Looking forward to the Wii U's incoming Virtual Console update? No need to wait -- despite the service's post-spring update launch announcement, Nintendo is already rolling out fully functional (and Wii U enhanced) Virtual Console games to the eShop. It's part of the Famicom's 30th anniversary celebration, and gives gamers a chance to sample a handful of Nintendo's best at a hefty discount -- only 30 cents a pop. We tossed a few dimes toward a copy of Balloon Fight to give the upcoming service a quick look.
Like all Wii U downloadables, Virtual Console games take up residence on the system menu, flaunting a thumbnail of the game's title screen underlined with a Virtual Console banner. While loading, players are treated to a preview of the game's vitals -- year released, originating console and number of players supported. Easy enough for Balloon Fight: 1986, the Nintendo Entertainment System and two. Within 15 seconds (we're looking forward to that speed update, Nintendo) the game's title screen is mirrored across the gamepad and TV. This is the basic, pure experience -- press start, twiddle the thumbsticks and play the game.
Tapping the gamepad's screen or pressing the ZR button brings up the Virtual Console menu, laying bare the Wii U enhanced features Iwata told us about: restore points and controller settings. 3DS owners should be familiar with the former -- restore points allow you to save your game at any moment and restore it without penalty. Little has changed in the feature's jump to the home console, and usage is straightforward -- just tap the onscreen buttons to save or restore. The Controller settings menu, on the other hand, is new, allowing users to remap the game's controls to their liking. The menu's capabilities are limited, however -- analog sticks and the d-pads won't tolerate reassignment. As promised, playing on the Wii U gamepad is an option, but it isn't necessary. Traditional Wii remotes work just fine (for both single and multiplayer), and the tablet-controller's screen can be disabled through the regular Wii U menu. Miiverse is supported too, of course, dropping users into a Balloon Fight community when launched from the game.
The Wii U Virtual Console's official launch may still be a few months off, but based on the first game in the Famicom 30th Anniversary Virtual Console trial campaign, it's shaping up to be a strong evolution of its predecessor. Controller mapping allows users to manually sidestep control issues -- something select games suffered from on the Wii VC when paired with a Gamecube controller. Save states have been a boon to 3DS owners not accustomed to the challenges of classic Nintendo games, and is a welcome addition to the full-sized Virtual Console setup -- after all, how else are we supposed to get a decent score in Balloon Trip mode?