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Why Backwards Compatibility is Important


Nintendo’s Virtual Console support is a joke. I’ve made this point several times already. Sony’s lack of backwards compatibility is absolutely pathetic. I’ve made that point several times already, too. I will no doubt be making these points until the end of time if these companies don’t get their acts together which, if their current actions and their histories are any indication, is incredibly likely. That’s not what this blog is about, though. Today, I want to talk about why backwards compatibility is so friggin’ important for gaming systems to have in the first place.

Some of you may be wondering why backwards compatibility is so important to a lot of people like myself. We live in an age where re-masters and re-releases of games that are barely five years old are the norm. And that’s not to say I’m against that necessarily. I think it’s a great way for new generations of gamers to experience franchises they never would have otherwise. Hell, if it weren’t for the God of War Collection, the Monkey Island remasters, and the majority of Virtual Console re-releases, I wouldn’t have been able to experience games that I missed out on that would’ve been difficult to obtain and get running these days.

And Devil May Cry HD! Don't forget about that!

That being said, I don’t think re-masters go as far as people often like. There are so many games that you just cannot get physically or digitally for modern platforms. Viewtiful Joe, for example, has yet to be re-released on any modern platform. Not PS4, not Xbox One, not the Switch, and certainly not on PC. The only way you can play these games would be if you still had your original Wii or your launch day PS3 and physical copies of them. Then, of course, there’s the fact that digital games can get delisted for any number of reasons. Poker Smash was delisted from the Xbox One back in June, though you can still purchase it and play it on the Xbox 360. This is the one of the few times I can think of where a vintage game was not only delisted from a digital storefront, but actively not supported on a modern system, though I’m sure there have been other examples before or since then.

Recently, I got a launch-day PS3 off of eBay for a little over $100 just so that I could play my old PS2 games on it. I still need to finish Persona 4, Ratchet: Deadlocked, Soul Calibur III, and several others. And honestly, I regard this system as one of the best ever made. Not because it’s a good console, mind you. The system is a clunky pain in the ass to use at the best of times. Plus, the library of new titles it had was a bit lacking compared to other consoles. That being said, I think its backwards compatibility absolutely made up for it. Not only are you able to play every physical PS1 game ever released, but you can also play every physical PS2 game that was ever released. Not only that, but Sony released a handful of PS1 and PS2 games digitally, some of which are pretty expensive to get a physical copy of these days. Plus, the fact that they were digital versions meant they were subject to some pretty crazy discounts. I’d have to say that roughly 75% of the PS1 games I got for the system were purchased for one or two bucks.

Fuck you too, Jim.

This is why I simply refuse to get a new console from Sony these days. The fact that Jim Ryan actively stated that backwards compatibility was dumb was an insult to all the gamers who bought Sony games since the PS1 days who simply cannot play them on the PS4. Meanwhile, Microsoft has been busy tearing its way through its back catalog of Xbox 360 titles and has been making them playable on the Xbox One. Heck, they’ve even announced they’ll start doing that for original Xbox games too. It wouldn’t be as expansive as their Xbox 360 efforts, but the fact that they’re at least attempting to have functional backwards compatibility for their system is at least commendable. That’s not gonna make me want to buy a new system any time soon, but I do respect the Xbox team for doing that.

That’s not to say I fully trust Microsoft either. Hell, when they announced the Xbox One this generation, it didn’t have backwards compatibility either. They also didn’t shy away from being dicks about it. I’m glad they backpedaled on that idiotic attitude, but there’s absolutely nothing stopping them from pulling that kind of shit again in the future. Hell, I remember when Microsoft were being dickheads last generation when their Xbox 360 was doing moderately well. All it takes is the runaway success of a console for their makers to stop giving a shit about their fanbase and burn all their goodwill to the goddamn ground.

And do you know what gaming platforms don’t suffer from this kind of issue? PC and mobile. I’ve touched on this before, but I really cannot overstate just how good of a gaming platform the PC is simply by having access to games that are well over two decades old. The first game I ever obtained on Steam is Portal, which I got for free when I created a Steam account on my Mac back in 2010. I can still fire that sucker up and play it whenever I want. You can’t do that on the PS4, can ya? I even have the original Wasteland and System Shock, games that was released on friggin' DOS, that I purchased from GOG working on my PC. That’s not even counting all the old game CDs I have from the 90s, which I can always get working by running them in compatibility mode if necessary or the occasional fan-made patch to fix them.

