Nintendo's online service for the Wii went online over the weekend, and we finally got a look at the Virtual Console. Unfortunately, that was all we could get a look at; the news, weather, and Opera-powered Web browser channels won't be online until at least December 20.
Shopping for old-school games with the Virtual Console is easy. If your Wii is online, just go to the Wii Shop channel and browse. These games cost Wii Points, which can be purchased in card form at stores such as Electronics Boutique, or with a credit card directly through the Wii Shop. Regardless of how you get your points, you'll need to enter them into your account through the Wii Shop. If you got a Wii Points card, you can redeem it by entering a code through your Wii. If you want to buy the points directly online, you have to enter your credit card information with the Wiimote through the Wii's software keyboard.
Once you have your points, you can start shopping. Go into the Wii Shop and select Virtual Console, then browse through the various games available. Each game has a title screenshot and a short description so that you can learn a bit before you decide to buy. When you're ready, just click Download, and you can confirm the purchase. The Wii will tell you exactly how much space you'll have left on the Wii and how many Wii Points you'll have left in your account after the download. After you confirm the purchase, the Wii begins downloading your chosen game automatically. The progress of the download is shown by a cute animation of the 8-bit Super Mario Bros. Mario chasing coins and hitting blocks. The downloads can take less than a minute for NES games, or up to 10 minutes for Nintendo 64 games. Once the game is finally downloaded, the program will boot you back to the Wii Shop's main menu.
Downloaded Virtual Console games appear as individual channels in the Wii's main menu, and playing those games is as simple as selecting their channel and pressing start. The VC emulator loads the game, and your retro fun begins.
VC games are essentially perfect emulations of their original versions, which is both good and bad for gamers. Classic purists will be thrilled at the genuine old-school gameplay experience, but more casual players hoping for the enhanced graphics or online play found in some XBLA retro games will be disappointed. For extra old-school experience, the Wiimote itself can be turned sideways and handled like a conventional controller for NES and Turbographix-16 games. For SNES, Genesis, and N64 games, however, you'll need either an old GameCube controller plugged into one of the system's GC ports or the Wii Virtual Console controller plugged into your Wiimote.
Wide-screen users will notice the one fatal flaw of the Virtual Console: old-school games have no wide-screen support. If you play on a wide-screen TV, your retro game will be stretched noticeably. Though a firmware update may be in the system's future, the only way to fix this issue currently is to set your television to a 4:3 aspect ratio for Virtual Console games and set it back to wide-screen for regular games.