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  • Writer's pictureMichael Ireland

The Extinction of Classic Video Games

The NES Encyclopedia

The first video game I remember playing was Super Mario Brothers on the Nintendo Entertainment System. I remember that gray little box fondly. Back then two dimensions were the norm and games came in these hunks of plastic called cartridges. Primitive I know, but there was certainly a charm to many of the games. The limitations of the hardware and format created an aesthetic that has become so iconic that developers continue to make games in the same style, and even for the system itself.

The NES Omnibus

It’s no surprise then that Nintendo continually re-releases many of the original games for the system on their newer platforms, and even hosts a subscription-based service for access to some of them on the Switch. However, not every game gets re-released, hosted for streaming, or even localized or translated for other regions. Nintendo has frequently been criticized for releasing poor ports, over charging for classic games, and for not making some classic titles available.

Console Wars

Nintendo is not the only gaming company to receive these criticisms. In fact, many publishers and hardware makers have been under fire for the exact same reasons. However, Nintendo is an easy target due to how extensive and old their catalog is. A recent study concluded that just 13% of classic video games in the United States are currently in release regardless of system or platform. That means the vast majority of vintage games are only available second hand, or through digital archives of dubious legality if available at all.

One such neglected gem is Cosmic Wars, released for the Japanese version of the NES, the Famicom. Set in the universe of the popular Gradius series of side scrolling shmups, Cosmic Wars is a turn-based strategy game where you control multiple fleets of spaceships across many star systems in a battle to conquer your opponent's home world. The game was never officially ported to other systems and never received an official English translation. Fan translations are available, but that requires patching the game ROM, a lengthy and technical process if you’re working from an original cartridge!

Cosmic Wars

Is it feasible to re-release, remaster, localize, or archive every game ever released? Is it even desirable? Obviously, the demand for a game like Cosmic Wars is pretty low, but what about classic NES titles like Blaster Master? What obligation if any, do video game publishers have to archive their libraries? As we enter a sort of renaissance of retro gaming with a renewed interest in both collecting and development some of these classics have become more widely available. But what is the future of the obscure and forgotten? What happens when the last cartridge breaks?

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