Virtual Console, a feature included in every Nintendo console since the Wii, still hasn’t made an appearance on the Nintendo Switch. It always packs a nostalgic punch at staggering prices that brings Nintendo knockout profits, so the big question is “Where is it?” Which then rattles off into a number of other questions: Is Virtual console going to happen? Has Nintendo already shown us how they are going to handle it under the guise of another product. Will it include Gamecube games? When will these questions be answered? Good news! Unlike everyone else on the internet, I have some opinions I would like to “share” with you.
Whether it’s the marketing direction, the musical style of its storied franchises, or the basic systems in their biggest titles of the year, it’s no secret that Nintendo has completely embraced change with this year’s release of the Switch. This paves the way for either disappointment or delight, so people naturally tried to find how it can go wrong before ever considering how it could go right. The first scare came from looking at the game icons on the Switch.
It’s pretty obvious that the NeoGeo titles released for the Switch have very distinct branding on their icons letting you know what console they are from. This decision led people to speculate that this spelled doom for the traditional virtual console, all games would be sold separately and simply given an icon that lets you know what system it came from.
There’s another theory that our answer lies in a more recent release titled “Arcade Archives Mario Bros.” Maybe Nintendo plans to let 3rd parties take over virtual console, add some leaderboards, and sell them for more than they are worth. Luckily, neither of these theories seem to be correct. A quick Google search led me to the creator of both the NeoGeo ports and Arcade Archives : HAMPSTER Corporation. This group has been releasing “Arcade Archives” and “Arcade Archives : NeoGeo” for a while now on both the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. They even used a blue variant of the same NeoGeo banners on the PS4.
So that’s two theories down and one to go. People have been speculating that Nintendo’s line of “Classic” consoles signal that Nintendo would rather sell us hardware in affordable limited runs than sell us games a la carte. Financially, this would be a very poor decision considering Nintendo could have made $168 if the games were bought on the existing virtual console separately without having to pay for hardware, shipping, marketing, and development. Also, according to Gamespot “the models that Nintendo looked at for retro consoles from other companies apparently showed they might not be very popular.” This says to me that Nintendo was simply trying to diversify their business while reminding the world of Nintendo’s fantastic intellectual property they love so much. However, I believe there is another advantage to their approach.
It’s well known that the emulation in Nintendo’s Classic consoles is much better than it was on the virtual console on previous systems. The Classic consoles also come with surprisingly robust save states, rewinding features, and fantastic user interfaces that are bursting with charm. So, if Nintendo only expected to sell these devices to a relatively small number of consumers, why did they add so many robust features, and make them significantly better experiences than the ones available on their existing virtual consoles? I think the Classic consoles are actually meant to be a way for Nintendo to make money on their latest work on virtual console before it’s ever released. I think they are taking their time making the best virtual console they can make, and to help pay for the development costs, they decided to package up that work and sell it as a fun collectors’ item while they wait for everything to get polished and Mario Odyssey to release. I believe it’s even possible that the exact user interfaces from these classic consoles could be the form we get virtual console in on the Switch. It would make a lot of sense to just have an icon for each console, and that icon would take you into a virtual console experience dedicated to that console. The Classic consoles user interface is remarkably similar to Switch user interface.
In terms of what consoles I expect to see in the Virtual Console, that’s hard to say. Obviously the NES, SNES, and N64 will be there, but I’m not so sure about handheld consoles. They were there are the Wii U, so I’d like to assume they will return, but we can’t be sure. There are also widespread rumors about Gamecube games coming to virtual console. Until the Switch’s 4.0 system update we had essentially no information backing that up, however we now know that the Switch completely supports Gamecube controllers. Of course this doesn’t guarantee anything, but someone at Nintendo decided to work on supporting this specific controller over any other number of features, so that certainly seems significant. Unfortunately though, we won’t know any of this for sure until Nintendo tells us what is actually going on.
That brings me to when I think we will finally hear about the Virtual Console. We currently know that Nintendo is waiting to unveil their online service until 2018, and we also know that their online service will include access to select Nintendo Entertainment System titles. It would make sense for these NES games to show off the features of the new Virtual Console meaning they would likely be announced and released at similar times. The most likely time for that would be in January of 2018. Nintendo tends to do a sizable direct in January, and most recently they held their “Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017” on January 13th, 2017. They used it to discuss the hardware for the Nintendo Switch and give us a general roadmap of software releases for the entire year. I think they will do a similar presentation again in 2018. It serves as a large expo similar to E3 for Japan, and it’s a great place to do big game reveals as well as show off their new online features and yes, Virtual Console. So, hopefully by the time we have all collected every moon, coin, and token in Mario Odyssey, we will know when we can all jump back into Sunshine to beat up plants with squirt guns.