When the Wii launched it had plenty of exciting ideas that contributed to its extraordinary success. One service that appealed to older gamers and / or dedicated fans was the Virtual Console - while relatively niche services had offered older games for download in the past, this was a game changer for Nintendo. The company with the largest and most lucrative back-catalogue utilised downloads to offer an extraordinary range of options - we had obvious candidates like NES and SNES, but also quirky inclusions such as TurboGrafx-16/TurboGrafx-CD and Commodore 64.
It was a bit of a gold rush, with hundreds of titles eventually available, and plenty of publishers / rights holders seemingly desperate to be involved. It was a fresh idea, and a neat alternative to downloaded ROMS on PCs.
Technology, consumer habits and expectations change, though, and we think it's justifiable to say that the Virtual Console on Wii U and 3DS is at a bit of a tipping point. After exciting early days the portable's retro offerings have largely dried up, or regurgitate NES games we've had before, while the Wii U is introducing new platforms, but quirky options. Courtesy of the GamePad, in particular, Nintendo's opted to bring retro portables to its home console, first with Game Boy Advance and - gradually - the DS. The Nintendo 64 has also recently joined NES and SNES, but these are games we could already access - admittedly with inferior PAL versions in some cases for the region - through the Wii mode on the system. As for Wii downloads, they're more an extension of backward compatibility on the Wii U as opposed to being part of a 'Virtual Console'.
Yet perhaps the Virtual Console is in its final stages. Not only is content being regurgitated or arriving in a slightly peculiar form, but first- and third-party enthusiasm is also seemingly on the wane. Nintendo apparently does much of the work even for third-parties, the overall variety is well down on the Wii equivalents, and we recently had Natsume state that Nintendo's backing away from the SNES. Some trademarks for 'Virtual Console' seem to be expiring, too, though with multiple entries for the name that could, ultimately, mean little.
But perhaps change is needed. Though Virtual Console games do often lead the Wii U eShop charts, we wonder whether Nintendo is plotting changes to its model - after all, is the appetite for $5 NES ROMS well past its peak in 2015, over eight years after the original service began? Is a $10 Nintendo 64 download on the Wii U really the best way forward for Nintendo and its rich back-catalogue?
We'll be tackling these questions in an editorial, but as is becoming a weekend tradition here on Nintendo Life we want your thoughts first. For example, should Nintendo aggressively bundle retro games together in enticing deals? Should there be a monthly or annual subscription service for regular download content? Should the priority be more Remix games, or a far better version of amiibo Tap? Or is there no need for change? Is the current setup and pricing good enough?
As a spoiler for our editorial later this weekend, we think Nintendo can make bold changes - perhaps as part of its membership replacement for Club Nintendo - but do wonder whether that's a minority view.
So, we'd love it if you vote in the polls and chat about all things Virtual Console in the comments. What's the future of downloadable Nintendo retro gaming?