Retro is in, and pop culture's obsession with the 1980s and '90s has spread to the gaming world. Companies like Nintendo and Capcom are commercializing our collective hipster angst and tapping into the current craze for the days when 8-bit and 16-bit consoles reigned supreme.
Suddenly, titles publishers seemed content to forget about — think Bubsy, Night Trap and those rehashed Atari 2600 game collections — are appearing in droves on digital storefronts. Some are even getting physical rereleases.
Maybe people long for an escape to a simpler time, but it seems to me that nostalgia is clouding our judgment. Why aren't more people talking about how shitty these games actually are?
Like with anything nostalgic, when you have that old game in front of you — even if it's shiny and up-converted to 1080p — you suddenly start to see it for what it really is. People were coked out of their minds in the '80s, and Adam Sandler movies were the pinnacle of comedy in the '90s. So it should come as no surprise that the random platformer you have fond memories of is actually pretty lame.
Here's the problem: It wouldn't be a big deal if you were paying for these old games according to a logical value — but that's where they get you.
Capcom recently released a collection of its Disney-licensed NES platformers called Disney Afternoon Collection. For $20, you get six platformers in a package meant to straight-up mug people who grew up during the 1990s. Of course, you want to get your Talespin on, and who doesn’t want to spend an afternoon with Uncle Scrooge McDuck?
For $20, you get six platformers in a package meant to straight-up mug people who grew up during the 1990s.
Except it's not nearly as fun as you remember. You could buy a more modern game for $20 that is objectively better in almost every technically measurable way and would give you more hours of entertainment. Also, in case you're forgetting, the first time you experienced any of the games that come with the Disney Afternoon Collection was probably when you played them on your mom's Pentium II using the NESticle emulator. Even then you realized how much of a pain in the ass publishers make it to play their back catalog.
Publishers, quit making it so hard for me to play your games
The real issue behind these nostalgia cash-ins is that they continue the gaming industry traditions of planned obsolescence and forced scarcity. Consoles are built to be static and, for the most part, non-upgradable. This means that every five to seven years, you're buying a new set of hardware, which rarely has full backward compatibility with your previous console. That's a ripe opportunity to sell you another copy of the same game you already have so you can play it on your new console.
Forced scarcity comes into play when publishers (looking at you, Nintendo) refuse to release their products in sufficient numbers to continue meeting demand. People have never stopped wanting games from the Super Mario or Zelda franchises, but for the most part, Nintendo just makes it an overly expensive endeavor to obtain them — if they even choose to re-release them in the first place.
The gaming industry suffers more piracy-related profit loss (est. $74 billion) than the movie industry (est. $3-4 billion), but somehow game publishers don't get that what they're doing to entice people to stop downloading ROMs and cracked PC games isn't working.
Some companies, like Nintendo and Capcom, re-release their games once every 5 to 10 years on average. Even then, they're always at exorbitant prices and the purchases rarely carry over to newer platforms.
How many times does Nintendo expect me to buy The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past? Having an actual original copy of many favorite retro games is extraordinarily expensive — especially cartridge-based ones like Earthbound that can cost anywhere from $175 for a loose copy to $2,000 for a sealed package.
Earthbound is available on the eShop for $9.99, but that's part of the problem. I love Earthbound, but $9.99 is steep for a 23-year-old game that didn't sell well when it first came to the U.S. Since I want to be part of the solution, I even grabbed Earthbound on Wii U with an open-heart. However, now I've moved my Wii U into storage to make room for the Switch. So, now I have the choice to either buy Earthbound again for Nintendo 3DS or drag out my Wii U every time I want to play it.
Nintendo's eShops aren't linked between the Switch, Wii U, and Nintendo 3DS, so there's no cross-buy capabilities, and Nintendo seems to like it that way. Even if I bought Earthbound again for the 3DS, then when that handheld is retired in the next few years I'll be faced with spending another $10 out of my pocket for a third time so I can play the same game on Nintendo's latest system.
So what's the solution?
I don't condone emulation, but when free, user-friendly software makes it your favorite retro games more accessible than actually buying them from the source — if they're even available — why would anyone want to go through the trouble?
Alternatively, there are plenty of people who'd be interested in a Netflix-like service for retro games. Companies could license their games to the service and rake in cash with barely any effort at all.
I'm as nostalgic as the next gamer, but I'm tired of seeing the industry constantly push over-priced remasters of games that no one really wants. It's time we stop getting taken advantage of, especially when a better solution for everyone is already clear.
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