Nintendo Can Do So Much Better Than Virtual Console

Nintendo Can Do So Much Better Than Virtual Console
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Photo: Nintendo

Virtual Console is no more, but that doesn’t mean that Switch won’t become the best place to play classic games. It will just be done in a different way than what Nintendo’s tried in the past. And that’s a good thing, because Virtual Console kinda sucked.

Now, by “Virtual Console kinda sucked” I do not mean “Nintendo’s old games are bad,” or even that Virtual Console’s game selection was bad, or anything like that. In case you are wholly unfamiliar with my work, I love old games and think that as many of them as possible should be kept in print on modern-day hardware.

I just think that Virtual Console, the feature, was an inefficient way of implementing this idea, and that there is a better way. Virtual Console died so that retro gaming on Switch could live.

Virtual Console has long been the branding under which Nintendo has released classic NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, and other games as downloadable titles for modern hardware, both from itself and from third-party software makers. From the day that Nintendo started selling Virtual Console games on Wii in 2006, all the way to just a few months ago when the last few games dribbled out for Wii U and 3DS, I spent over a thousand dollars on Virtual Console games.

I have to admit that it would be pleasing to my wallet if there were an upgrade path that simply let me migrate those games over to the Switch. But having an upgrade path like that would mean leaving Virtual Console as it is – which is to say, fundamentally broken.

The laws of Virtual Console were laid down way back in 2006, which is forever ago in video game industry time. I don’t have access to the original chiselled stone tablet in Nintendo’s office, but I imagine it reads something like this:

I. Thou shalt not use any emulator but Nintendo’s.

II. Games for a single console shalt all be priced the same (unless we raise it).

III. Nintendo shalt be the final arbiter of what consoles and games are allowed.

IIII. Thou shalt not put games on sale (very often).

V. Games shalt be released in drip-feed fashion.

If saying goodbye to Virtual Console means saying goodbye to all that, well — good riddance.

The flat pricing made no sense then and it makes no sense now. Fondly-remembered classic Super Mario Bros. 3 is worth much more money than the hopelessly dated Urban Champion, and they should not have each cost $US5 ($7).

Nintendo’s general reluctance to discount its software meant that many games would never reach impulse-buy levels, and that if a third party wanted to release any of its lesser-known games on Switch, it was pretty much stuck with a price point that was probably going to be too high to attract a mass audience.

Urban Champion? Not for five bucks. (Screenshot: Nintendo, Moby Games)

Urban Champion? Not for five bucks.Screenshot: Nintendo (Moby Games)

And the emulators themselves, while usually excellent in terms of replicating the classic gameplay, were not exactly what you’d call “fully-featured.” The original Wii versions didn’t even have such basic features as button remapping or save states (you could suspend your game in progress but couldn’t arbitrarily load and save them).

Later consoles’ versions of Virtual Console had some feature upgrades, but in general offered a tiny fraction of the things you could do with other commercial and non-commercial emulators.

In short, the only thing that was any good about Virtual Console was the games themselves. Not the pricing, not the slow-as-molasses release schedule, and not the emulation wrapper. The Switch can do better than Virtual Console. A lot better.

Kirby, As Usual, Is The Answer

There’s a reason why everybody wants Nintendo’s classic games on Switch. It’s perfect for them. You can play them on TV, you can play them on the go. You can play with a single Joy-Con, you can play in handheld mode, you can play with a pro controller.

You can even flip your Switch vertically to play games like Ikaruga and Punch-Out in their original orientation. Nintendo has said that “nostalgia/” is a primary driver of game purchases on Switch’s eShop.

While it’s annoying that you can’t yet play Super Mario World or Ocarina of Time or any of Nintendo’s other classics on Switch, other publishers aren’t dragging their feet so much. Just to name a few big ones: The publisher Hamster has been cranking out Switch releases of arcade games, including Nintendo’s own arcade games like Vs. Super Mario Bros.

Sega has announced a line of classics called Sega Ages. Capcom is bringing its Mega Man and Street Fighter collections to Switch.

SNK recently announced that it’s getting into the action with a compilation of many of its classics, too. (Here I should point out that the latter two are being worked on by friends of mine including Frank Cifaldi, who was on a recent episode of Kotaku’s Complete In Box.)

Gain Ground will be one of the first Sega Ages releases for Switch. (Screenshot: Sega)

Gain Ground will be one of the first Sega Ages releases for Switch.Screenshot: Sega

What’s important to note here is that each publisher, rather than be bound to the one-size-fits-all Virtual Console, is trying totally different things. Hamster is hewing closest to the old Virtual Console model, with games sold one by one on the eShop for premium prices. SNK is bundling a bunch of unrelated games together and adding features like rewind. Capcom is doing smaller bundles, separated by series. Not only does this mean that publishers can try whatever methods they think are best, it means that the resulting competition of ideas can show what works and what doesn’t.

