Please, just this once, don't give Nintendo your money

Opinion
4 weeks ago by Willie Clark

Nintendo's limited-run mini consoles seem appealing, but their success encourages the company to put off better digital offerings.

Please people, do not buy a SNES Classic Edition.

No, this isn't because I'm evil and secretly plotting to preorder them all for myself and laugh in an evil lair somewhere while I'm sitting on a trove of Mini SNES systems. The real reason is that it just isn't a good idea. And buying one sends Nintendo the wrong message.

When the NES Classic Edition released last year, it was a limited-edition item -- seemingly made just as a stopgap during the holiday season before Nintendo was set to release the Switch. But the Mini NES became a roaring hit with fans, even as stock issues plagued the console. And now, Nintendo has announced it will be doing the same thing with the SNES. While they’re great successes for nostalgia, both Classic Editions are giant steps backwards for the company: Nintendo needs to embrace and fix their digital virtual console before embracing a physical future for its past titles.

Nintendo has one of -- if not the -- most robust catalogues of retro games. It's a legacy the company handles haphazardly, and I've touched on that before right here at Zam, with its Virtual Console service. The Wii, 3DS, and Wii U all have Virtual Consoles, offering various games from legacy systems such as the NES, SNES, and Game Boy Advance. In addition to being a great way to fill in the gaps in Nintendo's release schedule, it fills out the systems’ content libraries. But release dates have always been sporadic, and with few exceptions, if players bought a game on one system, there were no cross saves or cross buying across platforms. Want the original Super Mario Bros. on your 3DS and Wii U? Get ready to pay for it twice.

You could transfer purchases to a new system within the same console family -- 3DS to 3DS, for example, or from the Wii to the Wii U as long as it was within the Wii U's Wii mode -- but nothing was unified. Some of Nintendo’s Virtual Console titles aren't even available across platforms.

How does this fit all in with the new NES and SNES, though? Nintendo is now starting to think about these physical systems as a form of Virtual Console, even if the company does seem skeptical of physical virtual console as a full solution. But either way, both the NES and SNES Classic Editions create more problems in that regard than solve them. 

Take any of the issues with the Virtual Console, and the Classic Editions don't make any of them better. Cross saves? Transferring purchases? Creating a future-proof ecosystem or account system where people know that if they buy Super Mario Bros., they'll be able to move it to future Nintendo devices without having to purchase it again? No dice. With the Classic Editions, Nintendo is convincing people to buy the same games again, with no way to update them, no way to move them to other systems, no way to add more titles on them, and no way to transfer save data or keep them up-to-date on current hardware. Nintendo is making physically-locked virtual console devices, and while I'm usually a proponent of physical media over digital, it's just another ludicrous solution to a problem Nintendo seems either too inept, or simply doesn't know how, to solve.

All of this wouldn't matter as much if the systems were standing and releasing along with a Virtual Console for Switch. However, details for that are scarce, if it is even coming, and the Switch's online features have been pushed back to next year. But, I would be surprised if Nintendo segmented the retro market even further by having NES games available online in one part of its digital offerings, having purchasable games available elsewhere digitally, and also having physical retro systems on shelves. We also don't even know if we'll be able to move Virtual Console games from the Wii U or 3DS to the Switch at all, or if we'll have to, yet again, re-purchase them.

Either way, fans are digging their own grave. As people line up and flock to the SNES Classic Edition, it sends Nintendo a message: We'll keep buying the same games over and over again, with no thought to future-proofing our investments or wanting to play them on anything else besides a little plastic box connected to a TV. It tells Nintendo that its digital efforts might not matter anymore, and that Nintendo can keep releasing Game Boy Classic Editions, Nintendo 64 Classic Editions, and so on and so forth and we'll just keep buying them, Switch Virtual Console be dammed.

If that's the future you want from Nintendo and its legacy of games, then sure, go buy a SNES Classic Edition. But if you'd rather see Nintendo take its digital games and Virtual Console offerings seriously, perhaps reconsider that $80.