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Wii U, virtual console and 50Hz: why is it still a thing?

Dedicated PAL players thought Nintendo had heard their Miiverse pleas, but then it turned out they hadn't. So what's going on?

Regardless of whether you live in a PAL region or an NTSC region, you’ve probably caught wind of some recent discussion about virtual console and the difference between 60Hz and 50Hz versions of old games.

The issue is that back in the day televisions manufactured in Europe and Australia displayed signals at 50 frames per second, as opposed the 60 frames in the US and Japan, and the video game machines and cartridges were designed accordingly. Some games simply ran 17 per cent slower, including player movement and background music, while some games were manually altered or sped up to better fit the slower speed (with varying degrees of success).

Now that televisions the world over are capable of processing the same signals, Nintendo can just release the 60Hz versions everywhere so we all get the best version, right? Well, no. The Wii virtual console was almost entirely made up of 50Hz versions. Some of the games, like Donkey Kong Country, were pretty well optimized back in the day so it wasn’t really noticeable. Others, like Mario Kart 64, were altered after the fact by Nintendo to make sure they were up to par.

Many fans were hopeful that Nintendo would see the light when re-releasing games on their new HD system, and that the Wii U would see 60Hz releases globally. After the first few 30 cent games turned out to be the slower releases though (including Balloon Fight and Kirby’s Adventure, which are completely compromised at 50Hz), people took to Miiverse and petition sites in droves to voice their displeasure.

Miiverse 50hz

With the full release of virtual console on Wii U it seemed times had changed, with many games running at their full framerate. The problem is, not all of them have recieved the same treatment. The NES port of Pac-Man is 60HZ, while Kirby is 50HZ. F-Zero is 60Hz, but the just-released Super Metroid is not. So what gives? What possible reasons could Nintendo have for not just making the original versions available for everyone?

Well first on the possible rationale list is the issue of localisation. Even in the NES and SNES days, games were altered by their regional representatives of the developer or publisher to make sure the experience suit the locale. What if a game only supports English in the US but has support for various languages in Europe? What if the game has significant branding or character name differences between regions? Nintendo’s hardly likely to retrofit a NTSC ROM with European translations or differences, so the easiest thing to make sure the game is accessible is to just release the PAL game in PAL territories.

Or maybe Nintendo just wants to make sure the games are as their audience remembers them. Nostalgia is after all the main appeal of virtual console, and it’s possible a player could be turned off if they repurchased a beloved game from their childhood only to find it was much faster than they remembered and difficult to play. I know the first time I heard the Balloon Fight theme in proper speed I was completely freaked out, and trying to play the original Super Mario Bros or Lost Levels in 60Hz after a lifetime playing them differently is incredibly jarring.

Thirdly there could of course be issues at play here beyond the purely technical. For instance are there any European countries that would frown upon Nintendo releasing versions of old games that differ from that which was originally rated and released in that country? Does Nintendo need to get each virtual console game rated and approved by the various global classification boards, and if so is it more difficult for them if the game is different? I can’t imagine this is the case, but then again we have already seen the lengths Nintendo will go for cultural sensitivity, the company having previously put locks on the times during which violent content could be viewed on the eShop to comply with German law (this move was later reversed).

Finally perhaps Nintendo is simply concerned that some Australian or European fans are still using televisions incapable of displaying a 60Hz signal. Okay so that seems overly-considerate in the extreme, but then again this is Nintendo.

So now that we’ve taken a second to think about Ninty’s possible reasoning in keeping arbitrary restrictions of the past alive, we can have a look at why insisting to on continuing to release 50Hz games is clearly ludicrous.

First of all the content of NES and SNES could not possibly have been altered in any significant way between regions. I appreciate that my PAL version of Super Metroid has French and German subtitles included, but there’s like 20 lines of dialogue in that entire game. Put it in the manual if you have to. If you’re a native French or German speaker who can’t stand having incomprehensible English text for the first two minutes of Super Metroid, I think you’re probably playing the game for the wrong reasons. In fact Kirby’s Adventure probably has more overall written word than Super Metroid and there’s absolutely no support in the Wii U version I have for a language other than English, it’s just the same game as in North America but with borders and slower enemy animation.

