‘Sega Ages’ on Nintendo Switch Has Us Worried About Virtual Console

During Sega Fes 2018 Friday evening, Sega announced it’s bringing a new collection of downloadable Sega Ages titles to Nintendo Switch this summer. While names like Phantasy Star, Thunder Force and Sonic The Hedgehog dig right into the feels of retro gamers, this recent news should engender a sense of dread amongst Nintendo fans hoping the Switch might soon get a traditional Virtual Console service.

With this news in mind, Sega joins third-party developers like Capcom and SNK that have chosen to release their back catalog of popular games privately instead of on a larger service operated by Nintendo. While all three of these developers supported Virtual Console releases in the past, it would appear they won’t be joining the party this time around. As the partnership dominos continue to fall, who will remain if and when a Virtual Console finally arrives?

Phantasy Star title screen ‘Phantasy Star’ is one of 15 titles in the ‘Sega Ages’ collection for Switch. Sega

Considering the situation from a third-party developer point of view, the shift to a private sales model makes perfect sense. Why share your Virtual Console earnings with Nintendo when you can just as easily sell a larger collection for 100 percent of the profit? That strategy has already proven fruitful for titles like Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers last March, and there’s no signal that dynamic will change anytime soon.

Yet, despite how understandable the situation appears for folks like Capcom and Sega, Nintendo’s own contribution to the abandonment of Virtual Console is downright bizarre. Instead of releasing games like Punch-Out and Super Mario Bros. as part of a larger service launch, the publisher opted to lend the rights to those titles to Hamster to rebrand them as Arcade Archives. Yes, the arcade builds of those titles are slightly different from their NES counterparts, but why release them now if the more recognizable versions are shoo-ins for a Virtual Console release later on?

As Nintendo superfan and GameXplain host Andre Segers so accurately said via Twitter, “with Sega Ages coming to Switch eShop, I think the Virtual Console is confirmed dead.” As sad as those words might be to read, this expert is likely correct.

Assuming that’s true, though, how do we make sense of the times Nintendo Of America President Reggie Fils-Aimé suggested a Virtual Console-like concept was on the way?  “What we're working through is, 'what's going to be the best way to make that happen, to make that available?' Certainly, we recognize there's an appetite for all of our great legacy content,” he told IGN at E3 last year.

Based on what little we know, it’s become increasingly clear the bulk of Nintendo’s retro presence will be focused on its paid online service set to launch this September. We know it’ll offer NES and and SNES titles that can be played as long as a subscription remains active, but it likely won’t look like the Virtual Console we know. As third-parties continue to sell their own games ala carte, its potential catalog size becomes substantially diminished. If subscriptions are involved, it would also appear the Virtual Console’s individual game purchases are a thing of the past as well.

Considering all the facts, it’s getting increasingly safe to assume Nintendo’s retro offering will be a first-party, service-based affair. That’s not a terrible thing considering how amazing Nintendo’s own catalog is, but it’s certainly a far cry from the Virtual Console of yore.

Do you think Sega Ages marks the death of Virtual Console? Will Nintendo’s online service make up for it? Tell us in the comments section!