Virtual Chronicles: Is this real life?

I write this with the greatest reluctance for fear that by drawing attention to the phenomenon I will shatter whatever gossamer thread of magic binds it to our grey reality, but: Nintendo has finally started to do this whole Virtual Console thing right. At least for the past couple of weeks. And it only took six and a half years to get here.

I know this is a fleeting moment that can’t possibly last, so I urge you to savor it while you can.

In the past two weeks, between 3DS and Wii U Virtual Console, we’ve seen two Zelda games, all three 16-bit Kirbys, the sublime Mega Man X, and (alas) the NES port of Ghosts ‘N Goblins. This of course explains why it has to be fleeting: Top-flight old games exist in finite quantities. At some point, much like fossil fuels, we’ll run out of this nonrenewable resource.

130530-gng

I’m never going to beat this game, and I’m OK with that.

Really, though, the truly encouraging part about all of this isn’t the fact that Nintendo is dumping a bunch of great games on us all at once rather than doling them out over the course of six or seven months as they would have done over the past few years. No, it’s the sale model they’re using.

Now, you can certainly argue that they’re charging entirely too much for a lot of these games — they’ve kept the Wii VC pricing model, despite the fact that since the Wii debuted the entire model of digital distribution pricing has fundamentally shifted downward in response to things like Steam sales, Humble Bundles, and mobile phone/free-to-play software in general. Then again, as excited as people are getting over MMX and the Zelda Oracles games, you can argue that they don’t need to race to the bottom. After all, demand drives price, and Nintendo has ownership or stewardship of a lot of games people demand.

Despite their adherence to the dreamy utopia of 2006 digital distribution prices, though, Nintendo is flinching ever-so-slightly by putting together its own take on sale bundles with week-long buy-one-get-one-half-price package deals. Last week, this manifested in the form of giving customers who bought two of the Kirby games the third one for free; this week, Ghosts ‘N Goblins is half-off if you buy Mega Man X. (It doesn’t work the other way around, unfortunately — that whole “equal or lesser price” restriction happens with digital distribution just like it does at the grocery store.) Edit: Actually, it does work the other way around. But who’s going to think to buy G’nG first when Mega Man X is on offer, too?

Baby steps, perhaps, but nice to see regardless, especially as it potentially portends a few things. One, if Nintendo wants to keep it up — admittedly, there’s no guarantee of this — they need to release at least two games per sale in order to be able to offer one at a discount. Secondly, they’ve even been kind enough to extend this offer to people who have transferred their Wii VC licenses over to Wii U, meaning that instead of paying a dollar to download G’nG, we only have to pay 50 cents. It’s easy to be sarcastic about that, but honestly it’s such a pittance they could have easily just shrugged and said, “You guys are getting a break already,” and I don’t think anyone would have felt cheated; they didn’t, though, which was downright decent of them.

Third, and most importantly, this week’s sale extends to third-party software, meaning there’s some slim hope of seeing more sales like this once Nintendo’s well of first-party hits has run dry. Assuming any third parties besides Sega and Capcom (the two port whores, ever eager to peddle their archives on any and every platform available) are still on-board with the whole Virtual Console thing, of course. Let’s say they are, though. What would be the ideal third-party Virtual Console bundles? A 3-for-2 on both the 8- and 16-bit Castlevanias comes immediately to mind (especially since Bloodlines still hasn’t made it to VC in any form), but I’d also be down with a Sonic 3/Sonic & Knuckles twofer, a Tecmo three-pack featuring Mighty Bomb Jack, Tecmo Bowl, and NES Rygar (which, again, never made it to VC). At the pipe dream level, a Secret of Mana/Secret of Evermore combo pack would be great (heck, slap a fan translation of Seiken Densetsu 3 in there for good measure). Or how about extending the sales to 3DS eShop and bundling all three Final Fantasy Legends together?

