I love the Virtual Console. As a gamer who hopped on board the console-owning bandwagon with Nintendo 64, and before that was only exposed to video games when I visited friends and family, it represents a chance for me to experience relics from an era to which I was only a distant witness. Over the years I’ve slowly begun to expand my Virtual Console library – but I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg.
There’s such a wealth of content to be had, so many games that have received beaming recommendations and that I know I’ll be all over once my wallet permits it: games like Gradius, StarTropics, Ghosts’n Goblins, Secret of Mana, Shining Force, and so on.
But, for reasons unknown, as Nintendo begins to take its next big step into a new gaming generation, I sense that they don’t really care about the Virtual Console.
I first started to suspect this with the launch of the Nintendo eShop on 3DS. While the Wii Shop’s first calendar year in North America saw the debut of 52 NES games, 23 SNES games, 9 Nintendo 64 games, 39 Sega Genesis games, 44 TurboGrafx-16 games, and 5 NeoGeo games (for a total of 172 games), in the same time 3DS only saw 28 Game Boy games, 5 Game Boy Color games, 11 NES games (only 4 of which had seen official release), 10 Game Boy Advance games (none of which have been publicly released), and 6 3D Classics titles (for a total of 60 games).
That’s more or less a third of the games that were released for Wii – which is pretty pathetic when you consider that these titles are all literally just old games running on emulators. It’s especially pathetic when you consider that 3DS’s first year was considerably less packed with first-party retail releases than Wii’s first year was.
Granted, when Wii’s Virtual Console launched Nintendo wasn’t also scrambling to prepare another new system, but I think it’s fairly clear that the drastic lack of attention the 3DS Virtual Console has received since launch isn’t just a coincidence – it’s an intentional play by Nintendo. That back catalog could be the Holy Grail of Gaming, the endless source of quality content just like it was for Wii, if only they would let it. Instead, they’re shoving it aside – it’s low on the priority list.
The worst part is that the Virtual Console in its current form is not account-bound – it’s system-bound. Nintendo could have given gamers access to their entire NES Virtual Console library on the go from the moment the eShop launched, but their game downloads aren’t wired that way. If you want to have a NES in your pocket, you’ll need to re-buy every game for the same price you already paid on Wii.
Nintendo has promised that you’ll be able to transfer your Wii downloads to Wii U, but so far – and I want to draw special attention to this fact – they’ve given no indication that they are including them in an account-based, console-free scheme. This should throw up massive warning signs to anyone who wishes to believe that Nintendo is on the right road to a successful digital future.
Equally annoying is the fact that it doesn’t seem that the massive backlog of NES games is going to make it to the system anytime soon, so even if you were willing to shell out $5 a pop to make your NES library portable, Nintendo won’t take your money.
Most recently, they’ve decided to offer a rare enhanced version of Donkey Kong‘s NES edition – but not as a publicly-available game. If you want to play Donkey Kong, you’ll have to buy a totally unrelated game first. Why not just offer it as a regular download? Why use it as a marketing scheme to get people to buy one of those other games? Is this how Nintendo sees Donkey Kong, a game they should be putting on a grand pedestal – as a mere “extra”?
When people bashed Sony for carrying over a meager range of PSone download titles to Vita’s online store, they were 100% correct – there really is no excuse for all of the PSone titles already available on PSN not to be available for Vita from the start (especially when other regions did get massive selections). Why should we give Nintendo a free pass, however? Aren’t they just as guilty?
I would argue that we should be much more critical of Nintendo, because their legacy catalog is that much more important. If a large chunk of games that are now available on Wii Virtual Console are missing from the Wii U eShop at launch, you should be even more angry than Sony fans were about the Vita’s PSone library.
You should already be angry that Nintendo has not taken steps to make Virtual Console games playable on the Wii U GamePad. Based on accounts from third-party developers, implementing Off-TV Play is a literally brainless task that simply involves cutting and pasting a line of code. Surely Wii U could feature enhanced emulators that allow for this with Virtual Console games as well – and the GamePad’s button configuration could easily support them all.
Not offering the ability to play Wii games on the GamePad is understandable, since for most Wii games there is an organic relationship between the Wii Remote and the TV screen that I do not think could be easily replicated with the GamePad. (But since the Wii U Brand Manager in Spain says it is technically possible thanks to the GamePad’s sensor bar, it should have still been relatively easy to implement.)
Nintendo could offer to the Mario fan, “Here, if you buy Wii U, every Mario game in history will be available to you,” or to the Zelda fan, “You have dreamed of a day when you would be able to assemble every Zelda game on your current hardware. That day has come.” They could say, “You can now play every game you own without having to be in your living room.”
But they don’t. They’re holding this potential back. Why is this? Why can’t this potential be there from Day One? Why the slow drip of Virtual Console games? Why has Nintendo left out its legacy software lineup from Wii U’s second screen proposition?
Does Nintendo even care about those older games anymore?
These are questions that I think we all need to ask Nintendo as Wii U looms nearer.