Speaking of Kirby, that brings me to the point about ratings and legality. While I guess it’s possible Nintendo has extra hoops to go through when releasing an NTSC version of a game into a region where only the PAL version was previously released, they’ve already shown they can do it on several occasions. NES games on the 3DS virtual console run at 60Hz for example. Super Mario World on Wii U runs at 60Hz, which makes the release of Super Metroid in 50Hz even more baffling. Remember also that Nintendo just released Mario’s Super Picross for PAL audiences, a game that was never released here before and is entirely in Japanese! Getting foreign games a local release certainly seems pretty easy, so why not do it if it means better performance?

The fact that fans might be confused by a game that runs significantly faster than they remember it is a legitimate concern, but again why would some games be releaseing in on format and some in the other? If it’s so easy to release Super Mario World in 60Hz, why not just give Wii U owners a choice in which version they buy or have a disclaimer that says “This US version of the game may run faster than the PAL version found on cartridges in your country”?

The biggest problem with the speed of games being released on Virtual Console here in PAL territories is a problem we often have with Nintendo generally — we just don’t know what the heck is going on.

Is it a case of not wanting to ruin the nostalgia? Then why have some at 60Hz and some not? Is it more difficult or expensive to release 60Hz games in PAL countries, and so it’s only really worth doing if there’s a huge improvement? Are there specific games that just can’t make the jump for complex rating, licencing or technical reasons we don’t know about?

The most important thing Nintendo can do for their fans is simply to be transparent and shed some light on why these seemingly crazy decisions need to be made. Just tell us we can all get off your back and make informed purchasing decisions. Until I know the exact reason behind these decisions, I don’t know if I’ll be comfortable paying full price for an old game that I can most likely find a faster version of on another platform.

What do you think PAL players? Is playing games in 50Hz a buzzkill for you? And all you lucky NTSC guys and girls, if you knew there was a superior version of all your old favourite games out there, would you want to play those or would you want to hold on to the versions you remember from childhood?

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  • Graeme Lynch

    I think this is a really important point. Surely Nintendo could at least be courteous enough to explain why the games are running at different speeds. My guess is however, it is not something they want to admit, therefore remaining silent.

    • Alex Leb

      I can understand that it can be irritating to play if you remember the audio differently but i wouldn’t say its a really important point. Old nintendo games were hard to control to begin with and that is what made them last. Balloon fight i admit was awful sounding in 50hz but I would rather they worked on releasing more VC titles instead of fixing up previous releases to have both 50/60hz versions of each title.

      • teknik1200

        old Nintendo games were the easiest to control in the day. that’s the first thing we loved about it was the controller. coming from an intellivision or colecovision to a NES was a huge breath of fresh air. saga was not nearly as tight as the NES.

  • Revolution5268

    ok….next!!!!!!!!!

  • Danny

    Personally i never really knew the difference when i was playing some VC titles on my Wii U but then again if people in PAL like myself would want the games in 60Hz i think it’s fair and should let Nintendo know about this. I down with getting the games in PAL 60Hz even if it doesn’t bother me to much it would still be a excellent thing to do for EU and AUS fans.

  • Tobias Naustdal

    you forgot to mention that pal tv’s had a higer pixel count than ntsc tv’s….

    • http://weeklyrift.com/ Tim Biggs

      That’s true. But a lot of games in the NES and SNES era were brought over from NTSC without that kind of optimisation. That’s why so many have borders on the top and bottom.

  • D.M.T

    The reason why people make such a big deal about this is because of the lack of new games on Wii U. Once we get those games people won’t care much about Virtual Console. Maybe i’m wrong.

    • David Sil

      I actually really like to play older games, i have a huge collection of Wii games and practically all the Wii U games released to date, but i still download and play virtual consoles games a lot.

      I just find the older games are sometimes a lot better than what’s being released today, on any console.

      • D.M.T

        I agree with old games being better sometimes than new ones.

  • Guest

    I have been playing Super Metroid and the difference is hardly noticeable and does not really affect gameplay at least to me.

