Special: Happy birthday to Wii, Happy birthday to Wii...
With the Wii celebrating its first birthday today, Nintendo has plenty of reasons to celebrate. With unprecedented demand, several titles that have topped out with over a million copies sold and near-universal praise from both game journalists and the mainstream media, the Wii has made ?playing Nintendo? cool again. But the company has also resurrected that iconic phrase for many children of the 80s with one year of amazing NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, TurboGrafx-16, Genesis and NeoGeo re-releases on the Virtual Console.
Nintendo has certainly raised the bar when it comes to the amount of content on their download service. The company has said there will be slightly fewer than 200 Virtual Console titles released by the end of the year with 172 available right now. But they have also not skimped on the classics in an attempt to flood the service with sub-par titles. In this first year Nintendo has released all of the ?main series? Mario games, four of the five Zelda games (with only Majora's Mask being unavailable), three of the four "main" Sonic the Hedgehog games (and most of the spinoffs), both Metroid titles and Mario Kart 64. They've even released two of the three import titles (Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels and Sin & Punishment) that gamers have been clamoring for since the service was announced (Earthbound Zero for the NES is still MIA however).
The list of classic games goes on and on: Star Fox 64, the greatest space shooter of all time. Contra III, the best game in the Contra series. Punch-Out!!, boxing's finest moment in video game form next to Wii Sports. F-Zero and F-Zero X, the fastest futuristic racers around. The Legend of Kage, an underappreciated NES ninja. Donkey Kong Country, Streets of Rage, Wave Race 64, Comix Zone. With enough Wii Points, it's possible to create a huge library of great games without ever touching a real Wii game. Classic side-scrollers from the 8 and 16-bit eras are the best games ever for a quick pickup-and-play session. And the Virtual Console has those titles in spades.
But even with all of these high profile titles now available on the service, it's mind-boggling to realize that dozens of classics and forgotten favorites are still unreleased.
Super Mario Kart, considered by some to be the best in the series, is not on the VC.
The NES version of Tetris, the definitive Tetris game in my opinion, is not available.
There has not been a single Mega Man game released for the VC yet (although this is understandable seeing as how the Mega Man Collections are available for the Cube).
Square-Enix has released a single game, Actraiser, while ignoring it's many famed RPGs including the Final Fantasy series, the Dragon Quest series, Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger.
Less popular Nintendo-published titles like Earthbound and StarTropics are also unavailable.
Konami has supported the VC well, but Metal Gear, Contra and Contra: Hard Corps are among the MIA.
Sports favorites of any kind are hard to come by on the VC but the missing titles NBA Jam, Tecmo Super Bowl and Ken Griffey Jr.'s Winning Run are huge, glaring omissions.
Hopefully more of the forgotten classics will find their way onto the service as well. Everyone's got a list of forgotten gems in their pocket that they'd love to see. Me, I'm still waiting for the gravity-defying mech game Metal Storm, a Street Fighter-inspired wrestling game called Saturday Night Slammasters and the F-Zero-like action game Hyperzone. I also hold out hope that next week's release of the Wii Zapper will open the door for NES and Super NES light gun games like Duck Hunt (which briefly appeared on the ESRB's website as a VC release in 2006) and Battle Clash.
And while adding import games to the VC may seem like an obvious idea on the surface, I am still amazed at the fact that Nintendo has gone that route. The company has a long history of keeping Nintendo of Japan and Nintendo of America separate (just look at Mother 3 for a recent example), regardless of how much the fans wanted import games. But the company has embraced the idea and I couldn't be happier.
But who knows how long it may take for all of our favorites to make it to the Virtual Console? With 750 games available for the NES, 800 from the SNES, 350 from the N64, several hundred more from TurboGrafx-16, about 750 from the Genesis and about 100 NeoGeo games, at the average of three titles a week that Nintendo is using now, it would take 20 years to release every game for all of those systems on the VC. But of course, the complicated distribution rights many of these classic titles are tangled up in almost guarantee that many will never be released. Although, Rare has gone on record saying they'd love to work it out so games like GoldenEye and Banjo-Kazooie could be released on the VC.
The Future Is Not Set?
The future of the Virtual Console is anyone's guess, but Nintendo has certainly set themselves up for a fabulous future. With Microsoft's recent announcement of their ?Xbox Originals? plan for the Xbox Live Arcade, I expect the rumors of Sega Saturn, Sega CD and Dreamcast games on the VC to flare up again. And with original downloadable titles coming early next year in the form of WiiWare, we might see the classic console spigot slowed down a bit. But Nintendo has enough games available that they could continue pumping out a continuous stream of Virtual Console titles every Monday on the Wii, Wii2, Wii3, Wii4 and Wii5 for years without missing a beat. And I hope they do.