News Article

Portable Virtual Console - A Reality?

Posted by Damien McFerran

It’s safe to say that the Virtual Console has been a massive success for Nintendo. The company has confirmed that an astonishing number of gamers are delving into the past and gleefully downloading retro content to their Wii consoles. So long as Nintendo can keep a steady flow of quality titles then the future of the service is all but assured.

But what exactly is the future of the Virtual Console and retro gaming ‘on demand’ in general?

For a while now there’s been rampant speculation about the possibility of a similar service on the Nintendo DS. The portable machine is certainly more than capable of playing many current Virtual Console games (the shadowy homebrew scene proves that) and the inclusion of Wi-Fi would make downloading them relatively simple. Surely it is only a matter of time before Nintendo decide to activate such a service – either with the DS or its eventual successor, which surely cannot be far off now.

In the meantime, other companies have been fully exploiting the concept of portable retro gaming. The power of most mobile phones is sufficient enough to handle Megadrive and SNES games, but the average mobile phone interface isn’t exactly suited for intense gaming action. Nevertheless, we’ve seen many vintage classics find their way onto phones, such as Sonic, Street Fighter II and Double Dragon.

Thankfully, portable technology is so cheap these days that it’s perfectly possible to carry around miniaturized versions of hardware that 15 years ago would occupy the lion’s share of space beneath your TV. Cheap and cheerful company AtGames has recently released a portable Megadrive / Genesis which contains twenty classic titles, a decent backlit display and runs off AAA batteries. Amazingly, this contraption retails for under $40.

VCR's Dazza owns one of these impressive little devices and has kindly posted some video footage for your viewing pleasure:

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A similar product exists that plays Sega Master System games, again for less than the price of a modern videogame.

But these examples are surely just the tip of the iceberg; if Sega really wanted to make some money out of this they could easily produce a portable machine that can connect to the internet and download Sega Megadrive / Genesis ROMs for a price comparable to Virtual Console games. Flash memory is so cheap these days that internal storage wouldn’t be an issue; 2GB of memory would be more than enough. You have to wonder why Sega hasn’t come up with this idea already, seeing as the company has gladly allowed another manufacturer to produce such a concept under licence. Perhaps this is just Sega testing the water?

Another avenue for portable retro gaming is GamePark’s famous GP2X console. It’s an open source machine which is intended for homebrew applications, but predictably over the past few years many bedroom coders have successfully ported over popular emulators to the machine.

I’ve got one of these things myself and the performance is quite literally breathtaking. Here’s some example footage of it in action:

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Running on large capacity (but relatively cheap) SD cards, the GP2X can happily emulate the Megadrive / Genesis, SNES, Master System, Neo-Geo, MAME and even the trusty old PC – but there’s a catch. You have to download the ROMs to play these games as there is currently no official distribution channel (and even if there was it’s unlikely anyone would support it). Emulation is a notoriously grey area; the common perception is that if you own the original game you are permitted to own a ROM backup, but even this is refuted by many companies afraid of losing control over their valuable retro IP.

Given the power of modern handhelds and the relative simplicity of many of the retro titles that appear on the Virtual Console, it’s fair to say that a portable version of the service will appear at some point. It remains to be seen if Nintendo will extend the concept to the amazingly successful DS (to even the most untrained eye it would surely represent a licence to print money) or if any other company – be it Sega, Capcom or Konami – decide to enter the fray with their own dedicated portable hardware and respective download service, but you can be pretty sure that we’ll see retro gaming ‘on demand’ in the palm of our hands sooner rather than later.

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User Comments (33)



DEMON212 said:

PS3's can download PS1 games from the PSN, and then transfer them to a PSP if you so wish.

If Sony can do it, why not Ninty?

I'd buy a DS back IMMEDIATLEY if Ninty announced a blank game pack that can be used to store and play VC games on.



Storyteller said:

I have always recognized that one of the few downsides to the Wii VC was the noticable lack of games from the handheld systems. I've thought a lot about how great it would be to go back and play games like Metroid 2 and Super Mario Land, both of them, the Wario Land games and so many others that were in fact exclusive to handhelds. for a while now I haven't been sure whether or not they would add Game Boy and Game Gear games to the Wii VC or utilize the WiFi capabilities of the DS, but I figured that by the end of '08 Nintendo will will be neck deep in handheld downloads and history has shown that when it comes to the portable market the Big N has treaded the water quite impressively. If they were going to do it with the DS I thought they might release some kind of special edition kind of like what the Game Boy Color was to the old Game Boy. Something that might be a little better equipped to both download and house the games. I'm sure almost all of the Game Boy games short of the GB Advance titles would be fair game for Nintendo to release. Most of the Game Gear games as well and with the recent inclusion of the Neo Geo in the VC maybe Neo Geo Pocket games could start showing back up again. Only time will tell and I may be jumping the gun a little bit but what do you guys think?



Nadroc516 said:

this is just fine, as long as i can play the games i that ive already bought on my ds, id be very pleased with this



Clayfrd said:

small problem. The DS lacks a hard drive (or at least a large one), wouldn't this be a problem, or am I mistaken?



