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.
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.
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.
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.