Nintendo Virtual Console: the App Store smash we sorely need
Nintendo has had quite the year, with its Switch console achieving success far beyond expectations and its throwback SNES Mini console selling out almost instantly after a limited run in September. Meanwhile on iOS, Fire Emblem Heroes is raking in cash, there’s a highly-anticipated Animal Crossing game coming soon, and Pokémon GO has continued to be a worldwide phenomenon. So isn’t it about time Nintendo brought its history to the App Store?
More so than any other games company, Nintendo has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to well-loved franchises. Mario, Pokémon, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Starfox, Kirby, Metroid – many of the biggest names in gaming cut their teeth on Nintendo’s early consoles in the 80s and 90s. The archives are ridiculously packed full of old-school gems that fans would love to play on their iPhones. So why not give us what we want?
It’s certainly not a technical issue. Old Nintendo games have been emulated (illegally) on smartphones for years, and the power of the current generation of iPhones is leagues ahead of even more modern consoles. You could argue that touch controls would ruin the experience, but Nintendo could combat that by producing a bespoke Made for iPhone Bluetooth controller. Gamevice already makes a pretty good one, but an official Nintendo controller would surely fly off the shelves.
Nintendo’s old rival Sega has already tried something similar with its Sega Forever collection, releasing games from its archives to the App Store. Here, though, games are released one by one as separate apps – and if the reviews are to be believed, the quality is often lacking. Nintendo could learn from Sega’s mistakes and really get this right, with a single unified app full of in-app purchases for each game. It’s basically a license to print money!
In fact, Nintendo already offers a similar service on its own platforms, called Virtual Console. This is a digital storefront for buying old games, and there are already more than 200 available for sale on the platform. The downside for iPhone and iPad fans is that they’re relatively expensive, and only accessible via Nintendo consoles. Moving those to iOS might risk a chunk of digital sales via the Switch and 3DS, but it would allow the games to reach an absolutely huge audience.
Ultimately, the reason we haven’t seen these old games come to iOS yet – and maybe we never will – is down to Nintendo’s overall business strategy. Though it’s dabbling more and more in the mobile market as a way to earn revenue, it’s primary objective with mobile games is to increase brand awareness in the hopes that players will buy Nintendo’s latest home console. This isn’t an educated guess – Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima himself recently confirmed that “the top priority for us when we release smartphone games is to lure more new users to the Switch.” And, presumably, the new line of miniature consoles like the sold-out NES Classic and SNES Classic.
That makes plenty business sense, sure, but it’s hard to see how releasing 25-year-old games would negatively impact the brand. Surely getting players all over the globe to immerse themselves in the world of Nintendo would encourage people to look into buying a Switch console? There’s a huge market of older users nostalgic for retro gaming and a further chunk of young gamers who never got to experience Super Mario World or Earthbound the first time around. Make the barrier to entry as simple as downloading a Virtual Console app (complete with a few free games) and millions of users will flock to try it out.
The development effort would be minimal, the fans would be ecstatic and the financial returns could be huge – so what’s the holdup? If you’re reading this, Nintendo, do us all a favor and bring your classics to a new generation of gamers.