And then there’s Nintendo, offering an all-you-can-eat buffet of 8-bit NES games if you subscribe to its $29.95 yearly online service for Switch.

No, it’s not as broad an offering as some may have hoped, but as far as the NES library goes, I’d much rather have this service than have to pay $US5 ($7) each for the 20 games that will launch with the service in September.

And importantly, the existence of this service doesn’t preclude Nintendo from selling these games, either, no more so than the existence of Netflix negates the idea of Blu-ray. Nintendo even already has the perfect model for how it could double-dip on these games and make everyone happy: Kirby’s Dream Collection, which it released in 2012 for Wii.

This collection brought together the first six Kirby platformers (from four different consoles) with bonus content and a deluxe package with a soundtrack CD and art book, for $US40 ($53).

I see no reason why Nintendo should not embrace this on Switch in addition to the Netflix-style library. (Well, except for the fact that Nintendo often refuses to do the things that it obviously should.) Even being a grand in the hole on Virtual Console purchases, I’d be first in line to buy a Mario or Zelda collection that spanned the ages and featured bonus content. Or Metroid. Or (sigh) EarthBound.

Add that to the currently-existing business of standalone retro mini-consoles, and Nintendo would have all its bases covered: Want to own games forever? Buy a collection. Want to dabble in everything, but not own anything? Subscribe to the service.

Don’t want a Switch? Buy the mini-console.

What we don’t need is for classic games on Switch to be tied to the outmoded and inefficient concept of Virtual Console. We shouldn’t mistake “Virtual Console” as being synonymous with “old Nintendo games on Switch.” There is a path forward that is better. Hopefully Nintendo continues along it expediently.

Because, seriously, I want to play Super Nintendo games on the Switch already.


    • You are amazed that people like something you don’t enjoy, or is it something specific about the journalism that irks you?

      • Not sure how Scarecrow feels but I haven’t been interested in Nintendo since the Wii cause everything keeps having to be rebought. Everyone makes excuses for Nintendo but why can’t your old Virtual Console licences get you a Switch Version? Why not be like the XB1 backwards compatibility program which is now retroactive to even original games? It’s always a positive spin for Mario.

      • I’m guessing he’s thinking it’s weird the journalist is praising Nintendo, even though he’s spent over $1000 on purchasing these games for other systems.

        I for one haven’t spent anywhere near that, but I’m pretty bummed about it.

        • yeah. The author seems like an addict who is in denial about their problem. And is doing backflips to justify their decisions.

          • You’re seeing this from the point of view of someone for whom 1000$ is a lot. Have you considered that a thousand could not be a lot for him? Hence, there’s no need for him to “justify” Nintendo, nor to be angry about having to re-purchase his games.

            Having said that, however, I don’t see the need to re-re-re-purchase 80/90s games: I get buying them once for the nostalgia, but once you finished’em again that’s it, you should be set for another 10 years, why do you have to constantly play these old games? (unless we’re talking about arcade games, but Nintendo classics are mostly non-arcade story-driven games).

        • But you can still play those games on the other systems, right?

          I bought a ton of Atari Lynx games for my Lynx at the time, I couldn’t play any of them on the Jaguar…

          • Yeah but the snes games i bought weren’t designed for the wii u. But i see your point. I can still play them on my wii u. I’d prefer them on the switch though.

      • I interpreted his comment to mean.

        “So we can praise Nintendo for finding another way to sell us the same games. Virtual Console is being replaced by “how every other platform handles retro releases” , there’s zero upgrade path for those of us who spent hundreds on Wii/WiiU (which at least had a slightly expensive upgrade path, if you chose not to use the perfectly OK WiiU/Wii emulation for VC) and 3DS.”

        That’s just me though. I’m a massive Nintendo fan, extensive VC library, hundreds of Wii/U/DS/3DS titles, both minis, multiple DS and 3DS’s – but to those of us who stuck it through the WiiU gen (and it was a Damn Good gen) – there is so much to do with Switch that is holding me back from being a v1 purchaser (lack of external storage/backup options, upgraded WiiU 1st party ports I bought years ago just for starters) – that I can’t help but be a little disappointed with this announcement that took a year from launch to announce, and close to 18 months to implement.

        I’m a Nintendo fan, I’ll end up buying one (SMO the only must have for me atm, I’ve got BOTW, SMK8 and most of the better WiiU ports on WiiU) – at least when the new Pokémon releases – but to say I’m underwhelmed would be an accurate assessment of this announcement.

