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Nintendo Introduces the Virtual Console Arcade

The new SD Card Menu

Nintendo unveiled a critical Wii firmware update during Satoru Iwata's keynote speech yesterday at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Users can now save games downloaded from the Wii Shop Channel on affordable SD flash cards, rather than having to rely on the Wii's cramped 512MB internal storage.

Why does this matter to Retro gamers? Because it allows Nintendo to dramatically expand the Wii Shop Channel back catalog. To celebrate, the company introduced the Virtual Console Arcade. For $5 or $6, you'll be able to download classic arcade titles such as Gaplus (Galaga 3), Mappy, Tower of Druaga, Space Harrier, Solvalou and Star Force. Namco Bandai has plans for over two dozen more titles in 2009.

Games can be launched directly from the card, but the Wii first has to transfer the game data from the SD card into the system's internal memory, meaning you'll still need sufficient free space in the machine. The process adds under 20 seconds to a game's load time, but that's a small price to pay for adding as much as 32 GB of SDHD storage to your little white pixel box.

Update: I just installed the new firmware and downloaded Gaplus onto an SD card. There's a short delay when starting the game, but nothing major. The game itself seems to be an emulated version of the original arcade experience. Players are required to "buy credits" before playing. While authentic, this seems like a needless extra step. The vertically oriented playfield is presented in pillarbox format, wasting a lot of screen real estate on a 16:9 set. Virtual Console Arcade titles support the Wii Remote, Classic Controller and GameCube controller.

Virtual Console Arcade announcement trailer [Joystiq]

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