Wii Virtual Console Bargains
26 September 2011
Updated 3 October 2011

After ripping on the Wii Virtual Console for its mediocrity, this time we're going to look at one of the big advantages of the service: you can download numerous titles that are quite rare, valuable, and fun to play for bargain prices.

What do I mean by bargain price? It means that a copy of the original game (not to mention the hardware to play it) would set you back a pretty penny, yet the cost for a digital copy on the Wii VC is comparatively inexpensive. BIGTIME. Although physical games have numerous advantages (i.e. you can trade them, they can appreciate, they include manuals, etc.) over virtual ones, in the examples below the disadvantages of digital games are compensated for by low download prices.

Let's break this down console by console. If your number one goal with VC downloads is to get the most bang for your buck, you definitely want to start with SNK's Neo Geo. Not only is it a powerhouse of a machine, but the rarity of original cartridges has caused the prices of many games to skyrocket over time.

(Incidentally, the price estimates below are based on the video game price guide, neo-geo.com, and—when all else fails—eBay. Prices vary quite substantially over time, so they are ballpark figures that at least demonstrate the relative cheapness of VC prices.)

$1725 — Neo Turf Masters (aka Big Tournament Golf)
$540 — Magical Drop III
$300 — Metal Slug
$150 — Top Hunter: Roddy & Cathy
$115 — King of Fighters '94
$110 — Ninja Commando
$103 — Baseball Stars 2
$80 — Spinmaster (aka Miracle Adventure)
$250 — Ironclad (aka Chotetsu Brikin'ger)

Most of these titles are lesser known, rare ones, that happen to have great gameplay and haven't been released elsewhere as downloads or parts of a compilation. Magical Drop III has Japan ports for Sega Saturn, and PS1, but the only previous US and European release was Magical Drop (a port of III, despite the absence of the numeral in the title) for the Game Boy Advance. In other words, if you want to easily play Magical Drop III on the big screen at home somewhere outside of Japan, the Virtual Console is your best bet.

In terms of pure gameplay, Metal Slug is a more important acquisition, since it's one of the best run 'n gun games ever created. You'd think this title would already be more accessible elsewhere; it was ported to the Saturn and PS1, but only in Japan. The Metal Slug Anthology did hit the Wii, but the controls insist that you waggle the WiiMote in order to chuck bombs, which kind of thwarts the very precision that is essential to succeed against the barrages of enemies. That leaves the PSP and PS2 as ways to play the Anthology. The former is limited by its small screen (although I do recommend exploring the ability to output PSP video to TVs), and the PS2 is—well—the best non-VC way to play this phenomenal run 'n gun. No doubt, the VC version of Metal Slug is still great, but keep this in mind if you already own a PS2 or a backwards-compatible PS3.

The King of Fighters '94 also deserves a caveat. While it's a great fighting game, outside of Japan we're still stuck waiting for the later, superior installments of this franchise to arrive on the VC. There are also some excellent compilations already available, that include KOF '94, such as The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga (covering KOF '94, '95, '96, '97, and '98) for PS2, PSP, and Wii. So if you're a KOF fan, you should definitely grab the whole collection rather than fork out the Wii points for the very first installment of the franchise.

Neo Geo bargains come to a close with Ironclad, which is actually a CD-ROM title. This is a gorgeous shoot 'em up includes branching paths and gigantic bosses. While there is some slowdown when the gameplay gets too intense, that doesn't stop this from being a must-own VC shoot 'em up. Note that this was one of the few Neo Geo games that only saw a release in CD format, and it's extremely rare. Being able to download it on the Wii is a steal.

The next obvious console to examine in your quest for VC download bargains is the TurboGrafx-16 (aka PC-Engine). This impressive console was massively successful in Japan but failed to take root elsewhere, hardly making a dent in the North American market. The limited print runs in the United States make titles particularly expensive today.

