Home video game consoles have come a long way since the first commercial release, the Magnavox Odyssey, debuted back in 1972. Still, although the earliest consoles lacked today’s standard high-end graphics and sound, their long history and pervasiveness in our everyday lives has left us with a nostalgia that is hard to ignore.
So hard to ignore, that a fast growing portion of the video game market is focused on bringing back some of the most popular classic games in new formats. Re-releasing games with updated graphics and sound is not a new concept. What is new is the re-releasing the exact same games via widely varying media.
Each of the top three game consoles on the market have their own method of redistributing old games. Nintendo offers the Virtual Console, Sony has the PlayStation Store and Microsoft the Xbox Live Arcade. These channels aren’t limited to classic or retro titles but they do provide easy access to some of your old favourites. Re-licensing of older system titles mean that you can even play games from consoles that haven’t been manufactured in years like the Neo Geo, Sega Master System and Turbo-Grafx-16.
Gaming on your phone
Another point of access for classic games that has been growing hugely popular is your mobile phone. Gaming on your phone has been a fixture for a long time. Starting with relatively simple puzzle type games like minesweeper and moving on today with games of every type. First-person shooters, racing, massively multiplayer online role-playing games and others are being created for all the most popular mobile platforms.
In fact, the last few years have seen such an increase in mobile gaming that third party companies have already developed several iterations of cases for your smartphone that act to enhance the mobile gaming experience. The most common form factor is a case which, once attached, creates a handheld controller with your mobile screen front and center. This is a concept to watch as it may win over some critics of mobile gameplay using a touch screen.
There are several obvious reasons that mobile gaming is gaining such popularity. The first being the pervasiveness of smartphones in general. There’s no denying the sheer numbers of large mobile screens in play. Plus, with that device also being many peoples’ prime point of contact, a mobile game is a lot closer at hand for a much bigger portion of the day than your standard home console.
Then you have the price point. Console games range from $15 for used and not so popular titles to the average of $50 a title for new releases. Some analysts are predicting this average price will go up in the near future due to increasing costs in game development. I doubt that even the projected jump of $10 a title will make a difference in overall sales given that over ten billion dollars were spent on gaming software and hardware in America last year.
Mobile games, on the other hand, often have a free version that you can download and try. And many mobile game downloads have full versions listed for 99 cents. There are more expensive mobile games of course, but the market is flooded with these “not quite a dollar” games. Given that you purchase these with a credit card that you’ve already may have linked to your phone’s application store account, the impulse buy factor is extremely high.
Not to be left out of the mobile game surge, many companies are releasing classic titles for the top smartphones with little in the way of changes. From Sonic the Hedgehog to Mega Man, you have a lot of options. Unfortunately for those games that are not re-architected for mobile game play, the fun factor is limited to nostalgia. Playing a game like Mega Man on a touch screen is an extremely challenging and often frustrating experience. Unwilling to wrap my phone in a game controller, I’ll have to leave these titles where they are.
Turn-based games like Sid Meier's Civilization are a whole other story.
Jon Reid is an IT professional working in Corner Brook. His column appears every other Tuesday in The Western Star.