It may not have been that long ago, but the golden age of retro collections is behind us. With the increasing popularity of digital downloads, the concept of having all your favourite games on one disc is now a thing of the past.
Retro gaming compilations started becoming popular in the mid to late 1990s. Some of the first companies to compile their back catalogs were Namco, Midway, and Konami. These primitive packages only consisted of a handful of games. However, the fact that you could play perfectly emulated classic arcade games at home compelled many gamers to relive gaming moments from their childhood. It wasn't until the PlayStation 2 era that classic game collections would be released more frequently than Assassin's Creed sequels. This is when we would see comprehensive selections from the likes of Capcom, Taito, Tecmo, and Sega. Of course, Namco and Midway would continue to release top-quality anthologies, but Konami was mostly absent from the festivities, for some reason. These compilations often featured over 20 games which topped the previous generation by a landslide. After their success, game companies started to release complete collections of entire series such as Sonic Mega Collection Plus, Mega Man Anniversary Collection, and SNK's Metal Slug Anthology. It truly was a dream come true for retro gamers. Countless memories combined with newly discovered gems to form a niche tailored just for nostalgia-driven fans. But, what happened since then?
In comes the Xbox 360 with the first easily accessible online store where you could purchase downloadable games. The early days of the console saw many titles that were previously released as parts of compilations being sold individually. This was great for those who only wanted to purchase a select few games, but if you added up the cost then these were clearly much more expensive than the last generation's offerings. It's true that the early days of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 saw some compilations such as the massive Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection, but the momentum soon died down. Meanwhile, Nintendo started the Virtual Console service on their Wii that made a lot of their catalog (as well as Sega and TurboGrafx games) available for download. It was clear that the digital download age was upon us and going to the game store to pick up a disc with 20 or so titles on it was starting to become less and less frequent.
Although downloading games is undeniably convenient, let's look at a few reasons why it pales in comparison to the retro compilation. As previously mentioned, the price is clearly much more for downloads. I recently purchased Metal Slug 3 for $15 on PlayStation 4. Not that many years ago, I bought Metal Slug Anthology which features seven entire Metal Slug games (including Metal Slug 3) for $40 brand new. This is just one example; I could go on all day. Another downside is the fact that it's a lot more difficult to discover hidden treasures nowadays. This is the case for two reasons: the first is that gamers get to pick and choose what games they want while the second is that game companies don't want to port games that nobody's heard of. I remember booting up Taito Legends when I first got it and playing Volfied. I was captivated by its simple yet challenging Qix-style gameplay and science fiction atmosphere. I would have never had the pleasure to enjoy such a masterpiece if I just bought the Taito games that I already knew about.
Finally, one thing that's rare to come across in this day and age is bonus content. Sure, you may not care about such trivial things, but those who can't get enough retro in their lives relish the opportunity to experience more than just playing old games. There's nothing like taking a break from a classic game to admire some of its artwork, watch an interview with its creator, and read some fun trivia facts about it. Besides these basic extras, some collections boasted rather impressive features. In Capcom Classics Collection Volume 2, you can play their arcade hit Quiz & Dragons with Capcom-themed questions. Now that's a great way to add replay value for fans! Activision Anthology implemented visual distortions that included mimicking hyperspace and turning your game room into a disco. Also, you could unlock commercials for many of the included games. How awesome is that?
Although we may not see a time where classic game compilations pop up in our local game stores ever again, we can still dust off our PlayStation 2s and place bids on eBay to revisit the origins of gaming. Game companies can make every single title available for download, but I know that my collection of collections will still provide me with hours of gaming bliss whenever I'm in a retro mood.