One of the biggest questions surrounding the Nintendo Switch is about the Virtual Console. Details about what’s next for the long-running service aren’t just scarce, they’re practically nonexistent. All we know at the moment are that the online service will come with free monthly Virtual Console games with online play, and that maybe, sometime in the future we might see GameCube games debut. The GameCube rumor has been floating out in the videogame ether for a while, but only recently has Nintendo come anywhere close to confirming, or even commenting on it. Whether or not GameCube games will hit the downloadable marketplace is hardly the most important issue facing the Virtual Console.
Nostalgia sells, and Nintendo knows it. The NES Classic Mini has been in the headlines since it released, although recently rumors around the device have been more troubling than optimistic. Still, the device highlights many problems with the Virtual Console, problems that should be addressed after the service seemed to lose a lot of clout during its Wii U tenure.
First of all, quality control. It’s no secret the Virtual Console runs off of emulation, and the emulation on the Wii U and 3DS is not great. The colors are dark and the resolution is off. Image comparisons between the Wii U and NES Classic Mini are like night and day. Outside software has also exposed these flaws, such as the Mega Man Legacy Collection. Even on the 3DS, game preservationist Frank Cifaldi and his team made the Virtual Console Mega Man games look like sloppy ports from a bygone era.
Nintendo also needs to find a sweet spot between functionality and presentation. One of the biggest Virtual Console controversies is Nintendo’s seemingly odd stance on putting Game Boy Advance games on the 3DS. The problem was that, with a GBA ROM packed into Nintendo’s Virtual Console user interface, the games couldn’t run. Members of the Ambassador Program, Nintendo’s way to make up for the early 3DS price drop, did receive GBA games, but they did not have the same features as the rest of the included legacy software. Even SNES games are exclusive to the New 3DS, with a new mode that preserves the games’ original pixel resolution, but no doubt taxes the handheld to the limits of Nintendo’s quality assurance.
Variety and software availability is another glaring hole. Understandable is Nintendo’s hesitation to just dump all the games at once into the service. Not understandable have been the enormous gaps of releases over weeks and sometimes months. How Nintendo has managed to not even have a full library of first-party software on any of the three Virtual Console platforms is mind-boggling.
Finally, Nintendo really needs to figure out ownership. As we all know,if you buy a PSOne Classic on a Sony platform, you are entitled to the game across all supported platforms. Sure, the PS4 somehow doesn’t include those games yet, but anyone with a Vita, PS3, PSP, or PlayStation TV can buy a game once and run it on most of those systems. Nintendo tried to make good on its uncooperative infrastructure with discounts, but paying for the same games multiple times over makes people look elsewhere.
Ultimately, what the Virtual Console is lacking and what Nintendo needs to figure out for the Switch is consistency. Games need to run well, have the expected features and be accessible in ways that are user-friendly, and make sense. Having multiple platforms run different games in different ways is confusing and cumbersome, and introducing new consoles to the service without ironing out the details is only going to help erode the hardcore Nintendo base. Having GameCube games will be cool and all, but if the Switch wants to truly succeed, we should be able to look at it and consider it the definitive platform to access the full breadth of Nintendo’s content.