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Have Nintendo Dropped the Ball With the Virtual Console?

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Nostalgia is a powerful weapon in entertainment. You only need to look at the amount of HD remasters and reboots being announced weekly across gaming, TV and film to know that much. Even Sailor Moon has made a comeback. One of the best things about having internet-connected consoles is the ability to spend our hard-earned money on titles we already own, and build a library of games we can swap between without needing to actually get out of our seats.

With the Wii, Nintendo did this extremely well. The Virtual Console spanned multiple systems across different generations, with everything from Ocarina of Time to, errr, Ecco the Dolphin all contained in just one box. Growing up in the 16bit era, this was the stuff of dreams.

With third-party support on the Wii pretty thin (shovelware aside) and Nintendo’s own releases spread too few and far between, it was their extensive back catalogue that filled in the gaps. To the older, more hardcore gamers, the Wii became the machine that allowed us to relive our childhoods. Nintendo knew they had an ace up their sleeve and supported the Virtual Console with regular updates, swathes of great titles – not only from their own vault of gems but once-rivals like Sega as well – and releasing classics for the first time in the States and Europe that you could previously only get through importing (and other dubious means we won’t mention here). In the eyes of many gamers, the Virtual Console really helped validate the Wii as a ‘proper’ gaming system, despite the public perception, and stopped the little white box gathering dust once we had burned through Mario Galaxy and given Wii Fit a quick go.

Mario 64 Wii U

This is where last week’s Nintendo Direct comes in. If you missed it, here’s the gist: Nintendo announced N64 and DS games for the Wii U Virtual Console, with a handful of games for both popping up on the eShop shortly after. Whilst I’m happy the big N are finally making a move on something they should’ve done at least a year ago, my overall feeling is bafflement. Why release DS games on a home console and not for a handheld system, a handheld system that is the successor to the DS at that?

Armed with this question in mind, I took a look at the state of the Virtual Console on both the Wii U and the 3DS and wow, Nintendo have really dropped the ball this generation, and with what used to be their secret weapon.

Here’s how it stands: NES titles are available on both systems, but Super Nintendo games are exclusive to Wii U. GameBoy and GameBoy Colo(u)r games are only for 3DS, yet apart from a handful of ‘Ambassador’ titles for early adopters, you can only download GameBoy Advance games for Wii U. And, as I said earlier, N64 games (and a few original Wii ones) are only on Wii U, which is understandable, as are DS games, which is… less understandable.

DS Wii U

In a purely graphical terms, GBA games on Wii U make sense. The usually cartoony 16-bit graphics hold up better than late nineties 3D models and they look pretty pleasant upscaled for both the Gamepad and a TV, even if it’s clear Nintendo are trying to push it as a feature people should use the Gamepad for. DS games can either be played only using the Gamepad, which is kind of cute but mostly feels odd, or with the Gamepad representing the bottom screen whilst the TV is the top. And it really doesn’t look good at all. On the smaller screen, DS games may have looked better than the N64 but the problem is these games were designed for a smaller screen – they don’t hold up the scrutiny of a 50 inch HDTV at all.

From a business standpoint, I can see why Nintendo are putting their Virtual Console focus mainly on the Wii U. Moreso than the Wii, the Wii U’s release calendar is even more sparse and Nintendo are trying to make the system more appealing by having these titles exclusively downloadable on their home console. The question is: are Wii Us really sold off the back of SNES and GBA titles? I doubt it.

Ideally, these games should be available for both Wii U and 3DS. The fact that NES games aren’t cross-buy when buying a PSone Classic from PSN lets you use it on a PS3, Vita and a PSP (if you still have one knocking around) is telling. In fact, Nintendo have only introduced cross-buy in the last few months, which shows how far behind they have fallen. Smartphones have been able to handle GBA and SNES games for years, and the Ambassador program has proved the 3DS can handle it. Isn’t a Wii U a more tempting purchase when you’ve got a library of games, from the NES to the DS, purchased on your 3DS ready to download to your new console for free?

