The Virtual GONEsole

Nintendo officially announced that there would be no virtual console service on the Nintendo Switch. It’s possible that this could be a temporary decision that could be swayed by public demand, but with Nintendo’s track record on keeping up with fan demand… let’s just say that there probably won’t be a virtual console on the Switch in the foreseeable future. This brings up many questions and concerns, and today I’d like to share with you some of mine so that we can look at this as more than a simple discontinuation of an emulation service like they want it to sound.

In case you are unfamiliar with the virtual console service available on the Wii, 3DS, and Wii U, let me give you a quick refresher. Basically this is an official, legal emulation service that allows you to get ROMs of older games to play on your newer hardware. They may not have been free like the versions so many were pirating on their PCs before this was such an easily accessible thing, but they were at a low price and definitely would end up being cheaper than getting all the old hardware yourself or Nintendo taking a loss on so much hardware in a singular system. These versions are also tested by Nintendo to assure that they actually function correctly on the given hardware. It was a dream solution for those who wanted to easily, and legally, play their favorite retro games without purchasing tons of antiquated technology.

Flash forward to the Switch. We had an early launch with a scant lineup that has been slowly growing ever since. It has had online functionality and eshop purchases but no official online service yet as they had planned. However, once they finally announced some details on the service not too long ago, they also brought along the nugget of bad news that the virtual console was not going to be a thing on the system. Along with that are some of the implications as to why.

See, the Switch was already designed without backwards compatibility with the Wii U or the 3DS. On top of that, there were no offers for linking up your Nintendo account to even so much as get a discount on the remakes if you owned the originals digitally. You want these new versions on the hot new system? Better fork over full price for it. And the same goes for virtual console titles. Why offer the original games at a reduced price when they can remake them for full price on their wildly popular system, right?

Then you have one of the features of the upcoming online service, which is to offer you a bunch of games streaming-style from the NES and eventually more down the road. So if you want to play these classics, along with some newly added online play, you’ll have to subscribe to their service for an extra fee. Want to keep those games? Better keep renting them from that service because these are NOT for sale. This seems like a huge misstep to me. If anything, I’d think playing those games through the online service could work as a nice way to demo them and then offering them through a virtual console would be a great way to get them for keeps without them being a continuous drain on your wallet.

This is also odd since there are SOME retro games on the eshop, just not under that official banner. If these games become available in that sense just without the virtual console logo, I’ll be fine with it. However, the fact that there aren’t really any of the big hits from the previous iterations of the emulation sensation makes me think that IF they are coming then they are coming later on. Maybe in a slow period. Maybe once the remakes have had their time to sell. And even then I’m sure it’ll be the classic slow-drip of these titles to keep you checking the eshop and impulse buying what’s “new” rather than making an informed decision on everything that could be available to you.

Also, I don’t think it would be a case of picking one or the other. I mean, just because you own Super Mario Bros. on your NES doesn’t mean you didn’t buy it again on your Wii or 3DS or even BOTH. So having the same games available in the different capacities, one with online features and one in the original form, seems like it’s just making the games more accessible and would ultimately lead to more sales of what is essentially very little extra effort. Let’s also not forget that they are re-releasing the NES Classic Edition as well in the wake of this news and yet still planning on offering NES games for the online service, which would be taking away that same business were THAT the issue. It’s most likely just a means to push for full priced remakes and force subscriptions for the originals and just eliminating the middle-ground where they don’t stand to make as much money… provided people are still going to bite on one side or the other of the alternatives rather than just not bothering out of frustration and protest.

I did hear some people mention the idea of simply having companies release their own collection packs of old games, which could also get around the virtual console system limitations. Mainly, in regards to some Playstation games that were made by third party developers. While it’s a nice thought, this also puts the burden on those companies to make said packs, cram them full of enough content to justify their price, and hope that the collection pack scene from the 2000’s is still strong enough to work. Even then you’ll be missing out on a lot of games that maybe weren’t part of a long-running series or part of a prolific developer’s portfolio. And I honestly, I doubt that Nintendo themselves would be doing a collection pack like that anymore which would mean that most of the big Nintendo classics wouldn’t be helped in the slightest by this. Beyond that, the third parties looking to release collections like that will do it anyway and for multiple platforms so it’s almost a moot point. It would still be nice to have the option to just buy your favorites at a lower price than pay more for a pack full of a bunch of games you don’t even want. The options are being limited here is what I’m getting at.

What about GameCube games? This is another big question. Will GameCube games make an appearance finally? Will they be the originals or remakes? Will they be on the eshop or as an online subscription only? And will Wii U be handled similarly down the line or tossed aside for only remakes instead?

There’s a lot up in the air about this decision, and really I think it has left me with more questions than answers. I assumed the virtual console would make a return and I guess I was wrong. So now I’m left to wonder what I can safely assume going forward. All I can really do is hope that these games become available in their original form at a reasonable price on the Switch in a method that doesn’t require a lifelong rental… and I hope Nintendo announces it rather than playing this head game of maybes and we’ll-sees.

What do YOU think? Do you think Nintendo will offer these games via the eshop? Do you think the virtual console will eventually make a return? Do you think the games will be online-only exclusives? Or will they just go the remake route the whole way? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and cross your fingers, folks!

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