    • Danny

      I think it just depends how you see it, i don’t blame if people like the 60Hz more and wouldn’t mind if they did that but i really don’t see any problems when i play.

    • pfff

      Yeah NiNTENDOMiNATiON posted a video a while ago and showed both versions in comparison.
      He said, that it’s slower, but I honestly didn’t see any difference besides the fact, that he started the japanese version a second earlier xDD

      here’s the video for those, who are interested:

    • http://weeklyrift.com/ Tim Biggs

      Super Metroid is actually one of the best modified 50Hz games. The frame rate is still slower but the animations and music have been sped up to bring them back to normal. It’s smoother in 60Hz but apart from that (and the translations) it’s pretty identical. If all 50 Hz games were as good I think everybody would be happy :)

  • Stephen Davis

    So those of us who are in the US are unaffected by this, good to know :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/lachlan.forbes.52 Lachlan Forbes

      Oh it’s always about YOU guys you don’t give a shit about any Country but your own just selfish morons tbh.

      • pfff

        not everyone there is like that, but there are still alot people left :/

        • boynhisblobs

          Stick up his arse, over there its arse. He might get offended by your American insults

          • pfff

            You seem to be exactly the kind of persons I was talking about …

      • John Raybell

        Really, you got that from that? looks like someone has a stick up there ass.

      • https://www.facebook.com/BlueLightningTechnicalServices Bob Wilkerson

        Calm down…. In no way does that comment reflect his opinion on other countries.

      • Ibi Salmon

        I have this feeling that what you got from that comment wasn’t what he really meant.

      • https://twitter.com/Zorpix_Fang Zorpix

        Feel like that’s not how it was intended

      • Stephen Davis

        I am sorry you feel that way, BUT as those who have commented below, that is not how I meant it

  • http://twitter.com/Onyzora Ony

    As a PAL guy, I find Super Metroid perfect, but Super Mario World a bit more difficult than before: well as explained here, it’s because it’s 60hz (and I have a LED tv btw)

    SO, BASICALLY, IT’S 60HZ FAULT IF MARIO IS DRUNK AS HELL :D

    • https://twitter.com/Zorpix_Fang Zorpix

      suuure. blame the game for your mistakes ;)

      • http://twitter.com/Onyzora Ony

        Well, when you re-play a game a decade after your first try, and it runs up to 17% faster… :p

        • https://twitter.com/Zorpix_Fang Zorpix

          alright, I’ll accept it, but I got my eye on you. *scans your miiverse posts for clues* AH HAH! A SCREENSHOT! Case closed.

  • A SNES Day Off

    As an old timer of Nintendo games, I would have to say that the 50/60hz conflict has more to do with what the big N perceives as being the best gameplay experience. 17% doesn’t sound a lot in context, but it makes a huge difference to your controls when you’ve grown up with a particular speed, and Balloon Fight is a perfect example. The other of course is Super Mario Bros – moving from 50 to 60hz is like comparing the 118 guy to Usain Bolt.

    The best solution would have surely been to release these VC games in their original form per continent.

  • incoherent1

    Question: is it possible for a Europe user to “spoof” Nintendo into selling them an NTSC version? e.g. Just registering as a US user or using a fake US address when you sign up?

    If not, I’m curious if a Wii U purchased in the US would access the NTSC versions from the eShop even if it was geographically in Europe…

    • Pamm!!

      you can make NIDs for every PAL country. I did that when the WiiU released to get the ZombiU demo, but if you want to play NTSC games you have to buy a NTSC console.

      • incoherent1

        Interesting. I honestly didn’t know they still made NTSC vs. PAL consoles (with HD TVs and HDMI outputs I thought it was all the same these days), so thanks for that info!

        Given that, they should let you delve into your system options and select whether you’d like PAL or NTSC VC games. Maybe for the reasons mentioned in this article (compatibility, nostalgia), they could set it to PAL for PAL countries by default, but if you’re savvy enough to delve into options and change it from one to the other, it’s safe to say that would only be a net benefit for everyone…

  • https://twitter.com/Zorpix_Fang Zorpix

    Nintendo just can’t do anything right in people’s eyes, can they? “RELEASE VC! RELEASE VC!” *releases VC* WHAT?! THESE WERENT THE VERSIONS WE WANTED! THANKS A LOT NINTENDO.

