This week brings a delicious nostalgia overload on the 3DS, with Pokémon Red, Blue & Yellow making their way to the portable on 27th February, while Mega Man Legacy Collection lands on 23rd February. That's nine games across the two franchises, considering all the parts in Capcom's release, and fans of either series will have a chance to party like it's long before 1999.
The releases are interesting for their different approaches and the respective value they offer. That's especially relevant with the download-only release of the Mega Man collection in Europe, where it costs just €14.99 / £11.99 - don't forget that includes six NES games, Challenge stages and extras such as galleries of concept art. It makes the previous individual Virtual Console releases of the games, which cost $4.99 / €4.99 / £4.49 each, seem like an extravagant cost. It's worth noting, though, that the physical retail release in North America has a recommended price of $29.99, albeit it includes two HOME Themes and some stickers.
Then, on the other side of the coin, we have the generation one Pokémon releases, which Nintendo and The Pokémon Company are happy to milk for all they're worth. We don't necessarily blame them for that, or perhaps it's more accurate to say we're not surprised that's the case. Virtual Console releases of the Game Boy originals have been on fan wishlists for quite some time, and in selling them individually for $9.99 / €9.99 / £8.99, along with hardware bundles of various shapes and sizes depending on region, there's an evident desire to maximise the hype around the Pokémon anniversary.
Yet we also understand why some are unhappy with the pricing around these releases. Though Game Freak has implemented local wireless trading to take the place of the Game Boy Link Cable, which is a lovely touch, it's debatable whether the premium price is fully justified. A typical Game Boy Virtual Console title is $3.99 / €3.99 / £3.60, so we have a mark-up of an extra 150%, with no notable bundle discount of any kind. An offer of progressive discounts if you bought two or three of the releases (2 for $16, 3 for $20, as a rough idea) would have perhaps taken the edge off, but no such luck. If you want them all, cough up the money.
This is simple hard-nosed commerce, ultimately. With high demand comes a high price, even when the supply is endless courtesy of the download environment. Nintendo would also argue that you need not buy all three in any case, as you choose one and then trade with friends, as was the case back in the day. Based on votes in our European download update page, too, it looks like the winner out of the three could be Pokémon Yellow: Pikachu Edition, but all three evidently have their fans.
Nostalgia comes with a price, then. In Capcom's case it's scraping what it can out of its over-exposed and frequently re-sold NES Mega Man games on 3DS - following an equivalent release of the collection on home consoles and PC in 2015. Many Nintendo gamers that have wanted these Mega Man games have had frequent opportunities to pick them up, so the collection comes at an attractive price-per-game along with extra goodies to enjoy. Pokémon is on the opposite end of the scale, utilising its desirability and previous unavailability to extract top dollar with a fairly minimal change to the source material.
That's all to be expected, but Capcom's Mega Man Legacy Collection is perhaps a useful indicator of what we could see from Nintendo in the future. As we've suggested previously when considering how Nintendo can harness the Virtual Console in the next generation, while 'new' retro re-releases command a premium price Nintendo has already burnt through many of its reserves, with the GameCube - and Virtual Boy, if you're being picky - being the only systems to be entirely left out of the Virtual Console so far. If Nintendo tries to sell a lot of its iconic retro games to us again in the next generation, in some cases for the third or even fourth time, it'll need to re-assess how it makes the proposition attractive.
There are ways and means to try and do this - simplify and re-use formatting, save state functionality code and digital manuals on the as-yet-unnamed NX hardware, for one. Utilise the Nintendo Account system to offer convenient options to re-purchase at a cheap price, rather than require a Wii transfer as was the case on Wii U. Perhaps even offer some Virtual Console re-purchases as free downloads on new hardware, as loyalty / customer reward promotions. Finally there can be bundles - the Mega Man Legacy Collection is a strong example of how a solid price and multiple classic games can be attractive. We only need to look at how enthusiastically Metroid Prime Trilogy was received at its discount launch price on the eShop, also, to see how older games at a bargain price can generate current-day buzz.
The fact that Nintendo's 'premium' and untapped Virtual Console resources are increasingly thinned out suggests a future of deals, bundles and loyalty offers may be a way forward for the Virtual Console. Yes, there are multiple Pokémon generations to be re-released (should Nintendo, The Pokémon Company and Game Freak decide some are off the table for remasters), and there's also the GameCube and some varied offerings across other systems yet to be re-released or even localised. The days of relatively expensive Virtual Console games will likely continue in the near future, as a result, but the question is whether a new approach to this retro market will make them the exception rather than the norm.
Such is the strength of Nintendo's history and the quality of much of its back catalogue that there's certainly a future for the Virtual Console. Yet it's now stretched across three systems (Wii, 3DS, Wii U) with little change to its pricing model, with only occasional promotions in recent years showing a shift in strategy. With the concept now being a decade old, the time is right with Nintendo's next hardware to try some fresh ideas, with the Wii U and 3DS potentially offering useful grounds for early experimentation.
We want to know your thoughts on these topics, and the pricing and desirability of the Pokémon releases and Mega Man Legacy Collection, too. Hit up the polls and comments below to share your thoughts.