Nintendo Switch would be a lot better with a Virtual Console, but it ain't gonna happen

The Legend Of Zelda Ocarina Of Time On Switch Yellow
The Legend Of Zelda Ocarina Of Time On Switch Yellow (Image credit: Rebecca Spear / iMore)

I know the Wii U wasn't a very successful console, but it had one major thing going for it that the Nintendo Switch lacks. It had a Virtual Console (VC) that allowed Wii U owners to purchase and play 428 classic games. This included 95 NES games, 51 SNES games, 74 Game Boy Advance games, 21 N64 games, 75 Sega Genesis games, 31 DS games, and more.

Wii U's Virtual Console allowed owners to purchase and play 428 classic games from various systems.

While owning the Wii U during its short five-year lifespan didn't provide me with quite the stack of new games that I hoped for, I was able to purchase and play several of my all-time favorite retro games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Sonic the Hedgehog, and much more.

In comparison, at the time of writing this, the Nintendo Switch is about to hit its fourth anniversary, and all of the available retro games that aren't reworked ports make their way onto Nintendo Switch Online (NSO) rather than the Nintendo eShop. Thing is, NSO only gives us 114 retro games — 72 NES and 42 SNES. You'll notice that this not only cuts out several different systems but also doesn't give us as many NES or SNES games as there were on the Wii U VC either.

Of course, every few months, Nintendo releases more onto NSO, but the games we really want seem to be few and far between. Since the Switch first launched, I've been hoping that games from other systems would also release on NSO. I've sorely missed being able to play my favorite N64, Game Boy, Gamecube, Sega Genesis, and DS games from the latest Nintendo system these last four years.

Unfortunately, as much as I'd love to access a Nintendo Switch virtual console, I really don't think we're going to be seeing that happen with NSO already in existence. I'll discuss why in the next section.

Why doesn't Nintendo Switch Online have more games from other systems?

Super Mario 3d All Stars Review Hero (Image credit: iMore)

PlayStation and Xbox both have their own subscription services for games. It makes sense that Nintendo would do something similar to keep in line with them. Thus, NSO was born. So, why aren't there games from Game Boy, N64, Gamecube, Wii, and other beloved systems?

Since Nintendo hasn't given any specifics on this matter, all we can do is conjecture. However, here are some theories that make a lot of sense. The first reason I'll address is that it's a whole lot easier to port older 2D games rather than 3D ones. 2D games are far less complex to bring to a new system, and so it makes sense that Nintendo would mostly stick to NES and SNES games with the subscription.

It's far more lucrative for Nintendo to release its classics in grandiose style rather than slipping them into NSO.

Secondly, there's the greasy matter of profit. One of the main differences between the Wii U's VC and NSO is that you had to purchase all of the VC games separately while NSO games are accessed by a blanket subscription payment. It stands to reason that Nintendo would want to prevent some of its more notable games from being accessed so easily. This means a Nintendo Switch virtual console isn't in the cards. I mean, we've seen how lucrative releasing three classic Mario games in the form of Super Mario 3D All-Stars was. Even The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD looks like it will bring in a decent amount of money.

Nintendo will continue to release its more popular 3D classics in grandiose style rather than slipping them into NSO because the company knows it can get more out of the games that way. Just think of all of the people who have already claimed they're willing to pay for the rumored Wind Waker and Twilight Princess Zelda collection. Nintendo won't miss out on the opportunity to sell those games to us again for a high price. And, let's be honest, I won't miss out on the opportunity to repurchase them and add them to the rest of the best Nintendo Switch games I own. However, only the biggest classics get this treatment, which still leaves so many Nintendo classics unaccessible to Switch owners.

How Nintendo can fix it

Nintendo Switch In Dock (Image credit: Rebecca Spear / iMore)

Now, if Nintendo really is concerned that adding classic Game Boy, N64, Gamecube, Sega Genesis, and other such games to the current NSO subscription would limit their ability to get as much money as possible out of consumers, then I suggest a compromise. There could be a more expensive NSO package that bundled games from other systems along with it. These bundles could even be called the NSO Gamecube bundle, the NSO N64 bundle, and so on. That way, Nintendo could still make more money off the retro games people really want to play, and we as consumers could still have the opportunity to play the classics we seriously yearn for.

I know it's not an ideal option, and I'd personally really prefer to get a VC on Switch. But with the existence of NSO and the success of the Switch, that's just not going to happen.

Rebecca Spear
Gaming Editor

Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend.