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Porting Older Games to PSN: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Even though today’s game industry is all about the $60 blockbuster, one of my favorite things about this console generation is the rebirth of older games and how they've been re-released either in their original glory or been given an HD remake. In this feature, I’m only focusing on older games from the 8-bit and 16-bit era. HD collections and remakes do not count here. I’m also not counting the Wii Virtual Console, either. From the beginning of this generation, ports of classic arcade games were the easy way for publishers to get started on the downloadable space. The past few years were filled with hit-and-miss ports of arcade and console classics, as its been a case-by-case basis with the developer/publisher. Having recently played some of Sega’s new Vintage Collection, available on the Playstation Network, got me thinking about the difference between a good and a bad port. The difference can be easily be seen just by the effort being put into them.

Midway (before they went under), Konami and Namco Bandai were the first to re-release ports of classic arcade games to downloadable services such as Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network. Most of these ports were $5 and were a good way to relive some nostalgic moments for a short time. Digital Eclipse, now known as Backbone, were the developers on some of these ports and made the games nearly arcade-perfect, but purists knew there was something missing for them to be as good as the originals. Backbone has been known for their lack of effort on ports of such games as if they just slapped the port in with some lazy menus/UI and called it a day. Capcom got into the old game porting act in 2006 with the XBLA version of Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting. The port was successful business-wise and we got to see Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. After that, came the recent boom of fighting games we see now, beginning with Street Fighter IV. However, that port suffered from sound issues and incredibly spotty online play. SNK Playmore also joined the fray with some releases on XBLA and a NeoGeo service on PSN. Those were decent, despite issues with online play, which is a struggling feature of theirs, with last year's King of Fighters XIII having suffered from the same problem.

Sega started their re-release train in 2007 on XBLA with some of their biggest Genesis games like the Sonic The Hedgehog series, developed by Backbone.. These ports were, in a way, treated like PC emulators with the inclusion of save states. I’ll admit that I used save states like crazy to get certain achievements in these versions. When they were released on Playstation Network last year, input lag was the biggest issue with them, to the point where they were unplayable. At least most of those releases were free for Playstation Plus members. 2009’s Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection by Backbone, however, was not that bad in terms of port quality, but Sega moved on to porting some of their Dreamcast and arcade games to the downloadable platforms. Daytona USA’s re-release last year was a standout to me because Sega AM2 didn’t make any changes to the gameplay, other than sharpening up the graphics, and online races were a blast to play as well. Another Sega classic standout last year was Sonic CD as they were able to make that game more playable from a controls and physics perspective than it was originally on the Sega CD.

When I first heard about Sega releasing a new wave of their Vintage Collection lineup this month, I was a bit skeptical if the ports were going to be the same quality as before. It turns out I was wrong as a new developer was handling these versions, which is M2. The difference of effort between M2 and Backbone’s ports of classic Sega games is staggering. Unlike Backbone slapping together an old game and lazy menus, M2 went the extra mile including art and music from the games on the menu screen and the borders, adding a separate trial mode for players to be challenged with, and include all the language options the games had back in the day. In addition to that, the ports themselves were as perfect as they were originally with no issues I noticed so far. With such care on these re-releases, I actually enjoyed playing through Super Hang-On and Revenge of Shinobi more than the old Sonic games when I played them on Xbox 360. I wished the Golden Axe and Streets of Rage collections were released on the Playstation Network though as they were only released on Xbox Live Arcade this week.

Porting older games this console generation has sure gotten better recently, even compared to a few years back. Sure, it is still going to be a case-by-case basis how these old games are as perfect as they can be to their original incarnations. I remember being incredibly disappointed with the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection last year because of its various issues, especially with the unplayable online which was later patched months later. We don’t see much old game ports these days now since the companies that started re-releasing them moved on to making HD remakes of such games for the new generation of folks that like what game graphics look like now. Sega is still trucking hard with their old releases as they made a big turnaround with the change of developer. If there is enough love and effort thrown to these ports like what M2 is doing, we could be seeing more of them in the future. With a new console generation looming, it is safe to say we will see the same old games ported again for the new consoles. In terms of if we are willing to buy them again like this generation, that topic can be saved for another day once Microsoft and Sony figure something out concerning that issue.


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