Essentially, the Virtual Console was console game emulation made legal and had the backing from every major console manufacturer there ever was besides Atari, Sony, Microsoft, and some assorted failed consoles that Nintendo doesn't want to bother with. It was successful enough that it led to WiiWare once Nintendo decided to offer original downloadable software for the Wii.
One really cool benefit was the arrival of games not available in other regions, such as Sin and Punishment and Pulseman, the former of which got a sequel because it sold so well on this service, in all the regions.
The Virtual Console brand was effectively retired on the Nintendo Switch onwards, with mini-consoles such as the NES Classic and SNES Classic, the "Nintendo Classics" service that is part of the Switch's paid online service, and unbranded emulated releases on the Switch such as Nintendo's "Arcade Archives" line and Capcom's Mega Man and Street Fighter compilation rereleases ultimately replacing it. However, the Wii U Virtual Console is still fully accessible, while users could still re-download games from the Wii's Virtual Console until 2019. As of January 30th, 2019, the Wii's Virtual Console has ceased to operate, taking any games that weren't available on the other Virtual Consoles with it.
The games on the service for the Wii came from these systems:
- Nintendo Entertainment System
- Super Nintendo Entertainment System
- Nintendo 64
- Sega Master System
- Sega Genesis (excluding Sega CD and Sega 32X)
- TurboGrafx-16 (including CD-ROM-based games such as Ys I & II and The Dynastic Hero)
- Neo Geo
- MSX in Japan
- Commodore 64 in North America & Europe (delisted)
- Arcade Games via Virtual Console Arcade
The games on the service for the Nintendo 3DS came from these systems:
- Game Boy
- Game Boy Color
- Game Boy Advance note
- Sega Game Gear note
- Nintendo Entertainment System note
- Super Nintendo Entertainment System note
- TurboGrafx-16 (released in Japan on not just the 3DS but on the Wii U as well) note
- 3D Classics note
The Wii U is backwards compatible with Wii Virtual Console titles via operating in Wii mode. It also has its own Virtual Console which supports Off TV Play and posting on Miiverse. Prior to launch, Nintendo released a handful of NES and SNES games at a reduced price as part of a trial campaign over the course of six months and announced that owners of Wii VC titles would be able to upgrade to the Wii U version for a small price.
The games on the service for the Wii U came from these systems:
- Nintendo Entertainment System
- Super Nintendo Entertainment System
- Nintendo 64
- Game Boy Advance
- Nintendo DS
- MSX (in Japan)
The Virtual Console service shows examples of...
- Copy Protection: The Wii, as well as the Wii U's Wii mode, will deny any games on an SD Card that weren't installed on the system's own Wii Shop Channel. This does create problems when trying to transfer the data to a larger-capacity SD card, however.
- Damn You, Muscle Memory!: The Wii U Virtual Console is notorious for the input lag that its games suffer from, especially with N64 games; while not all-that noticeable to a newcomer, people who've played the games on their original systems note that this split-second delay tends to mess up their performance every so often, particularly during moments that require good precision. This video provides a good example of the issue, comparing the Virtual Console port of Super Mario 64 to the N64 original. Given how the issue is present on the Wii U Virtual Console but not on the 3DS or Wii one, people have theorized that the issue stems from the Wii U using a wireless controller and streaming video output to two screens at once.
- Digital Destruction: Virtual Console games tend to be unusually dark, and Wii U re-releases of NES games also seem noticeably blurry due to the permanent anti-aliasing effect. Additionally, the audio sounds somewhat muffled compared to both the original versions and third party emulations. Supposedly, all of this is to mimic the effect of playing the games on a CRT monitor, but it just ends up looking and sounding muted. All of these problems are remedied on the NES Classic Edition, however, complete with a more authentic "CRT mode"
- Easter Egg
- Any Game Boy or Game Boy Color game on the 3DS has a hidden letterbox. Hold down Start and/or Select while starting the game from the home menu, and the game will be shrunk down to its original resolution, with a border that resembles the game's original console to fill up the empty space. The game screen "sinks" into the border when the 3D slider is turned up. The battery light even dims when the battery reaches 25%.
- The Game Boy library has a feature to switch from the black and white palette to the pea-green palette on the original Game Boy. To do this hold L and R and then press Y. NES and SNES games on 3DS that use the second controller use this combination to switch between the two controller inputs, with SNES games using the extra ZL and ZR buttons on the New 3DS rather than L and R.
