Gaming History 101

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Nintendo’s Recent Annoucements In Regards to Retro

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Let’s face it, Nintendo has had a pretty crazy 2019 so far.  Whether you are a fan or not, it’s hard to ignore how much has changed in less than 8 weeks into the new year and despite what you may think a large portion of the topics are retro.  I figured it was high time to discuss them.  Let’s break down what’s been announced and the retro take on these changes.

NES and SNES Classic Editions Going Away

Okay, I know, this one came at the end of last year (announcement on Dec. 14th, implementation and shipments on Dec. 22), but one of the biggest changes this year is the phasing out of the NES and SNES Classic Editions.  It was inevitable Nintendo would stop production on these items and once they were readily available the well for demand dried up very quickly.  I’m so on the fence about the mini console craze because it’s clear that all of these items have had corners cut to a certain extent and I’m not convinced most people actually play these things.  On the other hand, the mini things look so cool when you get them into your hands and thanks to hackers you can easily side load any games you want into them so they are much more versatile.  I think of them now as emulation boxes that have the one thing other emulation solutions – like RetroArch on computers or RetroPie on Raspberry Pis – don’t have: they’re easy to make and operate.  As a person who loves tech and is intrigued by a challenge, it’s aggravating that today emulation requires a lot of knowledge and time to set up.  I get it, these are complex emulators that need complex setup, but that doesn’t help the mainstream.  I’ve already heard from several of you that it’s just so much easier to buy one of these consoles and do the dead easy process of hacking in the roms you want.  Lets also not forget that specifically the SNES Classic Edition contains Star Fox 2 in the only official release ever to come out as well as games that contain special chips like the Super FX and SA-1 that don’t work with a majority of flash carts on the market.

All that said, it just makes sense these consoles would go away.  Nintendo has somewhat already revealed its hand by offering many of the games on the NES Classic Edition for free as part of a benefit of the online service and there is heavy evidence to suggest we’ll be seeing Super NES sometime soon.  In addition, these consoles are not hard to come by and the idea that you would pay more than retail, or retail price on used units, is completely off the table.  Compared to the astronomical $300-$500 price tags when these things were scarce, it proves that supply and demand have finally found their compromise.  Currently these units are still in stock at most retailers and that’s mostly because those that want it already own it and retailers are just waiting for the rest of its stock to sell out.  If you wanted one of these, grab it now, but don’t pay more than you should.  It also begs the question as to how Nintendo plans to officially preserve and support Star Fox 2, which the online community has already extracted and archived for safe keeping, including myself.

Virtual Console on the Wii Ends

The Wii Virtual Console closed entirely on January 31, 2019, and with it 226 titles that aren’t available elsewhere have gone with it.  Yes, over 200 titles, which you can see here.  Considering that the entire Virtual Console offering in North America was 397 games, that means more than half of the games previously thought to be lost to time completely received a re-release that Nintendo just re-excised from availability.  It’s the same bad behavior twice with 30 full years between it.  That’s freaking harsh Nintendo.  This doesn’t even account for the realities that many of the games not on this list are on Wii U where the emulation is not in the same state or how about the fact that the Wii portion of a Wii U still works and thus the platform could continue to be supported.  It’s not a weak list either, here are some major hitters you should be aware of (although there’s nothing you can do about it).  Japanese exclusives like Akumajo Dracula X: Chi no Rondo (Rondo of Blood in English) was only available in its untouched PC-Engine form on Virtual Console as well as Sin and Punishment on N64 and Gradius II: Gofer no Yobo on the PC-Engine CD as well.  The Super Star Wars trilogy is gone again as are many of the Turbografx-16, Neo Geo, Sega, and of course Nintendo classics that make the list.  It’s significant and it sucks.

We’ve all known about this for about two years, but in the mess of games news and frankly people not caring about anything until it’s gone those early announcements fell on deaf ears.  I bet someone is reading this right now completely unaware that it’s happened.  The first announcement was late September 2017, buying currency for the channel ended in March 2018, and the entire channel shut down on January 31.  What is different about this in comparison to most services was the fact that after it closed, you could no longer download the games you purchased.  That’s right, if you haven’t downloaded anything you purchased on your Wii Shop Channel, your opportunity is gone.  On most other services (XBL, PSN, Steam, Origin, UPlay, etc.) even if a game stops being sold, you can always re-download it as long as you purchased it.  I own several games on these services that I can go re-download today.  The Wii Shop Channel doesn’t have that, it’s tethered to your console.  So not only do I not have an account to hold my licenses, not only does my purchase on one console not carry to another, not only does my purchase of a game on one platform not move to another, but now anything I’ve spent money on I can’t get access to anymore.  It’s the worse case scenario of a digital marketplace and Nintendo just did it on the most mainstream console of all time.  This doesn’t even account for the other titles like WiiWare where digital games like Final Fantasy Chronicles and the excellent Konami Rebirth series are now out of print with little chance of seeing them in the future.  Even sadder is Nintendo’s win against a rom site that cost the owners $12 million and just about purged the oldest and most reliable emulation sites on the Internet.  This apparently large blow for piracy resulted in a massive number of games not found elsewhere to disappear alongside Nintendo’s entire Wii Virtual Console catalog.  It’s kinda shocking when you think about it.

