Virtual Console turned ten years old in 2016! Wii offered the first NES games for download in November 2006. Sadly, the business model hasn’t changed at all. 2016 may have been a year of transition for Nintendo in many respects, but the Virtual Console still soldiers on. It was business as usual for the service on Wii U and Nintendo 3DS– the introduction of My Nintendo did nothing more than offer discounts on a few select titles. We’re still playing catch-up to the games available on Wii. However, a few surprises and the ever improving lineup still made 2016 a pretty good year for retro game enthusiasts.
Wii U had a standout showing of Virtual Console releases. The number of Nintendo DS games available on Wii U tripled in 2016! We also saw Nintendo double down on Wii game digital releases. You can now find many of the console’s best games for sale on the eShop. TurboGrafx-16 also arrived on Wii U– but with just three games. Meanwhile, SNES games came to the New Nintendo 3DS. The games look great on the 3DS screen and have a new “pixel perfect” mode but the lack of a cross-buy feature still means you’ll be paying $8 for a game you already own on Wii U if you want to play it on the go.
As we look forward to the unveiling of Nintendo Switch, we might see a fundamental change in how Nintendo handles Virtual Console. No matter what comes, one thing is for sure: a good game is timeless. The best Virtual Console releases last year showcased the breadth of gameplay, history, and variety available. Here are Nintendojo’s best Virtual Console games of 2016!
BEST VIRTUAL CONSOLE GAME
Pokémon Red, Blue, Yellow Version
Pokémon’s 20th birthday came with a bang! In a year full of Pokémon madness, Game Freak started off in February by reminding us why we all fell in love with the series. The trio of original Pokémon games triumphantly came to Nintendo 3DS just the way you remember them. Every battle, every monster, every song, every ugly sprite, every game-breaking glitch, and every pixel was in its right place. The ports even emulated link cable play over wireless, a first for any of the Game Boy games on Virtual Console. Red, Blue, and Yellow Versions will also be compatible with Pokémon Bank so you can transfer your monochrome pals up to Sun and Moon!
FireRed and LeafGreen might have made the original games obsolete in some respects, but nothing can beat having those black and white games with blocky graphics right on 3DS whenever you want. As we saw later in the year with the launch of Pokémon Go, nostalgia is a powerful thing indeed. Only Pokémon could make such a splash with a straight port of 20 year old games. The fact that we can have so much fun after all these years with the games that started it all really shows how good gameplay never goes out of style. Pokémon Red, Pokémon Blue, and Pokémon Yellow Versions collectively take Nintendojo’s award for the best Virtual Console releases of 2016!
BEST VIRTUAL CONSOLE GAME RUNNERS-UP
Super Mario Advance 4
A re-release of a remake might not seem too special, but Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 is quite the treasure. This Game Boy Advance game is the finest version of the legendary platformer. Lush graphics, improved music, and quality-of-life features breathe new life into Super Mario Bros. 3. But what makes this Game Boy Advance VC release such a big deal is that it includes all of the e-Reader levels! These are 38 levels that previously required players to buy the e-Reader accessory and find special cards to swipe. What’s more is that some of these levels included in the Virtual Console release have never been available outside of Japan until now. Rarely do we see a Virtual Console port with extra content like this. Super Mario Advance 4 is a stellar game, and the additional content makes it a must-have for any Mario fan or Wii U owner.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
We still have 2015’s remake Majora’s Mask 3D fresh on our minds, but the original N64 release still deserves your attention if you missed the 3DS game. Kicking back on the couch and playing an old Zelda game on a TV is just the way it’s meant to be. Majora’s Mask remains an important game for many reasons that we’ve rambled on about before. The unique mechanics, living world, and classic Zelda formula come together to create an amazing experience. The depth and maturity in the title make it a standout game that only gets better as it (and the player) ages. This Virtual Console release lacks the improvements from the remake, but it does have one key advantage: restore points. If you’re the type to get massive anxiety from the game’s time limit, using the save states on Virtual Console can be a lifesaver.
Super Mario RPG
After what seems like an incredibly long wait, we finally got Super Mario RPG on the Wii U Virtual Console. 2016 brought us new Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi games, so it’s only fitting to return here. Mario’s first ever role-playing adventure from 1996 remains just as engaging and charming as ever. While many game series continue to improve and refine elements in later titles, Super Mario RPG is still a wholly unique game in many ways. This rare Squaresoft/Nintendo collaboration occupies a storied place in gaming history and has great replayability. If we still can’t get Geno in Smash Bros., this is next best thing.
Thanks for checking out our selection for the best Virtual Console games of 2016. What games did you download in 2016? Did you agree with our choices? Let us know in the comments or by participating in the poll below!