- Late Export for You: Often, a game that didn't initially release in a nation will come late through this service.
- Mythology Gag:
- The trailer for the Donkey Kong Country games is a direct homage to the first game's original commercial.
- StarTropics has Uncle Steve's letter in the Operation's Guide. Not only is it word-for-word from the original release, but there's also a picture of piece of paper over a bucket of water. Touching it reveals the password for level 4, which digitally simulates how you got it in the original release.
- Old Save Bonus
- If the user has a Virtual Console game on the Wii U's Wii Mode that's available on the Wii U library, the player will get a discount for it.
- Knuckles in Sonic 2, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, and Blue Sphere can all be accessed like the original games by pressing the minus/select button at any time and then choosing which game to lock-on.
- Updated Re-release: A well-known feature of Virtual Console games is that some of them have modifications to do something as simple as fixing a bug or adding a completely new feature.
- A general one: Every game that has flashing or excessively bright lights (e.g. the Donkey Kong Country trilogy games) at some point has the lights slowed down, dimmed or removed completely. This is to prevent seizures.
- A small number of Japanese import games such as Sin and Punishment and Monster World IV have received English translations for their international releases.
- Pokémon Snap can send photos to the Wii Message Board from the gallery by pressing select. For whatever reason, it can only be done once per day. This is to simulate the Snap stations that were available during the game's release.
- Tecmo Bowl replaces all the names of the players with just their numbers, due to Electronic Arts' exclusive NFLPA video game license.
- Wave Race 64 replaces all the Kawasaki Product Placement with Wii and Nintendo DS advertisements, even though those systems didn't exist when the game was released, mainly due to Nintendo's license with Kawasaki having expired. The Wii U version puts the original Product Placement back in.
- On top of carrying over every Lawyer-Friendly Cameo removal from cartridge revision 1.03, The Revenge of Shinobi adds one more: Spider-Man is now depicted with a completely pink Palette Swap, due to Activision holding the rights at the time. He still retains his Spider Man-related boss patterns though. The title screen is also redrawn such that Joe Musashi looks less like Sonny Chiba.
- Phantasy Star IV fixes the infamous Level 99 glitch.
- Most Pokémon games that feature Jynx change its face from black to purple, to match its modern design.
- Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow and Pokémon Gold, Silver and Crystal support trading and battling over 3DS' wireless connection and Gold, Silver and Crystal additionally support Mystery Gift via infrared (as on the Game Boy Color), and Pokémon caught in these games can be sent to Pokémon Bank via Poké Transporter and later to Pokémon Sun and Moon and Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. Yellow also has the "Pikachu's Beach" Mini-Game unlocked by default, instead of through having Pikachu know Surf.
- The Mega Man Battle Network series games that included multiplayer have been modified to grant the player the Socialization Bonus chips from the beginning of the game, as they would otherwise be unobtainable because of the inability of GBA games on Wii U to use multiplayer.
- Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 has all 38 e-Reader levels unlocked by default.
- StarTropics includes the password for level 4 in the Operations Guide. It even shows a piece of paper being submerged in a bucket of water.
- Excitebike, Mach Rider, and Wrecking Crew add the ability to save custom levels.
- Castlevania: Rondo of Blood replaces the intro dialogue voiceover with the one found in the embedded Rondo of Blood port included in the game's PSP remake Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles.
- Puyo Puyo adds online play... in Japan.
- All three Donkey Kong Country games have less Interface Screw on snow levels.
- Duck Hunt, Hogan's Alley and Wild Gunman add crosshairs for better aim, though this can be turned off so that it only appears when the player shoots.
- Animal Crossing: Wild World removes the Socialization Bonus requirement for unlocking Nookington's.
- Super Smash Bros. 64 changes the GameCube controller mappings to match that of the later installments.
- Metroid 1 somewhat fixes the infamous "ENGAGE RIDLEY MOTHER FUCKER" password. Entering the password now intentionally crashes the game back to the Home Menu. While it's obviously just a safety precaution, it still references the damage the password can do on actual hardware.
- Various Master System titles that used the Japan-only FM Sound Unit add-on have their FM audio accessible for all regions by pressing Minus/Select at any time. Phantasy Star I is the exception.
- The Genesis version of Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers adds online play.
- Super Mario Bros. Deluxe changes a few of the fortune teller cards to coincide with the lack of multiplayer.