Not to Bury Mario, But to Praise Him
The end of March marked the end of the Super Mario 35th Anniversary celebration. Normally, this wouldn’t mean much, but it also signals the end of some time-limited exclusives that are no longer available for purchase in physical or online marketplaces.
The most notable title being returned to the Nintendo Vault is Super Mario 3D All Stars: a collection of three 3D Mario games, including Super Mario Sunshine, which has not been available since the GameCube was a thing.
As a gamer who does not own a Switch in 2021, this pains me a bit as I do intend on purchasing the system once Breath of the Wild 2 is released. As history shows, though, this game could end up being released to launch the arrival of the next-gen “Super Switch” or comparable hardware upgrade. Regardless of any hypothetical future pieces of hardware, people like me will be at the mercy of picking up this game from resellers, with the digital option completely gone.
This is hardly painful for me as I have legitimate ways of playing Super Mario 64, such as via the original cartridge and as a download on my Wii U. I also have a copy of Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii, so the only title I’m missing is SM Sunshine—one of my least favorite Mario titles anyway.
I pondered buying a copy of the collection before the March 31st deadline, but I can’t fathom purchasing a game for a system I don’t own despite any future plans to own it. Having two of the games helped sway me from this purchase, but the temptation of playing Super Mario Galaxy without the pain in da ass of motion controls was tempting.
Therefore, as video game commentators around the world bemoaned the arrival of the end of March, to me it was Tuesday Wednesday.
The Failing of Our Digital Future
About the same time that Mario was being seemingly erased from existence, Sony announced they would be shutting down their online stores for the PS3, PSP, and Vita. Although my PS3 has been dead for nearly a decade, I always entertained the idea of buying one as a spare Blu-ray player, as a way to play my PS1 collection on an HDMI-enabled television, and to take advantage of the handful of digital games only available from that era.
With the PS3 store closing in August of this year, customers will still be able to redownload titles they have purchased, but it’s imaginable that an end date for that feature will inevitably come, too. Nintendo did a similar action with the Wii, shutting down purchases and then shutting the store down completely.
The fragility of moving further away from physical media to being reliant on money managers deciding the economic feasibility of keeping old servers running for media that could potentially be keeping customers from shelling out more money for new games becomes more apparent as we move further from the first platforms with large digital footprints.
Jim Ryan, Head of Global Sales and Marketing at Sony International Entertainment, recently said, “I was at a Gran Turismo event recently where they had PS1, PS2, PS3, and PS4 games, and the PS1 and the PS2 games, they looked ancient, like why would anybody play this?”
I found this quote particularly interesting as the first four Gran Turismo games are the only ones I currently have in my collection, and the two PS1 titles are the ones I play the most. I’m sure many other gamers don’t care solely about graphics and are just looking for a familiar racing game to play from time-to-time. One that isn’t too complicated or arcadey and doesn’t require an update the size of a small film library when I’m in the mood to play it.
Regardless, Mr. Ryan’s quote paints a grim picture of a gaming future where only the newest and shiniest games will be available for purchase.
Meet the New Product, Same as the Old Product
Akin to the film industry, it seems the bigger titles of recent years have been remakes and sequels to well-known games. While that is hardly surprising, it often leaves me wondering why I am spending money on new games when I can replay the original at a fraction of the cost.
I’ll admit, sometimes the newer titles are able to surpass the original. The Resident Evil 2 remake retains everything I liked from the original PS1 game and added more than a new coat of paint. It was like playing the version of the game the developers had always intended to make but were prevented because of technical limitations.
Thankfully, a George Lucas scenario was prevented as the original PS1 title has been available on Sony’s PS3 online store; however, I am unsure if it is available on the PS4 store, but I’m sure someone can let me know in the comments.
Often when a new title is released, though, any remnants of its previous versions are removed. Last year, after Nintendo announced they would be bringing Pikmin 3 to the Switch, the $20 version in the Wii U store was removed, so gamers would have no option but to essentially buy the same game at full retail price if they wanted to pick it up. Nintendo may have received some backlash for this as the Wii version of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is still available on the Wii U store (at the time of this writing) even though a Switch port has been announced.
This also highlights Nintendo’s practice during the Switch’s life of wringing every last drop they can from Wii U ports. Aside from Super Mario Odyssey, there are no other current Switch titles I have an interest in playing that could not be played on the Wii U. This probably speaks more to my limited taste as a gamer, but it boggles the mind how the Switch is setting sales records, and the Wii U is left to be a footnote in Nintendo’s history.
With the heavy reliance on the previous generation for current software, it makes the move to make Super Mario 3D All Stars a limited release even more confusing. The company obviously has no qualms with repackaging old games, so why is that particular one limited?
Logic points to Nintendo hoping the FOMO would get a hold of people and drive them to purchase a game that they potentially wouldn’t have bought otherwise. Nintendo is known for either intentionally or unintentionally making certain items scarce (most notably the NES Classic) to drive up awareness and demand for the item. It does seems that no one who wanted a copy of this collection couldn’t get one during its release window, which provides some hope that the reseller market won’t be gouging for this game for anyone late to the party.
There have also been rumors of Nintendo separating the three titles for sale as digital downloads, so there’s a silver lining that these games will be available, albeit at a potentially higher price, for people who did not pick them up during the 35th anniversary celebration.
No One’s Ever Really Gone
The digital apocalypse that has been preached about can seem scary, but companies have also a willingness to listen to demand. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game was thought to have been a casualty of the digital landscape, but it has been revived after years of bitching from fans. Nintendo brought back the NES Classic to where it was abundant in stores. Whether this is all marketing or genuine appreciation remains to be determined.
Ironically, one of the biggest panaceas for this digital deletion practice is also one of the reasons companies should want to keep as many titles available as they can: piracy. I’ll admit I have no issue emulating games, but I tend to play ones I have already bought in some form. The others are just curiosities that there’s no practical way of playing, and the developers and publishers wouldn’t see a dime from me anyway if I jumped through the necessary hoops to do so.
I will gladly pay for a number of titles I could easily emulate. This winter, I bought Episode 1: Racer for the Nth time because I wanted to collect the achievements. I’ve also bought Genesis collections as long as they’ve been available for the few perks that are not available from emulating them. Sometimes it’s also just easier to avoid the headache of trying to get a game to run and just paying the money to buy something I know will work.
As hard as Nintendo has come down on ROM sites in the past, the least they could do is offer the most requested hits from their catalog, at a reasonable price, to gamers who have supported them for over 30 years. For example, I have never been into RPGs, but after hearing about Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door on GameCube, it sounds like something I would want to try. Sadly, my only options are to buy a physical copy from a retro game store, the last price I saw was nearly $100, or pirate the game.
With each new gaming generation, the march towards an all digital landscape gets closer and closer. Microsoft has embraced this reality and strives to provide backwards compatibility for a number of their popular titles. While every title isn’t available, it does show a sign of goodwill to the customer and encourages buying new titles, knowing they will be supported after the generation is long over. Whether the other players in the game follow suit could shape the future of retro gaming for generations.