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Rope for old Money...

Posted by ZX KNIGHT on Jun 5, 2011 14:18 (Jun 5, 2011 14:18)

Retro gaming compilations are all the rage these days, but do they represent good value for money or are games publishers just expecting gamers to spend good money for old rope?

The release of Sega's Dreamcast Collection on the Xbox 360 is the latest in a growing line of retro themed compilations in a market that has been growing steadily over the past decade.

Prior to that, compilations of a handful of old arcade games appeared every now and then but represented poor value for money when you consider that even a CD could fit dozens of early arcade games on it. Gamers saw through the cheap cash-ins and unless I'm mistaken they nearly always sold poorly.

As time passed the concept of 'retro' took off in a more concerted and defined fashion. In a way, enough time had passed that the old formats had become worthy of re-visiting and thanks to the efforts of those who never left the platform behind a vast archive of games and emulators for nearly all platforms from the 1970s through to the 1990s could be found online. The dividing line between the 2D and 3D era probably define what was modern and what was to become 'retro' (although PS1 games now quality as retro too) and the spread of the internet during this period was also been crucial in archiving older games.

When games companies realised this they set about clamping down on emulator sites and offering the games themselves at massively inflated prices (I particularly remember being asked to pay £15 for a download-copy of Columns, it would have been cheaper to buy a Megadrive and the original). As with the crappy three-games-on-a-CD compilations that had appeared on the Mega-CD and the Playstation it didn't really work. It was too transparent an attempt to cash in on a trend and it was obvious how little care and effort was being put into the releases.

As the next generation of consoles came along, this time armed with super capacity DVD drives, games companies could no longer attempt to pull the wool over gamers' eyes when it came to retro compilation packages.

The PS2 and Xbox saw wave after wave of retro compilations released, often of a higher quality than those that had come before. Midway released a trilogy of compilations that saw numerous classics find a second lease of life. Capcom put out two 'Classics' compilations, containing arcade perfect ports of Final Fight and its underrated cousin Captain Commando. The inclusion of the four player version of the latter typified the extra thought now going into the releases. Atari also put out a compilation of many games in its extensive arcade back catalogue, although for the life of me I don't understand why anyone would care to play Centipede any more (Whenever I see Centipede pushed on a compilation my 'rip-off' detector goes off – see my forthcoming post on Game Room for more on that).

These compilation packs worked where earlier ones had failed because games companies had finally realised what gamers actually wanted. The Midway collections contained art and information on every game and the inclusion of arcade ports rather than console ports meant many games were finally playable with four players unlike the original home ports, which were often two players at best. Finally, the compilations seemed to reflect the games people actually enjoyed playing, rather than just pushing out another set of Space Invader/Frogger/Pac-Man era games.

Despite this you can still argue that the collections were unnecessarily eeked out over several volumes to maximise revenue. The multi-GB capacity of DVDs meant you could have fit every one of those compilations onto a single maximise revenue. The multi-GB capacity of DVDs meant you could have fit every one of those compilations onto a single disc. Nonetheless, those compilation releases marked a new standard in retro compilation releases.

Today the current generation of consoles sees a further development in retro gaming with online marketplaces offering arcade perfect ports of classic games at discount prices. Meanwhile further compilations have seen Sega release an acclaimed Megadrive Collection despite it featuring numerous entries of one franchise at the expense of a wider number of games representing the best the platform had to offer. If you want the entire Phantasy Star series that's great, if perhaps you think one Phantasy Star game is enough and a couple of other RPG games like Faery Tale and Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun would be nice then tough luck, though licensing issues may have played a part.

The inclusion of achievements, a genius addition to modern gaming by Microsoft swiftly copied by Sony with 'trophies', also encourages gamers to spend more time on retro games than sometimes afforded considering their smaller game world and usually more simplistic construction.

Nonetheless, every now and then a duff compilation is released, serving as a timely reminder that all too often the primary motivation behind such releases are the low overheads involved and the opportunity to milk fans' money for games they already paid a fortune for the first time round. Just as they released possibly the best retro compilation, so SEGA have also released possibly the worst with the Dreamcast Collection receiving savage comments from fans before it was even released (the very worst retro ‘retro’ release is Game Room, which has the potential to be great but is so wretched it deserves a post all of its own).

Containing only four games on a single DVD, all of which were previously available on the Xbox Live Marketplace, the Dreamcast Collection provides no incentive for fans to spend their hard earned cash replaying Crazy Taxi, Space Channel 5, Sonic Adventure and Bass Fishing, not least when £25 could probably buy you all those games and an original Dreamcast with a steering wheel and fishing rod. Ironically when the games were released individually to the marketplace they were generally welcomed, but as with the earliest arcade compilations, the obvious cashing-in motive hangs around the Dreamcast Collection like a bad smell.

