As you may already be aware, every game featured in the FGC is a game I already own. With that fact in mind, it’s no surprise that, given I already purchased the featured game for some reason, I have an idea for most articles before I even pick up the controller (or DS, in this case). Heck, some of my favorite articles are based on ideas I’ve had kicking around my head for ten years (see Ocarina of Time), and the FGC is just an excuse to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?).
So when ROB rolled in Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits I already had a plan in mind. KCS:AH is a compilation of Konami arcade games from the 80’s, so I’d pick one obscure title out of the fifteen (Circus Charlie was looking pretty tempting), write up some silly “where are they now?” screed, and knock off early, maybe try to win that game of tug o’ war I’ve been playing with a tree. But then I played the game, cycled through hits like Contra and Gradius, descended into lesser known titles like Time Pilot and Horror Maze, and… well… I think I blame the presentation for my change of heart.
See, each title scrolls through this little wheely gear thing, and there’s the year each game was published right there on the side. Scramble, a spiritual if not literal ancestor of Gradius, is the oldest game in the compilation, and it was published in 1981. Contra is the youngest game, and it hit arcades in 1987. The compilation itself, the “game” I was playing, arrived on the DS twenty years later, in 2007. That means that, in a little over 25 years, technology improved juuuuuust a tweak.
This is something that many gamers, particularly “experienced” gamers, take for granted. I know I do. I’ve said it before, but I feel lucky to have grown up with gaming. The Atari, with its one big stick and one shiny button, was practically my pacifier (full disclosure: that may be literal, as I may have chewed on an Atari stick or two… I’m moderately certain I was a puppy during my early years). The Nintendo Entertainment System was the first console that was “mine” (the Atari was my grandfather’s), and that went from simple, one-screen affairs like Popeye and Duck Hunt to more robust gaming experiences like Castlevania 3 and Super Mario Bros. 3. I matured with the deeper plots of Final Fantasy 6 and Breath of Fire 2 on the SNES, and even played Xenogears just in time to be an angsty teenager about it. Nobody understands how important and meaningful this story about giant robots fighting a slug is, man. College brought a glut of systems with four controller ports, so getting drunk and Smash Bros’ing around was the norm. Hell, Sega’s loss was my gain with the Dreamcast offering a very affordable, very fun library to a broke college kid. And, as I’ve grown older and friends have much less time to stay up until 3 am playing Rock Band, online play has usurped the need to assemble everyone on the couch. Yeah, it’s cool that you have to look after your daughter, but we can get in a few rounds online when you’ve got some downtime. And never mind recent (“recent”) releases like Nier, which deconstruct the tropes of the medium and may as well ship with a box quote that reads, “Been playing video games for years? This one is for you!” It seems wildly narcissistic, but there are times I feel like video games have been catering exclusively to me since I was approximately five.
As absurd as that sounds, it’s not entirely wrong. “The industry” ain’t stupid, and the people in charge know there is an entire generation of people that grew up combing through Nintendo Power and watching The Wizard, so just like you can film two hours of explosions, slap an “official Transformers product” sticker on it, and make billions of dollars, you can announce a revival of… let’s say… Clayfighter, and there’s an entire baked-in audience doing your marketing for you. From a less exploitative perspective, though, knowledge of the “gamer generation” has to have influenced hardware and software manufacturers alike. I have no hard evidence that systems around the turn of the 21st Century were aimed at the college kids who grew up on the Nintendo, but it seems like more than a coincidence that the Dreamcast, Gamecube, and Xbox were all so dorm friendly and released within a few years of each other.
But it’s that subtle kind of narcissism that makes us miss how technology has actually changed over the years. With rumors of the current console generation starting to adopt Sega CD-esque half measures, technology is once again at a point that it’s moving too fast for the average consumer. Like around a decade ago, the old standard of “it’s obsolete before you get it out of the box” seems to be making a comeback, and buying the latest, greatest gaming PC (or, apparently, game console) is a fool’s errand. Not only is something better due to come out next week, it’ll be at half price within the month. For some, though, that thinking has never abated. Technology advances at the speed of thought, and it’s always been that way, and it’s always going to be that way. Water is wet, technology marches on.
