Late 2018 has been an excellent time to be a retro gamer. From Sega to SNK, and everything in-between, there have been a lot of re-releases of classic titles, especially for the Nintendo Switch. And what’s especially fascinating about that is how ironic that makes Nintendo’s own classic gaming situation. By putting the likes of the relaunched SEGA Ages series next to Nintendo’s own Nintendo Switch Online app and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, we can see that while Nintendo understands the importance of and values its own history, it has yet to crack the code on how to actually respect it with its current software offerings, especially compared to other, smaller publishers.
SEGA Ages, which actually dates back to console generations of the past, relaunched this year on the Nintendo Switch. Multiple games have been a part of it, but the easy standout release is Phantasy Star. While the series itself is very renowned and respected, the original game is seldom re-released, due in part to how difficult it can be. Not only is it difficult in that grindy, Dragon Quest sort of way, but it also had first-person dungeons that were map-free and notoriously easy to get lost in. It was also a Master System game, so it’s creaky in that way (more arguable, I love how it looks and sounds personally).
The SEGA Ages Phantasy Star release takes the game and sections off the screen, adding a way to not only keep track of your location in the game’s world(s), but it also provides a map for the dungeons, as well as a glossary for items, spells, and more on demand. It doesn’t really mess with the game directly, hardcores can turn it off, and it suddenly makes the game not only look nice, but also more accessible in a big way. It’s only eight bucks, and makes Phantasy Star look and feel like a big deal.
Now, let’s move over to Nintendo Switch Online and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I bring up Smash, because of its Spirits mode. If you read out review of the game, you’ll know I love me some Spirits mode. It’s more than collecting jpegs to me, it’s a deliberate nod to Nintendo’s robust history (and the histories of included third parties) within the framework of Smash. With all the little clever nods and obscure inclusions, it shows that Nintendo knows that not only is that stuff valuable, but people want it. Yet, how can half of these games get played? Right now, they can’t.
Nintendo’s current solution is the Nintendo Switch Online app, which currently adds three NES games a month. Now, I believe in credit where credit is due, and the emulator is high quality, and supports online play. That’s dope. But the selection is progressing at a snail’s pace, there isn’t much beyond the games themselves, and individual games aren’t being treated with value. There are “SP” versions of some games, but none of them are getting the red carpet rolled out like Phantasy Star for example. At the same time, going for a Netflix-style model is certainly a topical choice, and worth paying attention to. But right now it feels like more of a side attraction with a little extra polish.
I wish Nintendo could do both. Do the Netflix thing, but also, for select titles, do it big like Sega and M2’s products. There’s even a hint of that kind of project being possible via Nintendo’s collaboration with Hamster for the Arcade Archives collection. With Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., and even the original Punch-Out!! and Sky Skipper of all games getting their own arcade port releases. Essentially, what I’m saying is that companies like Capcom, Sega, and SNK are making Nintendo look bad at something it should be the best at, and that’s mining the classic past for present, high-quality content.