- In a surprise move, Nintendo confirmed it isn’t bringing its Virtual Console classic games store to the Switch console.
- Instead, the Nintendo Switch Online service will provide access to a limited library of Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) games. It costs $US20/year.
- It’s a bizarre decision, as the Virtual Console service has been a major component of Nintendo’s online strategy for over a decade.
For the first time since Nintendo’s GameCube, there will be no classic game store on a Nintendo console: The Switch.
Starting with the Nintendo Wii back in 2006, Nintendo has always had an online storefront for buying digital versions of classic games. It first launched on the Wii under the “Virtual Console” name, and it remained as such on subsequent Nintendo hardware. Even Nintendo’s handheld gaming line, the 3DS, has a version of the Virtual Console.
It’s a pretty incredible proposition: You pay somewhere between $US5 and $US20 to play classic games like “Super Mario World,” “The Legend of Zelda,” and much more.
But Nintendo isn’t bringing that service to its newest console, the outrageously popular Nintendo Switch.
“There are currently no plans to bring classic games together under the Virtual Console banner as has been done on other Nintendo systems,” a Nintendo of America representative said in an email on Tuesday. Bummer!
They did offer some other options, though: “There are a variety of ways in which classic games from Nintendo and other publishers are made available on Nintendo Switch, such as through Nintendo Entertainment System – Nintendo Switch Online, Nintendo eShop or as packaged collections.”
The last part of that statement offers a peek into Nintendo’s logic behind not putting Virtual Console on the Nintendo Switch: There’s a new online service (“Nintendo Switch Online“) coming this September that Nintendo wants people to use.
For $US20/year, you get three main things – see if you can guess which matters here:
- Cloud saves for “most” games.
- Access to online multiplayer features, including parties, voice chat, and matchmaking.
- Access to the “Nintendo Entertainment System – Nintendo Switch Online” games library, a collection of 20 classic NES games that will grow over time.
If you guessed that the last of those three things is the reason for Nintendo not putting Virtual Console on the Switch, you guessed correctly!
Rather than selling original Nintendo Entertainment System games on a Virtual Console storefront a la carte, Nintendo is bundling together 20 of them and building an ongoing, instant library of classic games. For $US20/year, you’ll get instant access to classics like “Super Mario Bros.,” “The Legend of Zelda,” “Balloon Fight,” and 17 other NES games.
Even better: Every classic NES game on the Switch will have new online functionality. In some games, you can play co-op online with friends or go head to head, and in all games you can watch a friend play remotely. Friends can even “share” the controller online by handing off control of a game over the internet.
This is also a good proposition, no doubt.
But Virtual Console was much more than NES games – it was Super Nintendo, and Nintendo 64, and Game Boy, and even more obscure stuff like Game Gear and, in Japan, MSX. It was a virtual storefront that offered access to a library of classic games unheard of on other consoles. It was a retail storefront serving as a means of game preservation, offering one of very few legal avenues for playing older games.
As one Reddit user in the Nintendo Switch subreddit said in response to the news, “I had no intention to run any homebrew on my Switch. That changed in a hurry.”
Put more plainly: Making it hard or impossible to access classic games pushes people to find other ways to play them. Often, those ways are legally dubious at best – so-called “homebrew” often means enabling emulation software that runs ripped, digital copies of classic games (“ROMs”).
Since Nintendo created an expectation that its consoles would always have access to its Virtual Console service, there’s an especially strong reaction to the revelation that the Switch isn’t getting it.
“I would 100% prefer an actual, legitimate VC library,” one Reddit user said. “But when they make decisions like this it makes the idea of homebrew super appealing. Why in the fuck would Nintendo not capitalise on all the ridiculously huge list of old games that people would buy up in an instant?”
Except Nintendo of course is capitalising on its massive classic game library in other ways, like the “Classic Edition” consoles. Both the NES Classic Edition and Super NES Classic Edition were major hits, bundling dozens of classic games together into adorable, miniature re-creations of the NES and Super NES consoles. They’re essentially “Greatest Hits” collections for the NES and Super NES, which by its very nature excludes hundreds of other games.
It’s a shrewd business move that’s assuredly contributing to Nintendo’s steadily rising stock value, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the beloved Virtual Console service.
The kind of person who owns a Switch and also buys Nintendo’s Classic Edition mini consoles is the kind of person who also buys Virtual Console games. Incidentally, that kind of passionate Nintendo fan also seeks out emulators when there’s no easy way to access classic games.