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Nintendo May Finally Be Getting Virtual Console Right With the Switch's New Subscription Model

Now we just have to wait until 2018.

Opinion by Kat Bailey, .

Let's start with the bad news: It's kind of a drag that the Classic Game Selection won't be available on the Nintendo Switch until 2018. That will make it almost an entire year before a major feature finally rolls out for the system, which is frustrating for early adopters and a bit embarrassing for Nintendo. The good news? Nintendo is finally getting Virtual Console right.

My days of buying Super Mario Bros. 3 over and over again are over. Probably.

Nintendo revealed earlier this evening that the Switch's online service would cost $20 per year, and that it would include a "Classic Game Selection" that would be available for download at any time. That's great news for anyone sick of buying Virtual Console games piecemeal (I'm one of the suckers who's purchased Super Mario Bros. 3 at least three times across multiple platforms).

This announcement immediately led to comparisons to Netflix and other streaming services, and while there are obvious differences, the freedom of choice is certainly appealing. Soon you will be able to freely download a selection of NES games (and possibly more) for a relatively low monthly price. Even better, these games will be online enabled, meaning you can theoretically play... say... River City Ransom with a friend.

Interestingly enough, this announcement comes on top of the rollout of another subscription service: the Xbox Game Pass. For an additional $9.99 per month, Microsoft is making a rotating library of 100 or more games available for free. The Xbox Game Pass will be on top of the existing Xbox Live subscription fee, costing about $180 per year. It will consist of games that have already been out for a bit, making it something like a rotating Steam Summer Sale. It has quantity, but it's sort of hard to see the appeal. With all due respect to NBA 2K16, it's hard to get excited about a year old sports game that can be had for literally $5 used on Amazon.

What are the Best Virtual Console Games for Nintendo 3DS?

A comprehensive breakdown of classic games on 3DS, both good, great, and awful. Now complete for all systems: Game Boy, Game Boy Color, NES, Game Gear, Super NES, and 3D Classics! [Updated: May 13]

The NES Mini seems to have awakened Nintendo to the appeal of their back catalog.

By contrast, the Switch's Classic Game Selection and online service will all be part of one package that will cost $20 per year. Moreover, the games that will be available through the service will be timeless. It's the right approach for Nintendo. Both Sony and Xbox have their substantial back catalogs, but neither have the cachet of Nintendo in the retro space. If the NES Classic Mini showed anything, it was that the original NES left a massive pop culture footprint, one unmatched by any platform save maybe the Atari 2600. The Classic Game Selection is a legitimate selling point for the Switch.

It's so enduringly popular that it's striking how stale it became on the Wii U and the 3DS. Sure, it was cool to be able to play Earthbound on the Wii U, but the lack of a unified account system was extremely frustrating. In addition, the piecemeal nature of the releases combined with the relatively narrow libraries made it feel as if Nintendo was running the same games into the ground. Neither came anywhere close to matching the sheer breadth offered by the Wii's Virtual Console.

Going into the Switch, I was excited to have Virtual Console games on a really nice screen, but frustrated by the notion of having to buy them all over again. The initial online plan, which offered a NES and SNES game but revoked access after each monthly rotation, seemed pathetic in comparison to the much more robust offerings from PlayStation and Xbox. It seemed like Nintendo was once again about to bungle a service that felt like it should have been a slam dunk.

How long before we start getting the good stuff?

With that, the reveal of the Classic Game Selection is a happy surprise. It refreshes Nintendo's retro game library and will hopefully make it easily available. And while it won't be nearly as robust as what's available on Nintendo's previous three platforms, at least not at first, it will at least dull the frustration of having to pay for a whole library all over again.

Of course, this service is still several months away; which, as I said, is pretty irritating (at least online play will be free in the meantime). There are also questions of how frequently the games will actually be released. Even at their absolute peak, Virtual Console games were released at a relative trickle. How often will we get a selection of new games to play? And will we get the good stuff from third parties?

(Then there's the matter of whether we will get SNES games as part of the service. Nintendo told Kotaku, "At launch the classic game library will include NES games. Super NES games continue to be under consideration, but we have nothing further to announce at this time." They also wouldn't comment on whether it will replace the original Virtual Console model wholesale.)

Those are some of the questions facing the Classic Game Selection when it arrives in 2018. But as with the Switch itself, its immediate appeal is obvious: a constantly available collection of timeless games that can be downloaded and enjoyed at home or on the road. I know I'm intrigued.

Now comes the wait.

