Gaming Memories: Saving Up for Super Mario RPG

It’s the beginning of fall, 1995. I’m twelve. My lifelong love of video games will increase exponentially in a couple of months, when I receive Chrono Trigger for my thirteenth birthday, but before then I am quietly becoming obsessed with a game called Super Mario RPG, for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Cover

It didn’t yet have it’s subtitle, Legend of the Seven Stars, and I didn’t know much about it outside of what Nintendo Power had teased in recent issues. But I loved Nintendo and Mario games, and this one seemed more mature than Super Mario World. I had no money for games, though, and I couldn’t get the game for either my birthday or Christmas. Nintendo Power originally had it listed as a winter release on their release forecast, and at some point I’d read that it had an official release date in March of 1996. On New Year’s Eve I made a resolution to save up enough money to buy the game on my own. I’d never had very much luck with saving money for anything. Prior to this, after collecting a tidy sum of wrinkled dollars and loose change, I would inevitably succumb to the impure and ancient urges of middle school boys everywhere:  Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Sprite. You might be surprised by how much junk food you could buy for $5 in the mid-90s.

But this time was different, I told myself. This was not some dumb pair of shoes that I wanted so that I could fit in at school, or a cheap toy that I’d eventually break or get tired of. This was a video game. A treasured, revered piece of technology that was worth far more than the plastic and metal that housed it. And I wouldn’t have to beg for it, hope that my begging worked, and then wait weeks or months for a birthday or Christmas. If I could save up the money I’d need, I could buy it on day one and have it to play all spring and into summer. The thought of it made me very serious about saving up the money, and I felt that it was something I should be able to do as a newly minted teenager. I had three months from New Year’s Eve to save up $50 plus $5 for sales tax. Let’s do this, I might have thought, if I was thirteen in 2015. But it was 1995 so I probably thought something like Totally tubular, dude, let’s do this, cowabunga, or something dumb like that.

I was off to a good start, considering I had a fresh, crisp five dollar bill, a Christmas gift from a relative. Where would I keep this glorious stockpile of cash, though? I knew it would grow to be a big pile of coins and small bills, and I didn’t have a wallet (too young) or a piggy bank (too old). Well, like any self-respecting kid in 1994/95, I was obsessed with Jurassic Park. I saw the movie seven times in the theater that year, and I had as many toys as I could convince my parents to buy me. One of these was a velociraptor egg with baby raptor inside. A part of the egg could snap on and off, allowing you to vaguely simulate that scene in the movie  where a baby raptor is born in front of our very eyes. More importantly, I could toss the baby raptor in a corner and fill the egg with my sweet, sweet stash.

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Source: https://www.therpf.com/showthread.php?t=63123

And so I did. For weeks, I did favors for family members for a few bucks whenever I could (we didn’t really get allowance money for chores or anything), I literally pulled apart our couch looking for stray silver change, and when I wasn’t hungry at school I’d save the three quarters I was given for a school lunch and toss them in my velociraptor egg. It was tempting to spend it all on Ring Pops and Fun Dip at first, but after a few weeks I was proud of the small fortune I’d saved (probably about $15) and became more determined than ever to see this through and get the game.

My obsession heated up, too, because I knew I was going to get it and was more determined than ever to love it. Nintendo Power had gone quiet about it. It was there, on their release forecast every month, but there was no new news or previews to satiate my hunger for the game. I imagined how it might play. Like Chrono Trigger, maybe, but with Mario. Would we learn more about Mario characters like Princess Toadstool and Luigi? Who were some of the other odd characters in the screenshots? I waited, and I dreamed, and I saved up dimes and dollars.

