Nintendo Switch has no plans to bring the Virtual Console to the hybrid handheld/console platform. More than any other gaming company Nintendo has been committed to its history and allowing gamers to play older generations of games. Backwards compatibility has always been a priority for Nintendo. From the Super Nintendo, players could still use their games from a previous generation. Yet starting with the Nintendo Wii, the company went above and beyond with the launch of the Virtual Console.
The Virtual Console gathered together games from past Nintendo consoles (and sometimes non-Nintendo consoles) and emulated them for the Wii. It was possible to play everything from the original Mario Bros. to the Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask on the Wii. The functionality and game library only grew in subsequent years and generations. The New Nintendo 3DS added Virtual Console games, including ones from the Super Nintendo. Meanwhile the Wii U had a surprising variety of Virtual Console games, including Game Boy Advance titles. Yet with Nintendo Switch, the Virtual Console won't appear - or at least not the way fans are used to seeing it.
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Kotaku reports that Nintendo is doing away with the Virtual Console entirely for Switch. In a statement, a spokesperson for Nintendo explained:
There are currently no plans to bring classic games together under the Virtual Console banner as has been done on other Nintendo systems.
This doesn't sound promising. However, that doesn't mean classic Nintendo games and other retro titles won't be available on the Switch. In fact, it means quite the contrary. Classic games are still coming to Nintendo Switch, they just won't be under the Virtual Console branding. This opens the possibilities of what Nintendo, and other publishers, can do with classic titles in a huge way.
The only confirmed old-school Nintendo games coming to the Switch, at this moment, are NES titles. As a part of the announcement of their online service plans, Nintendo confirmed that paying for online play would give players access to 20 NES titles. Nintendo Switch owners will be able to play Dr. Mario, Super Mario Bros. 3, Legend of Zelda and several other titles by paying for the online service. They aren't just simple ports either. These NES titles will come with new functions including, in some cases, online play. Meaning it's possible to compete (or cooperate) with friends across the country while playing Super Mario Bros. on Switch.
Though not coming with the access to the online service, Nintendo will also access to classic Sega games on the Switch. Under the banner of Sega Ages, classic titles from the company including Sonic the Hedgehog will release, individually, on the Nintendo Switch's online store. For the moment, this initiative has only been announced in Japan. Yet it's only a matter of time before it's confirmed for (and comes to) Western audiences.
The death of the Virtual Console isn't a cause of mourning. Instead, Fans should celebrate it. The retirement of the Virtual Console suggests a new era for Nintendo and how it'll approach backwards compatibility. As great as Nintendo's commitment to its history has been since the Nintendo Wii, it hasn't been all that exciting or fresh. The Virtual Console, in its most basic terms, consisted of selling players a game they've (probably) paid for and played countless times before on another console.
There's every indication that with the Nintendo Switch, classic games will receive new features. Even if it's something as simple as an online leaderboard, these games will be getting a facelift and makeover. They won't be the same games that have been available for decades. There will be a reason to buy them on Nintendo Switch.
If Nintendo has committed to adding new features for NES on Nintendo Switch, they could do the same for even newer titles. It's conceivable that Nintendo Switch could add Gamecube games to its online store, making it possible to play Super Smash Bros. Melee with online play.
However, it's important to keep in mind that Nintendo adding classic games to the Switch's library is just starting. There's much more to be revealed and confirmed before fans get too carried away with speculating how Nintendo Switch will deal with classic games. The only thing that's really known is it won't be under the Virtual Console branding.