Nintendo has the richest back catalogue of games in the business. That’s why it makes no sense that buying any of its most iconic titles — Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda chief among them — is, and has almost always been, such a pain.
It would be one thing if Nintendo had been intent on locking all of its old games in a vault somewhere, untouchable by the modern gamer who missed the boat the first time around. No, Nintendo has made attempts at making its old NES games accessible on modern hardware. There’s the Virtual Console on Wii, Wii U and Nintendo 3DS; and there’s the NES Classic Edition, a solution to recreating the classic retro gaming experience that so many of us crave.
Except Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic Edition. Final shipments are heading to North American stores this month, presumably never to be replenished. It’s not like most of us were ever able to buy one, anyway. The hardware is the prototypical example of the fallacy of demand and supply: Nintendo never, ever made enough of the system to meet consumer interest. Retailers sold out of the $60 plug-and-play system, which was pre-loaded with 30 of the best games of all time, in minutes on the rare occasions that it ever had the NES Classic Edition in stock.
Here’s the thing: You can’t get upset about piracy without providing your customers a convenient and legal way to purchase your games. Nintendo isn’t doing either for many of its customers at the moment.
Emulators are easy to build and easier to download. People are happy to leave their sense of ethics at the door when it comes to actually having the ability to play some of the best games ever made, all without worrying about how fast they can press the “buy” button on a website or lining up hours ahead of a store opening so they can grab a hard-to-find system. The NES Classic Edition allowed fans to play classic games in a legal, affordable way. Nintendo is within its power to discontinue it, but doing so without some kind of replacement is terrible business.
Nintendo does have the Virtual Console as a viable option. Games from the NES era all the way to some Wii games are available to download from the Nintendo eShop, perfectly playable and not at risk of selling out in minutes.
There’s a key problem with the Virtual Console, though. Most Nintendo fans own, or want, a Switch. That’s also the system that Nintendo wants them to buy. That’s the system that the company is currently peddling. The Nintendo Switch does not have a Virtual Console right now. There’s no way to play NES games on the Switch, although we can only hope that Nintendo has plans for a Virtual Console in the works.
The Switch doesn’t even have its online service running yet. There’s no timeline on a Virtual Console coming to the hardware. You want to play some NES games? Go pull out your Wii U and play them there. If you already have a ton on your old Wii and want to upgrade, bad news — those don’t even port over to the Wii U for free. You’ll have to re-up on your classic games library.
Nintendo has a ton of consumer-unfriendly practices. The NES Classic Edition’s life was a perfect example of nearly all of them, from lack of supply to misunderstanding the appeal of its own product. Now that it’s discontinued, though, we’re left to stare just how frustrating the way the company has always run its business can be.
If you were one of those lucky ones to own the rare NES Classic Edition, know you now have the envy and ire of every Nintendo fan in North America.