I'm a big fan of Wii's virtual console capabilities. No, really. I am. Beyond the constant and somewhat irritating whinging of "favourite game X isn’t out yet, virtual console suxx0rs", the system has proven to be a huge boon to an industry which has no truly reliable physical back-library to count on. While we can scour shops for classic DVDs, books and music, the videogames medium is one of constant evolution. We have no place to visit should we want to take first-hand experience at gaming 20 years ago. All we had, up until this point, were illegal emulators, our attics, eBay and subsequently, empty wallets.
Remakes are all well and good, but have proven to be a double edged sword for many publishers. After all, who wants to buy a crusty old creaking 8-bit game on the mass market these days? Not that many, sadly, and as such publishers rarely bother without updating the graphics, changing the gameplay or doing some other form of mutation that renders the game near unrecognisable to its older fans and leaves the newer ones struggling to summon any sort of interest in the light of more contemporary competition. Damned if you do…
So the era of the virtual console is a veritable godsend. The service is a tad expensive, given the sheer lack of overheads involved for the companies to unearth their gems, but it's early days and there's plenty of time for things to change. Which is my oh-so-subtle hint to say; "hey, Nintendo – how about some of the following, please…"
1. Arcade Games
Wii's emulation software is quite versatile, to the point it can replicate many formats if the RAM and storage space is up the job. So we're due to see MSX, Neo Geo and even Commodore 64 titles on the way within 2007. All good, but going one step further and scooping arcade games would be the cherry on an already attractive cake. Xbox Live Arcade may suffer from a consistent lack of high profile coin-op inclusions, but recently it's been turning out some storming examples; the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade being one (The Simpsons' next please, kthxbye). Arcade boards of this type aren’t particularly difficult to copy, and if Ubisoft and Konami can cooperate to get around the numerous licensing issues in dusting off TMNT (something Nintendo already has experience in, given the NES platform version is now out) in time for the film and reap the rewards, it'll be worth the company looking into cooking something up to compete with.
Likelihood Of Future Inclusion: 7/10
Neo Geo games are the first step forward, although obviously there's more complications in getting coin-ops other than SNK's once uber expensive format on board. Part of the issue is also down to library size factors. Currently, there's somewhere in the region of 60-plus games across five consoles out for the virtual console. The spread and range is immense, and compared to XBLA, it's positively mammoth. For certain titles to sell, a moderate expansion must be devised over time to allow for maximum sales potential. Given Wii will be supporting several more formats by the end of the year, the competition is going to be fierce – you can expect the VC library to span well into the hundreds by then, leaving some third-parties floundering for attention. Arcade ports may make things worse for those particulars, also making it difficult to sell any typically inferior console ports of the same game that may already be out. It may be inevitable that we'll see coin-ops at some point, but it's unlikely we'll get them en masse for a while.
2. Downloadable Demos
Already rumoured to be coming, having the ability to try before you buy is invaluable because sometimes nostalgia takes over, we pay our money and then realise what a huge mistake it was, all two seconds later. Buyers' remorse is a total bitch, and it's fair to say some companies will play off your rose tints (especially dangerous when partnered with boredom) and charm you into plumping down cash for utter tripe.
Some games lend themselves perfectly to demo form as well, which is always a nice surprise. A quick few blasts on a repetitive twitch title is sometimes all you need before moving on. Sure, publishers don’t like it, but it's your money and the choice should always be spurred with first-hand experience when it comes to this sort of thing. It should prompt some developers to try and make the best emulation they can as well, as there's technically more to lose too.
Likelihood Of Future Inclusion: 8/10
If the rumour is true, Nintendo should be implementing this within the year. Fingers crossed.
3. Genre/Game Type/Console Grouping
Or more typically known as; "common bloody sense". Each game taking up a separate channel is cute and all, but given that it takes barely a few downloads before you're having to flick between pages it would be far easier to allow users to group each downloaded game in whatever folder they wish to prevent needless page trawling and the soon-to-be-common-complaint; not having enough space slots on Wii's internal memory. External drives are all well and good, but really the titles need to be grouped for easier access.
Likelihood Of Future Inclusion: 10/10
Too obvious to not be a future option, so unless Nintendo decides it wants its email inboxes filled with the above complaints for the rest of Wii's lifespan this is a guaranteed improvement. Please hurry, though.
