I saw a deal on the internet a few days ago: 40+ SEGA Genesis games on Steam for $10. You’ve probably seen these kinds of deals before, too. Between Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection, the SEGA Genesis Collection, SEGA Genesis Classic Collection: Gold Edition, and The Super-Duper Please Forget That We Haven’t Been Relevant for a Decade Dreamcast 4-Pack, I’m not sure if a current console exists that doesn’t feature some sort of bargain-priced retro SEGA collection – usually focused on the Genesis.
Then on the other side of the spectrum, we have Nintendo. Say what you will about the Wii (it’s been a ghost town for years), but the Virtual Console is a retro game geek’s dream come true. Perfectly emulate hundreds of your favorite and not-so-favorite classic games, on your big TV instead of a tiny computer screen, and for only a few bucks each? What a steal! “Oh man, they put the Game Boy Color Mario Golf on the 3DS eShop? That’s the best version! $4.99? SOLD!” But then we see 45 Genesis games for $10 and we balk.
It’s not (just) because we’ve been sold the same 40 games over and over and over again (yayyyy Kid Chameleon and Columns again…). It’s not (just) because the Sonic and Phantasy Star games aged so much more poorly than the Marios and Final Fantasys (games which we seem to have no problem paying a premium for a re-release). But what is it? Maybe it’s because SEGA doesn’t respect their own history, and the world doesn’t respect SEGA’s current sad, dilapidated state. Whereas Nintendo can repackage Super Mario Bros. 3 and sell it to us five different times, SEGA only successfully sold us Sonic the Hedgehog once. And that was back in 1991.
I wish it didn’t have to be this way. I don’t want to have to spend $5 for a Wii version of the original Super Mario Bros., which I can find in cartridge form for around 50 cents at any local used game store (or free on the internet – like everything else). I enjoy the fact that I can get a few dozen classic SEGA games for less than half of the price of a current AAA title. That’s how it should be. I wish Nintendo would be as free with their classic library as SEGA is, instead of charging their too-loyal customers to purchase them piecemeal. I love that SEGA can get all of their various third party developers to sign off on re-releasing their old games together on one disc, as well. The closest we’ve ever gotten to an “Ultimate NES Collection” is the arcade in Animal Crossing on Gamecube. On the other hand… the way SEGA has handled their classics reeks of desperation.
“Buy over three dozen games from our glory days for $20, now with trophies/achievements! … please?” It’s like SEGA desperately wants you to remember those few months in the early 90s where they were outselling Nintendo. Could Nintendo put every single Mario game on a single disc and package it with the Wii U at launch? They sure could. It would sell like crazy. But they don’t. They keep their classics close to their chest, breeding a desirability in us dumb consumers like Disney does when they put movies back in the vault. But that makes the little they give us feel that much more important. “A Mario Anniversary Collection?! AWESOME! … oh, it’s just a crappy version of Super Mario All-Stars, a CD, and a little book? Yeah, okay, I’ll take it anyway. … $30? What a steal. I’ll take eight.”
SEGA has been trying to recapture the magic of their past for years, especially with Sonic. Ever since the his disastrous debut on the PS3/360 with the new Sonic the Hedgehog, he’s been flailing about, more out of place than Duke Nukem in 2011. There were a few high points (Sonic Generations), but let’s be honest – it’s mostly been fumbles like werehogs, secret rings, and black knights. Even his re-releases (Sonic Adventure on XBLA, anyone?) have fallen flat, both critically and commercially.
Has SEGA lost their edge? Well, I think that kind of goes without saying. The real question: is it their own fault because of how they’ve handled their back catalog? Does giving us too much for too cheap spoil us and devalue their once-valuable IP? Or were the games just not that good to begin with originally? Has Sonic the Hedgehog aged that much more poorly than Mario that his games have an apparent value of something like 90% less than Mario’s?
Is it just going to get worse until SEGA fades away completely? Even when they try to recapture the past with an attempt like the 2D Sonic the Hedgehog 4, the games don’t get the attention that many SEGA die-hards feel our favorite blue hedgehog deserves.
Nintendo will keep making money on their retro catalog, and SEGA will keep trying to. It’s going to take some radical new ideas to reverse the failed SEGA image that’s been growing in the minds of former Sonic fans for years, however. Putting Danica Patrick in your racing game… not sure that’s going to help. Bringing back the cool – SEGA’s done it once before. Let’s see if there’s any more gas in the idea tank.