What if The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild wasn’t the only Zelda game you could play on Nintendo Switch next month. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to play A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, or even the first NES game in the series?
Nintendo Switch is less than two weeks away and anticipation is reaching fever point. But we still don’t know the answers to two of the most critical questions about the console: how will console’s online features interface work with the proposed smart device app, and what’s happening with the Virtual Console?
Having a massive roster of Virtual Console games available on the Switch’s digital storefront on release day would give the console a huge boost in the arm. We’re talking dozens upon dozens of NES, SNES, GameBoy/GameBoy Advance and Nintendo 64 games, all ready to go as soon as you hook the system up to the internet.
Nintendo nostalgia is strong at the moment. Two people working in the office almost fell over themselves attempting to snatch up a NES mini when Australian retailers received new stock of the console.
Their desperation to pick one up isn’t unique to just them, but extends to a wider community who are willing to pay up to five times the recommended retail price just to own one. So it makes sense for Nintendo to continue to leverage their retro library of games and lure in would-be, and current, NES mini owners to its next generation gaming hardware.
Now, the Virtual Console shouldn’t become the reason buy the Switch, but it should begin to form part of the conversation Nintendo is having with consumers about the console.
The Switch is a great piece of gaming hardware with massive potential. It’s the first proper dedicated piece of gaming hardware that effortlessly lets players transition from playing games comfortably on their couch, to enjoying the same game outside the house in true handheld fashion.
And having the ability to play your favourite Nintendo 64, Wii, and, when Nintendo finally gets around to announcing it, Gamecube games no matter where you are is something I’m very excited to experience.
Imagine firing up Super Mario 64 for a quick round of Star collecting on the train, or playing some Eternal Darkness on that long haul flight; the reality of playing your favourite classic console games can finally be realised thanks to the Switch’s innovative hardware.
But Nintendo’s insistence to remain quiet about the Virtual Console is frustrating, as is the lack of confirmation on whether existing purchases will remain. Will I be required to re-buy all the VC games I already own, or will they be ready to download for me on the eShop? Or maybe Nintendo will cop out and demand a small “upgrade” fee like with the introduction of the service on Wii U.
Assuming the company has managed to straighten out its bizarre logic and offer the Virtual Console service either at launch, or sometime shortly after, it should avoid the staggered release schedule Nintendo has upheld since 2006. With so many games already available across Wii, Wii U and 3DS, there’s no reason Nintendo can’t shift these existing ROM files over.
Bringing the Virtual Console to the Switch early on, with its complete roster of classic titles and without the need for people to re-buy their existing games, would go a long way to restore the original potential of the service.
As the late Satoru Iwata imagined it, the Virtual Console is the pinnacle of backwards compatibility as it provides Nintendo hardware with decades of quality titles directly at their fingertips.
And isn’t backwards compatibility something we all care about on some level, even if we don’t admit it to ourselves or others? Fans dragged Microsoft over the coals for not including Xbox 360 backwards compatibility with the Xbox One, just one decision amongst a plethora of other awful ones.
Xbox One backwards compatibility eventually did come about because fans demanded it, and it gave the console a surge of popularity. PlayStation Now, while laughable no matter how you look at it, is Sony’s own way of offering backwards compatibility, but even then, the company has been selling old PSOne and PS2 games on its digital storefront for years now.
The Nintendo Switch not having backwards compatibility is understandable, what with the “switch” from disc to cartridge media. So there’s no way to play your Wii and Wii U discs. But Wii games are already becoming available via the Virtual Console on Wii U, as if Nintendo had foreseen the need to start moving the software to a digital storefront in anticipation of its new console.
I’m of the opinion the Switch’s launch line-up is fine. With 10 games announced, five of which will be at retail and the others available on the eShop (with some exceptions internationally), that’s just enough titles to give consumers the illusion of choice in their game choice.
Nintendo explains that by having a relatively low number of games at launch they can ensure a steady schedule of releases further down the track, which is perfectly fine. But with 10 games at launch, it presents the same problem a lot of console early adopters usually face; true lack of real choice.
I purchased my Xbox One at launch along with one game, Dead Rising 3. While I had a lot of fun playing that first night, over the course of the same weekend I became frustrated with the lack of other games I had to play.
Now I could had gone out and bought any number of games already on sale, but I didn’t want to do my wallet a disservice by buying games I didn’t really want to play. I just wanted something else to play on my new console. First world problems indeed.
The Virtual Console would be an ideal way for Nintendo to supplement the Switch’s available roster of games, without saturating retail space or compromising their release schedule.
It would also would provide those of us who’re silly enough to buy a new Nintendo console at launch with something a little extra to play on our new hardware.
By refusing to talk about how the Virtual Console service fits into its Switch strategy, Nintendo is doing itself, and consumers, a great disservice. Fans of the service continue to be frustrated by Nintendo’s silence, while the company is missing out on potential marketing opportunity by riding the wave of success it found with the NES mini.
Let’s hope that when Nintendo starts talking Virtual Console on Switch, the company doesn’t expect us all to pay for Super Mario Bros. for the hundredth time.