physical games retain collectible value, can be resold or traded in, bought used for lower prices, and shared the old fashioned way by lending cartridges.

There are great reasons to go both physical or digital. Many gamers actually get the best of both worlds and buy a mix of physical and digital titles. This lets them benefit from the advantages of each!