Embracing the Shiny Digital Future, one broken app at a time.
Pokémon Bank has made me a digital gamer. For years, probably a decade, I have espoused the virtues of buying physical copies of various forms of media—mostly video games and movies—but all it took was one app that’s questionably executed to make me completely turn on my heels. It wasn’t even the “last straw”. It was a realization that maybe I didn’t need to do this anymore. And by “this,” I mean use three game systems to get a bunch of HeartGold pocket monsters onto Pokémon X. I will admit, however, that the shiny digital revolution had been creeping steadily into my gaming life. Let’s go into the deets, as they say, and figure out when and why my turnabout occurred.
First of all, there is no greater sense of satisfaction, as a gamer, than looking at a media shelf and seeing all your games from all your systems going back to the NES all lined up and organized. Now, I only have two surviving NES games, and none of my SNES or N64 games have boxes, except Majora’s Mask, but you get the idea. At any time I can walk up to my shelf, pull out Tetris Attack, go into my back closet, find the SNES and all its cords, rearrange a bunch of the input cables on my TV, and BOOM—play Tetris Attack all stretched out and ugly-looking on my 51” plasma. Is it a hassle? You bet it is, but it’s also usually worth it. And hey, have you seen my awesome organized game collection? Just gazing at it puts a smile on my face.
But the downside is that, yes, most of these games look like ass on my TV. For awhile there, I kept a CRT television around just to play old games on, but my wife insisted one day that it was taking up way too much closet space (she was right) and we got rid of it. And it’s not like I can hook all my devices into the back of my plasma TV even if I wanted to. There are only so many inputs, and I don’t like the messy cord situation that comes with having numerous switchers.* So I’m down to my PS3, Wii U, Wii, and Xbox 360. I’ve gotten rid of the redundant DVD player and the cable box shares an HDMI switch with the PS3.**
With all my older systems in the back room, taken out only on special occasions, I have become much more amiable to digital copies of those physical games. Is it worth $8 to buy Super Metroid digitally so I don’t have to haul out my SNES and all its cords and connect it to the TV and find the right input setting and blah blah BLAH? Maybe not. I don’t play Super Metroid all that often, but if you throw in GamePad support, I will jump on that in a heartbeat. I’ve said before that Off-TV Play has saved my marriage countless times. That’s no exaggeration. Nintendo should be putting that quote directly on the Wii U retail box:
“The GamePad’s unique Off-TV Play capabilities have saved my marriage countless times.”
Zachary Miller, NWR writer and frequent victim of the Bravo and E! networks.
This “convenience” double-dipping pervaded many of my PS2 games for much the same reason. My PS2 Slim is sitting in storage now, though we shared many tender, loving hours together. I still dig it out from time to time to play Primal Rage (via Midway Arcade Treasures 2) but for the most part, I’ve just started buying HD collections of my PS2 games: Tomb Raider Trilogy, Metal Gear Solid 2/3/Peace Walker, ICO/Shadow of the Colossus, Ratchet & Clank Trilogy, etc. But I also buy PS2 Classics on the PSN, though with far less frequency. My only possessions there are Odin Sphere and Fatal Frame 2. The point is they both offer convenient ways to play my PS2 games without digging my PS2 out. I bought Beyond Good & Evil HD on XBLA for the same reason (but applied to GameCube). Even my purchase of Wind Waker HD was guaranteed, in part, by the fact that I don’t have my GameCube perpetually hooked up to my TV. Nintendo could make big bucks off me by releasing HD ports of beloved GameCube games like Super Mario Sunshine and F-Zero GX.
I treated Virtual Console on the 3DS in the same manner. Do I already own physical copies of half my Game Boy or Game Boy Color library? You bet I do, but I don’t want to have to pull out my GBA SP and root around in a box for Link’s Awakening DX just to play it for a few hours. I’d rather click on an icon on my 3DS Home screen. The loss of Game Boy Printer functionality is an acceptable tradeoff. But hey, we’re just talking about games from previous console or handheld generations, here. What about new, modern games for current consoles and handhelds?