    • http://weeklyrift.com/ Tim Biggs

      People can have preferences between two good things, it isn’t as black and white as you make it out to be. Castlevania in 50Hz is an awesome game, but in 60Hz it’s better and people would like to know why they’re not being released that way. Nobody’s attacking Nintendo for releasing games.

      • https://twitter.com/Zorpix_Fang Zorpix

        its not THAT black and white, but its true to a certain extent. People begged for virtual console, and now that it’s here, people are complaining because of the version of the same game they’re getting. Just seems a little strange

        • Graeme Lynch

          That is consumerism for you my friend.

          • https://twitter.com/Zorpix_Fang Zorpix

            it sucks :/

  • Anthony K Aurelia

    I want my VC games to run exactly the way they did when they were released.

  • Archiq09

    I think to vitual console is in beta too….

  • Nintenjoe82

    I remember being shocked that I completely smashed every single one of my MK64 lap records when I played on an NTSC N64.

    Nintendo need to give us the option of buying a US version!

  • John Madsen

    simple they have to meet pal standards which is a requirement for countries that use pal where ntsc isn’t limited by standards because its not goverment controlled so it doesn’t have to meet any standard

  • John Madsen

    also another thing did you look at how many people own color tv’s in the u.k and how many own black and white tv’s which only display in 50 hz it would surprise you see in several countries they have a tv tax on new expensive lcd tvs which support 60 hz so a lot of people in the u.k and other regions cannot afford a tv nor the tv service to run one

    • audi lover

      Most people own a flat screen in uk, I knw no one with an old crt u make us sound like porpers, you can pick up a cheap 21inch lcd for around £100 these days thats peanuts considering my first 32inch cost £1600 and was only running 1400 by 1080i

    • http://weeklyrift.com/ Tim Biggs

      What is your source for this? I’m aware of the TV tariff but the idea that there are people interested in a Wii U that only own a black and white TV is pretty ridiculous.

  • Moshugaani

    The issue of multiple language translations in Europe is really hurting the Virtual Console!
    Just because people demand their German/French translations we have to suffer from 50Hz. Interestingly though, the Kirby games will be the US versions in EU eShop.

  • Moshugaani

    What borders are we talking about? The balck borders both side of the screen?
    Is it not 4:3 in NTSC also?

    • http://weeklyrift.com/ Tim Biggs

      PAL has a slightly higher resolution and a slightly different aspect ratio to NTSC. Most games produced in NTSC and then moved to PAL keep the NTSC resolution and so have borders on the top and bottom and a slightly squishy look.

  • gamesplayswill

    I prefer 50HZ on balloon fight….

  • bizzy gie

    What does NTSC stand for? I always see it in the upper right corner of video game boxes.

    • http://people.ign.com/returnofthetruth2 ReturnoftheTruth2

      You are on the internet – look it up.

    • bizzy gie

      Really? People just had to thumbs down the question instead of answering it? Gotta love the maturity.

  • ZeldaFan83

    I don’t believe the VC games should or need to be modified at all. Play and enjoy them as when they were originally released. Nintendo isn’t going to waste resources modifying their VC games when those resources can go to creating more and better Wii U games which is what Wii U needs right now. I watched the 50-60hz comparison video and it looked pretty much the same, so what if 10hz makes one version run a 1/4 of a second slower, that’s how they were when originally released. Just enjoy the freakin’ games or don’t purchase them.

  • DereX

    Why does this matter? Those old games were to slow anyway.

  • Sami Rautio

    This has gone far enough Destroy all 50hz versions from the world they are like viruses that shouldn’t exist !!!! NINTENDO GIVE US 60HZ all games ALL A….L ….L

  • Ryan House

    Shouldn’t a slower game make them easier to play?? I found Balloon Fight to be Really Hard!!

