Last week was probably the most action-packed week of Xbox Live Arcade releases since the launch of the Xbox 360... well, at least from a pure numbers perspective. Sega released six different games, each for five bucks, and each is a part of the "Sega Vintage Collection." That's really just a fancy way of saying "we gave Backbone some money and they emulated some more of our old stuff." At first, my reaction to these releases was pretty negative. But I warmed up to the whole idea pretty quickly... even if this isn't the most economical way to play these games.
So, just so we're all clear, here's the full list of what was made available last week:
Though I stand by my argument that Sonic 3 was where the whole series started to go rotten, I'll account for all viewpoints and say that these are, at least, six very memorable Sega releases.
Now, you might remember that Sega released a disc back in February called Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection. This collection retailed for $29.99 and contained close to 50 games... including most of the releases Sega just put out for $5 each on Xbox Live Arcade. Even the two arcade games were in there as unlockables. In fact, the only game that wasn't on that disc is Gunstar Heroes.
So that's the end of the story, right? If you're in the market for these games, go out and buy Ultimate Genesis Collection. Then buy Gunstar Heroes separately to "complete the set," as it were. Well, not quite. There are some differences--minor ones. For starters, each one of the XBLA games comes with a full 200 achievement points. Probably not a big deal--or at least not a big enough deal to make these worth purchasing in bulk. The other catch is that while Sonic's UGC contained all of the Sonic games (including Sonic & Knuckles), you couldn't perform the whole lock-on cartridge thing that let you play as Knuckles in Sonic 3. Sonic & Knuckles is due to come to Xbox Live Arcade in the near future. And when it does, you'll be able to perform that lock-on stuff... provided you've purchased the other Sonic games on Xbox Live Arcade, of course. Again, that's probably not a huge deal, but considering there's really no great technical reason that this stuff couldn't have been included in Ultimate Genesis Collection, I couldn't help but get a little sore.
That said, the five dollars you'll need to pony up per game on the Xbox 360 is cheaper than the eight they're asking over on the Wii Virtual Console. But there's a copy of Phantasy Star II sitting on eBay right now with a going price of 99 cents (OK, yeah, it'll end up going for more than that).
And that's when I sort of unclenched my jaw. It's easy to feel like these releases are double-dipping and sort of insidious. It felt like my childhood was being sold back to me by people who couldn't possibly understand the number of hours I spent playing through Phantasy Star II when it was new. Those are the same people who neglected to put any sort of real manual or map or anything in this Xbox Live Arcade release. And they're clearly bad people.
But ultimately, it's all about customer choice, right? There's just too much back and forth between the different releases to determine which price is the right one. How much, really, is a downloadable version of a 16-bit game really worth? After thinking about it all day, I have absolutely no idea. Five bones seems about right. Heck, if you sat me down in front of an Altered Beast machine, I'd probably put more than five bucks in it just to finish it.
Actually, this is really about me buying all six of those games for achievements, feeling really awful about it, and writing an article about the whole thing to feel somehow justified. But don't be like me. You should probably buy Gunstar Heroes. It's still awesome. And the thought of having Phantasy Star II on a console, and having it a couple of button presses away at all times, is somehow way more inviting than having to go find the disc with the collection of it, and somehow more fulfilling than bootlegging a copy and emulating it on a PC. So I don't feel bad at all about owning that one in as many different formats as possible.