This writer recently had a bit of a whinge about SNES Mini pre-orders and the pending stockopalypse, which some agreed with and others didn't. Nevertheless, it's still the case that The Super NES Classic Edition (NA) / The Nintendo Classic Mini: Super Nintendo Entertainment System (PAL) (and The Nintendo Classic Mini: Super Famicom) are exciting, with a number of fantastic games included along with the first official release of Star Fox 2. It's going to be a hot product, will get Nintendo a lot of press (the reveal certainly achieved that goal) and happy owners will likely flood social media with photos when it arrives.
Of course, even if Nintendo absolutely nails the whole supply and demand thing, it's a limited time product, or at least it seems so based on precedent with the NES Mini and in the careful wording from Nintendo itself.
Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Super NES Classic Edition is currently planned to ship from Sept. 29 until the end of calendar year 2017. At this time, we have nothing to announce regarding any possible shipments beyond this year.
Nintendo has acknowledged and apologised to those that missed out on the NES system in 2016, of course, but there's a way it can take its upcoming Switch Virtual Console (or whatever it'll be called) and be clever with the offering. Tied into the Nintendo Online Service, it's exciting to think of what could be done when it all begins in earnest in 2018.
A Virtual NES / SNES Mini
Here's what we already know. When Nintendo revealed new details on the Switch Online Service it pushed the product back from Fall this year to '2018', in the process also giving pricing and boosting the offering. After the original pitch of one retro game available for a month to then be swapped out, your $19.99USD deal for 12 months of access will now include the availability of multiple titles in the 'Classic Game Collection'. Three NES games were initially confirmed, again with some online features to be added, and as the collection grows you get to keep the downloads for as long as you're a paid user of the service.
So far, so much like a less expensive, retro-centric PS Plus-style service. When the announcement was made, however, we suggested various ways this service could bring a new approach to retro gaming, switching up the model for a prospective Virtual Console. Sure, 'new' VC platforms like the GameCube, for example, could still command premium download prices - older content, however, could expand upon the free options already in the paid online service, offering bundles and low cost purchases. For starters, the NES and SNES Mini can live on well after their hardware is off the shelves and safely stored (and yes, played) by collectors and lucky owners.
A key point about these Mini systems, of course, is that underneath the cool design and exterior we have solid but common boards running a bit of software loaded with ROMS. That's how consoles work, yes, we know, but in theory - with emulation - that same overarching 'app' that we treat as an operating system on the Minis can become (likely in amended form) a product on Switch.
A Buyer's Choice
Let's remember that the same technology driving the Switch GPU has been used in the past and present to run all sorts of emulation apps on NVIDIA Shield hardware, and Nintendo will already be working on its retro offerings for Switch in terms of the NES and presumably beyond. Special apps like those in the mock-up above - think also of how something like Mega Man Legacy Collection brings multiple titles together - that'd be sold on the eShop from 2018 would do multiple things. It would get attention for riffing on the Classic / Mini brand, and also give us another way to enjoy quality emulations in HD quality. Remember that the NES Mini did a much nicer job of outputting classic games than the Wii U Virtual Console, for example, with those different filters and a crisp HD output doing the work. We'd love to see that level of quality transition to the Switch.
If there's an overarching app to run these Classic games, the buying model could also be different. For example those that aren't members of the Nintendo Online Service could buy the set of 21 SNES games for about $50USD, as a suggestion; cheaper than a SNES Mini system but catering for the fact Nintendo is a business (like any other) that wants to make money. In addition games could be sold individually, albeit buying every title that way would cost more money, therefore incentivising the SNES Mini bundle. Think of a blend of Humble Bundle and a service like Zen Pinball 2 on Wii U for an idea of how the model could work. Members of the Nintendo Online Service, of course, could receive additional discounts and perks, making these 'Classic / Mini' branded downloads an extra beyond the 'free' games added each month.
Will Nintendo Shake Up the Virtual Console?
So what are the downsides to an idea like this? From a business perspective Nintendo may not want to tie limited period nostalgia hardware to its eShop offerings, especially if it decides to manufacture more SNES Mini units into 2018. In addition there could be the perception that it would damage any future devices in the 'Classic / Mini' range, with the possibility that some Switch gamers would assume download equivalents were coming and hold off from buying the actual hardware.
That's certainly a valid concern and potential sticking point, though we do feel that there's not a 1-to-1 overlap between potential NES / SNES Mini buyers and Switch owners. In addition, the appeal of the hardware goes beyond the games included, but also revolves around nostalgia, the design and the collectability. Any Switch download alternatives could also be held back until the relevant hardware is discontinued (like the 2018 examples we're citing), making it an additional means to monetise the hype around these devices and their collection of classics outputting in HD with various filters, save states etc.
Finally, what are the odds of this actually happening? Perhaps slim. Beyond the fact Nintendo would have to judge whether it makes commercial sense, there'd be the technicalities of recreating the performance of the NES / SNES Mini hardware through emulation on Switch. We suspect it'd be more than feasible, but could potentially demand resources and staff time that Nintendo wouldn't consider worthwhile.
Nevertheless, we'd love to see it happen. The Switch could potentially be a wonderful way to enjoy retro games, and initiatives and bundles like this could certainly add to its appeal.
Let us know what you think, or alternative ideas you may have, down in the comments.