Wednesday, June 22

Ageing Gracefully: The 3DS Virtual Console and Nostalgia's Warm Embrace

E3 2006 was rough for Sony fanboys, even more so for those from Australia. A $599 US dollar price for the Playstation 3 meant that it would  cost about $1000 for Aussies to see Sony's vision for next generation console gaming. There wasn't any hint of a worthwhile launch line-up either, with Genji and a stripped-down Gran Turismo placed in front of the gaming media's harsh spotlight. For me this meant one of two things:
  1. Start saving - which was not really possible given my penchant for impulse purchases and alcoholic beverages coupled with a meagre income that barely managed to support my tertiary studies.
  2. Look to the competition

I tried saving; I really did. I even made a deposit on a shiny, black baby that was due in November of the same year. After the launch was delayed in Australia, however, I had to face facts: it would be Nintendo or Microsoft.  At first my money was on Nintendo. Being a sucker for nostalgia, the allure of the Virtual Console coupled with Solid Snake's appearance in the Super Smash Brothers Brawl trailer had me ready to part with my cash and loyalty. Ultimately, I went with the Xbox 360 after some creative contractual arrangements entitled me to the console at no out-of pocket expense upon purchasing a new phone.

I did eventually purchase a Wii though; pretty soon after launch too. The Virtual Console failed to live up to expectations on account of ridiculously-high prices, a stingy array of titles and painfully-slow infrastructure. My dream of a perfect future with cheap, readily-available games from consoles of generations past did not materialize. Dejected, I traded my white, motion-controlled elephant towards some 360 games.

Fast forward four years and the Wii once again made its way into my house. The Virtual Console still disappoints, but I found some Wii Points cards on clearance to ease the pain. I also endured the meagre launch of the 3DS on the promise of classic portable gaming experiences. I never owned a Game Boy, but my God, did I want one. The black and white games didn't look too great, but titles like Tetris, WWF Superstars and Super Mario Land 2 were just as addictive as their 8-Bit home console counterparts.

 Pythons, warriors and fluorescent tights: Wrestling at its best.

Let's travel back in time again for my eighth birthday. My loving parents had hinted that I would be receiving a portable console as a reward for being slightly older. There were three possibilities: the Atari Lynx, the aforementioned Game Boy and the Sega Game Gear. My pick was Sega's full-colour machine, and thankfully, Mum and Dad concurred. I loved that machine and my sole game,  Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, but compared to the Game Boy, the Game Gear lacked many other killer apps (call Castle of Illusion anything less than a system seller and you'll have me to deal with!). It lacked pretty much any other apps for that matter. The 3DS Virtual Console however, boasts Game Boy, Game Boy Colour and Game Gear support. That means that there's the slimmest of chances that this Disney classic may may make it onto my new handheld device. It also means that I'll be spending more money on old games.

 Best. Licensed. Game. Ever!
The 3DS Virtual Console has now launched - once again after a delay - without Game Gear support at the ready. Not even Super Mario Land 2 was available at launch. Two weeks in and we only have five games. We do have the former's predecessor though, and a good enough idea of Nintendo's pricing strategy: larceny. Game Boy and Game Boy Colour games are priced at either $4.50, $6 or $9 each while DSiWare can go into double figures. As cynical as I can be, I'm happy to front up with the funds after taking a dip. Super Mario Land may be subject to some questionable physics and design (seriously, Ancient Egypt, flying saucers and submarines?), but there's a powerful sense of whimsy and nostalgia in a monochromatic display. That and old 2D platformers will continue to rock my socks off.

Still there are questions about the service that can't be ignored:
  • Firstly, where are the Game Boy Advance Games? It's not like the 3DS can accept GBA cartridges, so it would make sense to offer titles from the console's storied back catalogue.
  • Why no support for classic home consoles? The 3DS has six buttons available, so that's enough to play Sega Mega Drive (Genesis), Master System, SNES and NES games with a minimum of fuss. I had a Sega Master System Converter for my Game Gear, so - at the moment - my Game Gear has the potential to offer as much support for retro games as the 3DS (Never mind that it doesn't work anymore, that's irrelevant).
  • Why offer less than a handful of titles a week? I understand Nintendo wouldn't want to overwhelm consumers, but the Virtual Console should presumably appeal to older gamers who have more disposable income. I'd very much like to see some Pokemon games and some other recognisable IPs represented on the service ASAP. Nintendo seems to be making the argument that for one to age gracefully, they must not be cheap or put out too much; works for people, not eCommerce channels.  
  • Seriously, where is Tetris? I'm not talking about a DSiWare version either: I want the monochromatic classic that made me jealous of my Game Boy-owning friends despite the fact I had a full colour display on my Game Gear.
The Master Gear: The clunkier, though more-effective Virtual Console

I'm affording the portable iteration of the Virtual Console a brief honeymoon period. With new titles trickling in at less than a handful a week, I have no doubt that my patience will depreciate if I don't see some of a certain blue hedgehog's adventures soon enough.   

Has anyone else trialled the handheld VC? Are any of you immune to nostalgia's warm pull?

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