virtual consolation

Nintendo is having a very odd month so far. I have to wonder if they woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or perhaps misread their horoscope. Maybe the Earth’s magnetic field is just out of alignment. I don’t know, I’m not a fortune teller.

So far this generation their modus operandi seems to be that they don’t quite know what they’re doing. They’re out of their element, trying to catch up with the times and not quite succeeding. So like any desperate geriatric, they seem to be doing anything they can think of to get the attention of the hip youngsters. Problem is, they’re not thinking of the right things.

The failure to market the Wii U properly is just now reaching the synapses of Nintendo’s upper management. To their credit, rather than shifting blame and making meaningless promises, Satoru Iwata imposed on himself a 50% pay cut, which will no doubt motivate himself and his management to make greater strides in improving the appeal of their product.

Number one at the top of the list of the moment is the Virtual Console. It’s an abysmal failure. What could have been a flood of titles has been woefully underutilized. Even when it has been utilized, it’s been in the most backward way possible. Currently there are a total of 66 titles available on the Wii U Virtual Console. This pales in comparison to its predecessor, which had 186 titles available at this point in its life cycle. Nintendo seemed to notice this vacuum a couple months ago, but so far have made very little progress, despite (or maybe because of) some lofty promises. Only now are they getting around to the release of A Link to the Past on Wii U, a full two months after its sequel hit 3DS. This would have been a perfect double sale to promote both products and both platforms, but I guess it wasn’t too high on Nintendo’s list.

It’s understandable that licensing is a major issue in these matters (something that kept EarthBound in the vault for so long), but in the case of first-party titles, said licensing issues are far less signifcant, or even nonexistent. Across both Wii U and 3DS, there are a grand total of 11 Mario games. They could easily have launched with all the NES, SNES, Game Boy and GBC games, ready to blow the doors off. But they didn’t. Super Mario Bros 3, one of the most highly acclaimed of the series, is still in the “TBA” category. That’s just sad.

It’s also understood that Nintendo is obsessively meticulous in the titles that are ported to the Virtual Console. They strive for perfection, and many titles go through a rigorous process to ensure there are as few issues as possible for those who should play said games. But a great deal of titles were successfully released on the Wii VC, that much is beyond debate. Wii games also run in emulation on the Wii U. But to play older VC games on the Wii U, it is necessary to switch the console into Wii mode. If the games are already running in a shell of some sort, why is it not possible to have the games switch over automatically, and switch back when you’re done? (This is a serious question; if there is a real reason, I would like to know it.)

More than this, it is not possible to use any Wii U hardware to control these games, meaning to play SNES games one must utilize the somewhat awkward arrangement of connecting a controller to a controller. What makes this particularly ludicrous, is that it’s now possible to play in Wii mode through the gamepad, using it as a primary screen. What does this mean? It means if you do this with a game that requires the use of the classic controller, you must sit there staring at a 6″ screen, with a controller plugged into a Wiimote that does nothing but sit next to you. It’s ridiculous. If games are going to be playable on the gamepad screen, why not at very least allow the use of the gamepad’s controls?

Of course, if this were actually done it would remove most of the incentive to buy Virtual Console games on the Wii U. And we all know where Nintendo cashes its checks.

Another market they seem to have forgotten about is the 3DS Virtual Console. While a total of 131 games have been pushed to the platform thus far, the depth of this catalog is broad but shallow. So far only Game Boy, Game Boy Color, NES, Game Gear and (for a select few) Game Boy Advance titles are available. Where are the SNES games? I would be happy just to be able to play Super Metroid, EarthBound, or Link to the Past on the go. For that matter, where is a cross-buy option? It’s entirely possible to buy a PS Vita, PS3 or PS4 game from any computer and have it installed while you’re out, one cannot buy a 3DS game through a Wii U, or vice versa–this is despite the rather glaring fact that one can view games from both platforms. I can see Wonderful 101 in my 3DS eShop, but I can’t look at its details or choose to buy it, let alone have it installed and ready when I get home. This feature alone would be an incredibly convenient feature. So of course Nintendo hasn’t done it.

Oddly, their most recent announcement has been that of DS games on the Virtual Console. This is an interesting move; I’m curious to know what the market is for playing DS games on a home console, but I’m willing to wager it isn’t as significant as those involving N64 and Gamecube games. We’ll see how this year pans out for Iwata.