DS Wii U Gamepad

Another gripe I have with the Virtual Console this generation is how many titles were available on the Wii Shop Channel but not the eShop. Have you ever put money onto your eShop account (or had some leftover) and thought ‘I really fancy me some Super Mario RPG’? You go onto the eShop, have a mosey around and realise it’s not there! You then have to boot up the Wii mode, find it on the Wii Shop and put money into your account AGAIN because in the last gen Nintendo were all about their own currency? Oh, and if you haven’t got a Classic Controller and a Wii Remote you can forget it, your Gamepad only works as a screen.

Once you’ve got the money and controller issues sorted you’re still left with the tedium of booting up an older console OS every time, which doesn’t take too long but it seems like an unnecessary step. Okay, there’s some testing you need to do and third-party licensing may be an issue but comparing this generation’s downloadable offerings to last generation really makes Nintendo look half-arsed about the whole thing. It’s just one of many examples of this company, one that presents a simple and clean (reference!) image, making its customers jump through hoops to do what should be uncomplicated things. We’re looking at you, 3DS to New 3DS transfer.

I don’t want to be one of those naysayers who preach that the Wii U is doomed, and the NX (whatever it is) is the final nail in the coffin and until then they will release the bare minimum to tide people over. It doesn’t help when Nintendo keep us in the dark about their plans. We’ve been finding out about the downloadable Wii games three at a time through the Directs, and we have no idea if downloadable Gamecube games are ever on the way.

DS Wii U TV

It’s frustrating, because when Nintendo get things right, they really get it right. I totally understand the Wii U not capturing the public imagination like its predecessor, the Wii was a part of the zeitgeist of casual gaming going mainstream, and it’s a tough ask of anyone to recapture that lightning in a bottle success. It’s a shame to see some of the poor decisions Nintendo have made over the last few years, and especially the mishandling of one of their greatest assets – their stupendous back catalogue – even more so considering they got it so right last time round.

Even if we don’t get SNES, GBA and DS games to download on 3DS and cross-buy, at least give us Pokémon Snap on the eShop guys. Then watch the money roll in from that and finally, finally get to work on a sequel. Only when I can take photos of Luvdisc being attacked by apples to the head will all be right with the world.

Joe Anderton
One of those British people, complaining about everything is part of the package. I like to think my claim to be fame is being a legitimate Pokémon master but most people would say it's that I look like Matt Damon.

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16 Comments

  1. The only time Nintendo will ever get any of my money is if they get out of the hardware game and sell their back catalog on PlayStation. I absolutely refuse to pay top dollar for their subpar system just so I can play classic titles. In the previously stated improbable scenario, I would have no problem paying $20 for their 20+ year old titles.

    1. Nintendo has the best exclusives with the best gaming experience always best ratings on metacritics…the Virtual Console is just an extra to buy order games….if you look at the new games the system has to offer you will see…you got to have it.and try it to understand…it’s not about the specs but the gaming experience…PS4 and Xbox One doesn’t have a much of exclusives and they rely Mostly on 3rd parties…broken games with multiple patches and DLC…plus you can still get around with their previous gen Systems or PC…

      1. Nintendo’s exclusives are nothing more than them riding the curtails of previous generations success’s and marketing to nostalgia.

        1. But it works….nostalgia is powerful in marketing and they understood it…however they always find an original way to bring it back…like super mario 3d world, mario kart 8 or Zelda windwalker…or the virtual console..

          1. I look at it as them exploiting the nostalgia. I just don’t want to pay top dollar for the gimmick system, Wii U. If they still sold old Wiis that I could get classic titles on, I would buy one. Maybe the next system will be worth looking into for me. Time will tell.

          2. Oh, that is a dick move. People have been asking for old games for years and Nintendo answered with the Wii, only for people like you to actually have a NEGATIVE opinion on the matter? Truly pathetic. Exploiting nostalgia? ISN’T THAT WHAT PEOPLE WANT?! I don’t care if they are exploiting jack shit as long as it is what the gamers WANT to play.

            As the other guy said, their reinventing of the repetitive formulas has yet to have any negative feedback from consumers. 3D World, MK8 and Sm4sh were all universally acclaimed at their initial releases. I think you are just a bit butthurt over Nintendo due to them not giving you what they want. I know some friends that feel the same exact way.

            You just have to get your head out of your ass to realize they are still doing well there.