Granted, if you’ve prepared for this it’s not that big of a deal.  Like the NES/SNES Classic Edition, hacking the Wii was quite easy after Nintendo stopped updating it around the Wii U’s launch.  I’ve had my Wii modded for 2 years, allowing me to download all my digital content and back it up to an archive.  It’s not ideal, but as someone who owns a whopping 162 Virtual Console titles – most of which are on that list – and over 50 WiiWare games that are also largely exclusive, it was necessary to protect my investment of over $500 in Nintendo’s marketplace that was wiped in one night.  You could have also spent the last two years downloading and copying countless titles onto SD cards through the console’s interface as well, no modding needed, but the backup is much more complicated to get onto a PC hard drive.  Those who trust the dark web are welcome to download Virtual Console and WiiWare all they like but I’ve heard horror stories of virus ridden sites, malware, IP trackers, and finally a bunch of virtual console games designed to straight up brick your system.  While there’s little you can do today, I suspect most won’t go through these hoops anyway and it begs the question of how much money it was really saving Nintendo to shut down these servers and not just continue to offer the download portion of the service indefinitely.  Nintendo sure isn’t hard up for money.

Link’s Awakening Remaster

Full disclosure, I’ve never played Link’s Awakening so I can’t say that this announcement meant much to me, but that’s not the case with the massive number of fans of Link’s first portable title were enthralled.  I was somewhat aware of this game’s heavy following but I had no idea it was this beloved.  During a recent Nintendo Direct announcement video, it was revealed that Link’s Awakening would be getting a full remake.  This isn’t new for Nintendo, it has been remaking and remastering games for just about as long as anyone else.  Heck, Super Mario All-Stars is a remaster of the original four Super Mario games from the Famicom/NES and it was one of the earliest examples of this process.  The fact that this is happening or even the game in question is second to the fact that unlike most publishers today, Nintendo puts a ton of value into its classics.  I don’t mean that it thinks each game is worth too much, I mean that the company itself knows the intrinsic value of all its previous projects.  I know, this is completely counter to what we’ve seen in the previous two topics, which is the reason I wanted to discuss this odd slew of company decisions in the first place.  Most of what you see in decisions like the Virtual Console is the purging of products not owned by Nintendo and it’s no secret that while Nintendo has appreciated third parties, if it’s them or Nintendo you will see the Big N put self preservation at the top of its list.

While I know that Nintendo said it’s remaking Link’s Awakening, little is known how much content will change and in my eyes unless you’re planning to do what Capcom did with Resident Evil 2 I’m going to call it a remaster.  Even if it’s just a remaster my points hold true.  In a time where remasters are coming out left and right, some the amazing transformation of Shadow of the Colossus and others the dumping of a game largely unchanged into a marketplace to be unappreciated and die.  Look at some of Capcom’s recent “remasters” in the form of Onimusha and the Devil May Cry HD Collection or even Sega’s re-release of Shemue I and II.  These don’t even deserve to be called remasters, and it’s probably why they really aren’t, because they are just dumps of games onto new systems.  The Devil May Cry HD Collection originally released on 360 and PS3, which even back then was criticized for being a weaker version of an HD remaster, but this newest release on XB1, PS4, and PC looks like it’s had zero work done on it at all.  I can also verify that Onimusha is a basic upres with zero new textures being added, ultimately resulting in the same effect as putting a PS2 into a Framemeister.  Shemue I and II is even more offensive with the fact that they didn’t even upres it, the game is in the same 480p resolution as it was on Dreamcast and Xbox respectively.  Fortunately Nintendo doesn’t do this with its remasters.  We’ve seen time and time again, granted mostly on Zelda games, that Nintendo goes the extra mile to not only make the game look remarkably well but also to put in quality of life tweaks that we all commend.  This was seen on Windwaker HD, Twilight Princess HD, both Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask on 3DS, and I’m sure we’ll see it now with Link’s Awakening.  I would like to see Nintendo focus on a franchise other than Legend of Zelda personally – and I say this a big Zelda fan – but nonetheless when Nintendo tells you they are remastering a game you love it’s assured to be in good hands.

Reggie Fils-Aime Retires

Finally a little one for the fans.  If you’ve ever watched a recent E3 or Nintendo Direct, oh heck let’s face it, if you’ve followed video games at all then you are familiar with Nintendo’s US President Reggie Fils-Aime.  One of the strongest messaging professionals I know, he’s fantastic at being exactly what gamers want in an audience facing executive.  He’s both informed, insightful, honest about his personal connection to games, and doesn’t talk down to you.  Who knows, maybe Reggie could care less what happens as long as he gets paid, but the reality is he’s incredibly good at making you think he cares.  In a modern day world of seemingly careless executives who value the bottom line more than people, it’s refreshing and it makes you want to listen when he speaks.  This is counter to horrid Nintendo leadership under the likes of Cammy Dunaway and several others while Reggie got shifted around in the public facing circle for a few of Nintendo’s less impressive events.  With him gone I presume the memes will only come more frequently, but his cadence in delivering game news will most assuredly be missed.  In his stead Doug Bowser, who aside from being named after Mario’s villain has also shown a friendly playfulness that has me hopeful he follows in the footsteps of the great Reggie Fils-Aime.  I mean c’mon, Reggie even made a video love letter to the fans for this announcement.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 22, 2019 at 3:00 pm

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