Retro Round-Up is a regular feature that takes a look at what’s new in the world of old games. This week: why backwards compatibility matters (despite Microsoft’s claims otherwise,) Fatal Frame 2’s removal from PSN, and the usual run-down of this week’s retro re-releases.
“If you’re backwards compatible, you’re really backwards,” Xbox president Don Mattrick told the press yesterday. Mattrick says he doesn’t think backwards compatibility is a big issue, saying that only 5% of Xbox 360 owners routinely played original Xbox games on their 360’s anyway. According to Mattrick, developing backwards compatibility for the Xbox One simply wasn’t worth the time or the effort.
Now, I’ll admit it, I don’t use the backwards compatibility on my consoles that much, but that’s mainly because my entertainment center looks like this:
(not pictured: Neo Geo, Turbo Grafx16, me resigning myself to dying alone)
I own most of the major consoles released from the NES onwards, and yes, they’re all still hooked up and ready to play. I have RCA switch-boxes daisy chained to other switch-boxes, and I’m pretty sure my tangled mess of extension cords and surge protectors will someday short-out and burn my house down. I’m sure most non-gamers see this mess of wires and old electronics as an eyesore, but it represents the lengths I’m willing to go to in order to maintain convenient access to my library of old games.
Most sane people and non-retro gamers probably aren’t willing to keep a collection of twenty to thirty year old electronics underneath their TV like I do, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a similar desire to play old games. Nobody wants to give up access to the content that they paid for just because a new generation of hardware rolls around, and at the same time, most people don’t want dozens of old consoles cluttering up their living room. Backwards compatibility gives them that ability. Like I said, I don’t usually use the backwards compatibility features on my consoles, but I’m weird and not representative of the average consumer. I still own every system I’ve ever bought a game for; most people don’t. By acting like backwards compatibility doesn’t matter, Mattrick has only managed to illustrate how out of touch he is with his potential customers.
I’m aware that making a system backwards compatible can be pretty difficult: hardware manufacturers either have to produce an emulator that can play last-gen games (which is a big undertaking, given how much hardware and system architecture changes from generation to generation,) or they have to actually build-in the old hardware into their new system (which is how Sony achieved backwards compatibility with the PS2 and early PS3’s) which raises the cost of the console considerably. But the benefits definitely outweigh the costs, despite what Mattrick says.
Mattrick says that only 5 percent of Xbox 360 users made use of the system’s limited backwards compatibility. Assuming Mattrick’s figure is correct and isn’t just some number he pulled out of his ass, let’s take a closer look at what that five percent really means: the Xbox 360 has sold about 77 million consoles worldwide. Five percent means that about 4 million users routinely played original Xbox games on their 360 — that’s four million potential customers you just marginalized there, Mattrick. That’s not just four million regular customers either; I’m willing to bet that a good chunk of the people who used the 360’s backwards compatibility were some of the Xbox brand’s most hardcore fans — the type of people who bought the original Xbox at launch in 2001 and didn’t want to give up the games that they’ve been collecting ever since then.
You also have to take into account that the 360 is substantially more popular than the original Xbox, which only sold about 25 million units in its lifetime. The 360’s library of games is also substantially larger than the first Xbox’s, meaning users would actually have more reasons to use the backwards compatibility this time when compared to last-gen. The 360 has been the software sales leader for a good chunk of this generation, so there are millions of gamers out there with 360 games that they probably would’ve continued to play (and buy) on the Xbox One had they been given the option. Microsoft seems to forget that before Halo 3 came out, Halo 2 was one of the most popular games on Xbox Live, and most of those Halo 2 players were playing the game on backwards compatible 360’s. The millions of people playing Halo 4 right now won’t be able to make a similar transition over to the Xbox One.
The Xbox One’s software line-up is loaded with shooters and sports games, which is fine if you’re a fan of shooters and sports, but bad if you’re a fan of any other type of game. Having backwards compatibility (and access to the 360’s large and diverse library of games) would’ve helped compensate for all the genres currently under-represented on the Xbox One.
Nobody buys a new console mainly so they can play old games on it (or they shouldn’t, at least) but people clearly don’t want to give up quick and easy access to their old games either. Nintendo and Sony wouldn’t run their own retro download services if there wasn’t an audience willing to pay money for old titles, and I’m betting that same audience would’ve been receptive to the Xbox One if they could at least play their 360 games on it — and let’s face it, following the overwhelmingly negative reaction to Tuesday’s reveal, the “Xbone” needs all the fans it can get. No one is going to buy a system solely for its backwards compatibility, but the feature can compensate for other areas that are lacking, and right now, there are a lot of areas in which the Xbox One can be considered lacking.
Most importantly for retro gamers though, backwards compatibility preserves access to old games. I’m probably in the minority with this, but I go still go back and play any PS2, Gamecube and Xbox games I missed whenever there’s a lull in new releases for the current gen consoles. I spend as much time playing retro games as new ones. It’s been 20 years since the SNES and the Genesis came out, and I still play them on a regular basis. In 20 years, I still want to be able to play my 360 games, and let’s face it, despite improvements to the hardware, 360’s aren’t exactly known for their reliability, and I doubt my 360 is still going to work a few years from now. My PS2, Gamecube, and Xbox will break eventually too, but at least I can still play most of those games on the generation of hardware that came after them. When my 360 breaks, I’ll either have to track down another one (which will probably get harder as time goes on and production on new 360’s eventually stops,) or I’ll simply have to give up access to my collection of 360 games — which would really piss me off, since I’ve used my 360 more than my PS3 and Wii combined, and I own almost a hundred, boxed retail games for it. The Wii U is backwards compatible out of the box, and the Sony is promising that you’ll be able to play PS1, PS2, and PS3 games on the PS4 via it’s Cloud-streaming service — neither is a perfect solution (the Wii U’s BC is slow to load, while Sony’s solution requires you to be online at all times and who knows how much they’ll charge for it,) but at least the option is there. With all of the Xbox One’s competitors featuring some sort of backwards compatibility, Don Mattrick might want to reconsider who’s the “backward” odd man out in this situation.
This Week’s Retro Downloads
First off, an update to the last Retro Round-Up I did: last time I picked Fatal Frame 2 as my best retro download of the week, but the game has since been pulled off of PSN due to a number of a game breaking bugs in the PS3 port. Currently, there’s no ETA on when the game will be fixed and put back up on the PSN Store (if ever,) but hopefully they’ll fix it soon, because Fatal Frame 2 is still definitely one of the best survival horror games ever made.
Anyway, onto this week’s downloads:
Kirby Super Star, Kirby’s Dreamland 3, and Kirby’s Dream Course
It’s a Kirby trifecta on the Wii U this week, and all 3 games are definitely worth picking up. Dreamland 3 is a solid, fun platformer, while Kirby Super Star is arguably the best Kirby game ever made: it’s crazy, unpredictable (ever section of the game features its own unique twist on the standard Kirby formula,) and it’s one of the most innovative and fun games that Nintendo has ever made. Super Star is definitely the stand-out title here, but both games are worth getting if you’re looking for a good platformer.
Dream Course isn’t a traditional platformer, but it’s worth getting too: the game mixes Kirby’s platforming antics with the mechanics of a golf game, and surprisingly, it works. Dreamcourse is considered one of the “forgotten gems” of the 16-bit era, and it still definitely holds up today.
Super Star and Dreamland 3 were included in Kirby’s Dream Collection for Wii, so don’t bother downloading those if you already have that game (unless you really care about off-TV play or Miiverse integration.) Nintendo is currently running a deal where if you buy 2 of the Kirby games this week you get the third for free, which is a decent deal if you missed out on the Dream Collection.