Virtual Console on the Nintendo Switch is long overdue

For the love of Miyamoto, Nintendo -- please make it easier to play classic games like Metroid Fusion

Metroid Fusion

One of Nintendo’s biggest announcements during its E3 2021 Direct presentation was that it’s reviving its cancelled mid-2000s era DS game Metroid Dread for the Switch.

The first brand-new 2.5D entry in the beloved 35-year-old series in nearly 20 years coming in October? That’s a big deal. But now that the dust has settled on June’s big gaming events, I find myself growing more frustrated with how Nintendo is treating its older franchises like Metroid.

When a classic series like Dread gets a new entry, it’s a great opportunity for fans — as well as relative newcomers like me — to go back to the older titles. In fact, you might have noticed in the Dread trailer that it’s unofficially known as Metroid 5 — in other words, there are four games that precede it. Playing them now, however, is far from easy.

Thankfully, Metroid and Super Metroid (the first and third games in the series, respectively) are at least available through a Switch Online membership. But Switch owners are otherwise out of luck on Metroid II (an original Game Boy game that was remade in 2017 for the now-discontinued 3DS) and Metroid Fusion (a GBA game and Dread‘s direct predecessor that is currently only available on the Wii U).

That these games aren’t available to even purchase à la carte on the Switch’s eShop is especially noteworthy when older Metroid titles have seen big sales bumps amid the Dread hype on the systems that they are available on, like the Wii U’s Virtual Console.

While it’s cool that Nintendo offers more than 100 emulated NES and SNES games for free with Switch Online, it’s an uneven list that contains a lot of obscure and forgettable titles and many more glaring omissions, particularly from later console generations. By contrast, the Wii U’s Virtual Console lineup is remarkably well-rounded. It features several big SNES games that Switch Online is missing, like Super Mario RPG and Earthbound, as well as the likes of Donkey Kong 64, Pokémon Snap and Paper Mario (N64) and Fire Emblem, Metroid Fusion and Golden Sun (GBA).

If Nintendo did bring back Virtual Console, it could even expand the service with new functionality, like support for Game Cube and Wii titles — especially since the Switch doesn’t have native backward compatibility for the latter platform like the Wii U did. To be fair, rights issues might complicate the inclusion of some of these (such as Super Mario RPG, which is owned by Square Enix), but the point nonetheless still stands that there are countless examples of games that don’t deserve to be left behind.

“It’s especially disappointing to see Nintendo drop the ball with Virtual Console when Xbox is doing exceptionally well right now with respect to its back catalogue.”

It’s ironic that Nintendo’s worst-selling console of all time (not counting the Japan-only Color TV-Game) got such strong retro games support, while the massively successful four-year-old Switch offers very little in this regard. Meanwhile, the Japanese gaming giant has made a clear point of bringing virtually every big Wii U exclusive to the Switch, such as Mario Kart 8, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze, Super Mario 3D World or Bayonetta 2. It’s even more frustrating when you consider that the Switch has been out for more than four years, and there’s still no word on whether Virtual Console will ever happen.

Super Mario RPG

Just imagine how cool it would be for people who get introduced to franchises like EarthboundF-Zero and Kid Icarus through Super Smash Bros. Ultimate — a phenomenal celebration of gaming’s history — and are then able to go onto the Switch eShop and buy some of these classic games. To that point, I discovered one of my top 10 favourite games of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, by playing the digital N64 version via the Wii U after years of Zelda exposure in Smash.

In some cases, bringing older games to the Switch could hopefully even offer meaningful quality-of-life improvements. Take Kid Icarus: Uprising on the 3DS: it was one of the first games I got for the handheld and one that immediately engrossed me with its impressive visuals, delightfully charming characters and cool shooting mechanics. It’s also the only non-Smash game from legendary director Masahiro Sakurai in many years. However, Uprising‘s controls were so infamously clunky due to the 3DS’ limitations that they physically hurt gamers’ hands while playing (my own included), and I sadly had to stop playing. It’s easy to imagine a Virtual Console port — if not an actual HD remaster — that offers a streamlined, intuitive and pain-free experience.

It’s especially disappointing to see Nintendo drop the ball with Virtual Console when Xbox is doing exceptionally well right now with respect to its back catalogue. Many of the best original Xbox games have either been made playable via more modernized versions (such as Halo and Halo 2 in the Halo: The Master Chief Collection or Fable in Fable Anniversary) or are simply available through backward compatibility, like both Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic titles, Splinter Cell: Chaos TheoryMorrowind, Ninja Gaiden Black and Psychonauts.

That’s to say nothing of even more 360 games and all Xbox One games being playable on the current-gen Xbox Series X/S. Even PlayStation, which has its own problems with preservation, nixed plans to shutter its PS3 and PS Vita stores amid fans calling for those catalogues to remain available.

Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic

Being able to play BioWare Edmonton’s original Xbox classic Knights of the Old Republic on my current Xbox consoles is amazing.

I say all of this out of a desperate plea for gaming’s history to be preserved, especially as other media do this so well. Look at Disney+ — virtually every classic Disney animated film going back to the ’40s is available for streaming, as are all of the Star Wars and Marvel films (minus a few like the Spider-Man films due to rights issues) if you wanted to go back and rewatch them. The same can be said for other older films and TV shows on fellow streaming services like Netflix and Crave, or even all of the classic literature over the years being available via reprints and ebooks.

Growing up, I was always more of a PlayStation and Xbox gamer; outside of my Game Boy Advance, I really only played Nintendo console games at other people’s houses. That’s why I often say I don’t have an affinity for many Nintendo franchises — not because of a lack of interest, but because I typically just happened to be gifted other systems. Now, as an adult, I can truly appreciate as an outsider just how many incredible games have graced Nintendo hardware. For that reason, I want to finally experience a lot of these older games like Metroid, but it’s practically impossible on modern hardware outside of emulation.

Nintendo has the best first-party catalogue in the entire gaming industry — if only it showed more respect for preserving it.