With Nintendo's Virtual Console service expanding to 3DS, maybe it's time to address some problems with the original version on Wii.
Despite a few notable releases in 2010 (Ogre Battle 64, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, and Final Fantasy II/IV), Nintendo's Virtual Console service is in its worst dry spell since the Wii launch. It's been a long, slow decline since the days of Nintendo releasing three classic games every Monday, like clockwork. With nine hardware platforms currently supported in North America, it's foolish to assume that Nintendo and third-parties are simply running out of games. There are, in fact, many popular games that fans are still waiting to see and purchase on Virtual Console.
Yes, Wii is probably nearing the end of its active lifespan, but these VC games are catalog releases that could continue to sell for years. Improving things on Wii also sets up a better environment for the Wii successor. Here are five ways that Nintendo could boost sales and encourage continued updates to the service:
- Move VC Releases to Friday
When the Wii launched in November 2006, Virtual Console was Nintendo's first and only exploration into digital distribution. Since then, VC releases have been overshadowed and vastly outnumbered by WiiWare and DSiWare games. When a classic game is included in the weekly announcement, it's hard to find amidst a dozen or so cheap, original games for the other services. Nintendo could separate Virtual Console and launch new games for it later in the week, giving fans and the press a better chance to see the updates.
- Add N64 Controller Pak Support
The dearth of N64 games is an old joke that far precedes Virtual Console, but it's just as on-point today. There are only 20 titles available for download in North America, and all were originally published by Nintendo (with the half-exception of Ogre Battle 64, which was a Nintendo title in Japan). Despite conventional wisdom, there are some great third-party N64 games, including Beetle Adventure Racing, Turok 2, Bomberman 64, and more. What these games have in common is a reliance, like most third-party N64 games, on the Controller Pak. That's right, the tiny memory card used for save files is preventing dozens of potential releases, because the Virtual Console emulator doesn't support the device. Fan-written emulators have supported this feature for years, and Nintendo needs to catch up.
- Overhaul the Wii Shop Channel
Nintendo 3DS will soon feature an “eShop” with built-in game demos, videos, and cash-based purchases that make Nintendo Points unnecessary. With over 300 Virtual Console titles across a dozen platforms, the Wii Shop Channel is long overdue for a similar reorganization, which would also reinforce the eShop brand across multiple systems. Currently, it's not too hard to find a specific title thanks to the basic search filters, but the shop is very poor at helping curious visitors discover classic games. The "Popular Games" button just shows the best-sellers, which are always Mario and Zelda games that we all know and probably already own multiple times. How are customers supposed to find more obscure titles from large libraries like Super NES, TurboGrafx-16, and Genesis? One of the best things about Virtual Console is that we can play great, lesser-known games that we missed back in the 80s and 90s. Currently, the Wii Shop Channel can't even show videos of these games, and you can forget about demos. Nintendo doesn't even showcase specific titles from the archive. Any, or preferably all, of these features would help gamers find and purchase more games from a wider array of systems and publishers. It might also encourage publishers to release more of their games on the service, with increased confidence that consumers will find them.
- Exploit Nintendo's Arcade Roots
Classic arcade games first hit the service in March 2009, but the Virtual Console Arcade selection has been sparsely updated since then. Some of the arcade titles are redundant with cheaper (and sometimes superior) home versions already available on VC. It's a shame, because the arcade emulation is easily the best and most ambitious of any platform represented on Virtual Console. Each arcade title has a customized overhead menu with settings like number of continues and multiple control layouts. Sega's Space Harrier even has Wii-exclusive pointer controls for more accurate aiming. What you won't find on VC Arcade is a single Nintendo title. Many older gamers would surely appreciate the original arcade version of Donkey Kong or perhaps Super Mario Bros. VS, both of which have different levels than their NES counterparts. Nintendo could mine its corporate history with Radar Scope or treat nostalgic fans to the original Goonies game, which was never released on home consoles but was followed up with the popular sequel, Goonies II (although licensing issues make either of these games a tricky and unlikely prospect). With Nintendo setting the pace, third-parties might even be inspired to release more of their own arcade titles on the service.
- Fully Engage Square Enix
In the early days of Virtual Console, conventional wisdom was that Square Enix would avoid releasing its most popular titles in favor of more profitable remakes on Nintendo DS, a strategy evidenced by $40 portable versions of Final Fantasy IV, Chrono Trigger, and Dragon Quest 4 and 5. Surprisingly, the famed publisher began to release its Final Fantasy games on Virtual Console in 2009 – at least the ones that were originally localized for Western audiences on NES and Super Nintendo. Still, the company has a trove of great, lesser-known games, especially from the 16-bit era, that have never been re-released and will likely never get the remake treatment. Gamers are missing out on interesting gems like Soul Blazer, Secret of Evermore, Illusion of Gaia, Paladin's Quest, Terranigma, Brain Lord, and many more. Any of these RPGs would be a great value for gamers at just $8, and it's not like Square Enix is doing anything else with the IPs.
There are plenty of other ways to revitalize interest and releases for Virtual Console, but the ones detailed here would have a big impact and really get people's attention. With Nintendo developing a Virtual Console (or is that Virtual Handheld?) service for 3DS, and the possibility of our VC purchases transferring to the Wii successor, it's the perfect time to patch up the existing service and bring some momentum to these new hardware launches. Virtual Console already has a lot to offer, but it has barely scratched the surface of Nintendo's pledge to make Wii a console that is backwards-compatible with the whole history of gaming.