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.
Neo Geo Station (B-)
Best of 2010:
Samurai Shodown, League Bowling, Super Sidekicks and The King of Fighters '94.
Worst of 2010:
Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting and Baseball Stars Professional.
This brand new PlayStation Network store may be new, but you shouldn't hold that against them. In one day SNK Playmore was able to deliver ten classic Neo Geo games all with online capabilities. That's literally 1/3 of the Virtual Console output in all of 2010. This included mostly predictable faces from a variety of different genres. Of course we saw Fata Fury and The King of Fighters; it wouldn't be an SNK compilation without at least one of those hits. Art of Fighting also shows up, along with Samurai Shodown and Metal Slug. The hits are here, all formatted for your HDTVs.
The good news is that a lot of these games hold up. I had a lot of fun replaying each and every one of these games, even if there are a few stinkers in the mix. But the further away from the launch the more critical I became. While it's nice to have a bunch of online-enabled Neo Geo games, I'm a little disappointed by the game choices. Sure, these are the hits. But they are also the games we've seen dozens of times in cheap Neo Geo compilations. For the price of two of these games you can buy a brand new copy of the SNK Anthology disc that hit the PSP and PlayStation 2.
It's also disappointing that PSP and PlayStation 3 owners are essentially buying console-specific versions of these games for two different price points. Currently most PSone games can be played on both platforms, which will be true with the upcoming TurboGrafx storefront. So why not the Neo Geo? I'm sure there's a technical answer, but it negatively impacts my impressions of the store. It's also worth noting that only two of the ten games were available on the PSP in 2010, the rest were released in January of 2011.
SNK has made a good first step, however it won't take long before PlayStation gamers grow tired of these (mostly) first-generation Neo Geo titles. To date the company has announced a second batch of ten games, but they're going to need to do better than that if the Neo Geo Station is to be taken seriously. I've had enough Metal Slug releases, it's time for SNK to get serious and release Wind Jammers and Last Blade 2. I'm not going to be satisfied with twenty or thirty releases, I want the SNK Playmore to come as close to hitting all 154 games as possible. If they can manage that, then the Neo Geo Station will be a real contender in 2011.
Game Room (D+)
Best of 2010:
Food Fight, Detana!! TwinBee, Pitfall!, Jackal, Kabobber, Shoa-Lin's Road, Blades of Steel and Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns.
Worst of 2010:
Jungler, Baseball, Video Pinball, Oink!, Shark! Shark!, Venetian Blinds and pretty much every game that was originally meant for a 10-key control.
It's been a tumultuous year for Microsoft's newest game store. Launched early in 2010, Game Room managed to rack up an impressive 188 releases. Unfortunately Microsoft proves once and for all that quantity means nothing if the quality isn't there. Week after week we were bombarded with mediocre arcade ports made for the Atari 2600. Throw in the universal three dollar asking price and is it any wonder the service barely lasted a year?
To Microsoft's credit, Game Room does have a number of worthwhile titles. In spamming the Xbox Live Marketplace with every game they could license for cheap, Microsoft was able to land at least a dozen rock solid titles. Games like Food Fight and Jackal are a steal at three bucks. And even if you'll only play some of these games once or twice, it's nice to have the two Pitfall releases in your video game collection.
Unfortunately these must-own classics are surrounded by dozens of the worst games ever made. There's nothing wrong with offering 3D Tic-Tac-Toe, but you know something's wrong with that's the highlight of the week. To be fair, it wasn't always the game's fault. A lot of these games had complicated controls that are not easily translated to the Xbox 360 pad. Far too many games require players to map out a 10-key to various buttons, mostly for inane actions in an otherwise absurd game. It's not worth the hassle.
It's safe to say that a strong majority of these 188 games are not worth three dollars. Had they sold for cheaper or as part of a package, then things would have turned out differently for Game Room. As it is, it's a poorly constructed idea that failed to deliver games that people actually wanted. Rest in peace, Game Room.
Things do not look good for Microsoft's Game Room. What started with a lot of promise has fizzled out in record time. The bad news is that Krome Studios, the original team behind Game Room, has been let go by Microsoft. The best case scenario is that the deals have been done and we'll have games all throughout the year (even without a studio actively working on it). Sadly, the more realistic option suggests that we've seen the last of Game Room. We've already gone a few weeks without a peep. Where does that leave Sunset Riders? If Microsoft never makes the Konami classic available, then you can feel free to drop my entire grade by a full letter.
Xbox Live Arcade (C+)
Best of 2010:
Final Fight: Double Impact, Doom II, Monkey Island 2, X-Men: The Arcade Game and Perfect Dark.
Worst of 2010:
Crazy Taxi, Quake Arena Arcade, Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project, Sonic Adventure and Raystorm HD.
While it may not have the dedication of Nintendo's Virtual Console or Sony's PSone Store, the Xbox Live Arcade featured a number of worthwhile retro releases in 2010. You find them in amongst the indie darlings (Limbo) and quirky puzzle games (Ilomilo), usually released with little to no fanfare. They are a hodgepodge of classic arcade games, Dreamcast releases and graphic adventure games. They are the small list of Xbox Live Arcade games that warrant including it in this retro-focused article.
Over the last twelve months we saw a number of substantial releases, including Final Fight: Double Impact (which came with Magic Sword), Doom II and a six-player online-enabled X-Men arcade port. 2010 also brought us Perfect Dark, yet another Nintendo 64 exclusive to find its way to the Xbox Live Arcade.
Unfortunately, 2010 also had a number of clunkers. I feel bad for anybody that had to suffer through Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project and I'm starting to question who thought bringing Quake Arena (perhaps the fastest first-person shooter in history) to the Xbox Live Arcade. Things looked up when Sega announced a batch of Dreamcast ports. Could this be the year we finally get online versions of Chu Chu Rocket and Power Stone? No, instead we got Crazy Taxi and Sonic Adventure.
On top of featuring pixel perfect ports of arcade games, 2010 was a year full of retro imitators. Some found Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to be too challenging, which others dismissed the first Rocket Knight sequel in fifteen years. Capcom delivered another faux-old school Mega Man game and everybody loves Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX. If you're a fan of the classic game style, the Xbox Live Arcade offered enough solid titles to keep you happy ... but just barely.
With the death of the Game Room, one expects the attention to turn back to the Xbox Live Arcade. There are already a few big releases announced for 2011, including a Bionic Commando sequel and Street Fighter III. If that's not enough, Sega still has Space Channel 5 Part 2 on top, while UbiSoft is prepping Beyond Good and Evil. Given the success of 2010's retro releases, one can only expect more of the same from 2011. Let's just hope nobody brings Spelunker HD to the Xbox Live Arcade.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.