Okay, Nintendo: Where the Heck is the Switch’s Virtual Console?

The Nintendo Switch has been an unmitigated success since its launch last March. Nintendo recently announced that the console/handheld hybrid has sold over 10 million units, they’ve released a major exclusive for it nearly every month since its release and the thing is genuinely a joy to play, with its various controller configurations and portability winning over the hearts of returning fans and people new to Nintendo products alike. The Switch can almost certainly continue this success with upcoming games Nintendo has left up their sleeves. Still, there are things missing from the console that are beginning to feel like glaring omissions.

The Switch launched with basically no multimedia capabilities, and little has changed since. They’ve delivered various firmware updates that have improved the system’s functionality, allowing players to capture up to 30 seconds of video footage on a select few titles, they further polished the system’s overall stability, gave players the ability to transfer user and save data to other Switch consoles and more. But the thing still can’t pair with Bluetooth headphones (and probably never will be able to until a new model comes out), there’s still no Netflix, Amazon, HBO Go and similar streaming services, and there’s no Virtual Console.

Yeah, the lack of Virtual Console is what hurts the most.

Is this really so hard, Nintendo?

The Nintendo Switch is a perfect device to play old Nintendo classics on. It’s both a home console and handheld system, and with a Virtual Console, fans could play masterpieces like Super Mario 64 on the go, chill out with Paper Mario at home, or play through A Link to the Past between the two. I remember, as far back as junior high school, kids would modify their calculators to play console games like the original Super Mario Bros. or Final Fantasy I while in class. Of course, many ports of console games have made their way to handheld systems (particularly 8- and 16-bit titles) and Nintendo currently offers a robust list of Virtual Console games for the 3DS, but the fact remains: the Switch would be a perfect device to play Virtual Console games. What gives?

Some think Nintendo is keeping the VC at bay so they don’t cannibalize sales of the NES and Super NES Classics, but they can’t properly keep up demand for those products as it is, and offering old games piecemeal for a relatively higher cost wouldn’t hurt their bottom line. In fact, Nintendo would almost be guaranteed to make more money off this VC than any they’ve had on their past systems, even the original VC on the Wii. People are willing to buy Skyrim for the umpteenth time, just because it’s portable now. Does Nintendo hate money? Do they not want to bolster their stable of classics as best they can? Do they just not care?

Nintendo hates this stuff

Well, there are a few logical possibilities for this stunning lack of a Virtual Console on their best system in years. Porting games isn’t nearly as simple as most gamers think, especially for games that ran on unique architecture like the GameCube or N64. Developers can’t just take previous VC ports they’ve released on the Wii or Wii U and bring them to the Switch without a decent amount of work involved. There are also licensing issues, and though most people want a VC for first-party Nintendo classics, third-party publishers need their piece of the pie as well, and Nintendo has to dedicate existing staff or hire new employees to work these deals out, even if Nintendo has brought iconic franchises like Final Fantasy or Mega Man to past systems already. Implementing a VC isn’t simple, but it would absolutely be worth it for Nintendo.

The Switch is the most powerful system Nintendo has ever created (though it admittedly doesn’t beat out the Wii U by a massive margin), and it could definitely handle GameCube ports if they ever decide to roll out the VC carpet. Heck, with the motion capabilities of the Joy-Con, Nintendo could feasibly port Wii games to the system as well – though developers would have to work around games that used the infrared pointer instead of motion controls to aim, and playing portably would be a nightmare for various Wii games. But just imagine being able to play GameCube and Wii titles on a portable system. Think about playing games like Super Mario Sunshine, Mario Galaxy 1 & 2, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes and more… on the go. It’s already impressive to be able to play through the entirety of graphically taxing games like Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, DOOM and Xenoblade Chronicles X in handheld mode, and though GameCube and Wii games are definitely less graphically intense, fans would still love to play them while they wait for their oil to be changed or for laundry to finish drying. Frankly, finding these older consoles in the wild is getting harder and harder, and eventually, the only way for most people to play them will be with a Virtual Console-enabled system.

This might just be a bit more graphically intensive than an NES game…

The Switch barely has an online infrastructure at this point, and though they originally planned on rolling out a paid online service this fall, it’s been tentatively delayed to spring of 2018. When Nintendo originally announced this paid service a couple of months before the Switch’s release, they said it was going to come with one “free” classic game per month – though it would only last for that month. It’s like the monthly games offered by PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live, but substantially more restrictive. Nintendo’s service would be far less expensive at $20 a year, but that doesn’t change the fact that fans want to pick and choose whichever classic titles they want, whenever they want.

Nintendo has released some games that mimic the qualities of VC titles for the Switch, like the arcade non-port of Vs. Super Mario Bros., which offers a strangely remixed version of the original game that was designed to swallow quarters. Yet still, Nintendo hasn’t released, oh I don’t know… the actual Super Mario Bros. or anything for the Switch. The Big N may very well be waiting for their online structure to properly be rolled out before revving up the Virtual Console engines, but there has been nary a peep out of them about the subject in the last year. You’re sitting on a gold mine, Nintendo: start digging.

… but why though?

Memory has already become an issue on the Switch, like all recent Nintendo consoles. Micro SD cards can work with the system, substantially boosting its meager 32 gigabytes of internal storage, but that’s still an additional expense that not all fans can afford. Once this bullet is bitten, however, the system can expand its memory by hundreds of gigabytes, and that is a lot of potential Virtual Console games. The theoretical GameCube or Wii games on the VC would take up significantly more space than NES or SNES games, as they typically held 1.5 or 9 gigs of data (respectively) – a hard sell for a system that only has a couple dozen gigs of usable storage. Again, that ultimately wouldn’t matter if gamers shell out the cash for a sizable card, but these additional expenses add up for a system that seemed so out-of-the-box ready at launch. In their rush to get the Switch on store shelves last March, Nintendo may have neglected various other features that should have been on the console at launch, but their possible reasons for not having them available at this point are becoming less convincing. They will need to, in due time, produce Switch’s with more memory, further update the firmware to offer more streaming services, and get that darn Virtual Console out the door already.

Ultimately, I think we can expect Nintendo to announce the arrival of a Virtual Console for the Switch in the first half of the year and it will almost definitely be out by winter time. Then again, we all thought they’d get the VC out within a few months and we’re far past that point. Whether it’s because Nintendo is waiting for their online plans to fall into place or if there are technical and legal constraints to overcome, they’ll probably have whatever their reasoning is for keeping it off the Switch resolved before long. Until then, we can continue to enjoy the new games that Nintendo and third-parties continue to release on the console. After all, if we really want to dig into the original Luigi’s Mansion or Super Smash Bros. Melee, that purple console with a purse handle is still floating around used games stores around the world. The ideal solution — a proper Virtual Console — will hopefully be here sooner rather than later.