Thinking Outside of the Box
The review I wrote of Nintendo’s commemorative 25th anniversary edition of the Famicom Super Mario games last week proved divisive. Not only were many of Eurogamer’s readers unhappy with my approach, but ex-Amiga Power journalist, Stuart Campbell felt compelled to write a rather scathing attack on my approach on his blog.
That kind of thing stings, of course, but rather than sulk I thought I’d try to engage. So I tweeted at Stuart that, rather than fight, we could maybe make-out instead. I’d even wear my Mario thong, I promised, seeing as I’m such a massive Mario fanboy. We joked around a little before Stu asked, seriously: WTF was I thinking? So, I e-mailed him my defense of the piece.
I chose to do so privately because, well, that kind of felt more civil. Stu subsequently responded to the below, and I admitted that, while we weren’t going to see eye-to-eye on the matter, I do agree that we have probably reached a point in the medium’s maturity where reviews of re-releases of classic titles should be split into two parts (as many DVD sites will do with classic editions): one that looks at the game itself, and one that looks at everything else. Almost all of people’s issues with the piece would have dissolved within that structure. Anyway, the below is just a chance for me to respond to Stu’s piece, hopefully in a gentlemanly way.
So, following my silly tweets, I thought it only right that I should put together a more robust defense of my All Stars review. The only rules are that you’re not allowed to steal my lunch money or punch me in the nose after I say my piece. Or, if you do, then you have to sign my copy of Amiga Format first. Wait. Shit. OK JUST TAKE THE MONEY.
I need to start this by stressing that I really, really love game boxes. So much so that I’ve been running a Tumblr for two years now entirely dedicated to selecting and celebrating the best specimens. I’m not alone in this! Being a fan of emulation doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is uninterested in the tangible art of videogames, but I think there is a divide between those who like to bottle their games in the physical and those who couldn’t care less, and are happier with a folder marked ROMs. I’m firmly on the side of the collector in this regard. I think that’s a relevant thing to note.
Now, Nintendo already cater for the emulation crowd. All of the games in All Stars are available as digital downloads. So I think it’s fair to approach a review of the physical release of All Stars by focusing in on the physicality of the product. That was my thinking in taking that approach. For people saying: ‘why the hell are you talking about the box? I don’t care about the box!’ well, this release LITERALLY isn’t for you. Go buy the ROMs. Nintendo already served you. This one is for those of us who do care about the boxed product. If we didn’t exist, then this product wouldn’t have either.
And, you know, this re-release has extremely beautiful packaging. Box art is a dying art and so I wanted to celebrate this particular example and use it as a way to evangelize game boxes, which I really bloody love. The casing is well designed, the booklet inside is beautifully put together and the CD, while perhaps not enjoying the strongest track list, is cute and fun.
My screw up was in my mathematics. As you, and others pointed out with great relish, the combined cost of the game ROMs from the digital download store is £21, not “more than” the £24.99 asking. I added it up wrong. That’s not a failing of research. It’s a failing of my education. If the boxed product cost less than the combined cost of the ROMs, at least two of which are as bright and sharp to enjoy as the day they were released, the release would present excellent value for money.
As it is, that was a slight mistake. But even with the extra few pounds you’re paying for the extras (box, cd, booklet) I still think the package offers good value to the consumer; especially when you consider that, by owning a physical product, you retain the capacity to sell game on afterwards, thereby retaining some monetary value.
As for the 50htz bordered choice of ROM. Yeah, it’s not ideal. It’s disappointing even and I said so much in the review. The lack of ‘software’ extras within the game is disappointing, especially as this is billed as an anniversary edition, but for me it still seems churlish to mark what remain extremely strong games down for theoretical omissions. These games have not been diminished in any way for the release, and that needs talking about.
So basically, I disagree with your line: ‘It’s not exactly news to anyone that the Super Mario Bros games – or at least, the two “proper” ones you actually get on this disc – are great.’ These games were released before many of EG’s readership were born and, so while a small part of the target market is nostalgic 30-somethings, many are people asking: what do these games play like today and is this the best version of those games I can currently buy for my Wii? Whatever reservations you or I have over the lack of extra content on the disc, I don’t feel comfortable marking the games down when, each is still brilliant and, for the few extra quid it costs to have this boxed version over a set of un-re-sellable ROMs, this package STILL represents the best value for UK consumers.
On reflection, I admit I could probably have given Nintendo a harder time for not throwing a better celebration on the disc, but that is certainly something I say in the piece on multiple occasions, so I don’t think it was an oversight.
I hope that makes some sense. I’m sure I won’t convince you, but I feel at peace about my approach and I don’t think I was a corporate shill. Regardless, I always want to get better at writing about video games, so this sort of criticism, however much it stings at first touch, is useful.