Here’s a conundrum: You want to buy a movie from twenty years ago so you pop down to HMV or go online and chances are it’s there in perfect DVD quality for less than a tenner, yours to own forever and ever. With music and books it’s even easier, with titles published hundreds of years ago readily available. So what happens when you want to play a game released ten or fifteen years ago?
As far as I can see you only really have a handful of options, none of which are ideal. You can hope that it’s available in a retro compilation or an updated port on a newer system, but even then you’re likely to be paying as much as or a little under the price of a new release for it. If I want to buy the original Castlevania (1986) in its GBA port form, for example, I’m looking at paying as much as it costs for a PS2 Platinum release from a year ago.
I could jump on eBay and buy the necessary kit to play the original, and a quick browse turned up a working boxed NES/Mario Bros 3 bundle for £20 and an unboxed copy of the game set to end in a couple of days for 99p. Very reasonable, but it’s hardly an immediate fix and requires another box to sit under the TV. The morally nebulous route would be to fire up an emulator and just download it. It works and it’s convenient, but it’s of course illegal and hardly as tactile as the real thing. The collector in me frowns on the idea.
It’s a sad state of affairs. Some of the greatest and most seminal games of all time are essentially lost, either forgotten or held hostage in cellophane prisons by dealers with their inflated prices. I really think we need some way to play the history of our hobby and while things like the virtual console for the Revolution (I’m not using the silly name) and Microsoft’s Live Arcade are a good start (when was the last time Joust, Smash TV, and Street Fighter II were anticipated releases?), we need to find a way to make them accessible to the mainstream.
Increasing backwards compatibility with new consoles is a start, but it doesn’t help when most big stores like GAME make finding anything older than six months and not from EA a chore. Maybe digital distribution is the only way, or are those who forget the past doomed never to experience it?