One mans review of the Virtual Console:
I bought 1000 points and spent 800 of them on SimCity, the charming SNES port of Will Wright's classic city-building simulation. I started the game, and just as jiji said, it was in true low-res (aka 240p)! If you're not a tech geek, that means... well, it's hard to explain succinctly. Suffice it to say that, assuming you're on a regular TV (not HD), the game looks 100% exactly like it would on a real SNES. Perhaps better, if you're using the Component cable and haven't seen a real SNES output RGB. This is an achievement that very few recent commercially emulated games can claim. Most developers choose to present old, low-res games in 480i, a high-res interlaced graphics mode which makes the images appear swimmy, blurry, and sometimes blocky. Basically, 480i sucks for old games. This is not dissimilar to presenting a classic movie in the wrong aspect ratio. An essential, if often overlooked, quality of the original presentation is lost.
Speaking of aspect ratio, there have been complaints that Virtual Console games appear stretched on widescreen-configured sets. This is true. However, this is a necessary consequence of preserving the original low resolution. The low-res graphics mode used by old games is typically 320x240 or lower. SNES is actually a measly 256x224 (aspect ratio 8:7), but we'll talk about 320x240 (4:3, just like an old TV) for simplicity's sake. These low-res modes have a distinctive appearance due to the SD CRT-exclusive phenomenon of scanlines. You see them as dark bands that run across every other line of the screen. They're an artifact of how non-HD CRTs used to work, and the graphics of most old console games were designed with them in mind. They help soften sharp edges and reduce pixelation. That's why losing them, as happens on a sloppy retropack or on an HD set, makes a low-res game's graphics look the worse for wear.
Anyway, 320x240 has a 4:3 aspect ratio. It's not widescreen (obviously) and it would be impossible to give a 320x240 game a widescreen presentation on a 320x240 screen without doing something stupid like scaling down the game's graphics (which is ugggggggly and worse than interlacing) to make room for borders. Classic games use the entire 4:3 screen, leaving no room for letterboxing or other types of widescreen effects. There's nothing that can change that without increasing the screen resolution beyond 320x240 and losing the original look of the game. For 100% accurate image quality you want one pixel on the screen for every pixel in the game. No more, no less. Adding pixels (scaling up from 320x240) or subtracting pixels (scaling down from 320x240) hurts the image quality in different ways.
(If you're playing on an HD set, you can't ever get a 100% accurate SD image, since the HDTV's line doubler automatically kills the scanlines. HDTVs don't like anything less than 480p. They're dumb that way.)
A valid workaround for both the aspect ratio and scanline concerns would be for VC titles to support Wii's sole progressive (HD) screen mode, 480p. The 16:9 852x480 resolution* would allow for widescreen presentation with the 4:3(ish) game centered in the middle of the screen. The game would appear small, however. A 2x resolution doubling (a simple line doubling, basically) would fix that without introducing scaling artifacts, and would in fact give the emulation software room to insert virtual scanlines on every other horizontal row. Depending on how well-done the fake scanline effect was, the end result could look very similar to the original, low-res game image. This would be A-OK with me as long as they left in the original low-res, native 4:3 option for those who want the 100% authentic, true SDTV look.
*Oops! Look what happens when I assume... GAF's collective wisdom sez that the Wii's widescreen is not 852x480 but a mere 640x480 stretched to 16:9. That throws a big old wrench in the VC widescreen suggestion above. Maybe there is no really good workaround to get a good 240p-like picture in progressive widescreen.
Everything else about SimCity appears to be similarly spot-on. It controls fine with a Wavebird. It's been almost 15 years since I last played my friend's copy, so my recollection of the music is sketchy. It sounds good to me though. I would need to play a SNES game I'm more familiar with to really judge the sound's accuracy. As for the gameplay, it's both slower and simpler than I recalled, though this is surely just my perception. I found myself building my stuff quickly and then waiting impatiently at the fastest game speed for the year to end so I'd get precious tax revenue to fund further building. I remember being a lot more... engrossed before. Busy. In any case, SNES SimCity is a very cool, well-done port of a classic game and I'm glad to be able to play it again.
What's most surprising to me is that, picky retro enthusiast that I am, I don't really mind owning the game in the Wii VC format. That's solely because Nintendo seems to have done a stellar job of getting the presentation SNES-perfect, or so close to it that I can't tell the difference yet. SimCity VC seems just as good as the original SNES cart; better if you consider the dead battery factor. (VC also lets you make a quicksave which is erased when you resume.) It's even got a decent online manual. Unless you want to own physical versions of everything (which is a valid viewpoint) the VC game is extremely compelling.
This is absolutely fantastic news for old games and the folks who love them. One of the industry's ongoing challenges is figuring out how to keep old classics in circulation (ala classic movies) while making good money in the process. Ham-fisted emulation usually leads to versions inferior to the originals, but if every VC-supported system's emulation is as flawless as VC's virtual SNES is, Nintendo will have gone a long way toward not only preserving the classics as they were meant to be experienced by the original creators, but making a lot of bank while doing so. They didn't have to do such a stellar job with the presentation, as most gamers aren't aware of these issues. That they did anyway is really encouraging to me and makes me feel slightly less like a ranting madman. Clearly, some folks at Nintendo share these concerns. I have my fingers crossed that every VC emulation engine will be similarly impressive. NES and SNES are both confirmed good; that's a big fun chunk of history right there. Great, great news.
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That was a well written article. I recently borrowed my friends copy of the snes classic Contra III for my GBA. man I used to rock at that game. Now it just seems so so hard now, one bullet and ur dead!
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