Following the Nintendo Switch event earlier this year, one of the biggest unanswered questions was the status of Virtual Console games on the upcoming device. Now, with just one week until the Switch’s launch on 3rd March, Nintendo has announced that the device will not support Virtual Console day one. In a press release issued today, Nintendo has stated: “Virtual Console games will not be available on Nintendo Switch at launch, will share more information in the future.”. Virtual Console games, for those unfamiliar, are emulated versions of classic Nintendo games, sold for use of current hardware such as the Wii U and 3DS. It is worth noting that Nintendo have already announced that NES and SNES games will be coming to the device, as part of their new paid online service (wherein users who subscribe will get to download a play a selected title for a month) scheduled to launch this fall, and while this doesn’t confirm that Switch will support Virtual Console, it strongly suggests it.
That the Switch is launching without Virtual Console is extremely disappointing news. One of my biggest concerns with the Switch – and personal reason for not buying the device day one despite being reasonably interested – is a lack of announced software. The Switch is set to launch with around ten games day one (it’s hard to confirm an exact number seeing as games like Binding of Isaac Rebirth have been delayed and others have been brought forward) compared to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One both launching with over twenty games, and within six months of their launch had over fifty games each. Now while the answer to Switch’s lacking line-up doesn’t lie with Virtual Console, but instead Nintendo cultivating new titles, Virtual Console games could have bolstered the day one offering.
The problem with features like Virtual Console being absent day one is that hardware feels undercooked, and it’s not just the ability to play classic games that is missing. Switch will also launch without video services such as Netflix, YouTube, and other streaming services, the capture functionality won’t support video recording at launch, there will be no web browser, the online service will only be available as a trial at launch, and Polygon even reported today that the hardware is faulty; –
“The biggest current issue with the Switch is one of basic reliability. Over the course of my time with Breath of the Wild, I’ve had repeated problems with the left Joy-Con controller partially or even completely losing sync from the Switch console while docked and connected to my television .. I’m not the only one experiencing this issue, either. Multiple reviewers and editors at other outlets who were provided Switch review hardware by Nintendo say they’ve experienced similar problems.”
Couple this with a launch library that, forgetting Zelda, features few games to write home about and you are left with a launch that, to paraphrase T. S. Elliot, starts not with a bang, but with a whimper. At this point you might say “Well, you don’t have to forget Zelda, it’s there day one. What more do you want?” To which I simply respond: Nintendo has only convinced four of Ground Punch’s twelve writers to jump on board day one and whilst more of us will certainly follow suit in the months and years ahead, this speaks to the fact that Switch feels like is coming out a little rushed. Had it launched in the Fall with Zelda, Mario, Splatoon, and all the titles in between no doubt the console would have seen a much bigger crowd day one.
Moving on from the repercussions for Switch’s launch, it’s also worth noting that Nintendo customers are in the dark about the status of their previous Virtual Console purchases. The biggest complaint against the service is the requirement to purchase any one game multiple times across multiple consoles i.e. if you purchase a Virtual Console game on 3DS and then want to play that game on Wii U, you need to purchase it a second time on Wii U. The impermanence of such purchases has been a major concern for users, with many hoping that their past purchases will transfer to the Switch.
That Nintendo is making efforts towards preserving and allowing gamers easy access to their library of games is welcome on many fronts. That said, the company’s strategy when it comes to Virtual Console is terrible, and as such many have become disenfranchised with the service. The Switch is being heralded by some as a reversal of Nintendo’s fortunes after the mitigated disaster of the Wii U, and in many ways the company is making the steps it needs to to realistically exist in 2017 – such as tying purchases to users’ accounts instead of the IP address of their hardware, as is the case with the 3DS and Wii U. However, their poor communication and slow-moving pace are making this reversal a hard one to truly believe in. For as many steps forward as Nintendo are taking, there is a catalogue of mistakes that they seem doomed to repeat. The gaming industry would be a far more interesting, diverse, and fun place if Nintendo can recapture that magic that we experienced with the company in childhood, but sadly it often feels like they are too stubborn to really change and adapt to the demands of a medium that is continually evolving.