Remember Nintendo?s Virtual Console service? Last seen on the Wii U and 3DS consoles, the service boasted more than 500 games. These titles represented classic platforms like Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, TurboGrafx 16, Neo Geo, arcade machines, and plenty more. In fact, it was something of a video game museum, which encompassed pretty much every major home console prior to the GameCube (well, except the PlayStation, Saturn/Dreamcast, and Atari machines). Both the Wii U and 3DS even have Virtual Console ports of Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, and DS games.
We all know by now that the Virtual Console service didn?t live on in its existing state beyond Wii U or 3DS. One possible reason (of likely many) for this is that games had to be purchased individually on the Virtual Console ? it?s a concept that seems anachronistic in an age where streaming and ?all you can watch/listen to/play? subscription services are the norm. Virtual Console has been replaced by the slowly-growing Nintendo Switch Online (NS) service, which now consists of 82 games ? definitely nothing to sneeze at.
If you?re unfamiliar with the service, you can think of NSO as essentially being Nintendo?s Xbox Live service. An NSO subscription is required to play games online, for starters. Games like Splatoon 2 or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are largely built to be played this way, so if you own them, it makes sense to also nab an NSO subscription. In fact, it?s probably the case that many gamers would have subscribed for this reason alone. In North America, the service costs only $4 per month and $20 per year.
A beautiful portrait of some of the NES? wide library of classic games.
The added bonus, of course, is the 82 (and expanding) games across both the NES and SNES catalogs that are available for subscribers to play. Bear in mind that $4 per month is less than a third of Netflix?s $13 per month HD plan in the United States ? depending on how much you?re likely to play these games, the incentive could be quite powerful.
It?s great that all these games are included in the package. But it?s worth noting that this library isn?t exactly as well-rounded or robust as various previous iterations from Nintendo (whether we?re talking about the Virtual Console service on Wii and Wii U, or either the NES/SNES Classic Mini consoles).
Here are the NES games on Nintendo Switch Online as of June 21, 2020:
There are currently 53 NES games on the service.
And here are the SNES games on Nintendo Switch Online as of June 21, 2020:
There are currently 29 SNES games on the service.
How the NSO?s free game library compares to the libraries of the NES Classic and SNES Classic limited run reproduction consoles
The SNES Classic is like the Sega Genesis Mini in that it is pocket-sized.
NSO does beat out the NES Classic and SNES Classic reproduction consoles that came out in 2016 and 2017, as they only had 30 and 26 games respectively. But NSO is missing many of the fantastic games that were on these, such as Earthbound, Castlevania 1/2/4, Donkey Kong Country, Mega Man X, Final Fantasy 1/6, Super Mario RPG, Bubble Bobble, etc…
Aside from those few games, and a few others, I would say that there isn?t much point tracking down one of these reproduction systems, though, except that NSO will probably be shut down one day whereas those consoles come with the games hard-coded onto them.
How the NSO?s free game library compares to the libraries of the Wii Virtual Console and the Wii U Virtual Console
But neither NSO nor the NES/SNES reproduction consoles hold a candle to the Wii/Wii U Virtual Console platforms. The Wii Virtual Console had a staggering 427 games that you could get on it in North America, and the Wii U Virtual Console had 311 games, venturing into the Game Boy library.
Memories of the Wii Virtual Console, lost to time?
Here is the Wikipedia list of the Wii?s Virtual Console games. You could buy games from the NES, SNES, N64, TurboGrafx-16, Sega Master System, Sega Genesis, Neo Geo, Commodore 64, and the arcade. It played host to a massive 427 games that you could get on it in North America.
Here is the Wikipedia list of the Wii U?s Virtual Console games. You could play games from the NES, SNES, N64, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, and TurboGrafx-16. It had a fairly staggering 311 games that you could get on it in North America.
And, sure, I?ll throw in the Wikipedia list for the 3DS Virtual Console. It can play games from the Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Sega Game Gear, NES, and SNES. It has 191 games.
It is worth noting that while the Wii U and 3DS Virtual Consoles are still going strong, the Wii?s Virtual Console is now totally shut down as of January 2019. If you own the games you can still run them, though, and homebrewed Wii consoles can play the files of Virtual Console games.
A hypothesis as to why Nintendo hasn?t been porting Nintendo 64 games to NSO (hint: because it?s free and they?re running a business)
The problem is that Nintendo stands to gain less by porting more games to the Nintendo Switch if they?re just being paid a platform-wide blanket subscription. If you get the 12 month subscription, you?re getting access to online play and all these games for only $1.67 per month, which is practically free.
Many people have been clamoring for N64 games to come to Switch. But have you ever tried to emulate an N64 game on a PC? It?s usually a buggy mess. Anything past 2D is usually quite difficult to emulate on anything. PS1 games aren?t so bad, and Sony has done a good job of porting those games to PlayStation. But generally, anything 3D is going to, first of all, have a bunch of deprecated 3D modeling technology in it that might not be well supported anymore by modern systems, but also, are just larger and much more finely tuned products than a 2D game is.
The disc sizes of early 3D games jumped, in some cases, a GB or two, from the transition from their 2D game conterpart?s total game size. You have to imagine that there is just a lot of stuff in a game with that much data, and that getting a game that big to work on new hardware (which it may not have originally been meant to run on) can be a difficult process. This is why I don?t exactly blame Nintendo for not bringing everything to Switch if their plan is to put it all under the $1.67 per month subscription platform.
Free games vs. the Virtual Console?s usual prices
So, you know, free is free. And that?s pretty cool.
On the other hand, here is the Virtual Console eShop webpage. Yoshi?s Story for N64 as ported to the Wii U is $10. Advance Wars for GBA as ported to Wii U is $10. Mother for NES as ported to Wii U is $7. Mario Party for NDS as ported to Wii U is $10. The 3DS? Virtual Console Game Boy ports are usually $3, which is nice. Pokemon on the Game Boy Color is $10, though.
So, despite that I love Yoshi?s Story and everything, I wasn?t really about to shell out $10 for it. And if the Wii U had Sega Genesis games on it?s Virtual Console like the Wii did, I wasn?t really about to spend upwards of $10 per Sonic game (fortunately there is the Sega Genesis Classics bundle on Switch that has over 50 games on it like the Steam version of the same bundle).
That?s the problem with the Virtual Console and probably why it got shut down in the first place. $10 might be too much for some of these old games nowadays, especially if the game?s main fans have already played them to death. I?ve probably played through Sonic 3 like 25 times, but I?m not sure that I would drop the $10 on it if it was on the Wii U?s Virtual Console.
I guess it just depends on if you?ve played these games before and how much you value replaying them.
So which old games should they bring to NSO?s free game catalog?
Of course, since the Switch doubles as a portable system, I?d love if they would port the Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS Virtual Console games as free NSO games. Especially Pokemon. But I think that what might be more important is getting some N64 games on there. Paper Mario, Super Mario 64, Yoshi?s Story, Mario Party 2, Diddy Kong Racing, Donkey Kong 64, and so on. Also, Earthbound is an amazing game for SNES that should definitely be ported. Likewise for Donkey Kong Country.
The Nintendo Switch is a fantastic console with some truly amazing games on it. They?ve already ported some of the games that I most wanted on there, such as Breath of the Wild, Final Fantasy XII, The World Ends With You, and Link?s Awakening. And they?re apparently porting all the home console Mario games such as Super Mario Galaxy as well.
If you?re someone who wants everything retro ever on one platform, the Switch is getting there. But for the couple of things you can?t find on it, you can probably find it on the Wii U or 3DS in some capacity. But for god?s sake, Nintendo, port Wind Waker HD from the Wii U already.