Welcome to Soapbox, a column from the team at Kakariko Herald wherein we get on our little podium and discuss whatever comes to mind and share our individual opinions. That individual bit is important: the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the publication.
Let’s go back in time a bit. It’s November 2006, and you open the Wii Shop Channel to find a selection of familiar games from the good old days. Nintendo dubs this as its “Virtual Console” service, and it allows you to buy and play games from Nintendo’s not-too-distant past, like Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., and The Legend of Zelda. You get excited for what may get added in the future, and for good reason.
Nintendo’s Virtual Console service only took off from there, more and more games across generations were added, and even games from different publishers and developers. Along come the Wii U, 3DS and New 3DS (rest in peace, dear friends): adding more platforms to expand the service to. It seemed like Nintendo was doing what they could to make their history as a game developer/publisher accessible to new gamers who never got to experience the joy that was Super Mario 64.
Virtual Console was a service unlike any other, in my personal opinion. It helped me discovered games I didn’t even know existed and find new games I’d later call some of my favorites of all-time. You may have noticed the was in my first sentence there. That’s because as of March 2023, Virtual Console will no longer be accessible on 3DS or Wii U, as the Nintendo eShop for those systems will be shutting down and later published a page where they stated they had “no plans to offer classic content in other ways.”
That line left a sour taste in my mouth and it was quickly removed from that page. If you’re thinking some of what I’m saying sounds familiar, Sony stated they’d shut down the PS3, PSP, and PS Vita storefronts and later backtracked with Jim Ryan, President & CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment stating they had made “the wrong decision” in regards to shutting the stores down. (They still shut down the online storefront for the PSP, though.)
The thing is, Jim Ryan’s personal message on the PS Blog going back on the change made it feel like Sony cared. That’s not something I’ve ever felt with Nintendo. History repeats itself, and Nintendo has never been the most kind in the digital era. They provide the services, but can shut them down in a heartbeat. I’m sure anyone could tell you how nervous that makes them feel when going to purchase a game digitally.
Let’s look at some real examples. In January 2021, Nintendo issued over 300 DMCA takedown requests relating to Nintendo fan games, effectively wiping them from the internet. Just recently, Nintendo has been hard at work taking down videos showing Nintendo Switch games being emulated on Steam Deck, a competing system to the Switch.
Over the years, many online have pointed out that Nintendo’s behavior is in stark contrast to former console competitor turned third-party developer, SEGA, who has been known to hire modders and developers of fan games. See 2017’s title Sonic Mania, which was developed by Christian Whitehead, as it is an excellent example of SEGA supporting their community. Not only that, but it did incredibly well in ratings, with aggregator Metacritic labeling it as an 86/100 for the Switch version. Because of that, I absolutely believe it’s a fair comparison.
Honestly… I feel guilty for not being impressed by Nintendo’s efforts to make the lack of Virtual Console on Switch right. Why? Well, because I love Nintendo, I grew up with Nintendo, and I couldn’t imagine a world without them, honestly. I hold the belief that it’s necessary — as a content creator, yes, but also as someone who provides journalistic coverage for this very website — for companies to continue supporting their back catalog of games and older console storefronts. That’s a belief that I definitely don’t keep a secret. Nintendo’s efforts to make sure that can never become reality is heartbreaking to me.
But the thing is… it took almost five years for Nintendo 64 to appear on Switch. All of what I’ve laid out in this first entry of Soapbox should speak for itself: Virtual Console may never return and that’s absolutely a bummer.