4. Button Configurations
Again, something glaringly needed but currently lacking. I'm perfectly happy with the Wii remote for 8/16-bit games. They've never cut out on me, the layout is great (long fingers, how I love thee) and to my surprise I don’t suffer from crippling digit cramp after extended periods of play. When it comes to more contemporary titles, however, things get a tad more complex. While the option to play with either a GameCube pad or the wonderful Classic Controller are appreciated, the lack of customisation is a problem for some and the result makes certain titles terribly difficult to play with the standard config. Some games allow you to change things, but the Nintendo 64 wasn’t known for its adaptability in this area, so as that library expands, so will the hardships associated. It's not deal breaker for many of the games currently on the service, but it's certainly something that needs to be touched on more heavily, eventually.
Likelihood Of Future Inclusion: 9/10
Nintendo's dogged persistence to transfer its games, warts and all, to the virtual console has meant this is a problem that probably won't go away quite yet, but it seems like something that will ultimately be necessary at some point. Too many people's sanity depends on it.
Yes, I KNOW it's wrapped up in more legal wranglings than Jack Thompson on a (hot) coffee high. And I KNOW it's unlikely we're going to see Rare's seminal first-person shooter any time soon because of the related format complications. But the shadow of Nintendo 64's most popular game will never stop darkening the VC until a definite answer is given to put things to rest, and no one is willing to do that quite yet. I would personally prefer to see Perfect Dark (sigh), but acknowledge the fact GoldenEye would be a huge feather in any console's cap. It's quite likely both Microsoft and Nintendo are angling to get it for their respective services, but that's only going to make things more complicated because both know whoever gets this little jewel will make an absolute mint.
Likelihood Of Future Inclusion: 3/10
There's a slim chance. But that's as far as it goes. Things are just far too entrenched in pains and hassles for the game to emerge from the murk, and the stakes are possibly far too high for one company to budge over and let the other gain a few million from sales. Legally it's a nightmare, logistically and practically for all companies involved, it's a nightmare's nightmare. But you know. Stranger things have happened. And where's there's money to be made, someone will be working out how to get it. Just don’t expect it any time soon.
I'll be straight with you, on this one. I can't say I'm too big a fan of the virtual dick waving culture that's emerged from having Achievements on Xbox Live, but they do add another element of longevity and value to games, especially ones which have typically short lifespan. In fact, they're utterly invaluable to some arcade titles and pre-16 bit era games where you'd typically only squeeze no more than a couple hours of gameplay from them.
Likelihood Of Future Inclusion: 8/10
Again, the whole 'keep the source code as it was' ethos will make this as currently unlikely as older games having multiplayer online functions (which you'll notice I've not included on this list because frankly, it's not going to happen for a long time, if at all for most games at this rate – this is Nintendo, remember). Also making it tricky is the lack of infrastructure to make the most of it – would it be tired to your Mii? Would you have to create a gamer card account style system?
However, because of the relatively easy method of putting the option in-game (compared to online multiplayer, for example) and the desirability it creates in making gamers play more, it seems like something Nintendo will pursue in time, especially after Sony has implemented the wonderful looking Home system on PlayStation3. Maybe a much mooted Animal Crossing style interface/channel or <a href="http://www.wiichat.com/nintendo-wii-articles/20959-new-wii-channel-wii-world.html" target="_blank">a cleverly designed Mii designated world</a> is the way forward...
7. Screen Stretching/Visual Options
The current set-up is actually less rigid than initially thought, but being able to fiddle and adjust the screen would be a good inclusion in an era where all different types of TV are available. This would be of particular use for us poor PAL users who have to deal with giant borders via sloppy conversions. It wouldn’t solve the problem of speed reduction, of course, and the aspect ratio may suffer badly in some cases, but filling the screen is a small mercy if we're going to have to deal with the evils of lazy NTSC-to-PAL transfers.
Likelihood Of Future Inclusion: 5/10
An easy, but non-essential option to developers, and likely left to third-parties' discretion. Which is a shame, because not all of us have giant TVs to play the half-screen boarder-fest conversions. That said, it would probably take less time than giving us full speed, full screen versions instead… hint hint.
digg_url = 'http://www.wiichat.com/nintendo-wii-articles/21037-7-ways-improve-virtual-console.html';
digg_title = '7 Ways To Improve The Virtual Console';
digg_topic = 'gaming_news';