3DS games playable on Wii U: why Nintendo could but won’t

Nintendo is one of the few gaming companies, if not the only one, with the unique position of a successful console and handheld gaming strategy. Sure, their home console, Wii U, isn’t as successful as its predecessor, and 3DS sales aren’t quite up to par with the DS, though 50 million units is nothing to complain about.

With both pieces of hardware, Nintendo is in an equally unique position to be able to support cross-play functionality; that is, the same game could theoretically be played on both platforms.

So the question must be asked: with the recent release of Ocarina of Time for the Wii U (via the Virtual Console), why doesn’t Nintendo just make the 3DS version of the game playable on the home console? And, of course, why not extend that mantra to all of their 3DS games?

Nintendo could absolutely support 3DS games on Wii U. They’ve got the Virtual Console infrastructure in place, as well as the eShop, and we can’t imagine the underlying architectures for the games are all that different. There’s even a physical similarity between the two consoles: dual screens; the GamePad could easily function as the 3DS’ lower touchscreen.

pilotwingsresort03And while we’re in the realm of theoretical gaming possibility here, anyone with a 3D-enabled TV could potentially even have a 3D upper screen, provided that the Wii U has the capability to pump out 3D visuals. (It does.)

From a business standpoint alone, we know that Nintendo is one of the few hardware manufacturers to sell their hardware for a profit. Often, especially early in a console’s life cycle, hardware manufacturers sacrifice profits in order to sell more units. Nintendo actually makes quite a bit of bank on their hardware; around the 3DS launch, estimates put the cost of the hardware around $100. Nintendo’s sticker price was a penny under $250.

That’s a pretty stellar profit margin, so why would Nintendo cannibalize its hardware sales by offering its portable games on a home console?

But alas, there are more than business reasons not to do it. From a visuals standpoint, 3DS games played on a large flatscreen would look pretty horrendous. Gameplay video becomes grainy and pixelated when Nintendo sells its game with a trailer. Picture those very pixels blown up on a 40″ or 60″ television. Yuck.

It may be fun to one day have access to our entire library of 3DS games on the Wii U. Perhaps if we didn’t live in such a digital age, Nintendo could just pop a 3DS cartridge slot on the front of their console like the Super Game Boy and Game Boy Player days. We don’t see that happening if simply for the fact that we do live in a digital age now, one in which everything can be downloaded at the click of a button or the wave of a Wii Remote.

But never say never; Nintendo has done some crazier things in the past.