Re-releases have always existed in gaming. From Tetris ports on the NES and Super Mario All-Stars on the SNES to the upcoming Tomb Raider and Diablo 3 on the PS4/Xbox One, re-releases are about as business as usual as the industry gets. However, things have changed over the past couple of generations that have made the simple act of porting far more complicated than in the past. Nowadays, we have major online networks, which (should) allow for a wide distribution of games across platforms. At the same time, two out of the three current gen systems have forgone any form of backwards compatibility with only the vague notion that ‘cloud gaming could fix everything’ giving gamers hope that backwards compatibility may some day make it to the system. So today, I’d like to look at re-releases and see exactly why such games may be problematic in today’s climate.
First, let’s look at old-school re-releases. It was common place in the industry to port arcade games to consoles (back when there were such a thing as arcades). While the ports were often weaker than their arcade cousins and added little new content, the concept of being able to play an arcade hit in the comfort of your own home was enough to add value to the process. Other re-releases were often brought in as package deals. For example, the aforementioned Super Mario All-Stars packed all of the NES classics together on a single SNES cartridge. Square Enix (then Squaresoft) packaged games together for the PS1 in their Anthology, Chronicles, and Legacy collections. The general thrust of these re-releases were either to bring a game over to a new medium that would be exciting or new, or add enough content to the package in order to justify selling it at a higher cost.
Last generation brought two major changes: 1 – Online distribution networks; and 2 -HD gaming. Via the PSN, the Xbox Arcade or the Virtual Console, older games could be purchased relatively cheaply and played on any last gen system. This was massive for re-releases, as, especially for Nintendo and Sony with their vast libraries, companies could easily repackage old content and provide a cheap alternative to dusting off your Playstation or NES. While these were mere ports, the ease of getting all of these games on a single system, and their low price point, made these releases very easy to stomach for most. The other change was HD gaming. This brought the phenomenon of HD remakes. These weren’t real remakes, merely upscaled PS2 generation games with trophies/achievements added. They were generally sold at $39.99, and contained several games. For example, the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection came with Metal Gear Solid 2, 3 and Peace Walker. While the Shadow of the Colossus HD Collection came with Shadow of the Colossus and ICO. HD Remakes were sometimes controversial, especially when the upscales resulted in bad ports such as in the Silent Hill HD Collection, but overall, HD Collections were positively received.
In many ways, last generation was the Mecca of re-releases with compilations, ports, classics, and HD remakes all having a place. The downside to this tremendous success is that things are a little rocky at the start of this generation. Firstly, there is the total lack of backwards compatibility with the PS4 and Xbox One. This is a problem. With all of the bought classics, arcade titles, and HD remakes last generation and none of them working, there is a bit of dissatisfaction among the loyal user base. The Wii U is managing better, but not by much. Users with Virtual Console titles available on both systems may purchase Wii U upgrades for their Wii version for a small fee. Despite that caveat, backwards compatibility, even at a cost, is superior to a complete lockout. The PSN and Xbox Live Arcade still exist, and the total lack of game crossover is mystifying to many gamers. These online systems were supposed to make it so that a single purchase could carry on for the foreseeable future. Now gamers realize they’ll have to buy everything all over again if they want all of their content under a single system. There is the hope that cloud services like Gaikai will alleviate this problem, but there is currently no details available on that service.
Secondly, there is last generation upscales, which have already started bothering people. It was understandable to have games launch on last and current gens at once, and it was nice to have some companies give a discount on rebuying the game on current hardware. However, that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m referring to is what we see with the new Tomb Raider game. These are games that have been out for a while on last generation hardware and they are being upscaled and sold at full price. Yes, Square did comment that they added more content and had to build a new Lara model for Tomb Raider, but these are likely to be no more sweeping than changes made to many HD remakes or enhanced ports. The fact is that this leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I don’t see value here. These are full price single game releases with the major change being an upscale in graphical quality. Even if you don’t own the game, it’s not a good value. The only way it would be worth it is if you don’t have any other way to play it, and missed out on the original release. This, of course, is not me trying to shame anyone from playing games such as Diablo III or Tomb Raider on the PS4/Xbox One, but the practice is worrying. When looking at past examples of re-releases, there is very little comparative value, especially with how the last-current gen jump wasn’t nearly as massive as previous generations.
Therefore, this generation has a lot of red flags risen already. Will everything need to be re-bought? Will everything even ever be available again in the same way as it was/is on the PS3 and Xbox 360? Will we start seeing waves of last generation games being sold at full cost? At this point, it is impossible to say exactly how much of a problem this will be. All that is certain is that the PS4 and Xbox One platforms represent a true starting over point for better or for worse. Whether this will lead to rabid re-release abuse is uncertain, but it’s a possibility, and one worth paying strict attention to.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer