The robust Virtual Consoles found on the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U are about to be closed off after nearly a decade of faithful service to the retro gaming community. Here are five gems you may want to grab digitally while you still can.
The writing has been on the wall for this move for some time, since both systems have been retired in favour of the juggernaut that is the Switch, and Sony tried to pull a similar move last year with the PS3, PSP, and Vita. However, it’s no less disappointing for retro game fans, collectors, and preservationists to see the rug pulled out on two incredibly robust e-storefronts and their Virtual Consoles.
Nintendo Switch Online’s library of classic games is included with the service, but have universally been ridiculed for incomplete and disappointing lineups, or even substandard emulation. Meanwhile, the digital offerings for both retired systems offer so much more than the standard fare you’ll find in things like the NES Classic. The 3DS includes Game Boy, Sega Game Gear, and even Super Nintendo games, while the Wii U brought Game Boy Advance, Wii, and even DS games to your home theatre system.
Switch Online just can’t compete with that, and until Nintendo steps up to offer a suitable replacement, there’s going to be a massive void. So, here are a couple choice Virtual Console options you should look into picking up while you still can:
5) Duck Hunt (NES; Wii U VC)
If you grew up in the late-80s or early-90s, the sound of an 8-bit beagle’s mocking laughter probably makes your fist clench. But ever since the CRT television era came to an end, it’s become hard to revisit the source of that childhood anger, Duck Hunt. Many of us were exposed to the game that made the Nintendo Zapper an icon when it came prepackaged with our Nintendo Entertainment Systems. Unfortunately, even if you purchase an NES or another alternative, the Zapper simply cannot work with modern displays, due to the science behind the peripheral.
That’s why it was a godsend when Nintendo quietly uploaded Duck Hunt to the Wii U’s Virtual Console on Christmas Day 2014. A subtle upgrade allows you to use the WiiMote instead, with the option to even put a reticle on-screen. While it doesn’t have the same satisfying feel as the original Zapper, it’s better than nothing, and kept a classic playable to new generations, and it’s considerably simpler than other attempted solutions.
4) Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)
Nintendo and Monolith Soft have been good buddies over the last few years; this year, the Switch will see Xenoblade Chronicles 3, the third game in the franchise to land on the hybrid console in 5 years, and the series has seen considerable recognition in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. This partnership goes back to the Wii and Wii U, however.
Though technically a proper Wii U title and not part of the Virtual Console library directly, Xenoblade Chronicles X is still a niche RPG that’s about to become much harder to access. It was one of the heftiest RPGs of its time, but was somewhat held back by the overall lack of momentum behind the Wii U.
Xenoblade Chronicles X appears to be virtually unconnected to its siblings, with Xenoblade Chronicles 3 tying together the worlds of its two numbered predecessors this fall. While the popularity of the overall series should make it a candidate for a Switch remaster, it may prove difficult, as its hulking size would take a considerable investment to recreate on new hardware.
So if you’re a fan of the other games and own a Wii U, you might want to snap it up now while you can for a standard price; as of this writing, secondhand copies sit around $100 Canadian on eBay before shipping. Once the digital option vanishes this summer, it could very well jump higher as resellers look to exploit its new scarcity.
3) Pokémon Gen I and II (GB; 3DS VC)
Many people will tell you Pokémon peaked on the 3DS with Generation VI, but Nintendo’s mightiest handheld also serves one crucial service: it provides access to the six original games/versions on its Virtual Console.
Pokémon Red, Blue, Yellow, Silver, Gold, and Crystal are all currently available on the 3DS eShop for a few more months, and for a more respectable price tag—around $15 CDN. Real cartridges of these titles easily sell for many times more, and have the added concern of failing batteries. These ports can also use the 3DS’ wireless communication instead of the old-fashioned link cables you’d need to trade your critters on original hardware. Granted, you can’t interact with the Game Boy Printer or games like Pokémon Stadium 2, but it’s a small price to pay.
Best of all, the Virtual Console releases are compatible with Pokémon Transporter and Pokémon Bank, allowing you to take your Gen I and Gen II critters into the 3DS games, or move them into Pokémon Home for use in the Switch games. One upside of this closure is that Pokémon Bank will become a free service, so hardcore trainers won’t have to pony up for two separate storage subscriptions in order to pull their catches up from the OGs.
2) Metroid series (Wii U or 3DS VC)
Both consoles are must-haves for serious Metroid fans, as Samus’ adventures have been transferred to their libraries almost in full. The Wii U Virtual Console offers 3/5 games in the 2D saga: the NES original, Super Metroid, and Metroid Fusion, plus the GBA’s superior remaster of the original, Metroid: Zero Mission—which, I might add, looks great on a full TV. You can also get the Metroid Prime Trilogy for Wii at an absolute steal, and the divisive Metroid: Other M if you want to see what the fuss is about.
Only the second game, Metroid II: Return of Samus is missing from the home console, but the 3DS has you covered with not only the original Game Boy version, but the remake Metroid: Samus Returns, where Metroid Dread developer MercuryStream cut their teeth on the franchise.
All told, between both platforms you can relive Samus’ entire career, save her latest outing. Until Nintendo rights this wrong and at least adds GBA capability to the Switch, it’s worth backing up digital copies on either system.
1) Golden Sun & Golden Sun: The Lost Age (Wii U VC)
One of the most underused IPs in Nintendo’s back pocket is Golden Sun, a Game Boy Advance RPG developed by Camelot that was so hefty, it had to be released as two separate games. The original released in 2000, followed quickly by The Lost Age, and progress could be sent over to the second game with infamously long, intricate passcodes. Players had to use a special form of magic, Psyenergy, to affect the environment in dungeons and solve puzzles in order to progress, while fighting random battles with a heavy focus on mixing elemental effects.
Combined, they form one sweeping experience which proved the power of the Game Boy Advance early on. An attempt to revive the series was made with 2010’s sequel Golden Sun: Dark Dawn on DS, but since then series protagonist Isaac’s appearances in Super Smash Bros have given any inclination that Nintendo still thinks of this groundbreaking old IP.
The Wii U Virtual Console offers a cheaper solution, for now, than buying the cartridges on the secondhand market. Unfortunately they don’t make inputting those passcodes any easier, but at least you can explore one of the more remarkable original RPG ideas to debut on Nintendo consoles since the Super Nintendo era—in handheld mode or on your TV, no less.
Really, we’re just scratching the surface here. Whether you want to pick up these titles or any others, you’ll want to act sooner rather than later. After May, you’ll no longer be able to add funds to your wallet using credit cards, and gift cards will follow suite in August, long before the services are truly shut down in March 2023. Once that grim day comes, we’ll be left to cross our fingers and hope Nintendo provides legitimate and equally comprehensive solutions to feed our retro desires.