Editorial: Nintendo Virtual Console Woes

The time has come to discuss the Virtual Console, which – in case you have not heard – is a collection of vintage game software offered via Nintendo’s eShop digital storefront on the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS consoles. The curious thing about this software collection, which mainly serves as a proper, legal alternative to the sort of illicit use of NES and SNES game ROMs (which has been common for two decades), is that Nintendo cannot seem to commit to this potentially outstanding source of revenue. The vintage games are already finished (I checked), the technology has been developed to play older games on modern hardware (I checked on this, too), and it is largely a matter of covering these official ROM files in some sort of copy protection which could be linked to one’s eShop account. (Ha ha! Linked to one’s eShop account, forsooth!) Here, Nintendo loses no time in diverging from the rational, as the purchased Virtual Console games are linked directly to the physical console that was used to download it; with no hope of transferring the purchase to a different system down the line, or restoring the purchase should the system go missing (stolen 3DS systems containing a large collection of Virtual Console titles make for a very, very bad day).

Sure, you could buy a bunch of expensive, collectable SNES games, a vintage console, and hook it up to your 4K TV with an RF cable, but sometimes a blurry mess is less desired.
Some games are timeless. Nintendo can turn this fact into cash. Why not, Nintendo?

I know that already I am off an a tangent – a regular occurrence when writing about Nintendo, I am afraid – but it is a major sticking point. Nintendo has only one reason for this practice of limiting Virtual Console (VC) purchases to one physical system (not ‘at a time’, but one system TOTAL), and that is their desire to extract as much money from loyal, honest fans as possible. Many people do not pay for old game software (a shocking fact I just realized twenty years ago), and only loyalists accept Nintendo’s heinous terms of use. Here is the rub: if one wishes to play a classic game on the living room Wii U, and also on the 3DS, one must purchase it twice. There is no signing into your account and downloading…anything. But Nintendo certainly saves your credit card number! It is vital that your experience in re-buying the same old ROM over and over is as smooth as possible. And for loyalists, this is fine. Everything is fine, as a matter of fact. Well, perhaps ‘everything’ is going too far. What of the Nintendo Switch? Where is the Virtual Console? There is no VC, and probably never will be. But the company has clearly indicated what their plans are for this new quasi-console, which has been the darling of the eBay scalping community (and no other community) since its launch this spring.

Oh, sorry. He has the face of a used car salesman.
Reggie Fils-Aime has an honest face.

Nintendo offers a ready explanation, via Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aimé (speaking to Mashable):

“Certainly the virtual console aspect is going to be part of what we do in terms of making some legacy content available with the Nintendo Switch Online.”

Ok, sounds good. Care to elaborate about the Virtual Console on Switch, Reggie (speaking to Kotaku)?

“We’ve not used the term Virtual Console.”

Brilliant! Well, Reggie Fils-Aimé might be confused, but he is not the only one. Not only is Nintendo being cagey about cancelling their plans to bring VC to the Nintendo Switch (seriously, placing the company name in the official name of the console is inane – Nintendo’s Nintendo Switch? Asinine!) – oh, sorry! I am sure, loyal fans, that they would never consider cancelling Virtual Console for the Android tablet version of the Wii U. That upcoming subscription service that might, possibly, maybe, include some sort of classic game functionality? Probably something else. Without question the Nintendo Switch will include not only a Virtual Console experience on a par with the Wii U, but even better than ever with the long-awaited addition of GameCube support! Keep hoping, Nintendo faithful. For this will probably never happen on N. Switch hardware. Sorry!

No. It won't.
Keep waiting for Rondo of Blood, and it might just happen!

Nintendo Switch issues (such as the total lack of any Virtual Console months after launch) aside, the Virtual Console as it exists is certainly not without its problems. I will not waste time complaining about price, because Nintendo has the right to dictate the cost of their exclusive titles, even though I think that revising the pricing could result in a much higher volume of sales for these digital titles. The VC in North America is a shell of its Japanese counterpart, with a sizable disparity in titles when comparing just these two countries. Looking at the Wikipedia page, one is presented with numbers that lead to questions about Nintendo’s commitment to this virtual software business. For example, SNES software titles in Japan number 101, and North America enjoys a slender 51. We fare better with original NES titles, as 94 (of the 148 in Japan) available here. What about TurboGrafx-16? There are 52 of these desirable games in Japan, with just 13 making it to North America (we still do not have Dracula X: Rondo of Blood!). But in fairness, we do have a 21 to 18 lead with Nintendo 64 software. Thanks, Nintendo!

If Nintendo really cared about their loyal fanbase, and (even more important to a big company like this) if they cared about making boatloads of money from these loyal fans, they would release all of their classic games in an affordable, accessible way – which is exactly what the Virtual Console should always have been about. We will keep waiting. I am certain Reggie will fill us in on the good news very soon!


  1. “Ha ha virtual console hahaha please understand haha hahaa haha hhaaha.” – Reggis Fils-Aime

  2. One quick factual correction:

    “as the purchased Virtual Console games are linked directly to the physical console that was used to download it; with no hope of transferring the purchase to a different system down the line,”

    This isn’t entirely true. With the DS and the Wii, Nintendo provided an app when the successor systems came out (the 3DS and Wii U, respectively) which allowed users to transfers the licenses from one system to the next. Having used it on my own systems and my wife’s, I can say that it proceeded without problems. However (as you might expect from Nintendo), the process was EXTREMELY slow: moving my licenses from the Wii to the Wii U took several hours–I think it may have been around 4-6 hours, but I can’t say for certain. Keep in mind that I only have VC games–I did not and will not download full Wii/Wii U/Switch games, preferring to own them in physical versions because of the slipshod nonsense that is their account management.

    Also, after the licenses are moved, the games can no longer be played on the previous system. They are MOVED, not copied. So, when I moved my Virtual Console games from my Wii to my Wii U, I lost the ability to download and play them on my Wii, although I could then download and play them on the Wii U’s Virtual Console (in Wii Mode), and I became eligible for the ‘upgrade discount’ to re-buy them on Wii U’s own Virtual Console for $1 each–which I always did just because it makes playing them much easier than having to log into Wii mode.

    So, in short, it will probably be possible to ‘move’ licenses forward from the Wii U to the Switch, although how that will happen is anybody’s guess. With the Wii / Wii U it involved using an SD card. So, in this case, because the Switch doesn’t have an SD slot, it will probably involve using a USB stick.

  3. Another quick correction:

    “(we still do not have Dracula X: Rondo of Blood!).”

    On Wii U, this is true. However, Rondo of Blood has been available in North America on Wii Virtual Console for years. It can be purchased/transferred and played on a Wii U in Wii Mode.

  4. Obviously, Mr. Nintendo has been sacked, and the person(s) responsible for sacking Mr. Nintendo have probably also been sacked. The Virtual Console was his baby, so even if they have a service that offers classic NES games in the future, the VC itself is gone for good. I do wonder if Mr. Nintendo will start his own independent game company in the future, though. Imagine if he collaborated with Mr. Sakaguchi and Mr. Igarashi in a few years! Oh, one can dream.

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