Release Forecast
Source: https://archive.org/stream/Nintendo_Power_Issue001-Issue127/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20079%20December%201995#page/n117/mode/2up

As unbelievable as cloning dinosaurs for a theme park might be, I might not have believed I’d be capable of saving up enough for a brand new video game at the age of thirteen. But like John Hammond, somehow I pulled it off. By the beginning of March I’d saved up almost $60. Half of it was loose change, but my mom agreed to buy it from me so I wouldn’t have to embarrass myself at the local Toys “R” Us by dumping a velociraptor’s egg worth of change onto the counter for payment. I counted the money again and again, making sure I had enough, and calculating for unforeseen emergencies like a sudden increase in sales tax. But everything was right and I was ready. I brought my not-so-fresh stack of wrinkled bills to Toys “R” Us and, not seeing a hanging tag for the game on their wall-o-games, proceeded to the video game area to ask if they had that hip new game called Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars in stock so I could purchase it with my very hard-earned money. “Uh, what game,” a young female cashier asked. I repeated myself. “Hold on a sec,” the girl said, and disappeared into the cavernous backroom (you bought games and electronics from a separate area than the registers, with a little window that opened to a stock area). She came back after a minute or two and said they didn’t have it. Can I pre-order it, like other games? “If you could, there would be a tag for it on the wall. Did you see one?” Uh, no. “Sorry. I don’t know when we’ll get it, then.” On the car ride home, I was confused but not dejected. I mean, I had saved up this long, and maybe it was just a week or two from release. I could sit on this egg for a little longer. It would all be more than worth it. But soon after this failure, I received this in the mail:

super_mario_rpg_vol82_cover

When I first saw the cover my pulse quickened. It was as if Nintendo had heard my nerdy prayers and sent its printed messenger to soothe my nerves. Except, well, for one little word.

Preview

But, how? The game was supposed to be released this month! Previews were normally printed two or three months before a game came out! This should be a review! Wait, maybe that was it. Maybe this was a review, but the cover was a mistake. I quickly flipped to the feature and-

May

No. How could this be? What astronomical alignment had cursed me with such a fate? May? That was two whole months away. That was almost as long as it had taken for me to sacrifice every shred of dignity and self-restraint I had to scrape together the money for this game. Do you know how many Flamin’ Hot Cheetos I could have eaten? How much Sprite I could have guzzled down? I could live in a castle made of the Laffy Taffy wrappers I could have gone through with all of that money. Two months. Now, at the ripe old age of too-damn-old, two months is nothing. I forget and remember people’s names in the span of two months. I might buy four or five games in that span. But at the age of thirteen, two months is an epic, stretching eternity. Two months is 1/78 of a thirteen year-old’s whole life. Two months would be 1.3% of my whole life that I’d already lived up to that point. At my age now, it would .5%. Do you see the difference? Two months might as well have been two forevers. I had a stupid egg filled with stupid, useless money that took way too long to save up.

So I bought a Dennis Rodman jersey with it, and used the rest on Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Sprite. Yep. Not worth it.

 

E3 2017 Wishlist

I’ve been thinking about E3 for a few months now, particularly with Nintendo’s anemic release schedule for an otherwise successful Switch launch. E3 is not quite the spectacle it once was, but it certainly seems to have gotten some of its mojo back in recent years. So much so, in fact, that I continually find myself excited to watch the keynotes (as awkward as some of the speakers are) to see what surprises are in store. Since E3 is just a few weeks away and I have the space to ramble about the games I hope to see revealed there, I figured I’d post them here. Some of these are pie-in-the-sky wishes, I know, and I’m skipping games that have already been announced or are heavily rumored to appear (like the new Assassin’s Creed game or Super Mario Odyssey). But speculation can be fun, even if hopes are dashed or wishes go unfulfilled.

Nintendo/Switch

New and Improved (and Retroactive) Virtual Console

Okay, so I just finished saying I won’t be including obvious things on here, but it seems like there is a genuine air of mystery surrounding Nintendo’s plan for their Virtual Console service. It makes sense that Nintendo would save it for the fall, though, to add a huge bonus for holiday shoppers who might be on the fence about Nintendo’s new console. What’s less certain, it seems, is what the service will look like. Will they start from scratch? Will they include GameCube games now? Will it include handheld games, given the Switch’s ability to act as a portable system? The Virtual Console was incredible on the Wii, but it definitely dropped off early in the Wii U’s life. I suspect this might have been due to slow sales and Nintendo’s determination to introduce a radical new console successor so (relatively) soon after the Wii U’s launch. So my guess is that Nintendo saved their resources by shifting their Virtual Console development from the Wii U to the Switch much earlier than we might have thought. So, in the end, here’s my hope: they announce the entire Virtual Console back catalog will be available this summer, and new titles and platforms (including GameCube and portable systems) will start rolling out regularly in October.

