WiiWare and Retro Gaming

Nintendo’s WiiWare service will be with us soon and with it comes the tantalizing promise of liberation for small-scale developers. It should grant diminutive studios the opportunity to create fun and affordable experiences without having to worry about such complicated factors as distribution and inventory management, which is obviously great.

But will the service also be used to for retro gaming, as has been the case with Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade and Sony’s Playstation Network?

While the Virtual Console provides perfect emulation of hundreds of classic retro titles, it seems unlikely at this stage that Nintendo will support more recent consoles (like the Saturn or Dreamcast) via the service. The reason for this is that the Wii isn’t powerful enough to emulate anything more powerful than the N64.

This means we may never see titles like Rez and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (both recently released on XBLA to critical and commercial acclaim) on the VC service. Surely the solution is to release these games as WiiWare products?

The aforementioned XBLA ports were coded from the ground up for the service (so basically no emulation of the original hardware was taking place). This could easily be done with WiiWare releases, too. The Wii itself may be lacking in power when compared to the 360 and PS3, but it’s capable of replicating titles from the previous generation of machines - with a little effort on the part of the developer, of course.

As XBLA has proven, gamers are willing to pay a little more for more ‘modern’ retro games like Rez and SotN; especially when, in the case of the former, they are improved and embellished (Rez possess a new HD-display mode).

With the Wii’s gigantic installed base dwarfing that of the 360 and PS3, established companies like Capcom, Konami and Namco will surely be eyeing the new WiiWare market with interest. It could be the key to helping them make a healthy profit on titles from the 32-bit era that are currently unattainable via emulation on the Virtual Console service.