Like most folks in their mid 30s, I was raised on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was hard not to be, especially in my neck of the woods; I grew up in Washington State, where Nintendo of America was headquartered. I don’t think kids today realize how differently video games were perceived back then. Sure it still had its detractors, but it was still a relatively wholesome pursuit, especially compared to today’s offerings. There was no Niko Bellic or Max Payne, just Mario and Luigi. But Nintendo was especially revered back in the day, for being the homegrown hero, for helping to put Washington on the map. You had to be an idiot or an ingrate to not worship at the altar of Nintendo.
Nintendo was also a champion; its NES easily defeated Sega’s Master System in its first console war, one that was hilariously one sided to put it mildly. But the Super Nintendo vs. the Sega Genesis? Now THAT was a battle. Most folks in my parts, not surprisingly, were on Mario’s side from the very first day, until the very end. But not me. I was one of the few, and the proud, turncoat. I forget what made me switch allegiances. As noted, I had no love for Sega (neither at home or in the arcade). Instead, I was a rabid fan of Mario, Zelda, Mega Man, and countless other Nintendo exclusive games. Yet for whatever reason, that blue hedgehog that came out of nowhere and ran fast… super fast… caught my eye and never let go.
In time I would own both, since each system offered plenty of amazing exclusives. Most other kids at school owned either one or the other, though mostly the SNES (yet there were a few Genesis fans out there as well). Whenever from one side bashed the other, I did my best to expound upon the virtues of the competition: “True the Genesis doesn’t have Mario of Zelda, but it does have some amazing exclusives, like Sonic and Gunstar Heroes!” Or, “Yes, SNES games are fairly slow and clunky, but you would never know that in such great games like Super Metroid or Mega Man X!” But deep down, I was always a Genesis guy, and therefore a Sega fan. The Genny was my gateway drug; through it, my eyes began to open, as it pertained to their other offerings. I would never become a Master System, and therefore Game Gear fan, but I totally became gonzo for their arcade offerings.
After the Genesis was the Sega Saturn, which I got as a high school graduation present. I eventually nabbed the PlayStation and N64 as well, which also had amazing software. But again, I always loved the Saturn the best because of its games were slightly better; their arcade ports, despite not quite living up to the originals, were quite nice, as well as the line of original software by scrappy, determined game creators. Then came the Sega Dreamcast, and things were all of a sudden very different. Every diehard Sega fan felt it was a gift from above, a form of validation for sticking by them through thick and then. Aside from the fact that Sega’s software was stemming from a creative renaissance from within, the hardware was also tip-top, which had always been the department in which Sega faltered. No longer would one have to ignore the rough edges of less than stellar arcade ports. Or so the theory went.
It seemed finally that they would be the head of the pack, as they so right fully deserved. That was in 1999. A little less than two years later, it was over. Sega decided that they couldn’t complete with the PS2 and bowed out of the hardware business, to go exclusively software.
My interest in games has never waned, but I will admit, a small part of my love for games died a little when the DC was put to pasture. There’s been tons of amazing games since, but gaming has yet to be as truly exciting, magical even. Ironically, Rez, the first game to go multiplatform, was the last title I truly cared from them. Afterward came a steady stream of title for other platforms, which were mostly “okay.” Sonic got it the worst; he was never able to make the transition from 16 bits to 32, and in the realm of 128 bits, each outing was more painful and embarrassing after another. He was like that friend of yours who was the most popular kid in high school who simply could not adjust to life after graduation.
Ten years later, and the world of video games has changed dramatically. While nowhere near in the same boat, the once almighty Nintendo is in serious trouble, as anyone that’s been following the news can tell you. Many have suggested that one solution would be for Nintendo to create software for others, like Apple and their iDevices. Which would be the worst idea in the world, since Sega is the ultimate example of how wrong such a strategy can be. It’s especially ironic to hear Apple folks say such a thing since it was Steve Jobs who once said “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” Still, any Sega fan knows already that hardware was never Sega’s strongest suit either.
As noted, disappointing ports of even their own games, from the arcade, was the rule of thumb on the Genesis, ESPECIALLY the Saturn, and even the almighty Dreamcast at times. It’s funny how Capcom was able to create pixel perfect ports of all their arcade heavy hits (and in many cases improving upon them), Sega’s own home version of Virtua Fighter 5 and Sega Rally 2 were disappointing in their own little ways. Yet their hardware was still revered, due to the fact that certain games, due to various conditions, were only available on such “inferior” set-ups. Better yet was how many of these games had limited print runs, and due to the wonkiness of the original hardware (the Saturn wasn’t anymore powerful than the PSone, but its guts were sure as hell more complicated), ports of various console offerings appeared to an impossibility.
Like many, I turned to the emulation scene later in life, to relieve the glory days of systems and games that I had to sell from being a broke ass college student or young adult. Even many years later, with current hardware being so much more powerful, at least on paper, it was still impossible to properly run certain games. And that remains the case today. Yet oddly enough, almost exactly ten years after the spark was extinguished and after I stopped caring about Sega, we have all been given reminders of what made Sega so great. Mostly via pixel perfect ports, once thought impossible. Also, efforts to forget new territory appears to be working, like in the case of Sonic Generations.
But I’ll talk about that next time. Let’s go back to those “about damn time!” ports of older games. Re-releases from the company is hardly new; for years they’ve cashed in on their legacy, to the point of ad nauseam. Yet, here they are, thanks to the today’s technology finally being able to cope, along with a distribution channel that allows for such esoteric titles. There’s two in particular that I’ll be focusing upon…