Nintendo finally brings Mario Kart 64 to the Wii U Virtual Console in North America, but does the timing have anything to do with the upcoming Switch event in January?

With 2017 just around the corner, gamers everywhere are looking forward to Nintendo’s big event for the Switch on January 12, where the upcoming console’s price and release date are expected to be revealed. Nintendo badly needs the Switch to be a success after the failure of the Wii U and it’s been pretty clear for a while that Nintendo is moving on, which is why today’s news is a bit unexpected.

Go Nintendo was the first to report that Nintendo is bringing Mario Kart 64 to the Wii U’s Virtual Console in North America this Thursday, December 29, with the game priced at $10, like other Nintendo 64 VC releases. (European readers will note that Mario Kart 64 has actually been out on the Wii U in Europe since January.)

It’s worth noting that Mario Kart 64 was technically already playable on the Wii U in North America prior to this week through the Wii’s Virtual Console. But an official update for the Wii U presumably means it will now be playable on the console’s tablet as well as the television. The Wii U version of Mario Kart 64 supports up to four players and features some of the most popular tracks in series history, like Moo Moo Farm and Yoshi Valley, and the game’s popular Battle Mode is also included. This is good news for hardcore Wii U fans, but the timing of the North American release is a bit curious, to say the least.

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With the game already out on the Wii U in Europe since January, a North American release couldn’t have taken that much work. We’re just speculating, but the fact that Nintendo only got around to it in December may have more to do with the upcoming Switch event than with giving the Wii U Virtual Console a last hurrah.

It’s been reported that the Switch will bring Gamecube games to the Virtual Console for the first time and that certain games like Super Mario Sunshine may already be ready to go. It would make sense for Nintendo to also prepare popular titles from other systems like the Nintendo 64 to be ready for the Switch’s launch as well.

One of the Wii U’s biggest problems was a weak roster of games during its launch window, so Nintendo is likely pulling out all the stops to get games ready for the Switch, even if some of them are just ports of older titles. In other words, we suspect Mario Kart 64 may have been prepped for the Switch launch, and Nintendo also went ahead with putting together tomorrow’s North American Wii U version since they were already working on the game anyway. Again, that’s just speculation, but we’ll find out soon enough, perhaps as soon as January 12.

Mario Kart 64 releases on the Wii U Virtual Console on December 29.

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