On January 30, 2019, the Wii Shop Channel lay down and breathed its last. Though it feels like the Wii Shop Channel's Virtual Console service never lived up to its full potential as an easy and affordable distributor of retro video games, there was nothing like it when it launched alongside the Wii in 2006. And given Nintendo's commitment to its new Nintendo Switch Online brand and subscription-based library of retro games, there probably won't be anything like the Virtual Console ever again.
What made the Wii Virtual Console's death rattles especially distressing to witness is knowing when it went offline, it took some hard-to-find games with it. Most of these games are difficult or expensive to grab otherwise and aren't even found on the Wii U Virtual Console. If you want them on your Wii U, you need to transfer them from your Wii.
We memorialized ten of the best games on the Wii's Virtual Console so that their names won't dry up and skitter down the road alongside the ashes of their host channel. Please remove your hats and join us.
Actraiser (SNES, 1990)
This delightfully odd Quintet title combines action-platforming with town-building. While that sounds like a recipe for discord, the two mechanics feed brilliantly into each other: When you clear out a hostile land, humans who worship you as a god cultivate the land and offer you their strength. Actraiser gives you a satisfying symbiotic relationship on top of excellent action and a stunning soundtrack. Given how Actraiser's story concludes with its people gradually losing faith in the player-god, maybe the game was destined to fade from memory as the world grows.
Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen (SNES, 1993)
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is one of Axe of the Blood God's picks for the Top 25 RPGs of All Time, but the legacy of tactics game master Yasumi Matsuno started on the SNES with Ogre Battle. The SNES boasts a rich RPG history, but there's nothing quite like Ogre Battle's real-time strategy and politically-charged story on the system. Ogre Battle's unique traits and quality gameplay made it a worthwhile purchase, to say nothing of getting a peek at the budding talents of Matsuno and character artist Akihiko Yoshida.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES, 1993)
Seems like everyone owned this wacky top-down run-and-gun game once upon a time. Not surprising; it's a weird experience, and the co-op action still gives you and a friend a good time. It's not an easy game, but it's not as if other games give you the opportunity to learn survival skills against a giant rampaging baby. Oh, LucasArts. You (were) so crazy.
Alex Kidd in Shinobi World (Sega Master System, 1990)
Alex Kidd didn't catch on as Sega's mascot, but that didn't stop the big-fisted kid from travelling to this world and that world. His most notable stop is probably Shinobi World on the Sega Master System (SMS). Despite its name, Alex Kidd in Shinobi World isn't a crossover; it's more of a parody that lets Mr. Kidd arm himself with katana, throwing darts, and magic ninja spells. He can even perform wall-jumps while he takes down bosses that are humorous twists on Shinobi's big baddies.
Super Air Zonk: Rockabilly-Paradise (TurboGrafx-CD, 1993)
One of the best things about the Virtual Console was how it provided easy access to the libraries for the TurboGrafx-16, the TurboGrafx-CD, and the PC Engine. I knew exactly one kid who owned a TurboGrafx, and the playground forever branded him as "the kid with the TurboGrafx." We didn't speak about him with any kind of awe or reverence, though. Just confusion.
The TurboGrafx's localized library is sparse, to say the least, and the number of games translated for the system's CD add-on hovers near zero. Still, there's a gem or two. Look up Super Air Zonk: Rockabilly-Paradise, an off-the-wall shoot-em-up that dishes up all the rockabilly music you can possibly want. Look, it's a game where a sneering anime Charlie Brown flies under his own power and shoots reams of goofy-looking bad guys. I don't know how else I can tell you "You missed out, man."
Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (SNES, 1991 / 1992)
Final Fantasy II on the SNES is just Final Fantasy IV localized as "II" because Japan was far ahead of us on Final Fantasy releases by the time we received the game on the SNES. You know this. I know this. Chocobos know this. Except that's not the full story. Final Fantasy II also contains some unique tweaks to make the adventure a little friendlier for Western players. For example, certain restorative items are dummied out and consolidated under a single new "Heal" consumable. Final Fantasy II's story is also marred by an atrocious translation, but even that quirk is a unique study now that Final Fantasy's localization is globalized.
In the same vein, Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest is a unique look back at one of Japan's early attempts to get Westerners interested in RPGs. Though not well-loved, Mystic Quest has its charms. There's no other retro Final Fantasy game that looks like it, and it has a great soundtrack. Final Fantasy II isn't cheap on eBay, and Mystic Quest can run into the hundreds of dollars (Mama Mia!), so it's a darn shame to watch their digital souls die with the Wii Shop Channel.
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (PC Engine CD, 1993)
Unlike most of the games on this list, it's not too hard to find Rondo of Blood on other platforms. It's just, well…ehhhhhh. You know?
Rondo of Blood's arrival on the Virtual Console was special. When the PC Engine and PC Engine CD came to North America as the TurboGrafx-16 and the TurboGrafx-CD, a lot of top-tier games were inexplicably left behind. This included Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, which went on to become a major inspiration for Koji Igarashi's celebrated Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Castlevania fans had to pay high prices on eBay sales before Rondo finally landed on the Wii Virtual Console. Its arrival was a promise of the Virtual Console's ability to deliver previously-unknown titles to us—and a testament to how that potential was ultimately wasted, I guess.
Super Smash Bros. (N64, 1999)
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate pays tribute to everything the series is about. It even includes those seemingly primitive early stages that were once exclusive to the first Smash title on the N64. You might not have a reason to go back to the very first game, in other words, but then again, nostalgia is a heck of a drug. Either way, there's no excuse for Nintendo to let such an important game in its legacy burn to cinders along with the rest of the Wii Virtual Console.
Super Turrican and Mega Turrican (SNES and Sega Genesis, 1993 / 1994)
Super Turrican and Mega Turrican are shooting-platformer games developed by Factor 5. Yes, "Lair" Factor 5. While Lair's problems are complicated and…layered, Super and Mega Turrican show off the studio's talent for making high-energy shooters.
Interestingly, each version of Turrican contains different levels. You can't go wrong with either one, as both offer decent platforming challenges on top of the fun of constantly upgrading your weapons in the addictive and satisfying manner of a shoot-em-up game. Also, Factor 5 recently re-acquired the rights to Turrican. Who knows what the future will bring? Hope you grabbed these two games while you had the chance.
Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles (Sega Genesis, 1994)
This might come as a surprise, but Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and its "Lock-On" companion game, Sonic & Knuckles, isn't easy to find outside the original Sega Genesis release. Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and even Sonic CD have received endless re-releases and remasters, but Sonic 3? Not so much. You can grab it on Steam, but now that the Wii Shop Channel has received its last rites, console owners might be out of luck. Even the recently-released Sega Genesis Classics Collection for Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One doesn't dish up any sweet lock-on shenanigans. News like this is the reason why Knuckles never chuckles.
Goodbye, Wii Shop Channel. Goodbye, Wii Virtual Console. When you get to Heaven, tell them you don't need a harp. Tell them you already know how to make beautiful music.