switch-virtual-console-launch

Mother 3/Brand New EarthBound Game

Part of what informed my thought process for my Virtual Console prediction/hope is how Nintendo handled their release of EarthBound Beginnings (Mother) for the Wii U Virtual Console. Nintendo’s announcement that they would release the game for the first time outside of Japan came out of nowhere and reignited the rumors that Mother 3 would eventually be released here, too. Reggie Fils-Aimé was even sort of evasive when asked about the prospect of a port, saying something about not having anything to announce and waiting to see what happened with EarthBound Beginnings. Well, what happened with EarthBound Beginnings was that it was very successful for them, and it was a mainstay on the front page of their Wii U Virtual Console store for months. So all signs seemed to point to an eventual release of Mother 3, and 2016 made the most sense, being the tenth anniversary of the game’s Japanese release. A loud, widespread rumor that an announcement was imminent made the rounds that year, but nothing came of it. So why now? Well, by 2016 Nintendo was almost certainly winding down Wii U development behind the scenes, and as I said about the Virtual Console, I bet they abandoned most plans to introduce new games or console options and moved team members to the Switch team. It makes sense when you look at the Wii U’s weak Virtual Console offerings in its last year (or longer, really), and it would explain them holding off on a release of Mother 3. With the Switch and NES Classic, Nintendo is riding high on a wave of nostalgia and adoration from both casual players and hardcore Nintendo fans, so they know they need to capitalize on that this fall. Announcing Mother 3 (or, if I’m really dreaming, a whole new EarthBound game) at E3 would be something for the faithful Nintendo fans and would definitely make a splash with the gaming press. I have been disappointed many times before with regards to this series, but I’m holding out a little more hope than normal this year.

Mother3small

New Eternal Darkness Game

Nintendo recently renewed the trademark for Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, though that doesn’t necessarily mean a sequel is on the way. It could, sure, but it could also just be a matter of housekeeping for Nintendo, or it might mean a port of it is coming for the Switch’s upcoming Virtual Console. I’m hoping that it really does mean that a new game or a remaster is coming, though, for a couple of reasons: first, the Switch has lots of new technology that a development team could play with. The most interesting and innovative thing that Sanity’s Requiem introduced was the “sanity meter” and the weird effects that the game would employ when your sanity meter ran low, specifically the ways in which they tried to mess with the player and make them think that weird things were happening independent of the game – the console rebooting, sudden deaths, fake television volume changes, etc. The Switch’s Joy-cons have infrared sensors on them, meaning they could actually change your television’s settings (if you have it synced). Those same sensors can apparently read movement and shapes, too, and the HD rumble can produce sensations that the GameCube controller never could. Bugs crawling in your palm? Maybe. The game could also force you to switch between the handheld mode and television mode, or read your game history (like Psycho Mantis does in Metal Gear Solid). So the possibilities for fun, creative, disturbing uses for the Switch’s hardware make a sequel an exciting and not totally unlikely scenario. My second reason for hoping for a sequel is in Nintendo’s new approach to their core audience. After the relative failure of the Wii U, they seem more keen to listen to their core audience than they have been in a long time, and they seem almost giddy with unannounced secrets. Sequels to games like EarthBound and Eternal Darkness would be shocking to many, so the buzz among the hardcore audience would increase noticeably, I think. Also, the Switch is going to need some original content for mature audiences, since it seems unlikely that many of the popular shooters will make their way to the system for a while, if ever.

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Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

New Smash Bros.

This one might also seem like a given, but what I’m actually hoping for is a new Smash Bros. game, not a ‘deluxe’ version of the Wii U Super Smash Bros. The odds are not in my favor, though, since Nintendo could probably have a deluxe edition ready by year’s end, and with much less cost, but if they announced a brand new game that would be out by next spring or fall, I’d be excited. I know some people are hoping for a deluxe version with all of the current DLC and maybe a couple of surprise new characters or levels, but I’m worried that a precedent will have been set by Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, with deluxe versions of other Wii U games delaying new entries in some great series. So, yeah, sure, I’d buy Super Smash Bros. Deluxe, but I’m really hoping for a new game announcement.

Bayonetta SSB

Animal Crossing Switch

What worries me about the prospect of a new Animal Crossing is that there is an upcoming mobile Animal Crossing game. I’m cautiously enthused about that game. I don’t think it will be a full Animal Crossing experience, though, so what does that mean for the Switch? Will it give Nintendo an excuse to neglect the series for a while? It’s been five years since the series’ last proper installment, New Leaf for the 3DS, so it does seem like a good time to announce an Animal Crossing for the Switch. If we’re lucky enough to get that at E3, I’m hoping to see an easier way to visit people’s towns, vastly improved detail in the graphics (the simple design is fine, but Nintendo’s always seemed to use that as an excuse to be lazy with the graphics), and maybe more non-village places to visit (vacation homes, perhaps). Also, I know Nintendo abandoned the ability to collect and play classic NES games after the original Animal Crossing because they would go on to sell those same games digitally, but I think it would be kind of neat if you could buy/earn/find various consoles in a new Animal Crossing game and then access Virtual Console games directly from your Animal Crossing world (games you’ve already purchased, of course). If they threw in a free NES game (one per account) for your first birthday in the game, that would be even cooler. But now I’m really dreaming.

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Animal Crossing track in Mario Kart 8

Sony/PlayStation 4

Dragon Quest XI

Nintendo’s 3DS has gotten plenty of Dragon Quest love in recent years, but the last numbered entry in the series to be released on home consoles in America was Dragon Quest VIII. That was in 2004. From what I’ve seen, the world of Dragon Quest XI has the same colorful beauty that I loved about VIII, so I very much want it to make its way across the Pacific, and an announcement at E3 would be amazing, if not the most shocking thing to be announced. With the release of several successful remakes and spinoffs, like Dragon Quest Builders and the Dragon Quest Heroes games, it seems like Square Enix have every intent to fully invest in making the core series as successful in the US as it is in Japan. But the fact that their MMO, Dragon Quest X, never got a western release makes things a little more complicated. If that one wasn’t worth translating, manufacturing, and distributing, will XI be worth the same financial risk? We’ll see, I suppose, and hopefully at E3.

Dragon Quest XI small
Dragon Quest XI

Until Dawn 2

Until Dawn was such a nice surprise when it came out. The premise and mechanics are so simple and straightforward that it would have been easy for me to overlook, but luckily I had a friend that highly recommended it to me. The game is gorgeous, the subtle (and not so subtle) nods to a myriad of horror films were fun to catch, and the game was short and exciting enough to easily invite multiple playthroughs. Some of the actors have said that they’d be willing to do a sequel, and the game’s executive producer has expressed interest in continuing the series beyond the game’s spinoff, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. But other than that nothing has been announced or even heavily rumored. So I’m hoping for some kind of announcement at E3, even if the game itself is a couple of years away. Bonus round: What if the sequel is fully VR? Yes, please.

Until Dawn small
Until Dawn

Multi-platform

Bully 2

Every time there is a rumor of an upcoming Rockstar announcement, or they say that they’re working on more than one project, I hope that it’s Bully 2. It’s strange, really, because it took me a while to warm up to the first game, and even still it’s not one of my favorite games. It is fun and quirky, though, and I did end up growing quite fond of the characters and the small world that they inhabited. Members of Rockstar have said that a sequel is likely inevitable, but with Grand Theft Auto V, released four years ago, we’ve seen a dedication to producing extra content for existing IPs rather than development of a number of new games or sequels. Red Dead Redemption 2 is scheduled for spring of 2018, but what beyond that? Four years of DLC and then another game? I doubt it, but I want at least a couple of non-GTA games in the next few years, and I hope that one of them is Bully 2.