        Maybe I’ve been spoiled by free emulation on XBO (upgraded graphics/performance and all) – but this very much seems like a 2006 solution for a 2018 online platform.

        Or maybe, he’s being a jerk. But when the article starts with “I spent $1000+ on VC, and I keep none of it, but that’s great because I can buy 3rd party retro titles the same as I do on a Sony/MS/PC platform now, this is great!” , “I can pay $30 a year to play the 3ds ambassador NES freebies!” – I kind of get the feeling there’s some circular jerking going on.

        • ^This guy wrote the long version of what I was saying – the writer of the article is literally trying to justify Nintendos poor decisions. One could almost deduce that he’s paid to do it.

          I don’t hate Nintendo. I just wish they would give up the hardware game – sincerely. Or they would let their games go multi platform and those that wanted mobile gaming could grab the Switch.

          So many of Nintendos great games are held back by their god awful hardware and the implementation that goes with them.

          Why do friend codes still exist? Why doesn’t the switch have an SD card slot to back up saves? Why is someone forced to buy a subscription to access basic features? It’s 2018, why is voice chat tied to a iOS/Android device and not built into the console itself?

          Seriously I would be salty as fuck if all of these features come to the Switch+ in a year or so.

          • scarecrow88 “Why is someone forced to buy a subscription to access basic features?”

            Sadly that’s an industry standard now, and Nintendo was the last of “the big three” to adopt this business model.

      • As another person has said below – it seems like the Journalist is in denial that Nintendo would do this to him, again. He seems to go back and forth trying to convince himself over the article.

        The writer is nothing but a Nintendo fanboy or “addict” who is trying to justify why Nintendo has dumped a perfectly fine system(Virtual Console) that he has spent 1000s of dollars on.

    • “People who are not me really like something that I don’t like. Clearly, they are wrong because the things /I/ really like are the only valuable pursuits in life”.

      • TLDR of the article –

        “Nintendo has ditched Virtual Console which I have spent 1000s of dollars on. I am a Nintendo Fanboy so here is 3000 words where I will attempt to convince myself and justify their decision.”

  • If it ends up as a $30 all you can eat retro gaming buffet then I am all for it.
    If is set up in such a way that you can’t download the games to the switch for offline play then it will be a massive mistake.

    We will all know soon enough.

    • They’ve said there will be offline options, so I assume you can download the games direct to the Switch, rather than streaming them like PS Plus rather than PS Now.

  • Looks like its gonna be another forced monthly subscription. im so over console gaming this and last generation. I am happy to pay a fee to download and play a game i want. have no desire to be a monthly subscriber to their BS systems just to continue to play that game.

    • Microsofts game pass is pretty good. You get Microsoft studio games release day. State of Decay 2 comes out on the 18th and it will only cost 11 dollars to play it. You know World of Warcraft had a subscription yeah?

      You’re not really forced to do anything. At the end of the day.

      • yes wow has a subscription. and i am constantly logged in and playing on their servers and being given continual content upgrades as well. in what world do i need to pay a subscription fee to access a 4 megabit rom of super mario brothers?

        • No ones has a gun to your head saying buy this subscription though. If you dont like it dont buy it. Simple.

          • and i wont be. Ill be voting with my wallet. My complaint isn’t that i”m ‘forced’to do anything. my complaint is this bs subscriptions model that”s slowly taking over everything in the games industry. Not everything needs to be a recurring charge. especially not access to 30 year old games.

    • It’s a yearly subscription and I think you need it to play online games like splatoon 2. That being said, I take your point about being able to purchase games if you have no interest in the online service. I’ll be getting it because I play a lot of online games and am more interested in dipping in and out of nes games than paying for them and hardly playing them (I was a Sega kid, I don’t have the same nostalgia)

      • I have zero interest in the online play aspects of the console. the only thing i was remotely interested in getting a switch for was to have a nice reliable portable console to play retro games on.

      • For me Splatoon is the only online game I have any interest in playing on Switch, but paying for sub a substandard service for just the one game isn’t exactly appealing (let alone having a good chunk of said fee’s “value” come from a bunch of old games I either already own or don’t care about).

        • I’m the same but I’m also hanging out for smash brothers, animal crossing and who knows what other games that might have online aspects I’d actually use. I am also yet to pick up arms, it doesn’t look like something I’d enjoy but I didn’t expect to like splatoon as much as I do either

  • My Switch will be a brilliant Retro console – its still on firmware 3.0 and RetroArch even in its early homebrew form is running decent on it :P.

  • Why even sell retro games on a virtual store when the consumer is more than happy to buy a purely retro console?

    Just release NES and SNES mini 2 and what the customers buy them like hotcakes.

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