A new Super Nintendo throwback console would be pretty cool. You know what’d be cooler? A user-friendly way to play old Nintendo games.
Here’s the latest exciting rumor lighting up the video game world: According to those in the know, Nintendo is going to release a mini Super Nintendo console in time for this year’s holiday season. It follows what was probably the most disappointing news in the video game world—that Nintendo was discontinuing its NES Classic Edition, the perpetually sold-out hit of the 2016 holiday season.
While the NES has a powerful nostalgic attraction for a lot of people—like John Cena, for example—the Super Nintendo had a larger, more impressive lineup of far more engrossing games. If the runaway success of the NES Classic is to be any indication, a Super Nintendo version of it would be a runaway freight train of hype, with people turning out in droves and retail stocks perpetually depleted. Everyone would want one, only a few would get them, and Nintendo might still discontinue it in the end.
Welcome to the byzantine business of legacy gaming, a world where game publishers dangle old games over fans like a carrot on a stick, and aren’t shy about making you repurchase games you likely already own, just for the privilege of playing them on your latest system or handheld. As one of the most storied and beloved companies in all of video games, Nintendo has a unique hold on this space: No other company has the sheer number of great and fondly remembered games Nintendo boasts in its back catalog. So, while the NES Classic was terribly exciting, and the idea of a Super NES Classic is even more so, it’s all only possible because Nintendo’s whole plan for releasing classic games is pretty damn busted.
There are two reasons Nintendo can do this. The first is that video games, compared to other media, are still extremely new. Most of the stuff people are nostalgic for only stretches back to roughly the ’80s. So an overwhelming majority of people who were among the first to embrace video games as children are still here, and not very old. And, like any adults, they would happily talk about and revisit something they loved as kids, given the chance and an audience that felt the same way.
The other is that games, more than any other form of entertainment, are intrinsically tied to the technology used to play them. Unlike movies or books, the physical object—or, increasingly, digital file—that holds a video game on it has varied tremendously over the years, from cartridges to CDs and DVDs and Blu-rays to cards, each encoded or altered to only work on a specific brand of hardware with an eventual expiration date. Console makers compete by having games other consoles don’t, and keep you invested in their ecosystems by replacing their consoles every five or so years with better, sexier consoles. It’s just the nature of video games as a medium, something that makes game preservation hard for academic reasons and frustrating for everyday ones: How do you (legally) play, for example, a game like Super Metroid, if you don’t have the old cartridge, or the means to play it? Simple. You buy it again, on newer hardware.
So if video games are a regular part of your entertainment diet, you can end up buying the same game several times as you upgrade your setup over the years—if that game is available for whatever shiny new box you buy.
And there’s the rub. Let’s keep things simple and limit our discussion to Nintendo—so once more, consider Super Metroid. The only current Nintendo console to have it available for download is the New Nintendo 3DS, which, irritatingly, excludes any 3DS purchased before the fall of 2015, the year the enhanced “new” model came out.
But there’s more! See, the New Nintendo 3DS isn’t the only Nintendo console that’s technically capable of downloading and running that game, but it is the only current one that Nintendo is selling it on. The Wii U is more than capable of handling a game from 1994, and in fact, has over 50 Super Nintendo games available for download—but not Super Metroid. The new Nintendo Switch, can, in theory, download and run Super Nintendo games, but none are live on the console yet, and Nintendo remains silent on their plans for classic games on the Switch. The old, 2006 Wii however, did have Super Metroid available to download and purchase. But if you bought it then and your Wii no longer works and you have no desire to get a new one, that digital copy of Super Metroid is definitely not going to work on any other Nintendo console. Because this is how Nintendo has elected to structure the sale and distribution of its classic games: in a way that doesn’t make a lick of goddamn sense.
This is why a little box from Nintendo with a bunch of your favorite games of yore is so appealing. Until a friendlier, more modern solution is embraced, it’s the best way to revisit old games.
Now pause: How many times have you bought some of your favorite movies, books, or TV shows? Definitely once. Maybe twice, if you’re jumping from DVD to Blu-ray or the Criterion Collection or some nonsense. It’s not unheard of, but it is something that usually requires a bit of thought. Is the jump worth it? Do you really like that movie/book/TV show that much? Because even if your copy of said entertainment isn’t the most cutting-edge, feature-rich version, you can still easily enjoy it. Blu-ray players still play DVDs, and signed first editions of novels tell the same story that mass-market paperbacks do. Video games, though? You have to answer the whole questionnaire.
This is why an official, tiny little box from Nintendo with a bunch of your favorite games of yore is so damn appealing. Until a friendlier, more modern solution is embraced—like, say, Nintendo tying all your online eShop purchases of classic games to your Nintendo account, so you can buy them once and download them to whatever Nintendo device you own, or a Netflix-style subscription service akin to the one Microsoft announced this year for Xbox One/Xbox 360 games—this is the best way to revisit old games, with support for HDTVs and modern creature comforts like the ability to save your game anywhere. That’s not to say that none of this stuff is on the way—again, Nintendo has remained quiet about its Virtual Console plans for the Nintendo Switch. These plans could blow us away with their ease in convenience, something that Nintendo fans would love and would help the Switch sell like gangbusters for a long time. But for now, the current disjointed, scattershot, Virtual Console is all we have, alongside a now-discontinued NES Classic, and the hope for an exciting new SNES Classic.
Of course, this all assumes that you’ve been keeping up with games in some form or another, even casually. If you haven’t, then there’s another, extremely worthwhile reason for something like the NES or SNES Classic: It’s a way to indulge in some nostalgic gaming without the fuss of dealing with any modern bullshit, a loophole that allows you to sail over the vast sea of Playstations and Switches and Xboxes and eShops and just plug some Super Mario Bros. directly into your TV.
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