It’s January 30th, 2019–the day the Wii Shop Channel closes for good. For the last couple years, it has existed as a shell of its former self–serving more as a museum of screenshots and synopses than a digital store–because Nintendo disabled the ability to add funds to any account. Those with balances left over could still browse and spend what they had left, but now nobody gets anything. At least not on the Wii Shop Channel.
The most alarming consequence of the Channel’s slow death was that about two hundred games available on the Wii’s Virtual Console were left in limbo. Polygon reported on this some time ago, spring-boarding off a Reddit post which listed games that have remained largely exclusive to the Wii’s Virtual Console.
In other words, while many old-school games have migrated to the Virtual Console of the Wii U or the Nintendo Switch’s online service, about two-hundred more are still nowhere to be found. (Legally, that is.)
This is not entirely true, of course. Many of the games on the list are available on other digital storefronts, just not ones operated by Nintendo. For example, even the Redditor who posted the list admitted that Chrono Trigger–originally a SNES game–is available on the PlayStation Store and Steam, though those versions of the game are considered inferior due to long loading times, ugly menus, and butchered graphics (though the latter two issues have since been fixed in the Steam version, among other improvements). The loading time issue also affects the PlayStation Store versions of Final Fantasy II (a.k.a. Final Fantasy IV) and Final Fantasy III (a.k.a. Final Fantasy VI), which had been released in anthologies on the original PlayStation.
Speaking of anthologies, the Redditor also pointed out that many arcade games that were once exclusive to the Wii Virtual Console have been compiled and released as a bundle on the Switch (they use Metal Slug 3 as one particular example).
There are a few games that can still be found on Nintendo systems, but not the exact same versions. Two editions of Street Fighter II are on the list, but other editions of that game are on the Wii U or even the Super NES Classic (if you can find one). Meanwhile, Capcom released a Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection on the Switch (among other consoles) which features five different versions of Street Fighter II. Furthermore, a brand new edition of Street Fighter II released not too long beforehand and is exclusive to the Switch.
I could list off many other instances of some of those affected games being available in other forms or elsewhere, but that would be a little pedantic and the whole point of this is that Nintendo has not yet made these specific games available again on their own platforms. Sure, you could find them on the PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4 or maybe even on Steam, but I do not begrudge anyone for having brand loyalty exclusively to Nintendo. For loyalists, the depressing, inevitable end to the Wii Shop Channel has been a repeated punch in the gut.
As open-minded as I am to other avenues of accessing these games, I know for many players that it’s another gut-punch to even suggest going to digital stores on systems like the Wii U or the PS3, which are now in the previous generation and may not be supported for much longer.
As always, physical copies for these games can be purchased from a variety of retailers. In fact, in several instances I would rather buy a physical copy than hold my breath for a digital release. I mean, I don’t foresee Super Star Wars or its sequels ending up on a digital storefront again, at least not anytime soon.
Video game preservation is essential to the history of the medium and is arguably essential to the medium’s continuing evolution. To leave so many games in limbo like this is a tragedy. This development is not solely the fault of Nintendo, however. There are many companies involved in the development and publications of games released on Nintendo’s systems. Why there has not been more coordination in making all of these old games available digitally is likely because of different licensing conflicts or other instances of businesses butting heads.
For now, we have what we have, even if we only have it in the plastic and metal cartridges from many years ago. Digitally, there is plenty to see and play, but there could be much more.
Thanks for reading.