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Bully: Scholarship Edition

New Tomb Raider

With two and a half years separating the release of Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider, the announcement of a spring 2018 release of the next installment in the series at E3 would be of little surprise to anyone, especially with the release of the rebooted movie slated for March of next year. I haven’t heard much from Crystal Dynamics or Square Enix, though, which makes me think an announcement at E3 is likely. Will it be another timed exclusive, though? Where will the game be set? Will they try something shockingly new with this one, or will it be another refinement of an already solid formula? I’m hoping for a big, flashy, informational announcement at E3.

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Rise of the Tomb Raider

Soulcalibur VI

I could swear I recently read an interview with someone at Namco Bandai where they said they have no plans to continue the Soulcalibur series, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere. I can’t find very much about the future of the series either, though, so maybe that’s saying something similar. As it stands, it seems like there are no immediate plans for a Soulcalibur VI, but I would love to see something at E3. I do feel like the last couple of games have been less accessible than Soulcalibur II, but the games are always visually stunning and fun to (clumsily) play with friends. I’d love for the next entry to be a bit more casual/arcade-y, because I don’t have the time to commit to mastering fighting games like I used to, but I’ll take anything at this point.

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Soulcalibur V

I have other hopes and dreams, like a surprise fall release date for the Final Fantasy VII remake, or a Chrono Trigger sequel, or a new Parasite Eve game, but those seem pretty unlikely, so I’ll just cross my fingers and hope I get half of my list above.

Dear Nintendo: Where is Dr. Peach?

I find myself thinking a lot about games I’d like to see made, especially when a new console or technology is released. I don’t mean “I want Nintendo to make another Mario Kart,” because that’s inevitable. I mean the sort of far-fetched, pipe dream type of games that seem unlikely candidates for development – actually, a good example would be a mobile or 3DS/Switch version of the old LucasArts game Pipe Dream, funnily enough. My time with the Nintendo Switch has spurred a flurry of these ideas. Some, like a new Eternal Darkness game, are not unique, especially given the fact that Nintendo recently renewed their trademark on that title. One of these ideas is not likely as popular, though: I want to see a new Dr. Mario game. Actually, I want to see a Dr. Peach game, to be more specific.

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Dr. Mario came out for the NES and GameBoy in 1990, and I remember renting it several times from Blockbuster video because it was colorful, fun, and challenging. It was the only puzzle game that held a candle to Tetris for me, and it had an equally excellent and memorable soundtrack to boot. The game has been ported to several Nintendo consoles since, and has even received a couple of updates/sequels: Dr. Mario 64 (N64) and Dr. Mario Online Rx (Wii). Both were slightly upgraded glossy remakes, though, with a few new game modes and not much in the way of evolutionary gameplay. With Nintendo riding a new wave of nostalgia with the NES Classic Edition, and its surge in brand popularity with a strong release for the Switch, now seems like a perfect time for a new Dr. Mario game. Snipperclips has done well for Nintendo, showing that there is an audience for puzzle games on the Switch, and the genre is a popular choice for mobile gamers, who Nintendo seems to be catering to. Nintendo also seems to (finally) be fully on board with small, downloadable, indie (or indie-like) games, so all of this makes for an optimal opportunity to release a flashy new reimagining of an old classic. And the marketing would take care of itself. I mean, look at the Joy-cons, then look at the pills in Dr. Mario. You’re welcome, Nintendo marketing department.

But hold on a second, Nintendo. I can see you over there in Japan, reading this and thinking “how did I come across this blog, nobody visits this site,” but then also thinking “what a great idea, let’s start production tomorrow!” Before you do that, I have one major request: make Princess Peach the doctor. Why was Mario the one with the advanced degree in the first place? Who was more likely to have the money and privilege to attend medical school: a plumber who never actually practices his current profession in the real world, or the princess of a royal family who has a title and vast wealth? I understand there were probably some 1980s-era gender norms coming into play, which is why Peach was in the game… but only as Mario’s assistant, nurse Toadstool.

Dr Mario Booklet
http://www.thegameisafootarcade.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Dr.-Mario-Game-Manual.pdf

The picture above is a page from the original game’s instructional manual, and as with many NES-era games, the premise of the game was presented in a short blurb in the manual. So, according to this premise, Mario ends up as a virologist in the Mushroom Kingdom’s research lab, which is already a little odd, but somehow Princess Toadstool (as she was known at that time) ends up as his assistant? The ruling monarch of the Mushroom Kingdom is letting a plumber run his research lab, and he makes his daughter, who is royalty, an assistant nurse?