Dazza said:

@Clayfrd - I guess they could always use the GBA port for an expansion pack as with the Opera browser.



Damo said:

Clayfrd - Nintendo could get around that easily by releasing some kind of Flash memory on a GBA-style cart, or even a DS cart with storage on it.



Kevin said:

This might be an excellent way for old portable games to be rereleased. The DS might be the VC for the older game boy games, game gear, etc. Hopefully Nintendo will put the original game boy games in color.



Mnftg64 said:

If Nintendo didn't even keep the SNES graphics for Super Mario Bros on NES for the VC, they probably won't bother to color old GameBoy games that weren't remade as DX versions already.



Clayfrd said:

Ah, thank you Dazza/Damo. That makes sense. Considering that, this is an exciting possibilty. The two machines demonstrated in the videos also look interesting.



JNoodles said:

Now, now. I think a DS Virtual Console will actually happen mid 09 or so!

Ah, the possibilities. I hope Sega and Treasure would help out with the DS VC... Light Crusader, Beyond Oasis, and Shinobi, that's why.



Atlantis1982 said:

If I can put my VC games on the DS; the DS will definitely have some life seeing that it went from a portable system to an alarm clock. :



JNoodles said:

Woah Daz, I forgot to ask what games were on that Mega Drive Portable! So... what games are on that Mega Drive Portable?



Atlantis1982 said:

But Nintendo has to wonder about when you have your friends over your place and they have their own DS's. Nintendo probably thought about the possibility that your friends can have free VC games on their DS's just from downloading them on your own Wii.



Dazza said:

@Jonno - The portable Megadrive is a pretty nifty device. For $40 you get a lot of bang for your buck. You can buy one here.

The games are:

  • Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
  • Alien Storm
  • Altered Beast
  • Arrow Flash
  • Columns III
  • Crack Down
  • Decap Attack
  • DR Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine
  • E-Swat
  • Ecco the Dolphin
  • Ecco Junior
  • Shinobi II (Revenge of Shinobi)
  • Flicky
  • Gain Ground
  • Golden Axe
  • Jewel Master
  • Kidd Chameleon
  • Ristar
  • Shadow Dancer
  • Sonic and Knuckles


Damo said:

Atlantis1982 - easy, you could 'bond' the DS (or the DS download cartridge at least) with the Wii to avoid that.



Villain said:

I think Storyteller pretty much nailed it. Considering how Nintendo said the DS is "not a Game Boy", I say chances are huge the next Game Boy will include a heap of nice new feats, including this Portable VC option. Why not?

I own a hacked PSP myself. Hacking it requires some work, just like the wonderful GP2X Damo posted a vid of, that machine is pure homebrew gold. Not all of the emulators run at 100% though. It has some MINOR issues with SNES (though a lot of SNES games DO run at 100%), but stuff like Neo Geo MVS plays like flowing water. Thanks for an interesting article!



Damo said:

I toyed with the idea of hacking my PSP but it's just too much fuss, if I'm honest. The GP2X is a far more elegant solution and GP2X emulation is really taking off now, with many of the 'key' emulators running faster than on the PSP.

Playing the GP2X really makes me wish some company would have the balls to take up this 'all in one' retro handheld. The Virtual Console has proven that when profits are involved, companies that were previously enemies are prepared to work together. If someone came forward and proposed such a service I'm sure Sega, Capcom, etc would sign up...the only company that wouldn't is obviously Nintendo, because they are perfectly positioned to create their own version of this idea.

I just hope that if Ninty do go ahead with this, they don't just limit it to Gameboy games - aside from stuff like Tetris and Castlevania: Belmont's Revenge, there's very little I'd actually want to play.



DEMON212 said:

I know you lot are saying GBA carts with flash, but surely a DS cart would make more sence? (As I mentioned above)

Just release a Wii to DS VC kit. Get a cart with the Wii's main menu programmed into. Same 12 channel setup.

Whack a few free exclusive games on to warrant the £30 tag. And then add online.

Sync your DS and Wii up over WI-FI. And then start transferring between the 2. But also have the shop programmed into the cart, so that you can DL on the go

The only games that wouldn't work are N64 (With no Analogue, there wouldn't be enough buttons with a controls overhaul). But there'd still be a huge number of reasons for them to do it. I've got about 97, with only 16 cons. But then again, I've been careful with what games I DL



Damo said:

Given the physical size of the GBA cart, I'm guessing it would be easier to fit more Flash memory on one, but yeah a DS cart would work just as fine I would imagine.



neuzd said:

...OK I generally don't like to jump on these discussions, so I'm not directly commenting the topic.
But all you guys seem to have forgotten the Play Yan, Nintendo already has built a GBA cart with an SD slot, I'm sure this is what you were seeing with your minds' eyes.



BJ1 said:

Pokemon games such as red, blue, yellow, etc. will make millions.



DEMON212 said:


Agreed, it's just that so far, the GBA slot has only been used in small ways. So maybe the DS can work in DS mode whilst running stuff from the GBA slot, if you get my meaning.

Would it be possible to do this just in GBA mode?

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