Nintendo vs Emulation and the Virtual Console

 

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Growing up in the years where the Super Nintendo was phasing out before the juggernaut debut of the Nintendo 64, previous generation consoles were discarded as if a sorcerer transformed them into used tootsie roll wrappers. Years of investing hundreds of dollars into a library’s worth of games suddenly vanished after a side by side comparison between the hallowed Donkey Kong Country and the revolutionary Super Mario 64. As the years went by history repeated itself with the launch of the Gamecube, PlayStation 2, original Xbox and so on. So where are these older games that are making as much a comeback as the 80’s and 90’s? For the PS2 and Xbox they’re on HD collections with varying degrees of success. With older consoles they’re being taken down by Nintendo with a legal foot as beloved as their Youtube policy (sarcasm).

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For those who don’t know EmuParadise was founded on the promise of bringing the most obscure classic games to anyone who owned a PC or laptop during the ongoing debate of emulation. A process of running older games on you computer for free whether from the Atari 2600 or Commodore 64. But the site has recently buckled down after the big N slapped them with a lawsuit seeking damages for offering any free ROMS from past Nintendo consoles, effectively ending the nearly 20 years where Cool Spot and The Ren and Stimpy Show: Stimpy’s Invention could be accessed. Titles less valuable than Sonic or Mario. And that’s only one of the many webpages in this current calculated crackdown against this practice. Is emulation illegal? Most likely yes. Do gamers do it anyway? Perhaps. Is Nintendo’s action justified? Maybe from a certain point of view. But in this digital age, what’s the alternative?

On the one hand piracy for modern games does hinder a company’s chance to expand if their products are being illegally obtained without the needed financial return. The keywords in that sentence are modern games. The problem arises when corporations like Nintendo spend more time using their legal action as a carbon footprint on hard to find games and less time thinking of alternative motives to persuade their customers to act like Phillip J. Fry from Futurama.

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For all its faults the virtual console, starting out on the Wii, made older games more accessible on a legal basis at the benefit for both the company and the consumer, only to suddenly vanish with the demise of the Wii U. Instead Nintendo’s invested their time and resources into products like the NES Classic and it’s successor the SNES Classic. Both of which, at one point, were incredibly understocked at the benefit of Ebay Scalpers charging more than twice the admission just so people could get a taste of the previously unreleased Star Fox 2. The whole foundation of the Virtual Console is in danger from the very company that created it because they focus more on DMCA take downs than thinking of a financial alternative. Very few games were ever released when combining the life span of the Wii and Wii U. If the ROMS are available for anyone including publishing companies like Nintendo, why not port more of them to their eshop on a more frequent output? In the long run, a virtual console would be more accessible to a larger majority. Sega already has the right idea on the Xbox 360 and  the latest console generation bundling their best Genesis games in an HD collection complete with achievements and developer videos. And both Shenmue titles are just around the corner in preparation for the anticipated kickstarted threequel.  In some ways Sega still does what Nintendon’t. Granted, giving Indie games a bigger platform to stand on with the Switch is a major step up for those without the marketing budget found in Mario’s pockets, but at the sacrifice of an already solidified retro market? Why isn’t there room for both?

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This is the same company that, back in the Wii U’s hey day, didn’t allow digital games to carry over to linked accounts so players could enjoy them on a more froogle budget. Fans have to buy a new copy of Super Mario World on the new 3DS and Wii U no matter how loyal they were to Nintendo, while other highly demanded games like Pokémon Snap were tossed onto to eshop when everyone was jumping ship to the Switch. And let’s not forget the comical piracy methods developers install in their code to keep the more recent games from the hands of pirates. Crisis Warhead has chicken bullets replace lead casings, Batman: Arkham Asylum has a disable feature in the glide ability and The Witcher 2 reveal’s the main character’s secret lust for older companions behind closed doors. There a better sense of security with today’s technology implemented in 3D games, but what about older games that are in danger of being lost to time forever?

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Microsoft and Sony are tapping further into the nostalgia market in consumer friendly ways. Not only remaking older games, but some of them even sit beside the original. Classic games from the older PlayStation era are, more often than Nintendo titles, reasonably priced with or without the weekly sales tactic on the PSN store. The Xbox One is integrating backwards compatibility with 360 titles improving on the PR strategy since the console launch. Even their game pass subscription is one step forward than the industry as a whole.

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But that’s not the only alternative. Compilations are growing in popularity because some titles are so rare that scalpers charge as much as a fresh console for the disc alone. Look at Monkey Paw and how they ported the Tomba duology to PlayStation Network. What would’ve cost an arm and a leg  per entry is reduced to the price of buying popcorn and a drink at the movies. Capcom devalued the rare NES Ducktales 2 cartridge by including it with The Disney Afternoon Collection. All this without any microtransactions. Not everything is a case of Kingdom Hearts where the original code is lost and it has to be built from the ground up. Even if that were the case, the development tools of today could easily recreate that magic. If emulation has the power to offer the original game intact, why aren’t developers and publishers working together more often to search and port more of them for a fair price?

If anyone’s wondering why the “just buy games” argument hasn’t been brought up yet, here’s a counter point: Buying a used Gamecube, Dreamcast or original Xbox won’t put any money in the company’s pocket, but rather to whomever owns the pawn shop that houses them. In fact if digital stores didn’t exist today, would swat teams laced in riot gear storm used game shops arresting owners selling physical copies that aren’t laced with brand new plastic wrap? Given these Orwellian times, who to say what future couldn’t happen without the release of a Gamecube Classic or a Saturn Classic.

 

Some of these games that originated in the arcade, a dying market since the birth of home consoles, are facing extinction. Original cabinets go for thousands of dollars and, again, don’t benefit the developer. With Battletoads: The Arcade Game included in Rare Replay there’s a tiny bit of hope. But the equally popular light-gun rail shooter  The Lost World: Jurassic Park arcade (and subsequent dinosaur rail-shooters) had the perfect opportunity to come out on the Wii after Sega re-released/rebooted The House of the Dead series. That can still happen with the rise of VR entertainment if the right resources are applied. But even then many legal problems concerning license holders have led to complications that endanger the availability on digital stores. The Simpsons Arcade, X-Men, Marvel vs Capcom 2 and Scott Pilgrim vs the World: The Game have disappeared from digital online stores despite impressive sales after their original debut. Even worse, most of these titles are given no explanation for their sudden disappearance. As for Club Penguin and MMORPGs the less said about them, the better.

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Where’s the love?

This is TheCinematicBandicoot and the gaming industry as a whole is its biggest enemy. Ironically Sega is the one putting maximum effort in preserving older titles. Not just for the sake of money, but for gaming preservation. But instead of embracing the future and thinking of new ways to offer inaccessible games, companies like Nintendo would rather stay in the past with their takedown strategies and destroying their own classic game market store. They treat something like Boogerman: A Pick and Flick Adventure as valuable as The Legend of Zelda when dishing out lawsuits, yet don’t have the curtesy to honor them with a digital release.  There’s a museum down the street leasing one of their display cases if they want to live in the “good old days”. Just remember to feed the T-Rex.

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