No, no, wait, I’ve got it. Since they’ve announced Game Boy Advance for Wii U Virtual Console, they should roll up EarthBound with an official dump of the EarthBound Zero ROM and the unreleased official translation of Mother 3 (come on, you know it exists somewhere). Yep.

That’s the magic of this whole thing: Even when Nintendo gets it right, we’re all spoiled and demanding enough to ruin the occasion for ourselves with our unrealistic expectations. So much for savoring the moment.

It’s time for Virtual Chronicles

Retronauts has a long history of being very grumpy about Virtual Console and other classic game rerelease platforms. We have, shall we say, a philosophical disagreement with Nintendo (and other platform holders) about how game history should be preserved and commoditized. They say “slow-feed a la carte drip at premium prices,” we say “exhaustive catalog similar to iTunes.”

Some traditions are worth keeping alive, which is why I’m kicking off Virtual Chronicles: An ongoing look at Virtual Console, PSN, Good Old Games, and whatever other means by which companies try to sell us old games yet again. In light of Nintendo’s recent addition of VC to the Wii U system, it all seems almost relevant again.

Honestly, while I’m not crazy about the glacial pace at which the Wii U VC is already proceeding, I do think the new system is probably the most interesting thing to happen to reissued games in a long time. Yes, games are distorted and fuzzy on the GamePad’s screen; yes, it’s infuriating that all the VC games we bought on Wii have to be played through the Wii emulation shell rather than as native apps until they show up on the Wii U shop. Nevertheless, I’m all in favor of the Wii U Virtual Console… and I really hope the system bucks its downward momentum and manages to stick around long enough to deliver on its potential.

Wii U’s game changer, not surprisingly, is the Miiverse integration that comes part and parcel of every game that launches on the system, including VC releases. You might even be able to convince me that Miiverse integration makes the agonizing trickle of VC rereleases worth the wait.

Sure, Miiverse is basically just an integrated message board built into the system… but that’s OK. The addition of Miiverse to these games suddenly makes them social in a way that even Let’s Plays can’t accomplish: Videos are a broadcast, but Miiverse creates a conversation. People get to brag about their accomplishments, lament the tough parts, show off their scores, gush about their favorite parts, show off weird glitches, and more. For people like me, who take any excuse to draw dumb doodles, it provides a welcome excuse to do precisely that –

megaman1-cutman megaman1-elecman megaman1-bombman megaman1-gutsman megaman1-iceman

– which has helped turn my umpteenth playthrough of Mega Man into a different experience than I’ve ever had with the game. Anything that can freshen up a game you’ve been playing for 25 years and know inside and out has to be doing something right.

Of course, you can do these things on any forum, but the fact that this feature is integrated into each game and allows instant screenshot posts makes Miiverse by far the most convenient and most centralized format for this kind of socialization. I also find the level of haughty arrogance on Miiverse to be considerably lower than on most classic gaming-oriented social venues; people are goofing around and sharing their amusement with very little pretense, and it’s a nice change of pace from the usual Internet snark.

It’s a shame people are being slammed for using Miiverse the way it’s intended by people who apparently have forgotten that we all start our gaming careers as fairly clueless individuals. Gaming communities have evolved over the years from small knots of kids sharing secrets in the school yard or after church (or whatever) into a decentralized network of tuned-in players. Where some laugh mockingly at the “Y KANT METROID CRAWL” meme, I think it’s fantastic. I remember being baffled by games occasionally (e.g. the completely undocumented second menu of adventure scene items you need to access to complete The Goonies II) and back in the day hitting that kind of wall meant you’d have to cool your heels for months or hope you got lucky and stumble into an answer. Now, you can simply suck up your pride and ask for help from people who are playing the game alongside you. I can think of plenty of times Miiverse would have come in handy during the 8- and 16-bit era….

Plus, “Y KANT METROID CRAWL” prompted me to give the album Y KAN’T TORI READ for the first time in 15 years, and you know? Some of those songs are pretty good. So consider this a double victory for Miiverse.