Are the US and EU Virtual Console services really a world apart?

In the early days of the Virtual Console it looked likely that although timing differences existing between US and European releases, most (if not all) games would make an appearance in both regions. However, as the US passes the 200 game mark (leaving Europe trailing at 187) we’re seeing a massive disparity between the software available in the two territories – and both sets of gamers are equally annoyed about it.

For example, Capcom’s excellent Megaman has so far made two appearances on the Euro VC (the first in June 2007 and the second in December 2007) but has strangely yet to show himself in North America. Other Euro-exclusive VC titles (at the time of writing) include Sega’s likeable Robocop-clone ESWAT, the excellent Mario's Super Picross and the unique Megadrive/Genesis platformer Vectorman. Europe also has Skate or Die!, but the less said about that the better.

On the flipside, North American gamers have been enjoying the delights of Eternal Champions, Adventure Island, Elevator Action, Ghosts ‘n Goblins and Star Soldier for a fair while now, yet there is no sign of these games on the European Virtual Console.

The most perplexing example is that of Konami’s seminal SNES shooter Axelay, which was released in the US in November but has yet to arrive in Europe, despite seeing the light of day in Australia (which traditionally gets the same games to Europe).

So the burning question is: why is this happening?

There are a handful of possible reasons. The most simple (and some would argue most likely) is that Nintendo (and the publishers involved) are merely choosing not to release these titles in every territory at this moment in time. Why they would decide to do this is very much open to debate; it could range from personal preference to the belief that gamers in a particular region wouldn’t be especially interested in a game (this could be true when considering the likes of Tecmo Bowl on the NES, which was released in the US last March and is arguably not the kind of title that European gamers would go for).

Another reason is ratings. Each Virtual Console title has to be rated for content, and it may be the case that although a game is successfully rated in one region, it may not be drafted through as swiftly in another.

Licensing could also be an issue. To take Axelay as an example; in the US and Japan the game was published through Konami but in Europe, Konami subsidiary Palcom handled the distribution duties. Palcom no longer exists and although it was owned by Konami back then, there may be issues with who owns the European publishing rights now that the company is defunct. Obviously this is just us thinking out loud here (please don’t assume we have solid facts on this!) but it does go some way to giving an illustration of the issues related to releasing old games onto today’s market.

In relation to the Megaman issue, another explaination comes to mind. In 2004 North American gamers were granted the excellent Megaman Anniversary Collection on the GameCube which included ten of The Blue Bomber's adventures. Although this is obviously now out of print, it could be argued that Capcom felt it wrong to ask people to stump up more cash for Megaman games on the Wii (although having said that, this hasn't stopped Sega releasing games like Golden Axe and Altered Beast on several different retro compliations AND the Virtual Console). Could the fact that the Megaman collection was never published in Europe account for the release of the two NES titles in that region?

In addition to this problem, there are other questions to be raised. Although it’s since been rectified, why did Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles originally cost 500 points in Europe but 600 in the US? Also, why are European gamers no longer permitted to download Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels, but it remains available on the US Virtual Console?

European gamers are used to be being given second-class treatment (the 50/60hz debate rages on, for example) but the Virtual Console could have been a way of redressing that balance and gaining some equality. Likewise, North American fans will be puzzled as to why Megaman - one of the most popular NES franchises and a huge hit in the States - has yet to grace their consoles. Of course we have yet to even touch upon Japanese Virtual Console releases, although any concept of equality between the East and West is unthinkable thanks to the language barrier and the issue of taste - few Western gamers will be interested in the countless Mahjong simulations that seem to populate the Japanese VC release list!

Here at VC:R we are loathe to open up too many cans of worms at once, but it seems that the gap between the US and EU Virtual Console is widening and the service is slowly becoming like the global videogame market itself: fractured and inconsistent. The dream of a truly united world market is as far away as ever, it would seem.