Welcome to Exp. Share, Kotaku’s Pokémon column in which we dive deep to explore notable characters, urban legends, communities, and just plain weird quirks from throughout the Pokémon franchise. This week, we’re taking a look at the upcoming 3DS and Wii U eShop shutdowns and the effect they will have on the series.
The 3DS and Wii U eShops are two weeks away from shutting down on March 27 and taking digital access to the system’s library with them in the process. From a preservation standpoint, this is already a travesty, but for the Pokémon series, this is going to have a particularly devastating effect on the access and functionality of the entire franchise.
Keep in mind, before we were playing games like Pokémon Scarlet and Violet or Sword and Shield on the Switch, Pokémon was primarily a handheld series. Sure, the series had some console spin-offs like Pokémon Stadium and Pokémon Snap, but by and large, these pocket monsters have always been able to fit, well, in your pocket. Now, the 3DS’ digital storefront is shutting down, and it’s taking away a sizable chunk of the currently available Pokémon games. As it turns out, Nintendo’s lack of care for preserving its games has already done a number on the franchise before this.
Phil Salvador, the Library Director at the Video Game History Foundation, laid it all out plainly in a graphic on Twitter. The chart illustrates that by the time the 3DS and Wii U shut down later this month, only about 26 percent of the Pokémon video games released in America will be readily available to purchase.
Even before the 3DS and Wii U shops go away, swaths of Pokémon history are already difficult to legally access. A whopping 41 percent of Pokémon games are already available through physical copies only, as Nintendo has yet to add games for the Game Boy Advance or original DS RPGs on any digital storefront. This ranges from mainline games like Ruby and Sapphire to spin-offs like the strategy RPG Pokémon Conquest. With the eShop shutdown, 3DS games like Sun and Moon will only be available through physical copies, which will inevitably become expensive collectors’ items that get sold for obscene amounts on places like eBay.
On top of losing native 3DS games, The Pokémon Company ported the first two generations of Pokémon games to the system through the Virtual Console, which was a rare example of Nintendo trying to keep old games accessible by legitimate means. These titles were also compatible with Pokémon Bank, which meant players could transfer their Pokémon from these games to modern entries. Now, there will be no way to play the original Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow through Nintendo’s storefronts, and physical cartridges of these games have long succumbed to the dying internal batteries, making some features like Gold and Silver’s day and night cycle obsolete, or in worse cases, making it impossible to save your progress. I still have my original copies of Yellow and Silver, and after more than 20 years, the innards of the cartridge won’t work on my Game Boy Advance SP. While getting physical copies of the games can be a hassle, hardware like the Analogue Pocket does make playing them relatively simple despite Nintendo completely moving away from native backward compatibility. This is assuming the old cartridges you find are still usable.
Further, the 3DS eShop it has acted as a bridge between the series’ past and present because the system is the only way to transfer old Pokémon from old games to modern ones. Since Diamond and Pearl, the Pokémon series has allowed you to transfer your monsters from old games to new ones. That has become more complicated since Sword and Shield did away with the all-encompassing National Pokédex, but the act of trading old Pokémon and carrying them with you to future games has been a special part of the series for many fans. When the 3DS eShop shuts down, it will take Pokémon Bank and Transporter, two apps exclusive to the system, with it. These apps were used to store and transfer old Pokémon, and are compatible with Pokémon Home, the series’ modern, console-agnostic storage app. Those who have the apps in their digital collection will still be able to download them to their 3DS, but they will be unavailable to anyone who comes into the series after March 27.
The call to pull the plug on old digital storefronts is out of The Pokémon Company’s hands, but for a series that is as fixated on the decades-long experience of its fanbase as Pokémon, it’s baffling to look at the numbers and realize nearly three-quarters of its video game history is about to be completely inaccessible through legitimate means. Right now, the only reason a few of the non-Switch games are available is because Nintendo has put a handful of them on the Nintendo Switch Online service. It’s a start, but even those are spin-offs like Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Puzzle League. This is the state of preservation for Nintendo. The company spends years building up a digital library because it doesn’t invest in backward compatibility, then runs a wrecking ball through it years later. Pokémon is not the only series suffering from this callous call, but when a series has been so tied to Nintendo’s handheld history, shutting down the last bastion to preserve it leaves us with nothing but unsalvageable wreckage that we can only pick through in online wikis and YouTube video essays. What a shame.