Nintendo is one of the biggest and most important developers in video game history. Whether you love or hate them there is no denying their significance to the industry, and the amazing contributions that they have made throughout its short history. These contributions have mostly taken the form of some of the greatest games of all time, such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Super Metroid, and many, many more. And yet, despite having this ridiculously impressive stable of games and franchises, it seems that Nintendo is missing a great opportunity.
The Virtual Console, Nintendo’s method of reselling old games from their catalog, is woefully underutilized and it’s only gotten worse as time has gone by. The feature first launched on the Wii, pushing out classics like Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong fairly quickly. It then followed with a pretty decent release schedule, though cracks began to show right from the beginning.
Sure, we got a lot of Nintendo classics, but the release schedule seemed almost random, and many of the all time greats had to wait a long time to come out. For exampled, Super Mario Bros. 3 took almost a year to hit the US, and Super Mario Kart took three. These aren’t third party games either, so there’s no licensing arrangements that have to be worked out to get these onto the store.
I won’t pretend to understand the development hassle that has to go into getting these games ready for another system, but considering the potential gains of having such amazing video games available exclusively on your system (at least legally speaking), it’s odd that Nintendo hasn’t devoted more time and attention to this effort.
This also doesn’t go into the disparity between systems that we’ve seen with the Virtual Console. Nintendo 64 games took an almost absurd amount of time to get going on the Wii U, a system that should have been able to handle them quite effectively. To see the worst of the system issues though, you just have to look at the Nintendo 3DS.
The 3DS is probably the best place that Nintendo could have utilized the Virtual Console. Taking older games and making them portable is enough to warrant the high prices that the company has demanded for these classics. However, the 3DS has languished in the Virtual Console department, seeing few releases, and almost no system support outside of the most basic offerings.
Game Boy Advance is probably the one most gamers would expect to hit the 3DS, yet aside from some slightly broken Ambassador program games, the system has been a no-show. Even more egregious though is the lack of SNES support. Games on the SNES should easily run on the 3DS, I’ve seen them run on a DS using some slightly unsavory pieces of hardware. Yet we haven’t seen a single SNES game released for the 3DS as part of the Virtual Console.
The bigger issue with the 3DS and its Virtual Console though is the fact that it is wholly separate from the Wii and Wii U VC. Not only does it have a different selection of games, it doesn’t recognize the fact that the other console exist. This means that if you want to play The Legend of Zelda on your Wii U and your 3DS, you have to buy it two separate times, and the save file is different for each. These are issues that Sony has worked out quite easily, and with less of a fanbase for their handheld device.
The Virtual Console would really do better as a service, rather than a store
All of this still ignores the other issues that Nintendo continues to allow fester within the Virtual Console feature. Third party games have been a big problem, as licensing is understandably a headache for many. However, the biggest problem is how the whole thing is organized.
I already mentioned the pricing model, which aside from the upgrade discount from going between the Wii and Wii U is almost completely absurd. $5 a piece for now 30 year old games is a bit much no matter what game it is. When we’re talking about games that most gamers have bought multiple times already, it becomes quite a challenge to justify. That’s just NES titles though, when you get into newer stuff, like the SNES and N64 the prices continue to go up.
Some of these are totally understandable, such as rare games, or third party titles that have been hard to find. These used to fetch upwards of $30-$50 on ebay and in second hand stores, so getting them digitally for $10 is a great price. It’s just the blind adherence to the policy that’s the biggest issue. A game like The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask should not cost anywhere close to the same as Pac-Attack for the SNES.
But really, if we’re getting into how to fix the whole thing, there’s shouldn’t be individual prices here at all. It would take a whole lot more organizing and negotiating on the part of Nintendo, but the Virtual Console would really do better as a service, rather than a store. Make it into a Netflix-style subscription service, or at least offer it as an option on top of being able to buy individual titles, and gamers would toss their money at Nintendo like they were offering lifetime supplies of happiness injected directly into their brains.
For a monthly fee, let’s say $5 for simplicity’s sake, you gain access to the entire catalog of Virtual Console titles across all supported devices. This method makes it so that the slightly smaller selection of games feels better, as you can always try out something new, rather than waiting on that classic to hit that you’ve always wanted. It also shifts the narrative significantly, moving away from “this game isn’t worth $5” to “I tried it out and had a lot of fun”.
Of course, this also puts a lot of responsibility on Nintendo to keep refreshing the offerings inside the Virtual Console. No one wants to keep replaying the same games over and over again, unless they’re one of the aforementioned classics of course. So they’ll have to work a bit harder to keep adding games (something they’ve seemed to given up on as of late to be honest). However, with a guaranteed amount of money coming in every single month, it gives them more leverage to assign developers, and deal with third parties.
This is all pie-in-the-sky sort of stuff, and I’m sure that Nintendo has had these sorts of discussions before. However, given the over 100 year old company’s propensity to ignore progress in favor of the status quo, I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that they looked at it objectively and decided that it wasn’t the best course of action. Just look at how long it has taken them to implement a true account system and you’ll have an idea for how slow they are to adapt sometimes.
In the end, whether the feature gets a total overhaul or not, I just want the Virtual Console to be better than it is now. I want to look at my Wii U and 3DS and see them as portals to everything Nintendo; past, present, and future. I want to be willing to throw money their way, and see my favorite older titles given back to me in return. I just want them to stop missing the opportunity that their history, and current technology has given them.