Among the many announcements in yesterday's Wii U Direct, only one had an immediate impact on console owners, with the Wii U Virtual Console Trial Campaign launching right after the broadcast. Balloon Fight is now available to download with some Wii U-exclusive features — which we'll get to later — and the release schedule for the monthly additions to the campaign will bring a variety of well-known NES and SNES titles to the Wii U eShop.
The first thing we feel we should do, for the sake of clarity, is explain how the promotion is set to work. There was understandable confusion when the news was announced due to Nintendo's use of the word "trial", suggesting that you're paying a reduced rate to rent the download for a month. Thankfully that's not the case — we don't think Nintendo would charge for time-limited access to software — as these are standard downloads that will be yours to keep forever, or for at least as long as you own and play your Wii U. Pay the lower price within the relevant period, and you've got a good deal that not even a future sale is likely to match.
As Iwata-san explained... the intention is to attract newcomers to the idea of the Virtual Console, tempting them to sample the retro delights by making the downloads cost less than a bar of chocolate.
This promotion from Nintendo, officially, is to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the release of the original Famicom in Japan, which became the NES in the West. The branding makes perfect sense, with a new classic game each month being available for 30 days at a promotional price $0.30/€0.30/£0.30 — yes, this doesn't account for currency exchange rates, but it's still inexpensive in every region, regardless. After that period the titles will go back to their normal price, which is a debate for another day as arguments about Nintendo Virtual Console pricing can have almost no end.
As Iwata-san explained, which makes the reference to a "trial" understandable, the intention is to attract newcomers to the idea of the Virtual Console, tempting them to sample the retro delights by making the downloads cost less than a bar of chocolate. Much of the Nintendo Life audience will already have multiple copies of these games, so for many of us the choice will be down to whether we actually care about owning another version on our shiny new home console. For newcomers, however, it's easy to understand why the pricing alone — though a stylish banner at the top of the eShop also helps — will attract them to try it out. The choice of Balloon Fight to launch the campaign is arguably a strange one, as it's not regarded by many as an NES classic, but that's all subjective opinion.
At the very least, however, it'll show us how the Wii U Virtual Console will make its own stamp on retro games. There's excellent controller compatibility — though it'll vary slightly depending on the game — which in the case of Balloon Fight means support for the GamePad, Wii Remote, Wii Classic Controller and Wii U Pro Controller; it seems as if everything but the Balance Board has been included. We also have save state functionality as enjoyed on the 3DS VC, which is largely irrelevant with the début release but may prove helpful once Super Metroid arrives in May. There's also Miiverse support, which is certainly welcome for those that want a bit of retro-themed conversation on the service, while boasting high-scores with screenshots most certainly will happen. Having communities for these games will make the social app rather busy, but Iwata promised improvements — including easy search options — will be frequent.
These are neat features to enjoy when playing classic games, surpassing the options on Wii and 3DS, and this Famicom Anniversary promotion is convenient timing for Nintendo: it can get the Virtual Console into gamer's minds before it formally arrives in Spring. Another benefit is that it'll play its own part in attracting curious Wii U owners onto the Wii U eShop, which can only be positive for the developers selling their efforts on the store. While the lengthy gap in releases — until the arrival of The Cave this week — was perhaps inevitable, especially with the impressive range of titles there on day one, we'd speculate that the number of visitors to the store will have deteriorated as the weeks passed. Demos and sale prices have perhaps helped, but consumers often have the biggest appetite for new downloads, even if they're new versions of old games.
If gamers pop onto the eShop to pick up their 30 cent/30 pence download regularly, then perhaps they'll browse at what else is new and be tempted to buy more, as that's generally how window shopping works. We have a handful of new titles due in Q1, so it can be hoped that enough new download-only games will arrive on a regular basis to communicate a message that, after a quiet spell, the eShop is becoming a more vibrant, busy marketplace.
For a number of us here at Nintendo Life, it's likely that the allure of titles such as Super Metroid, Punch Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream and F-Zero will be hard to resist at bargain-basement prices. Importantly, however, it could not only encourage those unfamiliar with Nintendo's retro games, but act as a vital advertisement for the Wii U eShop as a whole.