Ever since the internet has taken a more direct role in our lives things that we may have taken for granted are now starting to fade away. No longer do we have to go out to a music store to buy the newest album when we can just download it on our phone. Want to watch a movie? Turn on a streaming service and you can watch it right then and there. Video games are no different. Digital copies of games are becoming more frequent and easier to get. You no longer have to wait outside a Game Stop for a midnight release anymore, you can just pre-order the game, download it overnight, and wake up to a brand new game to play. With the rise of digital games it has become a debate and a stand with a lot of gamers, especially those in the retro community, as to which version they should buy. The stand being that most retro gamers/collectors want physical copies of games over their digital counterparts. Now this isn’t me telling that those who prefer digital collections are in the wrong. Frankly there are some great reasons why to have digital over physical. Yet there are some big caveats that people need to understand when deciding to get a game digital or physical.
Personally, I’m on Team Physical. To me, holding a game in your hands and seeing your collection on a shelf is way more impressive than just scrolling through a list of games on a hard drive. However, even though I love having the physical copies of games, I do own a few copies of digital games when the physical version is so much more expensive. For us retro gamers, getting physical copies of games is becoming harder. Not to mention that certain games are becoming more rare and the price just keeps skyrocketing. Take Shantae for the Game Boy Color for example. This was the last official game released for the GBC and it is a big collector’s item. The physical game is not just highly sought after, it’s also extremely expensive and just a loose cart can run you in the hundreds of dollars. Just to sate my own curiosity, I looked up the game’s average price on pricecharting.com and a loose cart currently goes for over $500 and CIB is over $2 grand. The good news is that all is not lost if you want a copy (like I do), as the game is still up on the Nintendo 3DS eShop for only $5 as a digital download. Comparing that to the task of hunting down a physical copy and spending that much money on it, buying the game digitally is the way to go for me. It’s a bummer that I may never own a physical copy of the game, but I want to play and enjoy the game rather than break my bank account in hunting down a physical copy.
Granted having cheap games on the digital store is great, but there are times when waiting to get those games may not be the best strategy. Consider the recent delisting of Fire Emblem: The Blade of Light and the Shadow Dragon from the Nintendo eShop. The original Fire Emblem game, in all of it’s 8-bit Famicom glory, finally came to North America. Fully translated and on sale for about $6 on the eShop. Of course you could get the special edition with tons of goodies like a replica NES cart, but the game still wasn’t physical. It was digital only, and if you wanted the game you had to act fast because, like Mario 3D All-Stars and Mario 35, it went away from the eShop on March 31st. Now this has been a Nintendo thing recently, not all companies or developers have been delisting their games from online stores after a certain amount of time. SEGA may have released their smash hit Sonic Mania digital first, but rewarded those who decided to wait with a physical copy that included the DLC, and 2 years ago the base game was a free download for PlayStation Plus subscribers. Now even with the game having a physical copy, gamers can still download the game with, or without, the DLC should they so choose. It’s not delisted and scalpers aren’t upscaling it like some people are doing with physical copies of Mario 3D All-Stars. Being digital only, like Fire Emblem, is a pain and even though I have a large SD card for my Switch, there’s still a chance that I may loose the game forever should something happen to that card. Sonic Mania on the other hand, I can get for any system I own physically with no problem. Sure I’d be buying the game twice since I got it day one digitally, but it’s still a relatively cheap game and knowing I have a physical copy puts my mind at ease incase something happens to my PS4.
Indie games have it tough when it comes to getting a physical release, especially since most indie games now have a retro feel to them. You have to be an extremely popular game to warrant such a physical release and even then it could be months, or even years after the initial launch to get a physical copy of your favorite indie title. Sometimes it’s worth the wait but others are still waiting. Nintendo Switch owners are still waiting for a physical release of Cuphead after they were promised one in 2019 and no word on it since. Yacht Club games however released a collection of all their highly beloved Shovel Knight games in one package in physical form (also digitally) with no signs of halting production. There is one company that does take highly rated indie games, as well as older retro titles, and gives them physical copies. For those who don’t know, Limited Run makes and sells physical copies of games that may not have warranted a full blown physical release or are rereleasing older titles that have become harder finds. They are very much Team Physical (their slogan on their website is “Forever Physical”) and they do work with the developers of the games to include special collectors editions that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. They don’t just make games for modern systems either, they have recreated cartridges for the GBC, NES, and even the N64 which work on the respected systems. They remake the carts in beautiful detail and add neat little touches to the packaging. However, like the name suggests, these games are limited, so if you miss the pre-order window and the game sells out its gone for good. You might get lucky finding a copy at a trade show or used game store, but that’s very unlikely and it’ll most likely be more expensive. So your best bet with Limited Run is that if you see a game that you want and it hasn’t gone on sale yet, set an alarm and make sure you have the funds to get it when the preorder window opens. Following them on social media isn’t a bad idea either since they announce and show off the new products they plan to make on their feeds. That way you can pick and choose which game/collector’s edition to get and which to pass on. If you do manage to get a pre-order in, prepare to wait a few months since they still need to make the games and get final OK’s from the publisher. I missed out on the Panzer Paladin physical release due to lack of cash and even though I have the game digitally, I really wanted a physical copy.
When it all comes down to it, deciding to get a physical or digital copy depends on your wants and desires. I’ve had some people tell me that they prefer to get digital games because they have no space for the physical copies anymore. Others are on the fence and it really depends on what they want to display and spend the money on. Of course you have a few who won’t budge and will only buy physical and that’s OK. There are advantages to getting both and you need to do what’s best for you. It’s true that there may be more dangers in getting digital games over physical ones (like not really owning them or loosing them if your system completely breaks), but since we’re still in a global pandemic the advantage of getting new games without leaving the house is pretty neat. Also the digital versions tend to go on sale more than the physical copies. Getting the version you want is what matters here and the best part is that there really is no wrong answer, it all depends on your preference. Mine is physical copies, if your’s happens to be digital, then that’s awesome.