  • FlyingBoat

    It’s nice to see an article focused on the pal region. We tend to get the short stick in the gaming world, with games not released (amazing spider-man, walking dead), delayed a whole month or more for little to no reason (super Luigi u, pokemon mystery dungeon), differences in quality (the Hz issue) and a huge price increase (e.g. pokemon mystery dungeon on sale for $70 in eb games). Yet we know worldwide simultaneous releases are possible (pokemon x and y are doing it), the tax here is 10%, not twenty dollars, and language doesn’t tend to be taken into consideration at all, usually, at least not in Australia. While UK had massive delays to translate their copy of scribblenaughts, we just got the American spelling. You should see what they think an Echidna looks like

    • Arthur Jarret

      Wha?

      Amazing spiderman released here (NL, so europe) and so did Walking dead (but why should you care)

      The delays usually aren’t without reason, but are because of localization issues – translating screen texts, manuals and game cases, then QA’ing those takes time and effort too!

      We should simply pass a law that enforces everyone, including Germans, French and Italian people, to speak english – so localization of ALL media will be easier.

      • FlyingBoat

        spider-man and walking dead werent released HERE (aka, Australia). i dont care about walking dead, but being a massive spider-man fan that really annoyed me and i had to buy online from an ebay store set up for exactly that reason, shipping PAL games from europe to australia that werent on sale here. and there arent usually any sort of localization with texts etc, not that ive seen. we just all put up with american spelling. But whats more, in australia, english is speaken across the board. there are other languages, but its an english speaking country and so it would be just as excusable to not add traslations to games here as it would be to not add them in america. But once again, x and y prove that delays arent necessary, unless australia is going to be the one country in the world to get a delay.

        • Arthur Jarret

          My reading skills could use some polishing, completely missed your note saying you’re from australia – my apologies.

          I feel for you, your country has always suffered most when it comes to delayed and cancelled game releases – in part due to the high cost to get a game through your rating system.

          This also raises the cost of each game and causes a relatively small market. I do hope they will simplify the rating procedure to cut those costs and time in the near future – there have been too many games you have missed out on already!

          • FlyingBoat

            s’all good mate

  • zerooooo

    “17 per cent” really?

  • http://www.bagofgames.com/author/jennero/ Jennero Rossi

    I think if I grew up gaming in 50hz I would not be a fan of video games. I knew people in the UK that would just import 60hz TVs and games. Buying a US WiiU is probably the only solution here. I feel bad for people across the pond.

  • Sakurai

    I will not play 50hz versions. It is an absolute deal-breaker for me. I usually like to support official releases – but if I can run games at their intended speed on a softmodded Wii, then I have no inclination to purchase an inferior version from the Wii U VC.

  • Agent721

    Damn! I had never heard of this, but thats ridiculous in this day & age. This is a fail by Nintendo.

  • https://soundcloud.com/rauschenmaschine Kristian Kouvo

    Could there just be a global option for VC which speed you prefer? And DLC would give you both versions (if necessary). Case solved.

  • http://www.mpt-online.eu/ Sylux

    For me as Pal player I really don’t understand why N can’t just release 60hz games in Pal regions, seeing the video’s the difference between Pal and NTSC is HUGE. Not cool N just give us pal players the 60hz versions, my television from 1992 (which still works after almost 25 years) allready supported 60hz in 1992 so don’t be a pain N and use really lame excuses.

    Anyone ever heard of the Mockbal Trick on Super Metroid? From what I heard from many people was that the Mockbal was almost impossible on the NTSC version of the game, yet on the pal version it’s piss easy as it runs 10fps slower then NTSC version, I played a NTSC rom of super metroid before and yes it was more difficult, the pal version even missed several enemies compared to the NTSC version.

    So Nintendo I swear stop being such an a** and just give everyone the same stuff. It really pisses me off seeing even now pal regions (Europe and Australia) still get screwed over. First in the past so many games on snes never released, then we got the shit with scribblenauts unlimited (still no EU release and likely WON’T be released at all in EU) and now this ****sh**? What the F N stop this nonsense.

    Angry PAL gamer here.

  • THEMIGHTYDOOVDE

    I played F Zero PAL when I was a boy and played it well, but I find that I over stear on corners more on the 60 Hz version now!