          3. Reading comprehension. Learn it.

          4. They are not exploiting the nostalgia. They are aware that most of their games are rare as hell now and just want to distribute them at an affordable price and at a more modern convenience.

          5. If that were true, then they wouldn’t have taken away the ability of the newly manufactured Wii’s to run the old games. Instead, they force people to pay top dollar for a subpar system and try to sell them bastardized versions of classics. If they sold the Wii U for a reasonable price, then maybe I would believe that Nintendo wants to distribute their old content at an affordable price.

            What they really need to do is kick out a cheap system for $99 (at most) that only runs NES though N64 or maybe even gamecube games and then sell the games as downloads for $5-$10 each. That would probably sell more systems than the POS Wii U.

          6. I am pretty certain the Wii Shop Channel is still open on the Wii, so I do not know what you are complaining about there.

            Truthfully, I do not care about most of the titles people want on Virtual Console anyway. I could live with it if they added the two Goemon games, Harvest Moon 64 and Mischief Makers. There are lots of good games that suffer “emulation issues” that I KNOW they are just too stubborn to admit it being an easy task to fix. For real, they are just lazy.

            Honestly, the NX BETTER have Nintendo 64 hardware in it, because that system is apparently hard as hell to emulate and there are MANY games people want that are require top notch emulation efforts to run (Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon, to name one) at full speed, let alone without graphical glitches. And I know that Nintendo 64 games are among the highest requested, too.

          7. I am referring to the newly manufactured $99 Wiis that they started selling when the Wii U came out. It does not have the ability to access the classic games like the previous version of the Wii. That leaves someone either having to find a used Wii or buying the Wii U. My point being that Nintendo knows the classic games are a big driver for their systems, so they limited the capability to horribly over priced Wii U in order to attempt to boost sales. Luckily, most people are not dumb enough to fall for that trap.

          8. I am aware of that…but I did not know they discontinue the original Wiis after. Either way, the Wii is discontinued as it is, and buying a used one is NOT the hardest task in the world to achieve. That is just you being stubborn that you can not find it brand new anymore. Just suck it up and buy one if you want your classics so badly.

            Overly priced? I payed like two fifty for mine, brand new, from Target. Maybe you just have a bad market place.

          9. OK, you make a valid point about just sucking it up and buying an older model Wii so I can play the classics. $250 is still too much money for the gimmick Wii U. I think the sales figures will back me up with that.

          10. It’s not too much, given you pay for the gamepad too. Now, this would make sense if the gamepad DID anything. Only freaking Star Fox Zero, Mario Party 10, Super Mario 3D World actually utilize it in creative ways.

  2. It feels like Nintendo is making the mistake of not cutting its losses the way, for instance, Sony has with the Vita. While Sony has slowly been killing the Vita by potentially sending Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Tearaway, and Gravity Rush to the PS4, Nintendo is trying to make the WiiU more desirable with the VC, but at the cost of not making the 3DS even more of a must-have for consumers. Sony and Microsoft own the console space, and frankly it feels like Nintendo would be best to stick to dominating the handheld market, pushing into the mobile sphere, and shifting console games to Sony and Microsoft systems (or ink an exclusivity deal with one of the publishers for certain franchises). Unless Nintendo can put up the capital to edge Microsoft or Sony out of the picture, it is better that they accept the console ecosystem and adapt to up their profit margins. The WiiU is an albatross for Nintendo and if their next console doesn’t work, it could drag the company down. Why risk this when they could move away from manufacturing consoles?

  3. You forgot to mention that even though Wii U did not sell as much as PS4 …it has the best exclusives and the best gaming experience of this Generation….PS4 and Xbox One have not a lot of good games to offer and you can easily around with a PC ps3 or Xbox 360….I agree that Nintendo should put all of the virtual console games available since day one..and include games from other old consoles such as Sega Neo geo…turbo grafx/pc engine arcade etc… like they did in the Wii VC plus all of the Gamecube library and a lot more of the Wii games on Wii U Like they did recently with mario galaxy 2 metroid prime triolgy and punch out….and all with cross buy to 3ds whenever techically possible…. however all of that i find that some media are harsh with Nintendo and they are the one to blame too…They also created a fake hype over PS4 and Xbox …I mean the systems did not have great lineups to offer …

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