By Jared Newman | Saturday, August 15, 2009 at 3:35 pm
I owe a belated happy anniversary to the Sega Genesis, which turned 20 years old yesterday.
Most people will remember the Genesis as the console that went toe-to-toe with Nintendo, finding in Sonic the Hedgehog a mascot worth rallying behind. While that’s certainly a legacy worth celebrating, something more important is happening these days that the Genesis also pursued in its early years: It brought the arcade experience home.
Check out one of the early Genesis commercials from 1989. Before Sonic was born, Sega pushed the Genesis as a faithful emulator of arcade hits, such as Golden Axe and Ghouls ‘N Ghosts. Back then, arcades were a gamer’s paradise. Titles like Double Dragon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had sharper details and crisper sounds (sometimes with real voices!) in the arcades. Nothing else came close.
Eventually, home consoles caught up. Not only are the graphics on today’s consoles better than the arcades, the games themselves are more advanced, with sophisticated plots and much more replay value.
As a result, arcades — if you can find them — have fundamentally changed. Instead of competing with home consoles on graphics and sound, many offer a physical experience. Dance Dance Revolution makes you move your body, and racing simulators put you behind a steering wheel.
The only problem is, home consoles are starting to do this, too. The Wii remote has made steering wheel racing affordable, and the Wii Fit’s balance board has players working their legs, while Wii Sports is letting people act silly with game controllers in the comfort of their own homes. When the Xbox 360’s Project Natal arrives, it’ll let people use their entire bodies to control video games.
All of this spells more trouble for arcades, which try to provide something different as home gaming becomes more popular. It’s true that nothing matches the elaborate rig of an arcade racing simulator, but that’s exactly the point. Even the Genesis wasn’t quite as good as playing in an arcade, but its “good enough” approach marked the beginning of arcade gamings’ demise.
Now, we’re starting to see the end of it.