Nintendo’s latest attempt to have you give it money involves adding Game Boy titles to Nintendo Direct. On the standard £18 tier, the likes of Tetris and Super Mario Land 2 join a raft of NES and SNES games. Spring for the Expansion Pack (£35) and Game Boy Advance goodies lurk, including minigame fest WarioWare and stick twiddler Kuru Kuru Kururin. Barg!
Except… is it? Many folks are grumping about Nintendo being Nintendo and yet again having you cough up cash for ‘legacy’ games you’ve already paid for eleven billion times. Now buy them again! But on Switch! Tsk. Someone should tell Nintendo how it should be done. And that person, I decided, was me.
Console yourself with original hardware
Authenticity was my first thought. The Switch is so huge compared to old Nintendo handhelds that you might as well play the Nintendo Direct games on a flatscreen telly. Note: I have actually played some of them on a flatscreen telly. It’s like being assaulted by Nintendo teletext. Not recommended. So I instead thought I’d go to the source and buy some old gear.
Five minutes on eBay and a mild heart attack later, I’d changed my mind. Retro gaming is expensive these days. Sure, you can buy Tetris for a quid. But you’d best be happy with a cart that looks like it’s been used as a football every day since the game’s release over 30 years ago. Your bank account will shriek if you’ve the audacity to buy something in good nick. (And I got ‘a look’ from Stuff’s editor when I suggested several hundred quid of retro games could be expensed against this piece for ‘research purposes’. Bah.)
Fortunately, I never throw interesting gaming stuff away. On digging into my office drawer of joy, I found my Game Boy Micro – an adorable console so small it could be lost down the back of an atom – and a handful of carts. Having fired up a game and received instant cramp due to holding the tiny unit for more than five seconds, I heroically persevered before realising two things. First, the screen is like a postage stamp. Secondly, I’m now years older than when I bought the Micro. So my eyes are no longer attuned to playing games on a screen the size of a postage stamp. Huff.
Flip out with Game Boy originals
I next tried the Game Boy Advance SP, with its larger screen and original Game Boy compatibility (even if carts do comically stick out of its bottom). Dusting off my original Tetris, I plugged it in. Do do-do-do! Still great. Well, apart from the ‘do do-do-do’. That music’s annoying to the point you want to repeatedly snap your ears shut in the SP’s clamshell case, to make it go away. And, actually, the handheld’s still quite small and crampy. And that display is still a far cry from that of a modern console. Oh dear.
But: idea! I also own several modern handhelds specifically designed for playing old games. So I grabbed my Anbernic 353M, and started to scroll through a list of titles that mirrored carts in my office drawer that were suddenly wondering what they’d done to deserve being ignored in favour of – spit! – digital files. Only I didn’t stop scrolling. As ever, I spent ages endlessly gawping at video previews, paralysed by choice. It was half-past Thursday when I realised I’d got distracted and been staring at a looping video of Wizball on the Commodore 64, while a blue tit in a tree outside looked on, quizzically.
Perhaps Nintendo has got it right, then. A big enough screen – but not too big. Modern hardware. No eBay. And a small, carefully curated selection of genuine greats, to give you some focus. Do do-do-do!