With the Nintendo Switch set to get its full unveil later this week, it’s easy to get excited over the features gamers really want. Will it have a long battery life? Will it come with a high-definition screen? For me though, as a player of retro games, it’s the consoles retro offerings that truly have me interested. Will this finally be the device that Nintendo gets its retro policy right or will this Virtual Console be an awkward disappointment also?
It’s long been the dream that Nintendo would unlock its back catalog and allow gamers to play Nintendo’s classic wares on modern consoles. When the feature was first rolled out on the Nintendo Wii, the potential was huge. Yet it became clear very quickly that Nintendo’s ability to deliver games was the biggest hold-up. Games only appeared in a trickle, halting the momentum and leaving the Wii without some of the classic games gamers demanded. It was a good 4-5 years before gamers could finally say they had the service they wanted – and even then there were still huge holes.
Still, it was a better offering that of the Wii U’s Virtual Console; which was just terrible. From the varying quality of the offerings to a bizarre release pattern that saw Nintendo DS games getting released while Gamecube games sat awkwardly out of sight – the service struggled to appeal in great amounts. It’s hard to say many good things about the service and as the recent Miniature NES console proved; even the quality of the emulation wasn’t all that great. It was another missed opportunity and a sign that Nintendo didn’t quite understand what its fans wanted.
It also arguably played a role in the consoles downfall. The release of Pokemon Snap last week is a good example of Nintendo not only dropping the ball but kicking it into touch. Pokemon Snap has a huge following and a large amount of fans that want to play it – so why stick the game out on the Virtual Console at a time when no one cares. Even Nintendo’s most die-hard fans are looking forward to the Switch – knowing that they probably won’t get to play Snap on their new device. It’s a cruel joke, an awkward appendix for fans who don’t really want to invest more money into an ecosystem which will be dead inside three months.
So what would I want to see from an improved Virtual Console? Rumors point to Nintendo readying several Gamecube games for launch, although I’m opting to take this with a pinch of salt. Numerous Gamecube titles were reportedly heading to the Wii U before they disappeared into the great abyss; so skepticism is encouraged. This is frustrating because the Gamecube had some absolute killer titles that more than stand up to modern standards – would it kill them to release those titles to an eager audience? There’s no official way to play the likes of Mario Sunshine, Animal Crossing or Mario Kart Double Dash without digging out a Gamecube. That’s just sad when Sony and Microsoft have been going above and beyond to improve their services.
When the console launches, the line-up of retro classics needs to be robust. Nintendo’s patchy history with digital upgrades doesn’t fill me with confidence in this regard, the way gamers had to pay to upgrade between Wii and Wii U was bizarre and needless. If we can’t play games we already own on the Switch, then at least offer some kind of road map to what the service will end up becoming. Will we get Gamecube games? Will we eventually be able to upgrade titles? One of the worst things about the Virtual Console was the absolute randomness of its schedule and the way Nintendo didn’t offer feedback on games it was considering for the service. Communication must improve.
On top of this, what happened to the third party offerings? There was a time when you could grab classic Sonic games and such through the service, but Nintendo quietly killed this useful addition. If Switch is going to be the gaming device at the center of my world, Nintendo needs to play nice and bring back Sega, PC Engine, and Neo-Geo titles. Diversity makes their service better – locking out choices is a sucky move.
For some people these retro offerings don’t matter. For me though it is something of a deal breaker. I enjoy retro gaming, more so than modern games. I want to play those games officially, show friends and enjoy them as they should be. I don’t want to have to hope that Nintendo might at some point get around to releasing a title I want to experience.
So it’s with some skepticism that we look towards the Switch. Will it deliver the platform for retro offerings that gamers want, and do so in a timely fashion? Or will it be another case of Nintendo dropping the ball and neutering one of its consoles more appealing aspects. Whatever the outcome, the company has to step its game up.