When the Wii was still known as The Revolution, the first details of the Virtual Console were made known. The description stated that classic hits from Nintendo's past consoles would be available to download and play. This wasn't that enticing because while Nintendo has a great catalogue of classic games, many of my favorites weren't made by Nintendo. Later on it was revealed (along with the terrible Wii name) that the Virtual Console would encompass not only Nintendo's titles but third-party titles that happened to be made for their hardware, as well as other classic systems. Now I was interested.
I've dabbled in the whole emulator scene, but I never played any for a length of time since using a keyboard to play Super Castlevania IV got old fast. That and the slew of questionable download sites for the ROMs made me nervous about what I was actually downloading. This way I could safely and legally download some of my all-time favorite games for a nominal fee, and play them on a current system with a proper controller. So far I've been pleased with what has been done with the VC. I've been playing some games I hadn't spent much time with in twenty years. The ****c controller is pretty good for some games, but the N64 controller was a very strange beast and it's apparent that no one controller can rule them all. This brings me to my first point that needs addressing:
1. Make classic controllers for the VC. I'm really surprised this hasn't been done yet. I'd love to have an authentic classic controller that would correspond with the system I was playing at the time. Dig up the molds for the Genesis, NES, SNES, N64 and Turbo controllers, install a Wiimote-friendly plug to the cord and now the experience is complete. Their currently are some homebrew mods out there like the retroport, and some plans that require soldering and electronics knowledge, but the market out there would rather buy a boxed product that either worked with your old controllers or a new controller outright.
While I've been playing some of the VC games I remember old patterns and strategies from playing these games back then. It really shows you how the mind keeps stuff filed away, until a particular stimuli kindles that memory, bringing it back from some dark recess. This brings up a second point:
2. Make new "Retroguides" for old games. I know the Internet has many FAQs on classic games, but unless you feel like printing out a book or you're sitting there next to your computer, the need for a strategy guide for some of these games is essential; especially for the generations of people that never played these games and and aren't used to games with no saves, passwords or unlimited continues. Again, I'm surprised old Bradygames hasn't launched a preliminary strike of "Classic Guides".
Whenever I see the next batch of titles announced for the VC, I feel obligated to offer my opinion and shed some light on the games being released for those that may have never heard of these games. I've been big into games since the beginning in the 70's so I'll sometimes offer what it was like when a particular game came out and how people like myself reacted and thought about a game back then. This is the third thing I'd like to see:
3. Include some vintage reviews, ads and insight from industry insiders in the games' documentation. This is often overlooked, and while considered by some to be useless filler, it can be a very interesting glimpse into the history of a particular game and sometimes the era in which it was released. The VC does have competition, XBLA and physical game collections often include bonuses like these to varying degrees. I recently bought an import title called "Oretachi Game Centre: (Castlevania)" It included the game, a CD that had the original midi tracks from the ROMs, a reproduction arcade flyer, manual, and a detailed essay on the game and the history of its development. All in Japanese of course but you get the idea. Other compilations from Namco, Capcom, Konami and other always offer some insight into the history of the game and bonus content. I'd love to see an interview with the creative team behind Contra, or Miyamoto's thoughts on the development of Zelda. Some people complain the the price of VC games is too much, this could help add value to the titles.
While perusing some of my old games I came across a few that I still have the original boxes for. The art for Castlevania is just as impressive now as it was then, the art for Mega Man is so bizarre and really hides the greatness of the game it represents, and the picture of Fabio on Ironsword is far more funnier than it was back then when he was unknown. This brings up my fourth point:
4. Include the original box art for the VC games. Much like old record album sleeves or lunchboxes, a certain nostalgia surrounds old boxes for video games. I remember my friend used to keep every box he got, I would give him my boxes too and he would ask others as well. He would tape them together with duct tape on the back forming this huge mass of cardboard. He then hung this huge mosaic on his wall, it was quite impressive until the whole mess ripped the nails out of the drywall and it fall on him in the middle of the night. Places like itunes offer a similar feature with a window showing the album art, and I think this would be a nice little option to display if you wanted to use the boxes as icons instead of the title screens in the menu.
While looking at the selection of titles on the VC I noticed that many of the games are very similar and some of the systems aren't getting the big titles that were the staples of anyone that owned it back then. I realize that spacing out the games over time will ensure a steady supply of quality games over the years, but the NES alone had several hundred games under its belt. While I don't expect to see every one on the VC I'd say that I can think of a hundred or more that would be worthy. I also see that while the Nintendo systems are getting the most coverage, the Genesis and Turbo in particular are getting a fraction of the games. This brings me to my fifth and final suggestion:
5. Include more games for other systems and don't keep size to a minimum. This will require the Wii to handle downloaded games differently, currently you can't save them to a larger memory card, and the internal memory is only so large but this is easily addressed with a system update. I have my Turbo Duo ready to play games. It's all hooked up and I've got the games in my media rack right next to my PS3 games. The same goes for my Sega CD, Saturn, PS1, Dreamcast, and 3DO. These systems too are classics that represent the generation after the cartridge format. My main point is that the Turbo Duo is where 75% of the best games for that system were released for. By limiting the file size to cart-based games you're limiting the potential for others to see that system shine. If you look at a Turbo CD game, you'll find that the actual game data isn't much bigger than the cart games. All the data is the music and voice overs for the cutscenes. The technology at the time didn't allow for digital compression, and midi was still very much, midi. So the developers used Red Book audio, which is what audio CDs used, so every 10 minutes of audio equals 100MB of data. This was also back when CDs only held 650 MB of data. The best way to fix this is to encode the audio into a digital format and compress it down to a more manageable level. This will require some work but it will add a good 30-60 games to the VC list and you can make them 900 points or something. I can tell you right now the people that want Dracula X for the Super CD will buy a Wii for it, it's actually cheaper than buying it on CD.
While my focus was on the Turbo CD, I do want to see games for the Sega CD, Saturn, Dreamcast, 3DO and if possible the PS1. The option to explore vintage PC gaming is there too. With the Wiimote you've got a virtual mouse and a USB slot for a keyboard. Games from the age of the Commodore 64, Amiga, VCS and early IBM are just as cherished and many are unplayable on current hardware. What I'm trying to say is keep an open mind and don't focus on how many versions of Zelda or Mario from consoles past are available on the VC. You've got a unique platform that caters to a vast audience, take advantage of it.