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http://thevideogameartarchive.tumblr.com/post/115868716674/not-from-the-game-specifically-but-nintendo-power

Wait, wait, Nintendo, don’t get all defensive. I know that Dr. Mario was released a long time ago and I’m sure you’re cautious about revising the elaborate and nuanced background you so carefully introduced on that single page of an instruction booklet.  So don’t do that. Just give Princess Peach her own story. Maybe she got tired of being an educated, cultured nurse for an unqualified doctor, so she went to Mushroom Medical School and got her own PhD in microbiology. Or maybe, on all of those long nights when she was captured by Bowser (in the Super Mario Bros. games, Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, etc.), she did a lot of independent studying. If you really want to get crazy, pull a Super Mario Bros. 2 ending and show us a scene where we find out that the previous Dr. Mario games were Mario’s drug-fueled hallucinations, with him strapped to a hospital bed and Peach having attended to him as the kingdom’s primary physician.

DrMario1
http://thevideogameartarchive.tumblr.com/post/115868716674/not-from-the-game-specifically-but-nintendo-power

However you decide to develop the plot, a Dr. Peach game would be an excellent move. The Princess has long deserved a more prominent role in your games, and women’s rights are once again a hot political topic. Disney, who you have modeled yourself after in many ways, has made great strides to introduce stronger and more independent female characters in their work, so why not you? Some might argue that Peach is not smart or capable enough to be a doctor, given that she is always ‘getting herself kidnapped by Bowser’ (scare quotes to remove myself from that kind of victim blaming), but isn’t it about time she becomes strong, independent, and accomplished? It’s never too late for her to grow and mature as a character – and it’s not too late for you, either, Nintendo.

War Never Changes

I just finished reading Blake J. Harris’s Console Wars, about Sega’s war with Nintendo for dominance in the home console market during the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis era, and my mind is tingling with nostalgia.

Mario and Sonic

Like many videogame-loving kids during that time period, my parents were only willing to buy me one console (and only after months of pleading and a hefty price drop). Having been a proud owner of an NES, the choice for me was clear, especially because, as the book points out, Sega didn’t really start offering much to entice players to switch allegiance until the Sonic games came around. So I was team Nintendo all the way, a willing participant (or consumer pawn) in this ‘war.’

There were times when my loyalty wavered just a bit, though, and the Mortal Kombat blood debacle was one of them. I was used to playing the arcade version of the game at a corner store near my house, and the idea of a watered-down, blood-free version did not sit well with ten year old Joey. I also remember gazing longingly at the screenshots of the Genesis version of Jurassic Park and wishing my SNES version looked as gorgeous.

Genesis

Jurassic Park Gen

SNES

Jurassic Park SNES

There’s something to be said for the SNES version of Jurassic Park combining third person overhead segments and first person interior segments, especially given that the latter made good use of the SNES’s Mode 7 capabilities. But when you’re eleven years old and in love with the superb special effects of the Jurassic Park movie, you want your digital dinos to look as close to the ‘real thing’ as possible, and Genesis delivered in that department.

Aside from spurring a stroll down memory lane, the book prompted me to reflect on my experience as an observer of an ever-changing home console scene. In the late 70s (not that I was alive yet), Atari was huge. Untouchable. Until they weren’t (and they really, really weren’t). Nintendo owned 95% of the home console market during the NES’s reign in the mid-late 80s, and they too seemed invincible, until they weren’t. I would argue that they ‘won’ the SNES vs Genesis war, but not before losing a huge portion of the market to Sega. It seemed unimaginable that the generation after that would be anything but Sega vs Nintendo: Round 2 (well, Round 3, technically), but Sony changed everything with the introduction of the first PlayStation. The Sega Saturn was not very powerful and didn’t have much support in the software department, so it basically came down to Nintendo’s N64 and the PlayStation. The likely victor seemed obvious at the time. The N64 was (arguably) twice as powerful, produced 3D worlds that really felt expansive, had an innovative controller that introduced sensitive joysticks and rumble, launched at $100 less than the PlayStation had, and Nintendo’s first party games remained among the best on the market.

