Remember when we used to call Nintendo’s current home console Nintendo Revolution? When we used to speculate about its graphical power and controller? One of the earliest facts we learned about Nintendo’s mysterious console was that it would have a retro game downloading service. Patents were shown with huge libraries of past Nintendo consoles, even hinting that our all-time favorite games would get extra levels, characters and features– I specifically remember something about Wario and possibly other characters being playable in Super Mario World.
So, on top of a ‘revolutionary’ console, we would get decades of top-notch games from various platforms, even from non-Nintendo consoles. What is not to love about Nintendo’s Virtual Console service? It was even sweeter when the Classic Controller was revealed, a brand new, heavily-SNES-inspired controller designed to play our favorite games of yesterday. It was just too good to be true… and it was, kind of.
The service was launched with a lackluster number of 12 total games from 4 consoles (NES, SNES, Nintendo 64 and Genesis). Two days later, a pair of TurboGrafx-16 games were added. Everyone was hoping to see more fan favorite classics get released, but 4 years later, plenty of games remain no-shows. The first and biggest flaw of Nintendo’s Virtual Console service is the consistently underwhelming catalogue of games. Why is it so hard to upload a handful of good games every week? As of December 2007 (quite early in the Wii’s life cycle) the Virtual Console service had sold over ten million games, which immediately translates into profit for Nintendo, since it’s practically selling ROMs.
Your favorite games on your favorite console. Well, at least some of them.
Controllers are another issue. Most Virtual Console games can be played with a Wii remote; except for SNES, Nintendo 64 and some Genesis and Neo Geo games. For some reason you can’t use the Nunchuk, which would prove useful for people who don’t own a Classic Controller or GameCube controller. GameCube controllers usually work great, especially for Nintendo 64 titles, but some other games are heavily affected because of the button layout and rather uncomfortable and imprecise directional pad. Playing Super Mario World with a GameCube controller is particularly tricky, and the Virtual Console doesn’t feature a button configuration option.
Downloading too many games is also a problem, since the Wii’s internal 512 MB flash memory may prove insufficient. You can delete games you have already bought and download them again for free later, but this is quite impractical and time consuming. Fortunately, with the system menu 4.0 update, the option to store your channels on a SD card was added, which partially solves the problem. That’s not the only storage problem with the Virtual Console, though– every Nintendo 64 title that utilizes the N64 Controller Pak completely loses this feature. This means, for example, you can’t save ghosts in Mario Kart 64. Same with the Transfer Pak, which renders some characters and courses inaccessible in games like Mario Tennis and Mario Golf.
The pricing of the games has also been criticized. Some gamers believe it’s just not worth the price for something they can emulate for free, buy for cheaper in physical form, or get through a collection. For example, buying a King of Fighters game from Virtual Console seems pointless when there’s The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga available as a retail game. The service is very useful for games that were never released outside of Japan, though, like Super Mario Bros. 2 (known as The Lost Levels in America) and Sin & Punishment. Still, very few of these games have been released, and they’re actually priced higher than regular titles.
Some of the previously Japan-only titles released for the Virtual Console.
Sure, this is not exactly what we first imagined when Nintendo announced the Virtual Console service, but I must say I’m still a fan of it for a variety of reasons. To start, having some of my favorite games on a single console is very practical, without having to worry about worn down controllers and blowing your lungs out before getting a cartridge to work. While there are probably cheaper ways to get an old game, there’s no easier way than simply browsing and downloading. Also, a Classic Controller beats whatever PC pad you may use for any emulator, especially now that the Classic Controller Pro was released. Some games like F-Zero and Mario Kart 64 even play really well with a GameCube controller.
Finally, the list of consoles supported has grown since the service was launched, giving access to some relatively obscure consoles that some of us probably never saw let alone played. I must admit I played my first TurboGrafx-16 through Wii’s Virtual Console. And if you never owned a Commodore 64 or a Neo Geo, Wii’s Virtual Console is the easiest way to experience them. With that in mind, a not-too-shabby list of 363 games available, and a number of unreleased titles that may still appear, Virtual Console is not a total failure, but it could be better.