17 games you need to buy on Wii Virtual Console before it's too late

Time is running out to get your affairs in order. Go!

Nintendo has finally shed light on its end-of-life plans for the Wii's eShop. Perhaps surprisingly, they've given fans a heads-up of about more than a year; as noted on Twitter by Kyle McLain, the Wii Shop Channel will ride into the sunset on January 31, 2019.

For Retronauts regulars, of course, this means an end to the long life of Wii Virtual Console, with which the podcast has always had a rocky relationship. We went from bullish at first, when Nintendo jammed dozens of great games into the pipeline in rapid order; to resentful, as the flow of games trickled to a handful of frequently middling titles after a few months; to hopeful, as rarities and imports appear; to wistful, as the 3DS and Wii U Virtual Console never came close to matching the scope and variety of their Wii predecessor.

Wii Virtual Console continues to offer a lot of great games you can't easily or cheaply play any other way. You can move Wii VC software over to Wii U to play if you want to use these games with native HD output. Even better, if you still keep an analog TV set on hand or use an upscaler such as an XRGB Framemeister, the original Wii outputs most of its games in native 240p resolution. They look and sound pretty great, and for expensive obscurities like Rondo of Blood and Ufouria, there's still no better way to play them than on the original Wii VC.

Of course, a lot of games on Wii VC have appeared in other formats. The Wii U VC, for all its shortcomings, did a much better job of getting Nintendo 64 games into circulation. And while Wii was the only console to offer Neo•Geo Virtual Console games, most of those titles (and then some) have shown up on Switch and/or PlayStation 4 via Arcade Archives, offering a much greater variety of display and online features than on Virtual Console.

So, I've put together a list of 17 essential classics you need to grab on Wii Virtual Console while you still can. In nearly every case, there's no easy way to play these games on current consoles. Meanwhile, you can snag them on Wii for reasonable prices ranging from $5-12 apiece — a steal for games that otherwise would cost $200-300. Save up about $120, load up your Wii shop balance (and soon — you won't be able to buy Wii points after March 2018), and squirrel away these vanishing classics for the future.

As usual, we hope you'll let us know what we've overlooked in the comments section.

Super NES | Quintet/Square Enix

A brilliant hybrid of god sim and Castlevania-esque platformer, there's never been another game quite like ActRaiser… not even its sequel, which dropped the sim parts. 

Chrono Trigger
Super NES | Square Enix

An all-time classic RPG, this was conspicuous in its absence on Super NES Classic Edition. You can still find inexpensive copies of the DS remake to play on 3DS, but if you want to play on a television, this is going to be your only reasonably priced option.

Edit: You can also buy Chrono Trigger on iOS and as a PSN PlayStation classic, but those versions are terrible. The Virtual Console release is not.

DoReMi Fantasy
Super NES | Hudson/Konami

The sequel to Milon's Secret Castle, this platformer is far less obtuse than its NES predecessor. Wii VC gave DoReMi Fantasy its only official U.S. release, so while it's not a timeless work of art, it's interesting and scarce.

Dracula X: Rondo of Blood
Turbo CD | Konami

You can buy Dracula X on other VC services, but that's the Super NES semi-sequel to this classic. In order to play the original Dracula X, which features some of the greatest Castlevania action ever committed to binary code, you either need to get it here or unlock it on PSP's Dracula X Chronicles. This version looks and plays better. Get it before it vanishes. It's one of the all-time greats, and you need to own it.

The Dynastic Hero
Turbo CD | Hudson/Konami

This is also known as Monster World III, making it the sequel to The Dragon's Trap (which you may have played on Switch or PS4 recently). The Turbo CD version is incredibly scarce and expensive in its original form, so I recommend this release simply for the novelty of owning the priciest version of Wonder Boy III for cheap.

Gain Ground
Genesis | SEGA

You'll hear more about this one on next week's podcast, but suffice to say it's one of SEGA's most inventive and underappreciated creations ever (which is saying something). It looks like a Gauntlet clone but plays more like a prototype for the MOBA/tower defense genre. The Genesis version doesn't hold up quite as well as the arcade original, but it's still an essential purchase

Last Blade 2
Neo•Geo | SNK

Honestly, this game seems absolutely certain to hit Arcade Archives on Switch. It hasn't shown up there yet, though, so for now this is the best way to enjoy some top-of-class animation, artwork, music, and fighting gameplay.

Edit: This game also appears as a cross-play title for PlayStation 4 and Vita, meaning it's almost definitely going to hit Switch eventually.

Monster World IV
Genesis | SEGA

The only other way to easily play this incredible import-only Genesis platformer is through Xbox One backward compatibility. However you prefer to get your sweaty little hands on it, do it. It's a charming game with wonderful visuals and a great feel to its action.

Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen
Super NES | Quest/Square Enix

For some reason, Wii U VC gave us the N64 sequel to this game but not the original Super NES masterpiece. If you dig Final Fantasy Tactics, this strategy title offers a very different take on strategy role-playing — but coming from the same folks responsible for Tactics, it has engrossing design, enigmatic rules, and an involving story.

Phantasy Star
Master System | SEGA

This SEGA RPG released in Japan on the same day as Final Fantasy and shows a fascinating alternative to the format we think of as the "JRPG" these days. With an overt sci-fi/swords-and-sorcery world, anime stylings, and dungeon-diving combat hearkening more to Wizardry and other classic CRPGs, it's still an enjoyable take on the genre.

Phantasy Star IV
Genesis | SEGA

The ultimate expression of the Phantasy Star concept before it became an MMO, Phantasy Star IV came into the world with a high price tag that's only grown over time. With awesome manga-style story sequences and the best game design and balancing in the Phantasy Star series, it's an essential work.

Princess Tomato in Salad Kingdom
NES | Hudson/Konami

A weird point-and-click graphical adventure that has recently gone from total obscurity to cult favorite, the cartridge's price has skyrocketed. Sadly, it's only made its way to the original Wii VC, so this remains by far the most reasonable way to play it legitimately.

Genesis | Game Freak

Another import-only title, this fast and fluid Genesis platformer hails from the same developer behind Pokémon. It's the basis of their secret love of action game, as seen in Drill Dozer and the recent Giga Wrecker.

Super Air Zonk: Rockabilly Paradise
Turbo CD | Hudson/Konami

Possibly the most unusual offshoot of the Bonk games, and definitely one of the most entertaining. Super Air Zonk appeared on Turbo CD in vanishingly tiny numbers, and its only retroactive release has been the Wii VC edition. You can buy the original Air Zonk on Wii U VC, but its supercharged sequel is trapped on Wii.

Ufouria: The Saga
NES | SunSoft

Yeah, it's another import game. Ufouria was one of the high-water marks for the NES, developed by the good people at SunSoft once they'd mastered the ins and outs of the hardware. With multi-character free-roaming action and a soundtrack that'll make your ears die from happiness, you absolutely need to buy this rare, expensive import on VC while you still can.

Arcade | SEGA

Programmed by the same developers who helped Nintendo with Donkey Kong, Zaxxon was an early attempt to create a 3D shoot-em-up. Its isometric visuals and inverted-yoke controls takes some getting used to, but it's a worthwhile slice of video game history… and quite fun, at that.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors
Super NES | LucasArts

Finally, there's this kooky little outlier from a studio best known for its point-and-click adventures and Star Wars shooters. Zombies Ate My Neighbors offers top-down cooperative action in a hellish suburbia, and it's still loads of fun.

Images courtesy of VG Museum