Sin & Punishment (Nintendo 64)
Treasure's 2000 run-'n'-gun did a bunch of things wrong. It revived the Cabal-style, third-person rail-shooter at a time when the FPS genre was coming into its own; co-developed with Nintendo R&D1, Sin & Punishment was locked onto the increasingly-ailing Nintendo 64, and took its sweet time recording an English-language voiceover track that was a fat lot of good to the Japanese players who ended up having the title all to themselves for the next seven years.
However, you'll note that none of those errors actually pertain to gameplay at all. So when Nintendo bent to fan pressure and finally released the game on Virtual Console, its popularity was enough to revive the series--and by extension the genre itself, by then back in vogue thanks to recent on-rails shooters like Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles and House of the Dead: Overkill.
Soldier Blade (TurboGrafx-16)
You can't have much of a Virtual Console without at least one good old-fashioned shmup. There's plenty to choose from here: from Konami's Gradius to the same outfit's eye-candy SNES shooter Axelay; from Namco's uber-vintage Galaga to Natsume's excellently-named NES side-scroller, S.C.A.T. But we want to impress you with our niche tastes, so we're going to go with Soldier Blade, arguably the pick of the TurboGrafx conversions to grace the VC.
Serious shooter fans--like, stay away from that dude he crazy serious--knew Hudson's machine hosted some of the most frenetic examples of what would become known as the bullet-hell genre, and this is one of the best to be preserved for your downloading pleasure.
Star Fox 64 (N64)
Can you blame us if we still get excited whenever a new Star Fox title's announced? Blame it on the title that converted Nintendo's Super FX oddity into a cross-generational franchise: if they were all going to be this good, players reasoned in 1997, roll on the yearly updates.
With benefit of hindsight, Star Fox 64 may have been the series' high-water mark; all the more reason to keep the dream alive with a smoother-than-ever update of this fast-paced, deceptively deep shooter. Do a friend a favor and turn them onto SF64: seeing someone's face as they watch the final credits roll--and realize their infatuation with the game's only just begun--is always good for a laugh.
Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts (SNES)
Fans of Capcom's vintage side-scrolling lance-'em-up get the choice of four similar-but-distinct Virtual Console games; but if we had to pick just one, we'd say the best has to be this SNES version. Totally reworked for the SNES with different areas, weapons and enemies, Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts is less a conversion of the arcade title (though there is a Genesis port available of that), and more an entirely new game: as different from its predecessor as Ghouls was from the original Ghosts 'n Goblins.
And yes, you can also download the arcade or NES versions of the latter to supplement this one; but being as any one Ghosts title is enough to induce rage and despair in weaker-willed players, it's our duty to suggest you start at the top and work your way down.
Super Mario All-Stars (SNES)
Sure, you could download all the NES Mario titles individually for that authentic 8-bit experience--but it's not like you're starved for other things to spend your download points on. So why not take advantage of the SNES-era Super Mario All-Stars, bundling together four of Nintendo's greatest hits (well, three of them and Lost Levels, but let's not quibble), lovingly remastered with a flair that dwarfs the accomplishment of most contemporary HD remakes?
Besides, it's not really 8-bit Mario unless you're playing on a joypad that reduces your thumb-pads to screaming, throbbing red nodes of pain. So if you're gonna go soft, go in some comfort.
Super Metroid (SNES)
Ever watch a movie in black-and-white then, when you're describing it to friends later, somehow find yourself remembering it in vivid full color? Today, revisiting Super Metroid is a bit like that: hit Start on this strictly 2D side-on platformer and before you know it, your adventures will be taking on the depth and immersion of a full-fledged contemporary shooter.
That's not to say most 2D games are passe, or that Super Metroid would be better in 3D; simply that, 18 years after release, Nintendo's unequaled mastery of its chosen genre still feels as fresh and relevant as ever.
What else does a new Wii U need?
These are our picks, but it's not as if anyone -- even us! -- could hope to boil the offerings of Nintendo's Virtual Console down to a mere 15 games. What'd we leave out? What titles are you looking forward to downloading when your Wii U's out of the box?