Well, until now I’ve been pretty vocal in my support of physical media for two very good reasons:
1) Physical games go on sale or, at the very least, eventually come down in price.
2) On Nintendo systems, physical games are not tied to a particular piece of hardware. If my 3DS gets run over by a truck, I can buy a new one and still play Code of Princess, because I bought the game card.
Both of these factors have been radically mitigated lately.
1) Digital games now also go on sale, even on the eShop. Sometimes you can get a digital version of a game for cheaper than the physical version (Code of Princess, Persona 4 Golden).
2) Nintendo appears to be moving (glacially) away from this policy. Also, as I said in the introductory paragraph, the negatives now outweigh the benefits.
I now have twice as many digital Vita games as physical Vita games for the very simple reasons that they go on sale all the time and, if I upgrade my Vita, I can simply re-download the games. Sony knows how digital distribution is supposed to work, and I, as a consumer, feel far more comfortable downloading Dragon’s Crown rather than buying it. The same applies to digital retail games, although there I’m limited to my system’s available HD space. Since I’m too terrified to install a larger HD, I buy a lot of physical games so that they’re not taking up HD space.
But I’ve been far more reluctant to fully embrace digital retail games on the 3DS and Wii U. Now, in the case of Wii U, I have two digital retail games: Wind Waker HD and Monster Hunter 3—the former because it came out two weeks before physical, and the latter because it was half off in the eShop recently. All my other games are either eShop exclusives or physical copies. For Wii U, digital is not as important to me because, honestly, the Wii U doesn’t move around a lot. There’s no need for it, or its games, to be particularly transportable. However, the 3DS is what really broke down my physical doors.
Every time I want to go on any kind of vacation I’m lugging around most of my DS games in one Club Nintendo game case, and most of my 3DS games in the other. Although it’s not much of a chore, it’s a little bit of a chore. It’s the obligation that I resent the most, strange as that may be. Pokémon, though, is what really did it. Well, more specifically Pokémon Bank. See, I had this grand plan in mind for Pokémon X. I bought a 2DS on Black Friday with the intent for it to be my Pokémon machine, but when I heard about the Friend Safari, I knew I’d have to play it on my 3DS XL. Pokémon also ties your Trainer ID to your hardware (I think…at least, it used to), and since I knew I’d be using Pokémon Bank a lot…well, it was an easy decision. The 2DS became my new DSi, and my 3DS became my Pokémon machine.
But I made the critical error of buying it physically. Again, 99% of the time, this wasn’t a problem. I beat the game, caught a good chunk of that region’s Pokémon, and put way too much time into the Friend Safari. Then I turned it off, put it back on the shelf, and waited for the Poke Transporter and Pokémon Bank to come out.
Well, as DonaldMick has no doubt informed you, the Poke Transporter is a gimped application that is a nightmare to use, and since I was transporting huge swaths of my HeartGold collection to White, the process took hours upon hours. Basically, I used the 2DS to arrange the HG monsters I wanted to transfer while White was in my 3DS. Both systems were on. I’d do the stupid catching minigame to get them to White, then arrange as many Pokémon that could fit into PC Box 1 as I could, then save my White game (by now, the HG game had been turned off). Then I’d go back to the Home screen, click on the Poke Transporter and upload everybody from PC Box 1 to the Pokémon Bank. THEN,and this is the important part, I’d go into the Pokémon Bank only to be kicked out because there was no save file on-hand for Pokémon X. You see, I’d forgotten to replace the White card with X. This happened all the time.
So I’d EXIT the Bank and hot-swap the cards and NOW I can go back into the Bank and transfer however many over and then do the WHOLE THING AGAIN. It was absolute madness,even when it worked, I came to hate the card hot-swapping. This would’ve been mitigated had I the foresight to buy X digitally. It’s still going to be a problem in the future becauseI can’t access Pokémon Bank if I don’t have X in the slot.
