Endangered gaming

It’s 1995 all over again. The glory days of middle or high school are still intact and a slow April day is passing by as you play Sonic the Hedgehog 3 for the 10th time, waiting eagerly for May to come.

It’s 1995 all over again. The glory days of middle or high school are still intact and a slow April day is passing by as you play Sonic the Hedgehog 3 for the 10th time, waiting eagerly for May to come.

May 1995 was significant for a few reasons: France elected a new president, a former serviceman rampaged San Diego with a stolen tank and the Sega Saturn finally hit shelves after many delays and months of hype.

The Saturn’s price tag was a steep $399, but it came with some great games and was the first console to render quadrilateral shapes, meaning that it showed polygons with four sides against the Sony PlayStation’s triangles. Unfortunately for Sega, third-party developers found this quadrilateral gaming engine too much of a pain in the ass to program for and by 1998, American support of the Saturn was dead.

Two years later, a Saturn was lucky to fetch $30, even with dozens of games, as the Dreamcast came onto the scene with its fancy fully-rendered polygons, virtual memory cards and the first in-house network system of any console. However, seven years later, Saturns are nearing extinction and, naturally, are now more sought after than ever before.

Today, Saturns are an extremely rare find and even after spending a few hours searching through page after page on eBay or Craigslist, you’re lucky to find a Saturn with all the necessary cables and connections for under $75. That’s the price without any games and usually just a single, half-broken controller. It’s tragic to see this because while the Saturn wasn’t Sega’s finest console, it is the only one capable of playing games such as NiGHTS Into Dreams…and Three Dirty Dwarves, two games that still kick ass.

The Saturn isn’t alone in its predicament, either. The last Sega console, the Dreamcast, is similarly difficult to find for under $100 and the best games for older-generation systems often rival the price of the console itself.

Consider the Super Nintendo: online shopping will find the console priced in the neighborhood of $45. The cost of Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past? $35, on average. The extremely coveted Mario RPG game, which was only released for the SNES, has been fetching $60 a sale on Half.com and eBay for years, and I should know–I’ve been close to actually buying the damn game since high school.

Some of these endangered consoles have saved face through modern technology. Every Sony console has offered reverse compatibility, meaning your PlayStation 1 games work on a PS2 and 3. This is great news for a gamer that has held onto their gaming library since they first bought a PS1, but for gamers that don’t already have their favorite PS1 titles, they still have some shopping to do and that’s bad news for role-playing gamers.

RPG developers waste no time rushing to the beta kits for new consoles and cranking out the best titles as quickly as possible. This means that the cash allocated to keeping older titles in production goes away and thus puts older games out of print.

The most nefarious example in Sony’s history is Final Fantasy VII, arguably the most revolutionary RPG ever and console-exclusive to Sony. FFVII quickly became a greatest hits title, Sony’s award to bestsellers that fixes the price tag at $20, but within two years of the PS2 launch, Squaresoft stopped printing fresh copies of the game. Today, if you find a copy under $50, then you’ve pleased some god or another-this game is rarely let go of by its fans, unless they’re in desperate need of tuition or prostitute money.

Nintendo has considered this problem and incorporated a solution into their newest console, the Wii. If you use the broadband feature, you can actually download old-school games and play them on your Wii. Most of the games aren’t programmed to use the motion-capture Wii remote, but they are still totally functional with the standard controls, and hours can be whiled away playing the Mario adventures from your youth. How long does it take you today to beat Mario Bros. 3, without the warp whistles? Are you any faster than when you were a kid?

There is another option available to gamers with a decent computer. Most older-generation systems have emulators, or systems that are reprogrammed for play on a PC, floating around the internet. These emulators are free and most of the popular games for consoles steadily becoming extinct can be downloaded alongside the system. However, most of these emulators aren’t legal or safe–some of the reprogrammed systems will nestle into your hard drive like a Trojan virus and if you try uninstalling them, it’ll take a few system files with it, resulting in repairs more costly than just buying the console.

Portland actually has a great answer for those seeking the true old-school gaming experience. It’s called the Ground Kontrol Arcade, located at 511 N.W. Couch St., and it hosts a plethora of old-school pinball machines, standing arcade games and a decent beer selection after 7 p.m. They also sell games and consoles from every manufacturer and developer imaginable. If you really need an old-school gaming fix that won’t compromise the electricity bill for the month, just head over to the Pearl with a pocket full of quarters and try to get your initials on a few high-scoring boards.

At the end of the day, all things old are becoming new again and it shouldn’t be long until some of the treasured memories of last decade’s gaming make a comeback. If you still have all of your early systems and are considering resale values, list them online now. If you wait much longer, they’ll lose value as new emulators and other alternatives crop up. Then again, if you still have a Saturn and a copy of NiGHTS, you probably weren’t ever going to sell them, and that makes you much smarter than me.