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Four Ways to Improve the Nintendo Virtual Console August 2, 2013

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.
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Part of the reason I decided to purchase a Nintendo Wii during its heyday was not just because of its unique control system or retail game library, it was the Virtual Console service.  Nintendo’s Virtual Console service gave Wii owners the chance to replay the games of our childhood, or play games we missed out on the first time around when they released on their original consoles.  I had to give up my original NES and its games under duress years earlier, and I wasn’t fortunate enough to be able to pick up a Super Nintendo or Nintendo 64 back in the day,  The Virtual Console gave me the best option to make up for all that lost time.

The Virtual Console service offers classic games from the NES, Super NES, N64, and Genesis consoles, as well as a few others.  All you needed was internet access and a credit or prepaid card and you could download whatever game the service offered to keep on your console forever.  The cost of the game depended on which platform the game was made for.  I can tell you the first games I downloaded to my Wii after installing it included the NES games Super Mario Bros and Super Mario Bros 3,  These were the staple classics I had to give away so many years earlier.  Almost immediately I downloaded other NES games that had been recommended to me over the years which I had missed out on including The Legend of Zelda and Metroid.  The first games I downloaded from a console I never owned were the two games I would always play when I was over my friend El Train’s house, Crusin’ USA and Starfox 64.

Now, Nintendo has included Virtual Console support with all their new console and handheld systems, bringing the classic games that people have been talking about for twenty years back so the newer generation (and the people of my generation that missed out the first time) can have the chance to play these classic games legitimately on Nintendo’s newest hardware.  They also expanded greatly on the list of platforms that the new consoles could support.  In fact, the Nintendo 3DS could offer Game Boy and Game Boy Color games for purchase.  For the first time in twenty years, Game Boy games like Super Mario Land, Tetris and Metroid 2 were available to me.  On top of that, Nintendo improved the features from the Wii’s Virtual Console.  You could finally keep a save state of your game, allowing you to play through a game at your own leisure, or to go back without losing your progress if you failed a difficult section.  I picked them up almost immediately, and I noticed they looked a hell of a lot better than they did on my original model Game Boy.

Recently, Nintendo has expanded Virtual Console support for the Wii U, and has offered many titles they originally offered on the Wii, as well as some exclusives, added the 3DS’s ability to keep a save state of your progress. and brought new features like the ability to play the entire game on the Wii U controller.  Currently the Wii U’s Virtual Console only supports NES, Super NES and Game Boy Advance games, but that’s a good start.  Anyone who purchased the game originally on their Wii can upgrade their game for the Wii U at a heavily discounted price, as long as they performed a system transfer of all their Wii content to the Wii U.

In the interim, Nintendo launched a dynamite Virtual Console promotion.  To promote the Wii U’s Virtual Console, Nintendo launched the Famicom 30th Anniversary Sale, where a different game was released to the Virtual Console each month for only thirty cents US.  This was a genius move, as it put these games to a competitive price point with mobile games, another kind of downloadable medium.  They only put six specific games through the program, but the fact that they were released so cheap practically made it an obligation for me to buy them, even if I wasn’t normally interested in playing them.

More recently, Nintendo released what was likely its most requested game exclusively to the Wii U’s Virtual Console, EarthBound.  I have no idea if the release of EarthBound actually made the Wii U sell systems, but I can say that the rerelease of the game made many players happy.  People like Roo from Clan of the Gray Wolf and The Happy Video Game Nerd have been talking about this game for years, and Nintendo acted on the fan desire for the game with the hope it would sell the console.

Nintendo has hit a bit of a slump.  The Wii U is not selling the amount of systems that it should be.  The console itself is brilliant and has a very interesting, the problem is that almost a year after its release it doesn’t have a huge library of solid titles exclusive to the platform, and we won’t see many of the most anticipated ones until at least 2014.  The fact that Nintendo was willing to finally release EarthBound after nearly twenty years of ignoring it shows that they are open to using the Virtual Console service to sell the Wii U.  However, if they plan to expand on the Virtual Console to exploit it to its fullest potential, I have a few tips for them on how to improve the service to make it the best it can be.