That one experience with Pokémon transferring has made me realize that digital games aren’t just convenient ways of playing old games without digging out your old systems, it can be a real asset for time management too. This new line of thinking is making me seriously consider buying Bravely Default on the eShop. I’d actually buy the special edition, because I’m a special edition whore, but there aren’t any left in Anchorage and I’m not paying $100 for it on Amazon. Heck, I might have one or two Digital Deluxe Program coupons, I should check.
Now I do want to say one other thing. Gamers readily jump on Steam as the best possible way to download games. You buy it once, then you download it on every Steam-capable device you own. That’s great, and of course, the industry should move in that direction. All your iDevices work in much the same way. When I break down and buy a new iPod Touch, because my current model sucks a bag of dicks, I can re-download Jetpack Joyride and Instagram without any fuss. In both Steam and iTunes, your purchases are tied to your user account, not any particular piece of hardware. Sony is often touted as basically being the next best thing. If my PS3 goes kaput, I’ll buy a new one and re-download Thomas Was Alone and that’ll be that.
However, in most cases, your PS3 and Vita can’t play the exact same games. If you want to play Dragon’s Crown or Runner2 on PS3 sometimes and Vita other times, you have to pay for it twice. Sony has wisely implemented a “cross-buy” program for several games, like Guacamelee, where purchasing one version automatically gets the other version for free. And in some cases, the ability to transfer your saved game between systems, via the infinite power of the Cloud, is a really welcome feature. But the point is that you’re still downloading two separate versions of the game. You can’t download the PS3 version of Limbo onto your Vita or vice versa. This won’t be possible until Sony’s handheld operates under the same OS as its console. That’ll probably be awhile, and it’s why the Steam/iOS analogy doesn’t work for consoles right now. But cross-buy is the next-best thing.
This rule does NOT apply to PSOne Classics, which is, for all intents and purposes, Sony’s Virtual Console. The same version of FFVII will work on your PS3 as your Vita. You can download it on both and only pay once. THUS, I still expect Nintendo to someday allow cross-buy for Virtual Console games. There are already a handful of games available on both the Wii U and 3DS eShops (all the Mega Man games for example) and there’s little reason to think they’re radically different emulations. I bring this up because it’s something I really want, and you probably want it too, and I’m betting that Nintendo of America is aware that it’s an issue. But we all know that NOA has no autonomy, and NCL probably doesn’t know what cross-buy is. They just want your $5 twice, end of story. I think this will have to change at some point, but Nintendo’s clearly not in a hurry.
However, that won’t stop me from committing further to digital games in the future. Clearly, I’ll have to buy an external hard drive for my Wii U, because 32 gigs just ain’t gonna cut it (I’m in the market for recommendations). So there you have it, I have turned a new leaf. Now, let’s see if I actually follow through.
*At one point, just to try it, I had my SNES, N64, Dreamcast, PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, Wii U, DVD player, and cable box all hooked up to my TV. This was accomplished with several surge protectors and three switchers. There were approximately eight hundred and sixty-four cords tangling and coiling with dark purpose behind the TV stand. I used a complex system of color-coordinated plastic ties to indicate which power cord went with which audio/video cord. It worked, but it wasn’t practical and proved to be extremely ugly and unmanageable beyond surface-level expectations. And I found that I really didn’t play Tetris Attack all that much anyway. Also, damn those old games look terrible on modern TVs.
**Many of you may be wondering why I have the Wii hooked up at all. Well, after The Great Repairing, a story for another day, my launch Wii was wiped clean, and I could only re-download the Virtual Console games I had previously. I did that, but fearing a hardware failure relapse, I only used the launch unit for VC games. My new, at the time, blue Wii was used for disk-based games. That remains the case today. The launch Wii’s VC games have been moved to the Wii U and it has been regaled to the back closet.