Sunday, November 14, 2010

Drawing the Line

You've probably heard by now that, in honor of the 25th anniversary of Super Mario Bros., Nintendo will be releasing a Wii port of the 16-bit Super Mario All-Stars next month. And, I ask, people are supposed to be happy about this? I've been a sucker at times, but I will not be giving Nintendo thirty dollars for this. No, sir.

Let's take things back a bit to 1993, when Nintendo released Super Mario All-Stars for the Super NES. The compilation was one of the sweetest packages in gaming, bringing together three of the NES's most celebrated platformers on one cartridge and giving them new life through completely revamped graphics and audio and the ability to save your progress. It also threw in one additional full game, The Lost Levels--actually the original Japan-only Super Mario Bros. 2--which many Western gamers had for years been curious about. It is perhaps not widely known that, a year later, Nintendo even added a retouched Super Mario World to an updated version, Super Mario All-Stars + Super Mario World, which was distributed as a console pack-in. Like I said, pretty sweet, eh?

Now fast-forward some ten years to the Game Boy Advance era, AKA "the dark times." With the GBA proving more than powerful enough to handle ports of SNES games, Nintendo set to granting many players' wishes by portable-izing some of their 16-bit favorites. Near the top of the request list had to be Super Mario All-Stars and its collection of evergreen titles. Maybe Nintendo would even be extra cool and give us the + Super Mario World edition. Well, we got it all right . . . as three separate $20-30 cartridges.

Somehow, as the games got older, what was once one of the greatest deals of the 16-bit era was now, ten years later, being sold to us again, no longer a collection nor a bargain. Why? Seemingly for no other reason than because Nintendo had figured out how to squeeze its fans for their every last drop of passion and especially money. The Super Mario Advance series, so nonsensically ordered, didn't even look good on the shelf as separate titles. We got Super Mario Advance (Super Mario Bros. 2), Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2, and Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 (Super Mario Advance 3 was Yoshi's Island).

Where were Super Mario Bros. and The Lost Levels? Well, the 8-bit versions had already been ported and enhanced for the Game Boy Color as Super Mario Bros. Deluxe in 1999. Even Nintendo wouldn't have tried to sell us those games yet again so soon, right? Not at all! In 2004, as part of the "Classic NES Series," Nintendo gave us a straight port of Super Mario Bros. for the GBA for $20. This was, of course, the same mercenary line that included the 8-bit Metroid, which had already been featured as an extra in both Metroid Prime (later removed from the Wii version) and Metroid: Zero Mission. Other games in the $20 "budget" series included Excitebike, Donkey Kong, and Ice Climber, all of which were available both as extras in the GameCube Animal Crossing and as much cheaper cards for the e-Reader.

Speaking of Animal Crossing for the GameCube, did you know that it included complete emulations of both Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda? I wouldn't blame you if you didn't, because to this day Nintendo has never given players any means to unlock them. You can find any number of lesser NES games quite easily within Animal Crossing, but Nintendo quietly backed away from even acknowledging the existence of these most prized items, even though hackers have confirmed that the games are right there on the disc. Why were they coded into the game if Nintendo had no intention of letting us find them? Well, probably the Animal Crossing developers started with a cool idea, which then went out the window as soon as Nintendo realized that fools would pay $20 for what might otherwise have been offered for free. That is surely why no subsequent Animal Crossing game has included emulated classics, which were practically the only thing I liked about the GameCube game. After all, how can Nintendo afford to be giving away free games, when people are willing to pay money yet again for Excitebike on the Virtual Console?

I'll concede that the Virtual Console is a cool idea with a lot of untapped potential, but sometimes that potential seems deliberately untapped. And that brings us to now, when, instead of bringing Super Mario All-Stars to Virtual Console for 800 points (the standard rate for SNES titles), Nintendo is charging us $30 for a retail disc that is, by all accounts, nothing more than the original ROM with only maybe updated copyright dates and legal screens. There's no Super Mario World, none of the GBA or e-Reader extras, no four-player Mario Bros. remake, and certainly nothing brand new to this edition. It's just 17-year-old versions of 20-25-year-old games, the originals of which have long been available on Virtual Console, among myriad other formats.


*sigh* You wonder why Nintendo isn't cool anymore? It's not because they make baby games now. It's because they pull stuff like this.

1 comment:

Czardoz said...

But Henry, this new version has a red box that says "Limited Edition" on it. And now you can play it on a much crappier controller. And . . . and this is the big one . . . since it's on a disc, you don't have to rely on a cartridge battery back-up for your saves, which everyone knows is only expected to last five years. Isn't this worth something?