Fact: Old games were released in 2010. I'm not just talking about retro updates like Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX and Rocket Knight Adventure, but genuine old school games were released. From Neo Geo games on the PlayStation 3 to Atari 2600 ports on the Xbox 360, 2010 was a year full classic games showing up online. No matter which system you own, classic games are only a few clicks away.
How do these services stack up? After spending so much time covering these classic games in 2010, I was intrigued by who had the best line-up and support last year. I looked at all five mainstream classic game stores, comparing software, pricing and more. While every platform has its problems, there are some clear winners and losers in this match-up. Join me as I issue my report cards for the Virtual Console, PSone Classics/Import store, Game Room, Xbox Live Arcade and Neo Geo Station!
Virtual Console (B)
Best of 2010:
Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, Ironclad, U-four-ia: The Saga, SonSon, Alex Kidd in Shinobi World, Ghoul Patrol, Kirby Super Star and Magical Drop.
Worst of 2010:
Zaxxon, Sonic & Knuckles, The King of Fighters and Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest.
Anybody who has followed my writing on Defunct Games or over Twitter will already know that I have become disillusioned by the Virtual Console. For me, 2010 was the tipping point. It felt like I was constantly being disappointed with lengthy breaks in between lackluster releases. I was prepared to write-off the last twelve months and give the Virtual Console a devilishly low score. But then I actually looked at the games that were released in 2010 and I was instantly reminded of all the high points along the way.
Last year we saw a dramatic drop in Virtual Console updates. Between January and December, Nintendo was only able to produce 32 old school games. That's half of 2009's haul, which came in at 67 games. And in 2008 Nintendo delivered 85 games. Clearly there's a downward trend that may spell trouble going forward.
Thankfully Nintendo was able to turn things around by offering some long overdue classic. 2010 was the year American gamers finally got their mitts on Dracula X: Rando of Blood, U-four-ia: The Saga and Ironclad. It also brought us Shadow of the Ninja, Ghoul Patrol and Kirby Super Star. There were more than enough hits to keep the Virtual Console's grade well above passing. If it wasn't for the painfully low number of games released, the Virtual Console would have had a great year.
If all goes well, 2011 will bring a brand new portable Virtual Console to coincide with the release of the Nintendo 3DS. So far no pricing, titles or consoles have been announced, though it's safe to say we can expect a heavy helping of early Game Boy releases. As Nintendo transitions from the Wii to whatever comes next, it leaves the established Virtual Console in a precarious position. If the last three years are any indication, we should expect even fewer releases this year. Regardless of how many titles they upload, one hopes that Nintendo will finally get around to offering Uniracers, U.N. Squadron and the Mother series.
PlayStation Network: PSone Classics/Import Store (A-)
Best of 2010:
Grandia, Final Fantasy IX, Crash Team Racing, Arc the Lad I & II, Sonic Wings Special, Alundra and Motor Toon Grand Prix.
Worst of 2010:
Perfect Weapon, TNN Motorsports Hardcore 4x4, Dirt Jockey: Heavy Equipment Operator, One, Dark Forces and the entire XS series.
Going into 2010, I had absolutely no expectations for the PSone Classics store. After all, this is the store that took the first half of 2009 off and then offered a solid stream of poorly selected duds (Dead in the Water, Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation , Fighting Force, etc.). But lo and behold, the PlayStation Network delivered, thanks in large part to newcomers Monkey Paw Games.
2010 started out with a limp. Games like Populous: The Beginning and Dirt Jockey: Heavy Equipment Operator spelled certain doom for the PSone Classics store. There were a few good games along the way (Hi-Octane, Grandia, Bloody Roar 2), but by and large the first half of 2010 was an unmitigated disaster. But just as the summer started to heat up, so did Sony and their third parties. It's as if Sony remembered that they also had access to good games. Within a few months PlayStation loyalists were given Motor Toon Grand Prix, Final Fantasy IX, Crash Team Racing, Soviet Strike and Alundra. Suddenly things started to pick up.
2010 also saw the birth of the PSone Import Store, a selection of Japanese games released (so far) exclusively by Monkey Paw Games. For the same price as a normal domestically-released PSone game, gamers can check out one of the eleven import Japanese titles. Some have been released under different names (Tall Unlimited, Blockids), but most of the releases will be new to even the biggest PSone fan.
On top of releasing a bevy of import titles, Monkey Paw is also releasing rare (fully translated) adventure games from Working Designs. So far we've seen the release of Arc the Lad I, II and III, as well as the delightful Alundra. These releases, along Grandia and Final Fantasy IX, further prove that the Sony PSP has a lock on must-own adventure games.
After setting the bar high in 2010, Sony needs to capitalize on the success by increasing the flow of PSone games. Forget the easily forgotten titles nobody wants, it's time to look at the heavy hitters that are mysterious absent (such as the first two Gran Turismo games and Tobal No. 1). 2011 will be the year we learn whether or not Sony's next portable will support the existing library of import and domestic PSone releases. And who knows, perhaps this will be the year Sony decides to create a new PS2 Classics storefront. One can only hope.
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