Like the beach that has eroded so slowly that we can’t even remember how far it once extended, we don’t notice just how far we’ve come. Konami was cutting edge in the arcades of the 80s and 90s, because you couldn’t be anything else and survive. If your cabinet’s attract mode only included six colors and abstract shapes that were supposed to be dragons, you were going to be out of business ten seconds after the cabinet across the aisle boasted donkeys that may have been monkeys. This compilation features six years of Konami history, and it shows the evolution from games that could practically be carved out of stone (Pooyan) , to games that we would consider complete today (albeit graphically “retro”), like Contra. In six years, “gaming” as we know it went from “graduated pinball machines” to the medium we know and love today.
And then we have the jump to the DS compilation. Given the larger timeframe involved, this one doesn’t seem quite so dramatic, but that’s probably more a fault of interest than technology. What’s important here is that, after three presidents, what was the absolute pinnacle of technology has become something that is crammed in with fourteen similar titles, stuck on a portable device, and is now playable anywhere on Earth. What once was shackled to an arcade cabinet heavy enough to perform a crushing Mortal Kombat fatality now fits on a cart the size of your thumbnail.
And it all happened as a matter of course. Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits probably wasn’t even the only portable compilation of retro games released that month, left alone that year. Now, with download services on every gaming system, a “new” retro game drops for a couple of dollars every other week. It’s the way of things, it’s just companies trying to make a buck on their rotting IPs, and, while we might not see a new Gradius any time soon, there’s a whole flock of aging nerds that will buy up that retro release every time. They’re preying on our poor nostalgic wallets!
But maybe the next time Bill Rizor asks you for another three Washingtons, consider what it took for the world to get here. What was once a luxury item that could only be “owned” by someone with a successful business (the rest of us had to rent, one quarter at a time) can now be played infinitely for less than the cost of the Sunday paper. It can be downloaded in less time than it takes to read this sentence. Yes, those are just the modern conveniences of a modern age, but thirty years ago, it would have been as inconceivable as invading aliens.
The world is only getting better, and it’s getting better one Circus Charlie at a time.
FGC #111 Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits
- System: Nintendo DS for the collection. Technically, all of these games are arcade games, so maybe that qualifies?
- Number of players: 2, but only with local connections. Actually, any internet features would likely be defunct by now anyway, so I guess that one is a wash.
- M2: Incidentally, this whole collection was developed by M2, absolute wizards of emulation that are also responsible for the current Sega 3-D Classics rereleases. Oh, also that Monster World collection. Them’s some good games right there, I tell you what.
- Favorite Game (in the collection): Look, it’s Contra. It was always going to be Contra. It’s just different enough from NES Contra to be interesting, but it’s still Contra, so Contra Contra Contra.
- “Arcade” Games: Come to think of it, the Contra Arcade Cabinet I saw most was at the local supermarket, just chilling by the exit for most of my childhood. Because she knew she’d never see me again, my mother only ever gave me a lifetime total of maybe a dollar to play that game. “You have that same game at home, you don’t need to play it here!”
- Did you know? Tutankham and Super Basketball both had their names changed to Horror Maze and Basketball, respectively, for this release. I can see how Super Basketball probably interferes with some copyright for a random SNES game, but I have come up empty on Tutankham having a rival for the crown. Maybe they just didn’t want to piss off their mummy.
- Would I play again: I would… but I can play what I want to play from this collection on other portable platforms now, mostly Vita. I’m all for high-fidelity ports, but I’m even more for not having to switch a cartridge out of my 3DS.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… oh ho ho. We’ve got a Mega Man game in the pipeline. I know better than to even mention which Mega Man game, because that kind of thing always leads to people making lists and debating noses and what have you, so you’ll have to come back Friday to see which Mega Man game ROB chose. Here’s a hint: it features the OG blue bomber, and there may be some blues, too. Please look forward to it!