@Hikarun___ There’s no further SNES games coming from us. Nintendo has moved on to other classic systems.
— Natsume Inc. (@Natsume_Inc) October 5, 2015
It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly nine years since Nintendo first launched the Virtual Console, finally offering a legal way to download select games from out-of-print consoles on the Wii (and, later, the 3DS and Wii U as well). That means gamers have been spending nearly nine years now complaining about the limited selection of classic titles that are available for download on the service and the slow pace of those downloadable rereleases.
Now, there are some indications that Nintendo is completely finished rereleasing digital games for some of its classic systems. In a pair of recent tweets, niche publisher Natsume (perhaps best known for the Harvest Moon series) said that Nintendo has “moved on” from publishing Virtual Console games from the original Game Boy and Super NES, specifically. “There’s no further SNES games coming from us,” one tweet reads. “Nintendo has moved on to other classic systems.”
Natsume has been a big supporter of the Virtual Console and is currently in the process of bringing eight older Game Boy Advance titles to the Wii U. So they’d seem to be in some position to know Nintendo’s thoughts on the matter. Speaking to Ars Technica, though, Natsume VP of Operations Graham Markay made it clear that “we don’t know what Nintendo’s plans are,” and that the tweets weren’t based on any insider information or official notification from Nintendo.
That said, Markay told us that any decision to rerelease games on the Virtual Console was a collaboration between Nintendo and the original publisher. That, combined with Natsume’s tweets, hints that Nintendo might be the bottleneck for some rereleases that Natsume and others want to pursue, though Markay wasn’t willing to say as much directly (Nintendo wasn’t immediately available to comment, but we’ll update if and when they get back to us).
Markay also pointed out that, “looking historically,” Nintendo’s interest in Virtual Console rereleases seems to be gravitating away from older systems and toward more recent consoles like the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS. That’s only somewhat true. Nintendo released SNES title The Ignition Factor on the Wii U Virtual Console last month and rereleased NES cult classic River City Ransom in October. Both consoles have seen a slow drip of almost a dozen Virtual Console releases on the Wii U this year.
The Nintendo 3DS’ Virtual Console hasn’t seen any new releases since February, but the latest offerings were three Donkey Kong Land titles first released on the original Game Boy.
What’s the hold up?
While many people think releasing a Virtual Console game is as simple as throwing an old ROM file onto Nintendo’s servers, the process isn’t quite that simple. For one, as Markay told us, a lot depends on the legal language behind the original, decades-old license agreements and who owns the rights to rerelease the game. For another, Nintendo says it has to do a fair bit of work to get the games ready for rerelease, including digital manuals and technical/standards checks.
“Development of Virtual Console titles require detailed manual work, such as testing if the software runs smoothly on each platform, or making sure the content is appropriate under the various standards currently in place,” late Nintendo President Satoru Iwata said at a shareholder’s meeting this summer. “…If we use much of our human resources on such detailed manual work, we would not be able to develop new titles, so we are currently researching how we can efficiently develop Virtual Console titles with limited human resources.”
Whether or not Nintendo is ready to officially close down the flow of downloadable rereleases from certain classic consoles, it’s hard to see much enthusiasm for the concept from the company. Even without any legal impediments from rights holders, it would take decades to make the full libraries of systems like the NES, SNES, and Game Boy available on modern Virtual Consoles at Nintendo’s current release rates. Still, for fans of classic gaming, it would be a bit sad to see those rereleases go from a low priority to no priority for Nintendo.
Listing image by Wikia