First off, Nintendo should expand their Famicom 30th Anniversary 30 cent promotion.  It was a fantastic promotion which many who have purchased Wii Us have taken advantage of, and it should be continued.  I know Nintendo announced that only six games would be released over the course of six months which would be reduced in price for the promotion, but it would be phenomenal if Nintendo saw the fan support they were having with the thirty cent promotion and continued the promotion with a new set of games each month until at least the end of the year!  In fact, the promotion is already being copied by Microsoft, who is offering free downloads of a new Xbox 360 game twice each month to Xbox Live Gold subscribers.  The beauty part is that unlike Playstation Plus users who have access to free games on the PS3, anyone who downloads a Games With Gold promotional game for free or a reduced price Famicom 30th Anniversary game can keep it forever.

The second thing they need to do is release titles on a more frequent basis.  There were hundreds of games released for the NES and Super Nintendo alone, and many of them have been considered some of the finest games ever made to this day.  Currently, Nintendo is only releasing about one new game a week to the Wii U, and while they have a decent smattering of titles up right now, they have nowhere near the amount of titles they should to have a competitive market.  Right now, the Wii U’s Virtual Console is nowhere near as much of a library as the Wii does, which kind of makes a player think twice about upgrading their console.  One new title a week is not fast enough for the Virtual Console.  It would take half a dozen titles a week in order for the Wii U to quickly fill up the Virtual Console library with a library of titles all the players can enjoy.  Hopefully Nintendo can automate some way to convert their titles to the Wii U to speed up this process, and trust me if they can, it would be very welcome.  Heck, right now The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros and Super Mario Bros 3, three of the NES’s best titles, aren’t even up on the Wii U Virtual Console yet.

Also, we haven’t seen any Game Boy Advance (GBA) games yet for the service, even though GBA is supported by the Wii U,  Officially, Nintendo hasn’t offered any platform for GBA Virtual Console games, even though some GBA titles were given to 3DS players during the Ambassador Program.  The Wii U Controller’s screen and button placement would translate really well to GBA games.  The fact that the Wii U Controller’s screen is backlit and can be seen in the dark is a huge improvement over the original model Game Boy Advance, which had no backlighting and was hard to see.  I’ve been hoping they would use this feature to release Metroid Fusion and Metroid Zero Hour, and I’m sure there are some other GBA players who would like to see some of the Pokémon games or remakes which were released to the GBA get ported as well.  It may be difficult for Nintendo to port over all of the GBA’s features like GameCube or multiplayer support, but it would be a worthwhile investment for players to get to play some great Game Boy Advance exclusive titles.

Finally, Nintendo really needs to find a way to make the service work for GameCube games, or at the very least update the Wii U with GameCube backwards compatibility.  GameCube discs are no longer in print, and stores like GameStop have discontinued trading them.  Decent unopened copies of new GameCube games, especially those from Nintendo’s staple properties are very expensive and hard to come by, but plenty of people still have GameCube discs on their shelves collecting dust.  I don’t know if the best route to handle this is to bring GameCube compatibility with a patch or offer GameCube games for the Virtual Console, but I am open to either possibility.  It would be great to be able to play GameCube games on the Wii U Controller.  Even if they must remake every one of their GameCube games like they are doing with Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, perhaps a better way to release these ports would be through digital distribution over retail.   The GameCube’s optical discs were much smaller than a typical DVD game of that era, and would be able to fit in a Wii U’s internal storage without needing extra memory.  I can’t tell you how many people would love a shot to download GameCube classics like Luigi’s Mansion, Mario Kart Double Dash, Super Smash Bros Melee, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, and even Super Mario Sunshine!

When one opportunity closes its door, another one may open up a window.  For Nintendo, it may be the Virtual Console service.  If Nintendo expands their service and offers a wide enough range of classic downloadable titles from their thirty year back catalog of games they stand to make a killing, and expand their sales for the Wii U.  As I said earlier, part of the reason why I picked up Nintendo’s consoles was the fact that they offered their customers the chance to revisit the classic games of their childhoods, and that was not something I could pass up.  I know there are a lot of players online who wish to play many of the games they missed out on, and some that they remember fondly but can’t play any longer.