Talking Point: The State of Play of the Virtual Console
Posted by Damien McFerran
Since the end of last year there’s been an unpleasant undercurrent of tension in the world of the Virtual Console. It all started when Nintendo’s VC releases began to strangely dry up, with the usual three-game weeks becoming a thing of the past. This controversial move then kick-started a tirade of anger, with each week’s announcements being greeted with almost predictable cries of derision.
Obviously it’s impossible for Nintendo to please everyone in this situation. Yes, the drop from three games to two (or sometimes even one) is unfortunate but it’s worth taking a moment to look at the figures involved. Since the Virtual Console service was launched Nintendo has made over 200 retro titles available to Wii owners; compare that to the volume of games currently available on Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade portal and it makes for interesting reading; despite being on the market for longer, the service has just over half the number of games that the Virtual Console currently boasts. Granted, many of these games are a lot more complex than your average NES title (and many are coded from scratch) but to say that Nintendo has been needlessly holding back games is rather naive. Quite the opposite is true – the company has probably given us too many games, too soon.
It’s worth noting that it’s not just Nintendo’s responsibility to populate the Virtual Console release list; companies like Sega, Hudson and D4 Enterprise have to submit their relevant software for release on the service and if they decide to drag their heels then there’s nothing The Big N can do about it.
We also recommend that anyone who feels personally slighted by the sudden slowdown in Virtual Console releases should take a look at the bigger picture; the Wii is just over a year old and has at least another four years of active service ahead of it. Although many VC-fanatics have tirelessly compiled statistics on how many games were released during the lifetimes of all the respective consoles, it’s unlikely that we’ll see every single one, as many will be withheld due to the fact that they’re bound by long-overdue licensing agreements. Think how many licensed sports titles were published for the Megadrive/Genesis and SNES, for example. The chances of those games appearing on the Virtual Console are slim to none, and that wipes out a huge chunk of each consoles respective back catalogues.
After the initial burst of games during the first 12 months of the Virtual Console it would appear that Nintendo is simply keeping its powder dry and conserving key titles. Look at what we’ve experienced so far; The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Starfox 64, F-Zero X…many would argue that we’ve had the cream of the crop in the first year of the Wii’s life, and one has to wonder just how Nintendo is going to fill the upcoming four or five years. When you consider this, Nintendo’s seeming reluctance to release highly anticipated titles like Smash Bros, Super Mario Kart and Pilotwings suddenly makes a lot more sense.
Furthermore, with WiiWare on the horizon it’s only natural for Nintendo to re-assess its position. The two services are bound to compete with each other (after all, there’s only so much spare cash gamers are willing to devote to downloadable content) so it wouldn’t make much sense for Nintendo to flood the market with retro titles when gamers are naturally excited about WiiWare products.
So is the Virtual Console getting a bum deal at the moment? We personally don’t think so; if anything fans of the service have been spoilt. The first 12 months have been spectacular, with some of Nintendo’s greatest retro titles being made available for a very reasonable price. We’ve also had gems like Sin & Punishment, which was previously unreleased in the West. Neo-Geo and Turbografx-16 CD-ROM support also came as a pleasant surprise and with the Master System and C64 recently announced it’s clear that the future of the portal is very bright indeed.
But what do we know? It’s you guys that make this site the force it is, so let us know your viewpoint on the current state of your beloved retro gaming service!