$150 — The Dynastic Hero
$100 — Castlevania: Rondo of Blood
$110 — Soldier Blade
$98 — Bomberman '93
$73 — Neutopia II
$65 — Legend of Hero Tonma

As with the Neo Geo, where Ironclad was the obvious winner, again there's clearly one must download title above: Dracula X: Rondo of Blood. Think Castlevania: Symphony of Night is fantastic? Find out where Konami started to develop that incredible Metroidvania template with Rondo of Blood. Keep in mind, though, that it's unlockable (along with Symphony of the Night!) onCastlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, so if you have a PSP that's an even better deal than downloading just Rondo.

Next up, you have to get Soldier Blade, easily one of the best shoot 'em ups on a console that to this date provided a nigh-unmatchable amount of incredible games in that genre. The other Soldier titles (Super Star Soldier, and Final Soldier) are also quite good, but Soldier Blade gets the nod in priority, thanks to its the amazing graphics and crisp gameplay.

All of the other TurboGrafx-16 titles are also very good, but they are more easily dismissible. The Dynastic Hero is a souped up (complete with red book audio) and rebranded Wonder Boy in Monster Land (known in Japan as Wonder Boy V: Monster World III). You'll find a fantastic title—especially multiplayer battles—in Bomberman '93, but it's hard to argue why you should bother with it when the Japanese import Bomberman '94 is also available on the VC. Neutopia II looks great and even allows your hero to move diagonally, but it can be painful to see how much gameplay it blatantly copied from The Legend of Zelda. Finally, there's The Legend of Hero Tonma with it's gorgeous colors and fast-paced action, yet you could justifiably call it Ghouls 'N Ghosts lite in terms of challenge.

Now let's turn our focus to a console that uses a true 16-bit processor. In general, picking up original Sega Genesis (aka Mega Drive) titles tends to be very affordable, largely thanks to their durable plastic cases that make it easy to protect original games and retain their manuals (unlike NES and SNES titles, with their flimsy cardboard cases). Import titles tell another story, though, and that's where you'll find the best bargains for VC downloads.

$100 — Gley Lancer
$80 — Pulseman
$50 — Alien Soldier

Can't really pick any favorites among these three—from a cult shoot 'em up (Gley Lancer) to a Sonic-like platformer created by the makers of Pokémon (Pulseman) to an excellent run 'n gun by the wonderous development crew appropriatly known as Treasure (Alien Soldier). Three is the magic number, and all of these games are—well—magical.

It seems only logical to follow up with the great rival in the 16-bit wars, the Super Nintendo. While there are fewer import titles to highlight, it's interesting to note that even some of the popular U.S. games have ended up becoming quite valuable.

$62 — Harvest Moon
$50 — Do Re Mi Fantasy
$65 — Wild Guns
$65 — Ogre Battle

The two top picks here are Ogre Battle (near-infinite gameplay, and it didn't crack the Top 10 Tactical RPG list without good reason) and DoReMi Fantasy (Hudson Soft's adorable platformer that you have to try if you're even remotely a Mario fan). Wild Guns is a good run 'n gun, although the gameplay would benefit from some additional depth. Rounding out this bunch is Harvest Moon, a groundbreaker in terms of RPG meets simulation, but more recent iterations of the title are readily available on other platforms, like the PS1 and GameCube.

Now let's turn our attention to Nintendo's very first console. Naked NES carts are rather affordable; it's only when you demand complete packages with the box and manual that prices usually start to go crazy. Even so, there's one game that stands out as a bargain, a gem of an import that was developed by a little company called Konami—maybe you've heard of them before?

$50 — Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa

Beating enemies with a baby rattle has never been so satisfying! Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa remains one of the best lesser known platformers on the NES. Fortunately, it's getting more of the attention it deserves, thanks to its availability on the VC.

The games covered in this feature focus on only the very best bargains found on the VC. Ultimately, bargains depend on value, and there's no denying that many physical cartidges that are not super valuable today (i.e. Super Mario Bros. 3) do provide you with fantastic gameplay that has aged with marked grace, making them very valuable downloads (i.e. you'll find a much larger list of recommendations under the Wii system selector). Hopefully, however, this feature has provided you with some ideas on how to most efficiently harness the virtual console to play great games, while at the same time stretching your money as far as possible.