Given the bredth of SEGA licensed games on the Dreamcast the title screams 'money for old rope' and it's precisely releases like this that give retro compilations a bad name. The absence of classic titles like Shenmu is like The Beatles releasing a compilation without Hey Jude on it (please no smart-arse comments pointing me towards 1962-1966).

Despite this, the market for retro games remains strong. As mentioned, the online marketplaces for the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 stock a wide range of original games from the 16-bit era (A question for another day – why no love for the 8-bit era outside of the NES? It didn't start with the Megadrive you know).

As a huge fan of games like Altered Beast, Golden Axe and Gauntlet, it's good to see them have a new lease of life on Xbox Live Arcade. But I haven't bought a single one, and neither will I unless they are seriously reduced in price and even then I passed up on the opportunity to download Sonic 2 for about a pound.

Why is that? I think it's because, despite the increasing efforts being made by games companies like SEGA, Nintendo and Capcom in preserving their gaming legacy and offering it up to a new generation of gamers, I simply can't get past the notion that too much of it is simply them showing an eye for a quick buck.

Sure, I love Sonic 2. I think it's one of the greatest platformers ever made and the idea of owning and collecting achievements for it is a nice one, but if I ever want to play it I'd probably just plug in my Megadrive and play the original. Certainly at a recent games event I held with some friends there was a general insistence that every game we played was, wherever possible, played on the original system.

Despite my cynicism I can see the appeal of games like Gauntlet being re-released due to the possibility of playing online with four players. Games like Altered Beast however, strike me as offering nothing new for those who have experienced the game already and the problem with online leaderboards, which is another modern innovation nicely applied to older games, is that they are inevitably clogged up with people who achieve seemingly-impossible scores rendering the whole exercise of an online leaderboard a bit pointless.

Meanwhile another platform has developed over the past decade and is now on its way to becoming the largest gaming platform in the world (if it isn't already). The market for mobile games is increasing rapidly year on year and just as the new generation of consoles offered new markets for old games so too have mobile phones and tablets. Again though, the same questions and issues crop up. It is, after all, the same companies behind the same games.

Early mobile games saw companies trying to cash in just as they had done in an earlier era on the consoles. I remember around ten years ago being stunned to find out a mobile version of Bubble Bobble cost five pound, an absolute rip-off given the limitations of mobile gaming at the time.

Nowadays it's nice to see Spectrum games being released on the iPhone, and on the surface £1.99 or whatever for six games isn't a terrible deal. But conversely I wouldn't want to spend lots of money buying Spectrum games that are mostly available for free (and legally no less) on World of Spectrum (though I believe the ones on the iPhone are 'in deniance' on World of Spectrum). Atari have followed a similar path, releasing a front-end and Pong for free with future packs of six games released for £1.99 a pop. Eventually 100 games will be available on iPhone.

The allure is: are you willing to pay for the opportunity to play them on a closed platform like iOS? In that respect, surely it's fair enough?

After all, it's just capitalism. If the demand is there the market will surely provide. The chaff will be sifted while the cream (to mix my metaphors) will rise to the top. Failed and cheap attempts to cash in will be spotted as such by the gamers, either prompting companies to try again properly or give up. So I keep telling myself to relax and enjoy it. Ignore the more obvious attempts to milk the retro cash cow and enjoy the opportunity to play the games on a different platform, ideally with extras thrown in like online co-op and achievements. Certainly if I had the skill and the money I'd love to release a port of Dungeon Master on the iPad, a platform ideally suited to the windowed RPG style gaming of that era.

It’s obvious then that I have mixed feelings over the never-ending churn of retro releases. On one hand the games represent a good chunk of my childhood and it's nice to know they're still being enjoyed by people around the world. On the other part of that legacy of games is often being exploited without much being offered to gamers in the way of 'newness' or value for money.

Despite this, or perhaps in part because of it, the super-abundance of mobile apps worldwide means that a free clone is available for nearly every retro game, from Tetris to Puzzle Bobble. So if some people want to pay £3.99 or whatever for yet another copy of Tetris, let them. I'll stick with a free clone called Cubed.

But then those Tetris achievements look mighty tempting...
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#2 Jun 9, 2011 09:15:22 ( Jun 9, 2011 08:15 )

 It never really bothered me whether it had Offspring on or not though I do know it seems to be one of the biggest gripes about the various versions out there that don’t have it.

Sega Bass Fishing is a fun little game but I think it’s fun with the fishing rod – not so sure about the pad.

Sonic Adventure is OK...but I’ve never played Space Channel 5. I have to say, if I were to pick four Dreamcast games for a collection of the four on this compilation I’d only have Crazy Taxi. Very odd choices.
#1 Jun 5, 2011 15:52:27 ( Jun 5, 2011 14:52 )

I like Crazy Taxi, but it was a royal pain for them not to use the original Offspring music. Also, the other games in the Dreamcast Collection aren't great, in my view.

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