Thirty years ago, Nintendo released their Famicom in Japan, two years before it would come out in the west as the NES. President of Nintendo Corporate Ltd., Satoru Iwata announced that to celebrate the small system’s big anniversary, Wii U owners would be able to download one classic game a month for 30 cents. This also represents a soft opening for the new system’s Virtual Console service, which has yet to transition over from the Wii.
The modern era of consoles began with the Famicom, the first system to launch after the crash of ’83 and the one to regain consumer confidence in the medium. And so modern home gaming enters its fourth decade. Last year I, too, turned thirty. (Okay it was two years ago, but who’s counting?) So I can speak from experience about what the industry can expect as we enter into a year that, by many accounts, will be one of transformation and upheaval.
Here’s what you should have learned in the last three decades.
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EASY TO LEARN, HARD TO MASTER: By all accounts, many games are returning to the blissful intersection of skill, luck and challenge that dominated arcades thirty-plus years ago. As iOS and Android formats continue to proliferate, these simple, inventive concepts–count to 100? Easy!–will continue to delight newcomers while reminding veterans of the first time they snuck into the luminescent fog of a dingy arcade.
THINGS TAKE LONGER: When I turned 30, I quickly learned my body did not respond to exertion the same way it had decades ago. Two hours running on an Ultimate Frisbee pitch turned into a week of feeble limping. Healing was not as instant as it once was. As we grow patient with our bodies, we’ll need patience with our new devices also–the Wii U has been plagued with slow loading-times and a sluggish UI, so much so that Iwata has promised two updates by this summer to solve the issue. I’m still waiting for a system update to help soothe my achy post-workout hamstrings.
OTHER THINGS GO AWAY: With each generation of systems, elements are cut or streamlined for a more efficient experience. Wired controllers are a thing of the past. Nintendo users thankfully said goodbye to Friend Codes, as the Wii U took the approach of Xbox Live, Playstation Network and Steam and let players choose their own ID.
But we also miss what we no longer have. Sony famously cut backwards compatibility with Playstation 2 games in all models of the PS3 after the initial batch. Early reports suggest they’re looking to cut back on used game sales by tying each game to your system, making second-hand copies useless. I know the pain of reaching for something that’s no longer there (thanks, male-pattern baldness). Hopefully Microsoft pulls back the emphasis on controller-free Kinect with whatever they announce soon; sometimes we just want to hold something in our hands.
THE WISDOM OF… WHAT?: With more and more content going digital, a large question for the future will be how long our downloaded content will last. Nintendo revealed that most Virtual Console games already downloaded to your Wii will be re-buyable on Wii U for a small fee of between $1 and $1.50. The longer we hang around, the more stuff–and information, and memories–we carry with us. Thirty years is a blip in history, but a burden on human’s relatively weak short- and long-term recall. Will the “cloud” solve our devices’ storage woes devices better than scratching thoughts into a Moleskine journal? Let’s hope so.
Happy 30th Anniversary, Famicom. May your forebears age more gracefully than we do.