This week, Konami has announced that they are releasing a series of three (possibly more) classic collections of games from their archives in order to celebrate their 50th anniversary.
Coming to all four key modern platforms (Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam) as digital-only purchases, it appears that they will be priced starting at $19.99 USD for eight games apiece with the release of Anniversary Collection: Arcade Classics on April 18th, 2019. Castlevania Anniversary Collection and Contra Anniversary Collection will follow in early Summer 2019, with prices as yet unannounced.
While this news has many people excited, I’m experiencing another feeling: Frustration. But I’ll get to why in just a moment; for context, it’s better to see what Konami is promoting on their website.
The Arcade Classics package is the most info-complete one we have so far. It includes Haunted Castle (aka that Castlevania arcade game), Typhoon, Nemesis (aka Gradius), Vulcan Venture (aka Gradius II), Life Force (aka Salamander), Thunder Cross, Scramble, and TwinBee, “now enhanced with modern features.” It also comes with an exclusive eBook “packed with new information about the titles, including interviews with the development staff, behind-the-scenes insights, and sketches and design documents never before revealed to the public!”
For Castlevania Anniversary Collection, only four of the eight included games have been revealed: Castlevania, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge (from the Game Boy), and Super Castlevania IV. No mention of “modern features” here, while all that’s said about its respective eBook is that it “has details provided by developers, artists and other inspired by the Castlevania legacy.”
Finally, there’s the Contra Anniversary Collection, which features the arcade version of Contra, Super Contra, Super C (the Nintendo Entertainment System port of Super Contra), and Contra III: The Alien Wars. As with Castlevania, there’s no mention of any “modern features,” as with the Arcade Classics package, nor what this eBook will contain. Incidentally, they don’t really mention how one will access the eBooks, either. Will I need Kindle? Am I going to have to read off my television if I get the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 versions?
That aside, as I was saying before, Konami’s secrecy about these latter two collections frustrates me more than it excites me. While I understand wanting to keep your cards close to your chest for some reason, the simple fact of the matter is that the only thing we haven’t seen in more recent years on platforms such as Nintendo’s Virtual Consoles or Xbox Live Arcade is Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge for the Game Boy.
This is problematic for a few reasons, not the least of which is the continued absence of the original NES version of Contra. While I feel that the arcade version certainly has its own merits and is a welcome inclusion, the NES version is hailed by many (myself included) as the overall superior of the two — and it hasn’t been released again since the NES. No Virtual Console, no collections, no NES Classic Edition, no Nintendo Switch Online. And no, I’m not counting Contra 4 on the Nintendo DS; while a welcome inclusion, you can’t play true 2-player there, so it unfortunately comes up short as a full substitute.
But what I find even more egregious is there is once again no mention of either Castlevania: Bloodlines or Contra: Hard Corps — the two SEGA Genesis installments of their respective series.
Growing up as a dyed-in-the-wool Nintendo fan, I of course had a Super NES. I would get a SEGA Genesis eventually, but the time for purchasing Konami’s distinct entries for the Leader of the 16-bit Revolution passed me by. Where I lived at the time, there were no used game stores around — GameStop wasn’t widespread enough to have reached my neck of the woods yet, nor Electronics Boutique, FuncoLand, Babbage’s, or anyone else. By the time I was old enough to make my own trips to the Big City to visit a Microplay, I admittedly had my sights set on newer and more exotic fare.
Years later, when Nintendo released the Wii and its Virtual Console in 2006, it seemed like a no-brainer. The platform could not only support Nintendo’s own platforms such as the NES and Super NES, but also other then-competing platforms such as the TurboGrafx-16, SEGA Master System, and SEGA Genesis. This was perfect: Now, I could finally play all these SEGA Genesis games I missed out on, all at an affordable price from the comfort of my own home! And so I waited.
Eventually, the truth became clear: For whatever reason, despite Konami’s otherwise impressive presence on the platform, these classics I’d heard so much about over the years just weren’t coming.
As I said, it seemed like a no-brainer: Here were two entries in two series beloved by Nintendo fans, but which the hardcore Nintendo fans would likely not have gotten to experience growing up, due to their platform/company loyalties. For many of them, these would effectively be like two new games in the series. I already had Contra III: The Alien Wars — heck, I still have it (great game, too, in case you didn’t know), but Contra: Hard Corps would be new ground to me.
Of course, I suppose there was always emulation sites. But I wanted to get them legitimately, to actually exchange money for goods and services, and be able to support the franchises in a way that their publisher might see the money from it and be encouraged to do more stuff like that.
Well, so much for that.
Along came the Wii U and New Nintendo 3DS, which had Virtual Consoles, but none for the SEGA Genesis (shout out to M2’s SEGA 3D Classics, though). What felt so obvious just obviously wasn’t happening.
Last year, a rumor emerged as to just why all three of these games were never on these platforms:
According to the post, when the Wii’s Virtual Console went live, Nintendo sent out a list to all third party developers asking them which of their old-school games they would like to see a focus on for reissuance. The source claims that a clerical error is to blame for Contra and Konami’s Genesis games never making the cut, as someone apparently forgot to give those games a checkmark before sending the list back to Nintendo.
It goes on to say that someone would later try to remedy this, but were unable to see those efforts through to completion.
That brings us back to there here and the now with Konami’s new collections. This seems like an opportunity to finally do things right, but not seeing any of these long-absent titles there already? I want to hope, but at the same time, I feel like I’ve been burned for far too long to even consider holding my breath, to think that they’ll finally do it now, after all this time. In the end, I just feel frustrated by it all.
In a way, this almost feels like Konami’s way of saying “hey, you lived by Nintendo, now you die by Nintendo.” (That didn’t sound quite so dark in my head.)
Before I close this out, a couple of other thoughts on the new collections. Both the Arcade Classics and Castlevania Anniversary Collection say that they’re the “first” installments, leading to hope that maybe there will be subsequent entries that cover games left out of these initial offerings. Some are speculating that in Castlevania‘s case, the earlier style will be the focus of the first, while the more exploration-based “Metroidvania”/”IGAvania” style would fill out a second, thus explaining the absence of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest — though this would also clash with Konami’s claim that the first is “a completed collection around the origins of the historic franchise.”
While a second volume might at least provide a place for Castlevania: Bloodlines to be released later (assuming they aren’t dividing the titles up along the lines of platformer versus exploration), Contra‘s collection makes no such mention of it being the first.
Last, but not least: Supposing they do bring the Genesis games here, I wonder if we’ll have the option to switch between the Japanese and English versions of Contra: Hard Corps, which have different rules regarding lives/health and continues. For that matter, it would be nice if we had the same choice for one game we do know is included, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, which not only featured gameplay differences between the two regions, but also musical, thanks to a custom soundchip.
It’s probably best not to hold out hope for such extravagance, though, especially if their recent efforts are anything to go by.