Musings on Arcades and Microconsoles

Console

If you look at my console game collection, you will probably note that most of the games I own are from before the year 2005. Giving off the impression that I just couldn’t part with my childhood games. And it’s not an unreasonable guess. All of my various consoles and games were all acquired well into my adult years. And collecting older video games was not something I ever expected I’d be doing as an adult.

All of this started about six years ago. I was actually doing a supply run with a coworker at the local Sam’s. While we were there, I noticed something odd for sale. It was the AT Games version of the Genesis Microconsole. This caught my eye because a lot of my early introductions to video games were via the Sega Genesis. I had vivid memories of Sonic, Ecco the Dolphin and Toejam & Earl. But because Sega had long been out of the hardware market, I assumed that pretty much everyone had forgotten about the existence of these games. I pointed the existence of this thing out to my coworker, just as a, “Hey, do you remember that back in the day,” and didn’t think very much of it past that.

“Is an N64 Mini on the Horizon?”

That year at Christmas, that coworker wandered in with a big, wrapped package for me. I opened it up, and behold! I was the proud owner of an AT Games Genesis. And thus a fascination of cataloguing the history of console gaming began.

Not long after that, we saw a boom in the development of these retro microconsoles. The NES Mini was released in 2016 and sold out immediately. Since then, plenty of brands have joined the microconsole trend but a lot of gamers are waiting for the announcement of a rerelease of their favorite console. Is an N64 Mini on the horizon? A Sega Saturn or Sega Master System?

Consoles aren’t entirely alone in this treatment. Arcade1Up is a company that actually has been building arcade cabinets that offer various licensed compilations. So if one has piles of money lying around, one could, in theory, build their own private arcade, in order to relive the experience of hanging around in a shopping mall in the Nineties.

(Source)

But it begs the question: what’s the fascination with all of these things? In this era of Switch Online, Xbox Game Pass, Playstation Network and Steam, do we necessarily need all of these microconsoles?

The answer is more complicated than a simple “yes or no.”

When the NES and SNES Minis were coming out, I raised an eyebrow. The Wii and Wii U at the time were well known for having the Virtual Console. The Virtual Console offered a list of titles originally released on past home and handheld consoles. Unfortunately, the switch doesn’t offer the Virtual console which is why a rejuvenated retro console could be on the horizon.

Not everyone had a Wii or Wii U or a 3DS. And shelling out the money for a new console to play retro games isn’t worth it either. Some people aren’t interested in playing the newer releases and want to play those classics without breaking the bank. That’s where the NES and SNES mini could potentially come in.

The Virtual Console on the Wii (Source)

With this, you can play some absolute classics. Whether you’re someone my age looking to recapture some of that childhood magic or someone wondering what all the fuss is about. NES and SNES mini would be an excellent idea. Nintendo have retired the Virtual Console in the Switch era making some of these games hard to find. Some games are trickling onto Switch online but the pace has been slower than fans would like. There are also a lot of retro games that don’t appear to be coming anytime soon.

“If the Neo Geo system was to relaunch, I’d definitely be curious.”

A miniconsole offers the potential to easily experience what they missed out on in one nice, neat little package. For example, I never saw the Turbografx-16 growing up. No one I knew owned one, I never saw it or any of its games for sale anywhere. I didn’t even know it existed until my twenties. And yet I know people who adore that console. So when Konami announced they were releasing a Turbografx-16 mini, I admit I was and still am sorely tempted to pick one up.

Perhaps the examples that get me the most excited are the Arcade1Up Cabinets. There were a lot of great arcade games back in the ’80s and ’90s. I have a lot of fond memories of hanging out at the Aladdin’s Castle in Spotsylvania Mall back in the day. Most of these games never got home versions. While it would not be cost or space effective for me to buy 50 of these retro arcade cabinets, it was every kid’s dream in the ’90s dream to have their own personal arcade. While the Arcade1Up Cabinets don’t tend to follow the “cheap way to get old games” mindset, I love the idea of them.

“I love the design choices that went into some of those consoles from my childhood.”

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There is definitely a segment of the gaming population who just think the mini consoles look neat on a shelf. They may or may not have access to the games already but they enjoy the look of the microconsoles. They want to have them on display as a monument to gaming history. Sure, they can also plug them in and play them once in a while, to compare how different versions and attempts at emulation run, but they mainly want the miniconsoles to look good. I can’t entirely fault them for that either. The design choices that went into some of those consoles from my childhood are nostalgic and I wouldn’t mind being able to display them either.

For me, personally, I would definitely prefer to just see more of these games released on digital platforms. Give me an Arcade Game Collection, NeoGeo Collection or a TurboGrafx Collection on a modernized platform. I don’t necessarily need additional hardware taking up space: I’ve only got so much, after all. That said, I can’t say that I don’t see a reason for these retro miniconsoles to exist. As long as they continue to be quality products, I could certainly justify them as Christmas gifts to people who love old video games. As someone who is fascinated by the history of video games, of how consoles have risen and fallen, I am eager to see as many people experience these little chunks of the past as possible.

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