Gaming: The latest thing is a blast from the past
Retro gaming poised for popularity with four new consoles
Everything old is new again. The generations who grew up during the golden era of gaming still have a grá for the glory days. Even as modern consoles and PCs approach photo-realistic graphics, the pull of nostalgia for relatively simple games with comparatively crude visuals gets even stronger.
Old cartridges have been changing hands for silly money - the record being $41,000 for rare 1986 game Stadium Events.
Big corporations have clocked the trend too and smell an opportunity. Three retro consoles, each packed with games, are slated for release next month, with a fourth possibly due before Christmas.
Of course, gamers haven't been short of retro games to play recently, with most platforms hosting at least a few for sale in their digital stores. But it was Nintendo's superb NES Classic Mini, a revival of the monstrously popular Nintendo Entertainment System from the 1980s, that triggered the new landslide of attention.
Inexplicably discontinued despite selling more than two million units since its release last November, the NES Mini faithfully reproduced 30 classic titles such as Super Mario Bros in a scale-model, solidly built version of the original. It represented stonking value at just €65 and played the old games beautifully, which is more than could be said for similar products that aped its idea.
Dubliner Naoise O'Hare has become one of Ireland's best-known vintage-game fanatics with his blog Retro Gamer Ireland, and he reckons the retro revival owes some of its success to the low cost of feeding your hobby.
"I think the cost of the NES Mini is amazing," he says. "If you were to buy all those 30 games separately that were on the console, it would cost you over €1,000."
O'Hare has been quite canny in building his collection of original cartridges and consoles. "It's mad some of the prices that games are going for. I tend to stay away from those because I don't have the money for them. I've never spent more than €120 on any one item."
Most players won't have the cash or the enthusiasm to buy into the vintage collectors' craze. Instead, they're far more likely to be sated by the upcoming retro consoles from Nintendo, Sega and Atari.
Nintendo will almost certainly avoid a repeat of its NES Mini mistake and manufacture ample stock of the Super Nintendo Classic Mini for the launch on September 29. Boasting 21 SNES barnstormers including Star Fox and Super Mario World, the €90 console is set to sell out of pre-orders but is likely to quickly come back into supply.
Taiwanese firm AtGames has been reincarnating retro consoles to little effect for years and its latest efforts - licensing the Sega Genesis and Atari 2600 - have met with decidedly mixed previews. The new machines go on sale on September 22 but only the Atari remake seems worth considering.
However, the dark horse of the 2017 retro scene could be the prosaically named Ataribox. It has no release date, no price and no details of its contents. Atari has gone through many incarnations, including a disheartening recent phase as a "social casino" gambling firm.
But the Ataribox promises to play old Atari classics as well as unspecified "modern content". A release in time for Christmas seems possible but unlikely. Yet the teaser images and bravura PR blitz seem encouraging.
Even without the new consoles, retro gaming is more than a fad for reasons of nostalgia, value and the pleasure of collecting for people with modest disposable income. "In the past two years, the popularity of retro has just gone through the roof," says O'Hare. "I can see it just building and building in the future."
Naoise O'Hare will be a speaker at PlayersXpo 2017 at the Dublin Convention Centre on October 28-29. See www.players.ie for more details