14 January, 2014

The Wii U 50Hz Virtual Console Hall of Shame

List correct as of 25th May, 2017 Jump to list

Background
Nintendo’s Virtual Console service launched with the original Wii in 2006, allowing owners to play games from previous systems (both Nintendo’s own and former rivals). There were some problems but the one that caused the most ire from gamers was unique to Europe and Oceania: 50Hz. There’s a good Nintendo Life article here explaining the problem, but the short version is that games ran slower than their Japanese/North American 60Hz equivalents and in some cases had squished visuals with black borders along the top and bottom of the screen. Not all games were affected: PC Engine games and most imports would run in 60Hz whilst other games had been PAL-optimised at the time of their original release. However a huge chunk of the available library was unoptimised 50Hz.

In 2011 the service arrived on 3DS and to the delight of the PAL regions the games were the 60Hz versions. Finally Nintendo had seen sense. Hooray ! Correct speed gaming for all. So when Nintendo announced the Virtual Console was coming to Wii U, people’s main thoughts were not about the speed the games would be running at but the new features such as Miiverse integration and the fact that (for a limited time) the initial releases would be priced at a mere 30p/30c.

Then the first game (Balloon Fight) arrived and…

Shibataoops

Yes. 50Hz. Really. A game that was available to 3DS owners in its original 60Hz form was for some reason available to Wii U owners as a slower 50Hz release. Gamers were not pleased and took to forums to complain much as they had when the Virtual Console first appeared back in 2006. However something that was not available in 2006, but was in 2013 was Nintendo’s own social network: Miiverse. If Satoru Shibata or anyone else from Nintendo of Europe popped into the Balloon Fight community expecting to find delighted gamers, the reality was anything but. Floods of complaints were posted and not just on that first day, but the day after and the day after that… in fact gamers kept up the protest until it was announced that the second game to be released (F-Zero) would be 60Hz.

However that is not the end of the story. Whilst the majority of Wii U Virtual Console releases are 60Hz, if a game has language options and/or received some optimisation at the time of its original 50Hz release Nintendo sometimes release that version instead. Balloon Fight was eventually updated to a optimised 50Hz version rather than the 60Hz release, presumably so the game’s save data could be kept.
Even with optimised 50Hz there are issues. Putting aside the fact that the degree of optimisation can vary, the Wii U can only output at 60Hz. To get around this 50Hz games have to occasionally repeat frames. NeoGAF forum user “Robin64” explains it better in this post.

How much of a problem 50Hz is will vary from gamer-to-gamer. It will also vary game-to-game. If you were playing a turn-based strategy game is that extra bit of speed essential? Ideally Nintendo would make both versions available but is currently unwilling to do so.

Which brings us to The List. Hopefully someone will find it useful. I’ll keep updating it, even if that just involves changing the “correct as of…” date each week. Originally you could make sure a game was the 60Hz version by going to the eShop listing. If it was, the shop description would include a line at the end saying “This is the US version of the game” or “This is the Japanese version of the game”. Beginning in October, 2014 this information is not always provided. This information was never provided for Game Boy Advance or DS games, but due to their handheld origins they are not affected and so (barring any emulation issues) will play correctly.
I’ve kept things simple, listing them in alphabetical order, followed by some notes on any optimisation (taken from the eShop listing if available). Where available I've placed a link to comparison videos people have made.

The List
NOTE: As standard the aspect ratio (black border problem) for 50Hz releases is corrected. As this is usually done for each release it is not mentioned in the notes - though if a game does still have black borders, that is noted.

Game Notes
Balloon Fight (NES) Optimised 50Hz
Originally released unoptimised
60Hz/50Hz comparison video on YouTube.
“run[s] at a similar speed to the US version”.
[Donkey Kong Country 2:] Diddy's Kong Quest (SNES) Optimised 50Hz
“offer[s] gameplay and music speed similar to the US version. Demos and animations may run at PAL speed”.
Donkey Kong 64 (N64) No information is provided on the eShop listing, but this is the 50Hz version."[Kongs] move as fast as in the NTSC versions. Everything besides movement (cutscenes, menus, enemies, ...) is slower"- from the Donkey Kong 64 Speedrun Wiki
Harvest Moon (SNES) “play[s] music at a speed similar to the US version”.
Kirby’s Adventure (NES) Optimised 50Hz
“offer[s] gameplay and music speed similar to the US version. Demos and animations may run at PAL speed”.
The Legend of The Mystical Ninja (SNES) “play[s] music at a speed similar to the US version".
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES) “play[s] music at a speed similar to the US version”.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (N64) No information is provided on the eShop listing, but this is the slower 50Hz version.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64) “This is the European version of the game”.
Paper Mario (N64) “play[s] music at a speed similar to the US version”.
Pokémon Snap (N64) No information is provided on the eShop listing, but this is a optimised 50Hz version, offering gameplay and music at a similar speed to the US release.
Pop'n Twinbee (SNES) “play[s] music at a speed similar to the Japanese version”.
Pop'n Twinbee: Rainbow Bell Adventures (SNES) “play[s] music at a speed similar to the Japanese version”.
Street Gangs (NES)“This is the European version of the game”.
Super Metroid (SNES)Optimised 50Hz
“offer[s] gameplay and music speed similar to the US version. Demos and animations may run at PAL speed”.
Ufouria: The Saga (NES) No information is provided on the eShop listing, but this is the slower 50Hz version. Music plays at a similar speed to the Japanese release. Black borders are still present.