Retro gaming is huge nowadays. Cry all you want about how old games suck and people are only interested because of nostalgia, but there’s no denying that everything old is new again. The recent success of the dozens of classic game compilations like the Sega Genesis Collection prove that people are interested in what makes games great in the first place: solid gameplay. Games don’t have to be wrapped in textured polygons and blare Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound into your head from every angle to be fun, and this simple concept is finally becoming common knowledge.
Don’t think so? Take a look at the current crop of consoles. The Playstation 3 promises downloads of classic and original titles through its Playstation Network, and while the pickings are pretty slim at present, expect this service to boom as more systems make their way into homes. Nintendo has been perhaps the biggest beneficiary of this resurging interest, boasting 1.5 million downloads from its Virtual Console service as of January 24. Clearly, people are seeing more than the rosey memories of their childhoods. Good games, like good movies, are timeless, and I find it strange that there are people out there that fail to comprehend something this basic. Sure, some titles don’t age as well as others, but there are an overwhelming amount of quality releases out there that are still quite capable of making gamers smile. Classics like Frogger and Pac-Man would have long since faded into obscurity were this untrue.
But what about Xbox Live Arcade? Currently at the forefront of providing the classic gaming goodness, Microsoft’s service has evolved quite a bit since its 2004 debut. There are dozens of arcade classics available, along with some great original games (you need Heavy Weapon, now). As of this writing, however, one major player is missing from the line up: Sega.
Sega, Where Are You?
In addition to the metric ton of incredible arcade hits that Sega could be bringing to Live Arcade, it could also take advantage of the service to open a new venue for its console catalogue. Right now, the House of Hedgehog is reaping the benefits of giving Wii owners such treats as Gunstar Heroes, Comix Zone, and Golden Axe. Do gamers care that they’re essentially paying eight dollars for the same ROMs most have undoubtedly already downloaded for free on the Internet? Probably not, but that’s not the argument I’m trying to make here. The point is, if people are willing to pay for the same thing they can already get for free (albeit illegally) and without any changes, wouldn’t they fork over the cash for enhanced versions of those games, with achievements, leaderboards, and online play? Granted, we can’t assume that each release would include all of the aforementioned features, but it’s a pretty good bet that we’d see a lot of our Genesis favorites with some new trappings.
Many of Sega’s former third party licensees have already jumped on the bandwagon. Capcom, Namco, Midway, and Konami are all revisiting their pasts to breathe new life into games that have been offered in the same form for years. The newest version of Time Pilot is brilliant (except for its lame co-op play), and even titles as basic as Ms. Pac-Man come with new challenges. To be fair, some re-releases haven’t been arcade-perfect due to the stock 360 controller’s unforgiving D-pad. Even so, this last complaint would be rendered moot with console games, since none use track balls, rotating knobs, or twin joysticks. A simple control pad is enough.
All Aboard the Retro Train
Think about it for a second. Imagine Golden Axe with enhanced graphics and online co-op play. Sounds pretty enticing, doesn’t it? I would be all over such a gift, and I’m sure there are others who feel the same. There is simply no reason why perhaps the biggest and best software publisher in console history doesn’t add its name to the growing list of companies on Xbox Live Arcade. In fact, there are seven reasons why it should:
- There’s already a burgeoning market. All those retro lovin’ Virtual Console players aren’t alone in their taste for the old stuff. Genesis games would find a happy home on Live Arcade, with plenty of 360 gamers looking to rebuild their old collections without taking up all that space.
- Genesis Games on Live Arcade would probably be enhanced. People have been buying the same old versions of these games for years, so why wouldn’t they buy one that gives them so much more? Take what I said about Golden Axe earlier and add leaderboards and achievements. Want to play General Chaos online with three friends? How about showing the world that your high score in Space Harrier II is legit by being ranked #1 in the world?
- The 50 meg cap has been broken. Konami’s pending release of its Playstation classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night has proven that Microsoft’s memory limit on Arcade releases is not etched in stone. It’s understandable that the Richmond giant wants those who bought the Core system (both of you) to be able to fit their games on a memory card, but there’s a definite reason why that hard drive comes packaged with the premium console. By allowing games that surpass the 50 meg limit, Microsoft has opened the door for possible Sega CD releases. Konami could bring its masterpiece Snatcher to Live Arcade with achievements and improved graphics. Sega itself could bless us with improved versions of Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side and Dark Wizard. Need I go on?
- Live Arcade is not limited to only arcade games. Aside from the original games like Geometry Wars Evolved and Marble Blast Ultra, most of what we’ve seen have been arcade ports. That trend is changing, however, as evidenced – once again – by Symphony of the Night. Konami’s opus shows that consoles of all generations are welcome on the service, and the fact that such a recent game is coming proves that 16-bit games would be a much easier undertaking.
- Sega could use Live Arcade as a promotional tool for revived properties. Let’s go back to Golden Axe again. We all know Sega is developing a new installment in the series, so why not kindle some interest by releasing the series on Live Arcade? With enhanced graphics and online play, those unfamiliar with the franchise could get acquainted with it before the new game ships, while older games could experience an old favorite with modern bells and whistles.
- There’s expressed interest by former Genesis developers.Namely Treasure, which has gone on the record that it would like to bring its Genesis line up to Live Arcade, and company headMasato Maegawa has even said that he would like to do original games for the service. Surely there must be other developers out there that are eyeing Live Arcade as an inexpensive alternative to the massive development teams and budgets of today’s console releases.
- It’s cost effective for Sega. Say what you will about Digital Eclipse’s work, like the wonky sound conversion in some titles, but these people know emulation better than any other professional group out there right now. For more than a decade, Jeff Vavasour and his group have been providing companies like Sega with emulated versions of their games, and Digital Eclipse has done everything from the Sega Genesis Collection to the Capcom Classics Collection for all consoles. Furthermore, it’s also been responsible for virtually all the updates to classic Midway, Konami, and Capcom games featured on Live Arcade so far. Allowing DE to handle the task of bringing its properties to the Xbox 360 would leave Sega free to continue focusing on new offerings.
Will Sega Ever Scream on Live Arcade?
At the end of the day, it all comes down to making money, and there doesn’t seem to be any downside to Sega bringing its franchises to Live Arcade. The profit would far outweigh the cost, and it would be a major feather in Microsoft’s online cap. Sega has made no announcements concerning support of either Live Arcade or the Playstation Network, and it’s surprising that a company that’s finally profitable again would limit itself to only one online service, especially one as basic as the Virtual Console in its current form.
Only time will tell if Sega will expand its retro program to include Live Arcade. The demand and technology to make it both possible and worthwhile are there, all we need now is for Sega to show a little willpower.
- Horowitz, Ken. Interview with Jeff Vavasour. GotNext. March 19, 2006.
- Jenkins, David. Nintendo Reports Record Profits; Strong Virtual Console Sales. Gammasutra. Jan. 25, 2007.
- Kennedy, Sam. Treasure Talks 260, Wii, & PS3. 1up. Jan. 4, 2007.
- Sinclair, Brian. Castlevania to Break Live Arcade Size Limit. Gamespot. Jan. 11, 2007.
- Vavasour, Jeff. Digital Eclipse Game Resume. Jeff Vavasour’s VIDEO AND COMPUTER GAME Page. 2003.