(Note: I originally published this article on Bits ‘n’ Bytes Gaming on February 7, 2011)
Before the Wii was released to the public, one of the most talked-about features was the Virtual Console. Some people cried foul, claiming Nintendo was simply trying to milk more money out of people who had already bought some of those games several times before. I, however, saw a lot of potential in the service, not just for me to “digitize” my collection of old games or play some old gems I missed, but as a way for a new generation of gamers to experience key points in gaming history.
There are all kinds of people who have either been reintroduced to videogames due to the Wii, or are taking a step into the gaming world for the very first time. These people may think that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is pretty great, but did they ever take notes on how to navigate through the Lost Woods? They might have really enjoyed Metroid Prime 3, but do they know the name Justin Bailey? While a lot of people may have picked up the Wii simply to play Wii Sports, there are plenty who were enticed by what it brought to the table as an entertainment device and began to genuinely like videogames, and will use the Virtual Console service as a way to explore the path that led to the games they are playing today.
Take, for example, my sister-in-law, who is fourteen years old. My wife has been a gamer her whole life, so her sister grew up watching her play videogames and the Virtual Console has allowed her to play a lot of the games that she was too young for at the time. She’s a big fan of Kirby, having played his games on the GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS. With the Virtual Console, she’s now able to see Kirby’s console game debut in Kirby’s Adventure for the NES.
More impressive still, she’s been spending time lately playing though Super Mario 64, a game my wife received as a Christmas gift the day before her sister was even born!
Even for someone like me who is a lifelong gamer, has never sold a console, and grew up reading every gaming magazine I could get my hands on, the Virtual Console has been a great way for me to play a lot of the games that I could only read about and never play. I never had a Turbografx-16 as a kid (and to be honest, I never even saw one in any store!), but through the Virtual Console I’ve gotten to play some really fun TG16 games like Bonk’s Adventure and Neutopia that I would have never had the chance to otherwise.
Unfortunately, the Virtual Console hasn’t gotten the attention in North America and Europe that it has in Japan (where new games are still put up weekly), and some of the most wished-for games will never hit the service for legal reasons (EarthBound), it’s still a great service that shouldn’t be easily dismissed. There’s a plethora of great games, some well-known classics and some buried treasures, waiting to be replayed by older fans who may have forgotten them, or discovered by new fans for the very first time.