Japan hankers for consoles that bring classic video games back to life
TOKYO — Forty years after Nintendo brought video games into the home, consoles that can bring retro cartridges back to life have found fertile markets around the world as gamers pine for nostalgia, enough so that two Japanese companies which have long dealt in old-school media are jumping into the console-making business.
Although retro games can be played via subscription services and on consoles being relaunched by the original makers, there is strong demand for titles that have fallen through the cracks or relegated to collecting dust in old gamers’ libraries because the consoles they were designed for conked out long ago.
Demand has provided opportunities to a range of industries, from hardware and software makers to secondhand goods retailers looking to move the packaged media sitting on their shelves.
How well retro-compatible consoles re-create original playing experiences depends on their chips and other hardware specifications. Overseas, high-end retro consoles are being produced.
In late September, Bookoff — a popular chain of stores that sells used books, manga and other physical media where stories reside — began accepting reservations for its upcoming consoles. The 8-bit Compact is compatible with Nintendo’s Family Computer system, known as NES abroad, and the 16-bit Compact V2 is compatible with Nintendo’s Super Famicom system, also known as Super Nintendo.
The machines, built in collaboration with retro console maker Columbus Circle, go on sale in December.
“Retro games are gaining in popularity among a broad range of generations,” a Bookoff representative said.
In May, the company’s retro game-related sales jumped 59% from 12 months earlier.
In August, Geo Holdings, which began life three decades ago as a video rental shop, launched the Retro Game Computer, which can play the cartridges for Nintendo’s Family Computer and is installed with 118 original titles. It is priced at 2,178 yen ($14.50).
By way of comparison, the original Famicom, as it was popularly known, was introduced at 14,800 yen, which translates to 19,400 yen today, according to inflationtool.com.
Geo Holdings initially sold the product on a trial basis to test the waters. Sales went well, and the company began selling its exclusive console at about 570 outlets. The first batch of 3,000 units has already sold out, according to the company.
Geo outlets no longer sell Famicom games, but “we know they still command resilient popularity with customers,” a company representative said. “We decided to introduce the product to allow them to play retro games.”
Titles that came out as far back as the 1980s are finding new popularity, and not only among gray-haired gamers. Younger people are also drawn to them, attracted not only by the characteristics of the games but also by the music and graphics, which were severely limited by the hardware specifications of the day.
While YouTubers have helped turn young people on to these games, COVID-19 and the stay-home lifestyles it spawned also played a part.
Services that give subscribers access to old titles have actually been around for some time. Online gaming platforms, including Sony Group’s PlayStation Store and Nintendo’s Nintendo Switch Online, allow subscribers to play old games on the latest consoles.
And retro consoles have been available for a while, too. In 2019, Sega launched the Mega Drive Mini, which re-creates the outward appearance of the Mega Drive console introduced in 1988 and comes installed with 42 titles. The model was updated in 2022.
However, there are many titles that cannot be offered by online platforms due to software rights-related restrictions and other issues. For someone to play these games, an original console is required. But most of these museum pieces are no longer being manufactured, and as the retro market takes off, prices for used ones have been heading skyward, too.