Rapid Fire: Now You’re Playing With Power!

Been to the mall lately?

If so, you’ve probably seen the latest attraction to hit Suburbia. When someone ranks the top surprises of 2004, right in between the poker fad and the Detroit Pistons NBA Championship run, there should be a spot left for the Power Player. Hell, maybe they should put the Power Player atop the list.

Nintendo is well aware of the existence of this piece of machinery. And thanks to its ubiquitous presence, so is everyone else. Who else never thought something like this could ever get made – and that people could get away with selling it? The Big N is currently trying to put the kibosh on the Power Player, but it might take a while due to the nature of legal battles. So, in the meantime, we must take the folks behind the Power Player seriously.

When you think about it, the fact that this thing is even available in a mall is just absurd. Anybody worth their salt knows that the games are obviously pirated. Even those who aren’t familiar with the “Nintendo Seal Of Quality” debate in the 1980’s can tell that Nintendo didn’t exactly give this package two thumbs up. The “system” is nothing more than an extremely fragile controller – in the shape of either a Genesis, Dreamcast, or Nintendo 64 controller – that plugs into the video inputs on your TV. It comes in the kind of box you might find at Kay-Bee with a junior cowboy set inside of it. The box promises 12,000 games in one unit when, in reality, it’s just the same 75 or so games repeated over and over again. The Konami Code doesn’t even work in the Power Player version of Contra. And yet, these things are flying off of shelves. Go figure.

Why has the Power Player become such a big hit? Well, the answer is quite simple. In this modern age where retro games are considered “cool” and retro collections have found a sizable audience, one major player in 80’s gaming has been noticeably absent from the festivites. And that major player would be Nintendo. Rather than put together the retro collection to top all other retro collections, Nintendo has chosen to turn the re-release of these games into a source of revenue for stockholders – as in, not a source of joy and nostalgia for gamers.

Those people who invested $100 in a NES-styled GBA SP last summer might feel a little bit taken after seeing the success of the Power Player, and they have every right to. Let’s assume that copyrights and licenses are notwithstanding for a second and compare these two entities. You can wait for Nintendo to release five more classic titles every three to six months and pay $20 for one of these games, or you can pay $40 to have 70+ games in one package. Which would you rather have?

Granted, the overall package of the retro SP and its retro games is one that can’t be matched, least of all by a generic controller with a NES inside of it. But the point is that it would be so incredibly easy for Nintendo to just give the people what they want – a GameCube disc with 10-20 classic titles on it. It wouldn’t even have to be all the big hits, either. People would salivate over such a package, and would be willing to pay $50 – or even more, perhaps – just to get all these great games on one disc. We now see that not only can it be done, but it can be done very cheaply. In other words, the days when people willingly pay $20 for one NES port are severely numbered.

Nintendo, of course, is well aware of the Power Player, its lack of legal right to sell Nintendo’s property, and the overall skeeziness of the Power Player’s package. But most of all, Nintendo sees the Power Player as a threat. Emulation and piracy have always been deterrents to Nintendo’s goal of milking the “classic” cash cow to its maximum extent, but never to this extreme. What Nintendo doesn’t seem to realize, though, is that this whole situation could have easily been averted by simply delivering the goods on the terms of the consumer instead of their own.

This writer would even go ahead and state that Nintendo has gotten exactly what they deserved in this case. Did they deserve to have millions of copies of illegally produced software sold without a dime going their way? Of course not. At the same time, game fans have been clamoring for a set of NES hits for years and have had their pleas fall on deaf ears. So can you really blame the masses for snapping up the next best thing? Again, no. And do you know what? Every gamer who buys a Power Player says the same thing to themselves – “Boy, I wish Nintendo would put something like this out.”

Will the wishes of these gamers ever come true? Now that Nintendo has taken legal action, there’s a small chance that a Nintendo retrospective could come about. Still, it’s not likely, and it’s no guarantee that it’d have the same audience now that it would have had, say, one year ago. And Nintendo has nobody to blame but themselves for that.

Nintendo, like everyone else, is reeling with shock over this situation. The gaming public is surprised to see the Power Player, and rightfully so. But can Nintendo truly be surprised? How? When a company exploits its patrons by charging $20 for a game that’s 20 years old, and then another company offers that game, plus seventy others, for just $20 more, is it really a surprise that it’s a big seller?

Does Nintendo regret not pulling the trigger on this when it had the chance to shock the world? That’s tough to say. But one thing that should surprise nobody is that Nintendo chose profits over the opportunity to create a package that nobody would ever forget.