And then there are the mobile platforms; namely iOS and Android. Yeah, I know how most of you feel about mobile gaming by now, but this is still important. I got a Nexus 5X last year after I decided to switch to Google Fi as my service provider. All the games on my last Android phone still run on it, including Angry Birds. I’m not talking about the sequels or the spin-off tie-in bullshit. I mean the original, very first Angry Birds that caught the world by storm in the late 2000s. Seriously, that game was the mobile equivalent of Tetris for a while. I can’t get friggin’ Skullgirls Mobile running on my Nexus 5X for some idiotic reason even though I really, really wanna play it, but at least I can get Angry Birds working no problem.

Hell, I’ve played mobile games all the way back in 2006 when I got my iPod Touch. I haven’t purchased an iOS device since the iPad I got for college back in 2011 because Android is just a better mobile OS than Apple’s. That said, if I ever decided to get a new iPad to replace my old one, I’m fairly certain that I can still play games like Saturday Morning RPG and lose absolutely nothing in the process.

When I look at all that and see what’s going on in the dedicated console space, I can’t help but wonder why anyone would want to defend this bullshit practice of junking all your legacy titles willy nilly. Imagine if PC and mobile did this for a moment. Imagine if Apple came out with a new iPhone, but you couldn’t use all your old apps and games on it. Or if Microsoft came out with a new version of Windows that wouldn’t allow you to use all your old programs on it. There’d be riots in the goddamned streets over that shit. Yet here we are telling people to just keep their old consoles if they love their old games that much.

And just to respond to that point, I’ve already got enough shit plugged into my TV right now. I’ve only got so many HDMI ports and plugs on my surge protector before I run out of ports to plug my shit into or I break my circuit. The only old systems I still have are my N64 and my Gamecube. I kept the Gamecube around because it was my first gaming console and is just better at running Gamecube games than my Wii was. The N64 was purchased several years after the fact purely so I could play N64 titles that I couldn’t get on the Virtual Console. But trust me, if I could get rid of my N64 for an opportunity to consolidate my gaming stuff into a superior console, I absolutely fucking would.

The lack of backwards compatibility is the big reason why I decided to skip this generation of consoles this time around, with the exception of the Nintendo Switch. I want to see how Sony and Microsoft handle backwards compatibility in the future before I decide to jump in on a new console from them. Microsoft is already making promising strides with their ongoing backwards compatibility efforts and their decision to just do console upgrades instead of releasing entire new consoles every generation. But, as I said before, Microsoft can always reverse their decisions later on down the line. Meanwhile, Sony seems far more likely to just announce a PlayStation 5 if and when the current console cycle ends, and their actions towards backwards compatibility of the PS4, if not Sony’s entire library, will be a major factor on whether I jump back into their ecosystem or not.

And then there’s Nintendo. I have a Nintendo Switch, but it’s likely going to be the last Nintendo console I ever get from them for the time being. Their Virtual Console support has always been shaky at best. The fact that we still don’t know what their plans are for it a few months into the Switch’s life cycle is worrying, on top of Nintendo’s own decision to just jettison its entire fucking back catalog with their new console by not reading discs anymore.

At any rate, I've answered why backwards compatibility is important to me. So now you're wondering why backwards compatibility should be important to you. Well, if this is the first console generation you came into, you’ll likely have to face this decision yourself when one of these console manufacturers decides to ditch compatibility for all the games you bought. Wanna play Final Fantasy XV or the new Ratchet & Clank on the next Sony console? You best hope Sony is gracious enough to let you do that. Want to play the next Smash Bros. on whatever console Nintendo makes next? Here's hoping Tatsumi Kimishima is taking his sensibility pills. Frankly, that’s more faith in a console manufacturer than I’m willing to give anymore.

Unless you have a PC as your gaming console, in which case, welcome to the light.

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About Zalnoone of us since 2:32 PM on 05.15.2011