But they lost. It’s a fact we take for granted now, but it bordered on unbelievable at the time. It wasn’t Sega that slayed Nintendo, it was Sony who knocked them both down to size. Sony, who (as the book describes in some detail) had been on the verge of handing their original PlayStation design over to Nintendo and, later, Sega, before dumb corporate politics got in the way. But how? Well, Sega had a lot to do with it. Nintendo had an iron grip on the industry in the 80s and placed strict restrictions on how many games developers could release, and then monitored the quality of these games closely (which saved the market from collapsing in a heap of crap, as it had done in the 70s). To convince those same developers to make games for their Genesis, Sega promised far less restrictive control. While it didn’t help them outright win their war with Nintendo, it did change how business was done in the market and freed developers to seek more than one place to publish their games. While Nintendo failed to learn from this, continuing with expensive (but tightly controlled) cartridge manufacturing, closely monitoring third party output, etc., Sony capitalized on it and made their console easy and cheap to develop for, welcoming companies to produce games more freely than Nintendo had. This quantity over quality approach eventually resulted in a glut of poorly made, ugly, or buggy games, but PlayStation owners enjoyed the freedom of a vast library of games which Nintendo just did not have. And of course there was marketing and the perception that the PlayStation was for adults and the N64 for kids, and plenty of other of factors that contributed to the outcome. But Sony won in a big way.

They won in an even bigger way with the PS2, leaving Nintendo’s GameCube and Microsoft’s newly-christened Xbox to fight for second place. But in a huge upset the following generation, the Xbox 360 dominated against the PS3, and Nintendo’s Wii outsold both of them quite handily. In the current generation, it’s all mixed up again. Nintendo’s Wii U is a distant echo, and the PS4 is once again Sony’s claim to home console dominance.

I probably didn’t need to regurgitate all of that, but it’s, in part, what’s been running through my head lately. It’s been hard to determine which console or company will be the victor of any particular generation’s ‘war.’ But what really struck me is this: going all the way back to the NES versus the Sega Master System, consoles seemed to offer something noticeably different than their competition. SNES games looked different than Genesis games. You’d never mistake an N64 game for a PlayStation game. GameCube games were distinct from Xbox games. With the Xbox 360 and PS3, the lines began to blur, and now it seems as if having a home console that boasts any kind of obvious technological advantage is increasingly unlikely. The Wii changed the landscape a lot, forcing Sony and Microsoft to invest in exploring motion control and other avenues of expanding gameplay beyond the controller. So is this generation going to be defined by PlayStation’s virtual reality and Microsoft’s augmented reality? What about next generation?

Microsoft’s openness to cross-platform play with the PS4 was shocking, but could it be indicative of something more? Research and development of console hardware is incredibly costly, but game publishing is lucrative. Could Microsoft plan on moving strictly to Windows gaming in the future, developing and publishing games for the PS4 on the side? I know that people say similar things every generation (Nintendo has been on the verge of giving up the hardware game for 20 years, according to these people), but it’s becoming increasingly hard to not only imagine how consoles from two companies will define themselves in relation to one another, but how they will differ from a moderately priced PC. Those distinctions were easy to make in the past, but other than peripherals or interface or services, I have a hard time believing the next Xbox and PS will be very different at all, in terms of hardware. And if I were looking at having to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to keep up in that race, only to potentially ‘lose’ another round, I might think about other, less risky avenues to stay in the market.

This is all amatuer speculation, of course, and this generation still has plenty of potential surprises in store, I’m sure. But it’s fun to think about this stuff. And you never know what will happen. You might not have ever convinced 12 year old Joey that he would one day buy Sonic Adventure 2 for a Nintendo console, or buy an issue of Nintendo Power with Sonic on the cover, or play a Nintendo fighting game with Sonic as a playable character, or own a Sonic figure with a Nintendo copyright stamped on the bottom. But here we are. What a time to be alive.

Nintendo Power Sonic