Not long ago, I wrote an article about why I think the 3DS won’t be relevant for much longer. You can read the article by clicking here, but for those of you who don’t want to read it, I basically give some reasons as to why I think it’s likely that 2018 will be the last year that Nintendo actively supports the handheld console. If I’m right about this, then it would make sense for Nintendo as a company to completely milk the 3DS for everything it’s worth in its last year. One effective way I think it could do this is by finally making Game Boy Advance games available on the 3DS Virtual Console.
There are obviously reasons why GBA games aren’t already available on the 3DS. One possible reason is that it gave people a reason to buy the home console that ran congruent with the 3DS for most of its life, the Wii U. The Wii U had the ability to play GBA games via Virtual Console and Nintendo may have thought that they could increase Wii U sales by making GBA playability exclusive to it instead of making it an option for the 3DS as well. If this was a reason at one point, there’s no reason for it to still be one. The Wii U was discontinued last year and was recently outsold by the Switch, with the Switch selling more units in less than a year than the Wii U did in its entire lifetime. Additionally, the Switch already has a number of definitive editions of previously Wii U exclusive games and is set to get even more soon. Taking all this into consideration, it’s pretty clear that the Wii U is officially irrelevant and has been completely replaced by the Switch. If the reason to keep GBA games from the 3DS was to make that an exclusively Wii U feature, that reason no longer applies to the current market.
Another possible reason for keeping GBA games from becoming available on the 3DS is if Nintendo plans on making that a Switch-exclusive feature in the future. But that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense either. For one thing, the Switch is selling phenomenally well, so it’s not like it needs something like GBA exclusivity to make it sell better. Also, it was just recently revealed that the Switch will be getting an official online service in September that will include a Classic Games Selection. From the looks of it, this Classic Games Selection will start off with NES games, such as Super Mario Bros. 3, Balloon Fight and Dr. Mario, then get newer classic games later on. It’s possible that GBA games will become available at some point via this Classic Games Selection, but it will probably be long after the 3DS is relevant anymore, assuming that 2018 is in fact the last year of relevance for the handheld console. So if Nintendo really wants to get everything they can out of the 3DS before it’s irrelevant, it would make sense to make GBA games available for it now, before they become available on the Switch, so new people go out and buy the 3DS and this new software right up to its discontinuation. The Switch is doing great; it doesn’t need GBA exclusivity to make it sell. But if Nintendo wants the 3DS to continue to sell through its last year, adding a selection of GBA games could help make that happen.
The only other reason I can think of why Nintendo wouldn’t allow GBA games to become available now on the 3DS is that, technically speaking, the 3DS wasn’t built to support GBA games. I know this probably sounds ridiculous since the 3DS can play all other handheld Nintendo games, from the Game Boy to Game Boy Color to DS to, obviously, 3DS. There’s a lot of technical jibber jabber, but at the end of the day, the 3DS, strictly speaking, doesn’t have the specifications necessary, so to speak, to play GBA games. Something to do with the 3DS not really “playing” Virtual Console games, but actually “emulating” them, but regardless of the specific reasons, the 3DS has trouble emulating GBA games.
However, some people may remember something called the 3DS Ambassador Program from a few years ago. Here’s the story for those who don’t know it: When the 3DS launched, its original price point was $250. Due to most people not wanting to spend that much money on a handheld console, the 3DS didn’t sell terribly well at first. So Nintendo dropped the price by about $80 so it would sell better. They didn’t want people who had already bought the console for $250 to feel ripped off, however, so they started the 3DS Ambassador Program, which gave people who bought the 3DS at its original price point some extra stuff. One of the bonuses Ambassadors got was access to download ten GBA games via Virtual Console. So clearly, after some fine tuning, it is possible to get GBA games to play well on the 3DS. I obviously don’t know what specifically had to happen to make these games playable on the 3DS and maybe more work went into it than any of us realize and Nintendo didn’t want to put that much work into an extensive GBA library for the 3DS, which would explain why the 3DS only got ten exclusive GBA games, all of which were Nintendo-owned properties, and that’s it. That being said, that means that there are ten GBA games that have been formatted for the 3DS already and are ready to go if Nintendo wanted to make them available via Virtual Console to the masses. And they are ten games that would probably sell pretty well for 3DS-owners who don’t have another way to play these games. Here is the list of GBA games that were available to Ambassadors:
- Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
- F-Zero: Maximum Velocity
- Kirby & the Amazing Mirror
- The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
- Mario Kart: Super Circuit
- Mario vs. Donkey Kong
- Metroid Fusion
- Wario Land 4
- WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames!
- Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3
Pretty much all of these are classics from adored franchises. There would probably be a good amount of people who’d be willing to pay for these games if they became available to everyone on the 3DS Virtual Console. Plus, Nintendo could put in whatever extra work is necessary to make a few more beloved, Nintendo-owned games available that would also be sure to sell. Golden Sun has developed a strong cult following, so making the first two games in that series available would probably be worth Nintendo’s time. Pokémon is a super obvious one that tons of people would gladly pay for. If Nintendo made Ruby, Sapphire, FireRed, LeafGreen and Emerald available for the 3DS, they could probably make a lot of money off of games over a decade old, which seems like a pretty good business move. Lastly, I REALLY don’t see this happening, but could you imagine how much money Nintendo could make if they made an official localization of Mother 3 available for the 3DS Virtual Console? It would probably be worth it for Nintendo to open up a small selection of GBA games for the 3DS just for that one game. Mother/EarthBound fans are many and rabid, and having recently played EarthBound I understand why, and I would gladly join them all in buying Mother 3 for 3DS if Nintendo made that a possibility.
All in all, whether they wanted to just make the ten Ambassador games available, add a few more games, or provide a full-on GBA library, Nintendo could probably make some serious bank making GBA games available on the 3DS Virtual Console. It seems like a surefire way to keep people buying software for the console as it finishes what is likely its last year in relevance, not to mention it would certainly make plenty of fans happy.