The Early Rise and Premature Demise of Virtual Console

 

Photo credit: Giantbomb.com.

The Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console maintained a fair amount of games and even included handheld console library such as the Game Boy and Game Gear. Unfortunately, Commodore 64, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, and Master System games were not included in the 3DS Virtual Console. Also, since there was no universal Virtual Console account, players could not transfer their Wii VC library to the 3DS library or the Wii U library. Oh, and the owners of both the Wii U and 3DS also couldn’t share VC libraries so you had to re-purchase games on multiple platform. At least the Wii U included DS games (albeit it was an incredibly paltry amount of 31 games) and some long requested games such as Donkey Kong 64. Despite the Gamecube becoming over a decade old, Nintendo decided not to include Gamecube games in the Virtual Console or backwards compatibility, even though the system used original Wii hardware baked-in the motherboard. It’s starting to get a little annoying now, isn’t it?

Thankfully, Nintendo decided to opt out of Virtual Console altogether with their most popular console, the Nintendo Switch. Instead, we’re getting small handfuls of NES games with their paid online subscription service. Yay…? 20 games for free sounds like a bargain, but most NES games are far shorter than your modern AAA game. Though, $20 for the service isn’t too bad compared to the far more expensive $60 fee with PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold. It’s difficult to notice the severe degradation of retro game support on Nintendo devices (and PS4 but we’ll get to that later). Some could argue that it’s due to their new Classic systems sold at a fair price on eBay from Charitable, Understanding, Nurturing, Terrific people. However, are the Classic consoles really a replacement of Virtual Console? If so, that’s a very lame substitution that encourages people to emulate rather than go through the headache of getting the proper system.

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Speaking of emulation, Nintendo is particularly unhappy with that practice as they aren’t profiting from it. EmuParadise, one of the most prominent distributors of ROM files and emulation software, has shut down their services due to Nintendo’s threatening of suing the platform. Not only does this paint Nintendo as a grouchy old man who doesn’t get why this is happening, but it’s wasted energy on their legal teams. The internet makes anything immortal and shutting down emulation websites only encourages more to emerge, thus making the stranglehold over the emulation market an unnecessary battle. Dolphin emulators and Project64 copycats will reign supreme on the Internet no matter what Nintendo does. Though, without a well-established platform such as EmuParadise, lesser known platforms are more prone to giving users viruses or ill-equipped emulators or ROMs.

Building a trustworthy platform can take time and while more heads of the emulation hydra will grow, Nintendo ends up inconveniencing fans rather than helping them, which is a rarity for a multi-billion dollar video game corporation. If Nintendo is so afraid of losing potential profits from piracy of their old games, why couldn’t they just expand more on Virtual Console to give consumers an incentive to support your service? They seem to already have ideas with the addition of online multiplayer to their NES games. Their current library of NES games on Switch seems very uninteresting and some of them are considered poor in quality. Why not go further and add more obscure titles like StarTropics?

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Adding lesser known titles and even region exclusive games like Sin and Punishment exposes them to audiences who might be interested in them. In fact, Sin and Punishment was on the Wii Virtual Console and sold well enough that Nintendo revived the franchise with a sequel. If Star Tropics or Mother 3 sell exceptionally, then Nintendo knows that there is money to be made around these properties. Twitter demands don’t carry as much weight as dollar signs do for businesses. This is why services like Virtual Console are more important than one might think. Emulating games for free is deemed a crime under the eyes of Nintendo and nothing more. There are countless games and properties that deserve recognition and revival. Emulation can only provide recognition in small, yet passionate groups of gamers. Selling these games on a popular digital platform like the eShop can only be a good thing. It’s like discovering lost works of a famous artist appearing on an auction. In the realm of video games, however, other artists can continue providing works similar to the recently uncovered one.

The only current digital redistribution of older games that truly takes advantage of its power exists under Microsoft’s belt. Every month, Microsoft adds dozens of Xbox 360, Original Xbox, and even Xbox Live Arcade game in their marketplace. Sony has less than fifty PlayStation 2 games and are apparently incapable of developing competent PS3 emulation software on the PS4 (even the community’s struggling with that as the PS3 is such a weird console for its time). However, there is a wealth of competent emulation software for the PS2 and it existed for quite a while. Hell, Sony used emulation software for the PS2 AND PS1 specifically for later iterations of the PS3. There’s very little reason for Sony to not touch on their expansive libraries of both PlayStation consoles.

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They have PSNow for PS3 games which, currently, is the best they can do. The PS3 actually has a stronger CPU than the PS4, which also lacks a CD drive meaning lots of PS2 and the entirety of PS1 games won’t run on the system. If the PS3 has the same clock speed as the 360, how come Microsoft has a working 360 emulator on Xbox One? TL;DR version of it: The Cell was way ahead of its time as it acted as an 8-core processor (1 “master” core that told the other 7 cores what to do) whereas the 360 had a traditional 3-core processor. This gave third-party developers a headache on the PS3 and made many games run worse on it since they basically had to significantly change their code specifically for that hardware. This makes the Cell processor surpass the PS4’s CPU in speed, thus making it impossible for backwards compatibility.

Realistically speaking, which platforms will work on the Switch VC if Nintendo decides to implement the service? First and foremost, let’s cross out Nintendo DS and some Nintendo Wii games. The DS requires two screens and the Switch has a single small screen. Wii games that heavily utilized motion controls like Skyward Sword and Wii Sports won’t work on the Switch with the versatility Nintendo intended in the console’s design. Waggle controls however would work since many first-party Nintendo games work well enough with minimal motion controls. With those two out of the way, here’s what could and should be included. Nintendo 64, Gamecube, SNES, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, Sega Genesis (with add-ons), Sega Master System, Game Gear, Saturn, Dreamcast, Turbo Grafx-16, MSX computers, Panasonic 3DO, and select Arcade cabinets. With all of those platforms having healthy representation in Switch VC, that would be what I would consider a successful preservation of historical games.

Will that happen, though? I doubt it. Even in some shape or form, I think Nintendo is more interested in reselling their classic games through their Android novelty consoles since they’ve sold faster than the Switch. The NES and Super Nintendo Classic possibly killed Virtual Console and that’s an incredibly unfortunate reality since scalpers gobble up the already short supply of those little bastards in the first place. The future of these historical consoles and their libraries lies through illegal means thanks to the Internet which thankfully will continue to do so no matter how hard Nintendo tries to fight. That situation will inevitably persist even if Nintendo provides a great service that sells these games at a lower price than their physical counterparts. The power of Virtual Console has never fully been realized. The demand is there, Nintendo just needs to respond.

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