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Comments 12

  • Avatar for link6616 #1 link6616 A month ago
    I feel this will be more a hybrid approach. One of the articles (I think the kotaku one) suggested it would be only nes games. So snes games and such might be piecemeal.
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  • Avatar for Neifirst #2 Neifirst A month ago
    Square Enix is not going to allow titles like Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy VI to be part of a $20/year subscription service, so let's just stop that speculation now. It will primarily be NES black box and puzzle games with limited online functionality added, and that's perfectly fine for essentially a 'bonus feature' of pay-for-online.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #3 link6616 A month ago
    @Neifirst That too!

    Admittedly, the right negotiations might allow it to be the case. But I doubt nintendo would invest the money say netflix does in licensing old games for the service. (since most things they want to license I imagine most companies are confident they can sell)

    Although... the Seiken Densetsu collection released yesterday in Japan which is almost Square just saying they'll do old games their way this gen.Edited last month by link6616
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  • Avatar for retr0gamer #4 retr0gamer A month ago
    Just as long as I can still buy games and own them
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  • Avatar for Toelkki #5 Toelkki A month ago
    I'm not a fan of the online subscription if it means games are held for "ransom". Give me a choice to get a game for a payment with no regard for whether or not I'm still subscribing to the service.
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  • Avatar for Ralek #6 Ralek A month ago
    Well, from what I read - and as it was said before - currently this seems to be only pertaining to NES games, possibly SNES games in the future. That is a bit of downer already, but I think the more crucial one will be the line-up itself. I think any comparison to Netflix is silly, because we all know by now how Nintendo handles Virtual Console titles ... considering these will be needed to be retooled some for online play, it's all but certain that we'll see a slow weekly/monthly drip-feed of games that could take years and years to build even a basic library worth the price of admission.

    Anyone expecting to turn on his Switch suddenly having 100+ online enabled NES games at his finger tips for a few bucks a months is daydreaming I'm afraid. This is not cynicism but experience with Nintendo talking - I'm sorry.
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  • Avatar for Mega_Matt #7 Mega_Matt A month ago
    I really hope Nintendo releases a special left Joycon that has a D pad instead of buttons to play all these games.
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  • Avatar for Mr.Spo #8 Mr.Spo A month ago
    The ideal model for Virtual Console is Amazon Instant Video, not Netflix. The easiest thing to do would be to make Virtual Console games available in waves, and have a rotating selection of those games - from different systems - available for say, 3 months at a time. Allow anyone (with or without a subscription) to buy and download titles they want to keep, and allow anyone with a subscription to rent from a selection of games.

    As others have pointed out, this is hardly going to be a comprehensive subscription model where you suddenly have access to hundreds of titles. It's an improvement on what Nintendo offered 5 months ago, so I'm hoping in 7 months by the time this launches, Nintendo will have improved it again. It'd be easy to do timed promotions, whereby certain games - or games from certain publishers or even consoles - become part of the subscription model at different times.

    As it is, though, this sounds more like the subscription collection will be limited to titles that Nintendo add online multiplayer too, which means the selection could be very limited indeed. I'd hope Nintendo think bigger, though, because a robust Virtual Console would be another great selling point for Switch.
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  • Avatar for matthewcooley77 #9 matthewcooley77 A month ago
    For $20 a year, this is not going to be a service that replaces VC.

    Its probably going to sit on top of it. Like, you will still have to buy most of the games on VC, but this subscription lets you play them online, and they thrown in a few rotating classics.

    But a service that rotates games in and *out* is not one I am interested in by itself. I don't want to play Super Mario 2 when Nintendo tells me I can.

    But I would be interested in a full Netflix approach for $100/year or whatever, if it included all of the first party games and most of the 3rd party.
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #10 Roto13 A month ago
    I think this will end up being like PS+ games or Games with Gold. Claim a game while it's available and you can keep it for as long as you're subscribed, but if you're not a member while the game is available, you won't get it unless you just buy it.
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  • Avatar for Wellman2nd #11 Wellman2nd A month ago
    I was gaming on a NES in my youth, but in retrospect that was not nearly as fun as the SNES, so depending on how fun ARMS and Splatoon 2 are as well as other online games will determine if this is good. I do wish there was a limited free option for those that want to game online during the weekends like Xbox used to have.
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  • Avatar for BulkSlash #12 BulkSlash A month ago
    Ugh, do we have to go through the tedious process of having games doled out one-by-one again? All those wasted weeks where it's just Balloon Fight or Tennis or Clu Clu Land.

    I know things are going well for the Switch at the moment but if it ends up like the Wii U then the Virtual Console is pretty much the only thing going for it and Nintendo's miserly release schedule can be maddening.

    I hope they've sorted out the emulation picture quality too, NES and N64 games looked like total shit on the Wii U.
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