Nintendo should bring back the Virtual Console to compete with Xbox Game Pass

Breath Of The Wild 2 Screenshot
Breath Of The Wild 2 Screenshot (Image credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo Switch Online Family Group button

Nintendo Switch Online Family Group button (Image credit: iMore/ Rene Ritchie)

Last week, Xbox held its Bethesda Joins Xbox roundtable and gave fans their first good look at what this partnership will mean for players, as well as developers. With the Zenimax deal finalized, Microsoft now has the teams responsible for DOOM, Fallout, Wolfenstein, and The Elder Scrolls series under its belt. To celebrate, Microsoft released 20 Bethesda games on Xbox Game Pass, its subscription service.

Xbox's first-party output was always lacking compared to Nintendo or Sony, but it's now acquired some heavy hitters, and future installments of games like Elder Scrolls will arrive day one "on platforms where Game Pass exists." The Xbox Series X has become the poster child for backward compatibility, and despite not having any "must-play" titles, Xbox Game Pass is, without a doubt, one of the best deals in gaming.

This isn't a move that Sony or Nintendo should take lightly, but in Nintendo's case, it doesn't need to spend $7.5 billion to compete. It just needs to look at its own back catalog.

Nintendo is a brand powerhouse fueled by nostalgia and a slew of literal genre-defining games — no question about it. Series like Mario, Zelda, and Pokémon have stood the test of time, while newer franchises like Splatoon court new players in droves. Could Nintendo truly compete with Xbox Game Pass? I think they could hold their own — all they'd have to do is crack open their illustrious vault and reinvest in the Virtual Console.

A treasure trove that spans three decades

Nearly 15 years ago, Nintendo itself led the charge on backward compatibility with the Virtual Console on the Wii, which allowed fans to tap into Nintendo's back catalog of NES, SNES, N64 titles, the library of the Sega Master System and the Sega Genesis, and even obscure consoles like the NEO GEO and the TurboGrafx-16. Even the Wii U, which by all accounts was a flop, featured 428 titles for the Virtual Console that even included handheld systems like the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS.

Nearly 15 years ago, Nintendo itself led the charge on backward compatibility.

When the Virtual Console made its appearance on the Nintendo Switch, it came as a bonus for subscribing to Nintendo Switch Online, but the size and quality of the library had shrunk considerably. With only 114 retro games available and the lion's share of those games being plucked from the original NES, it was a far cry from previous generations.

If Nintendo really wanted to compete with Xbox Game Pass, all it would have to do is open the flood gates and let its collection of games speak for themselves. Nintendo has long been synonymous with video games and has released some of the best games ever made over the span of three decades, so just making them available in a subscription service akin to Game Pass would be an excellent value that would be super attractive to long-time fans.

Virtual Console was history preserved

Super Mario 3d All Stars Super Mario 64 Bob Ombs Battlefield

Super Mario 3d All Stars Super Mario 64 Bob Ombs Battlefield (Image credit: Nintendo)

With over 30 years of great games across two different dimensions, Nintendo's Virtual Console gave fans an easy way to experience Nintendo's history as well the history of other storied publishing houses. For me, the Virtual Console was the best way to tap into games that I had only read about up to that point. I was able to experience rare games like Super Mario RPG and Earthbound and classics like the original Super Mario Bros. I could even relive my childhood with Sonic the Hedgehog 2 — all in one box!

Nintendo's Virtual Console gave fans an easy way to experience Nintendo's history.

One of the most underrated Virtual Console features was that it occasionally posted import titles on the service, something that has thankfully carried over into the Switch's Virtual Console. I will never get over the fact that the previously unreleased Star Fox 2 exists on the Switch in all of its polygonal glory.

It's not like gamers don't want to play older titles; just look at how lucrative Super Mario 3D All-Stars has been, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD will likely sell just as well. Tapping into Nintendo's legendary back catalog would only make the Switch an even better deal. As it stands now, the Virtual Console is basically an afterthought bundled with Nintendo's crusty online service.

Heavy hitters out the gate

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Image credit: Nintendo)

One of the many Xbox Game Pass perks is that first-party titles are available on the service at launch. That means when a brand-new first-party game releases on the Xbox, it's on Game Pass, too. Having the best games Xbox can offer, along with dozens of other offerings from developers, for one monthly price is what makes the service such a standout. PlayStation offers a similar service with PlayStation Now, a service that includes over 800 games to choose from, including games from the PS3 and PS2, but it's not nearly as extensive.

Nintendo might not be willing to be as bullish as Xbox by releasing games simultaneously, but even just placing one or two of the biggest Switch titles along with a healthy helping of their back catalog could easily make Nintendo a competitor. Think about it: For $20, you could access some of the best games on the Nintendo Switch and about 10 of the best games from each one of Nintendo's platforms? Sounds like an easy win to me.

It could also easily take the PlayStation Now approach and feature a revolving door of games for subscribers to choose from. With hundreds of games touching on everything from the NES to the Wii, there is sure to be something for everybody.

Backward compatibility is long overdue

It's about time that Nintendo took a more customer-friendly approach with their retro titles. Even making the titles available for individual purchase would be a step in the right direction. As it stands, the NES and SNES titles offered with NSO are nothing compared to what's offered by PlayStation and isn't even a blip on the radar when compared to the monster that is Xbox Game Pass. As the offerings grow on each platform, the silence from Nintendo will grow louder.

We can only hope that we'll see an answer from Nintendo soon. With rumblings of a Nintendo Switch Pro and an alleged slate of marquee of titles coming to the system later this year, the Nintendo Switch is just hitting its prime. I hope that Nintendo offers an answer to the Game Pass sooner rather than later.

Zackery Cuevas

Zackery Cuevas is a writer for Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. He likes playing video games, talking about video games, writing about video games, and most importantly, complaining about video games. If you're cool, you can follow me on Twitter @Zackzackzackery.