Friday, July 8, 2011

XBLA vs Virtual Console/WiiWare

When Nintendo first announced their Virtual Console system, I was ecstatic. This was my opportunity to legally play some of the great classics I either missed out on, or no longer could boot up because of the NES's awesome track record. Right off the bat I downloaded Super Mario RPG and Balloon Fight, a pair of amazing games that I still can't get enough of. The service felt smooth, the library was organized, and I love my old school games.

Seriously, I play this about once a week. For fun.

Yet there was something... weird about the whole thing. I don't know if maybe I'm just weird, but when I buy a video game I get this feeling of satisfaction and achievement. This feeling that I've actually invested money in something I will enjoy for at least a week. Don't get me wrong, I've been happy with most of my WiiWare and Virtual Console purchases (oh, but Frogger Returns was the worst five dollars I've ever spent) but there's just this lack of... I don't know, ownership, I guess. It doesn't feel like I own the game so much as I'm streaming it from somewhere, and even in multiplayer games, everything I've downloaded has this weird feeling of isolation, as though the service was meant for one player, and any additional players were just tacked into the gameplay to make it feel like an authentic game.

It took me a year or two to finally get bored of my current Wii games and start hounding all reaches of my family for an X-Box 360. Unfortunately this was back when all they had was a 12GB Arcade (which still works, by the way.) Only recently (by recently, I mean the past year and a half) have I realized the powers of the XBLA marketplace, and smokes, this is a good feeling. Unlike the Virtual Console or WiiWare services, every purchase I make on XBLA feels like it has tangible, real world weight. To top that off, all of the classic games I remember loving back in the day have some form of gameplay enhancement, and a lot of titles come equipped with downloadable bonus content. In other words, this cake has a whole lot of icing, but even more Best Creme. And I love my Best Creme.

Best. Birthday. Ever.
The XBLA has such a good, natural, and uplifting feeling that I'm actually having trouble not buying things from it. A good chunk of money keeps disappearing into those little point cards, and now that I've learned that they actually got around to releasing that Knives Chau add-on pack for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, it doesn't look like my wallet will be getting any thicker.

So why is it that the XBLA service just feels better and more weighty than anything you might buy on WiiWare or Virtual Console? Here's what I've come up with:

1) User Accounts - This game is yours and the world knows it.
2) Achievements - Adding replayability to twenty-year-old games.
3) Avatar Awards - You can literally wear victory on your chest.
4) DLC - Build some new right over the old.

In addition to those, Microsoft has taken a very intense approach with making sure that the XBLA experience is a personal one. They've done a lot to make the XBLA game marketplace feel like you are walking into an actual store and leaving with an armful of goodies that will be yours forever. The WiiShop just does not have that feeling, and you actually leave wondering if Nintendo will just take the games away from you whenever it strikes their fancy.

A lot of this has come from Nintendo's really shifty approach to the service itself. They seem intent on enforcing a "no transfer" policy, which ultimately screws over anybody whose console crashes or who wants to update to a sleeker design. Nintendo has stated that there will be a transfer service so that you can carry your files from a Wii to a Wii U, much like how the DSi can transfer to the 3DS, but it really isn't enough. It feels like an after thought in the wake of user outrage. Which it was.

Just put down the gun and we can discuss the possibility of maybe transferring your games.
I think the biggest deterrent the Wii has going for its services is that Nintendo seems to treat this whole "online" concept and the people who advocate and use it as a horrible breeding grounds for cyber crime. It's as though they don't trust a single one of their customers not to abuse their system in some way, and it's that oppressive, overbearing bind that really makes the Virtual Console and WiiWare services a really grim and desolate place when compared with XBLA. Nintendo has become a dictator in disguise, while Microsoft is holding true to the American way of feigning democracy.

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