I don’t tend to editorialize in this space very often, so I hope you’ll permit me this.
Amidst all the recent (and recurring) discussion about how easy or accessible a game should be, there have been a wave of recent releases I feel have been overlooked. Namely, the “SP” (for “Special,” also known as “Extra”, depending on where you are) versions of Nintendo Entertainment System games featured as a part of the Nintendo Switch Online service.
Beginning back in October, Nintendo began adding titles to the service featuring the “SP” suffix. At first, some believed this would be a “special” version of the game, altered in some way, but the reality was that these were instead games featuring save files which, to be blunt, saw much of the game already played for you.
While I’m not necessarily against these versions of the games being made available to those who want them, I feel there’s a bigger picture that Nintendo is missing here. Simply put, as good as they are and as much as we loved them growing up, there are aspects of these titles which have just not aged well. A few coding tweaks would make the games feel more approachable to newcomers, and add a little quality-of-life experience for those of us who are revisiting old favorites with a bit less time on our hands.
Take Metroid, for instance. Here is how Nintendo officially describes its “SP” version:
The fully fortified bounty hunter!
You just got a great head start on your mission to defeat Mother Brain! In this version of Metroid, every power-up, including all Power Suit weapons and abilities, is available from the start. The ending of this game changes slightly depending on how fast it’s beaten, boasting a total of five endings. Here, you’re ready to rush right into the finale, where you can see the ending that features Samus without her trademark Power Suit.
Further info reveals that you’re not just powered up at the start, but start right at Ridley, which is most of the way through the adventure. Which is nice and all, but not really the best way to play the game, in my humble opinion (if you just want to hit the high points of the game and see the ending, I strongly recommend NES Remix instead. Well, if you have a Nintendo 3DS or Wii U, that is).
Know what keeps me from coming back to Metroid more often?
I still love exploring the world, as confusing as it may be, and fighting the enemies, tough as they are. But what I hate more than anything is that whenever you die, you start with a paltry 30 hit points — not even your maximum at the beginning of the game. Whether you’re sitting at one or a full six Energy Tanks, you can fill up in one of two ways: 1) Find a spare Energy Tank that’s still been unclaimed, and that will top you right off (just don’t save after, if you’re at maximum capacity), or grinding. Long, agonizing grinding. And unlike its 16-bit successor, Super Metroid, the game doesn’t feed you what you need — you might be full of missiles and in dire need of health, but it’s anyone’s guess whether you’ll get the life energy you so desperately need, more useless missiles (though those can require a grind of their own), or just nothing at all.
While I haven’t found any real statistics, one GameFAQs user cited 20 to 30 minutes of grinding for health each time they died (which sounds about right, random number generator shenanigans notwithstanding). In this day and age, that’s pretty ridiculous.
Ridiculous enough that there is already a hack for the game which simply restarts you at full health, however many tanks you have. It’s a small fix that makes an enormous difference, and one can only wonder why Nintendo isn’t doing this.
Another instance comes in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, a personal favorite of mine:
It’s a secret to everybody. Start this version of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link with your Attack, Magic, and Life all maxed out at level eight! You won’t start with any items, but you’ll be able to use all that magic to plow through your enemies with a souped-up Link.
Clear the six palaces to take on the Great Palace and win back the Triforce of Courage. Quiz time! Do you know which town names in this game appear as key characters in a different game within the Legend of Zelda series?
Sure, that’s going to make the game a little easier to play, at least at the outset. Of course, this is basically the game’s “New Game Plus” — the reward for beating the game — offered up front.
I’m of the opinion there are relatively minor tweaks to the game that could be made to the game that would be more welcoming for newcomers and veterans alike:
- Don’t keep starting players back at North Castle after every game over before the Great Palace.
- Don’t rob them of their experience points when they die.
- Make 1UPs actually mean something, rather than disappearing if you save a game. Let them replenish after a restart, or simply increase your overall stock — just something more permanent/long term.
- Maybe allow saving at the Great Palace (though save states may be good enough for this).
Again, small things that would have a big impact on players who want to enjoy the game. They don’t change the game in any huge way or take away any real challenge, they’d just make the game less tedious to get through. It’s not like Ironknuckles, Fokkas, or the Great Palace are really going to be any easier as a result of these tweaks. This stuff is known as “Nintendo Hard” for a reason, and that wouldn’t change.
And if you prefer the original way, that’s right there, too.
Of course, these are but two examples. I’m not sure what Nintendo’s goal is with these Special versions of titles, but if their goal is to create something more welcoming, there are better ways than playing the games for us. Or at the very least, lots of room for an intermediary step.
Header image via Nintendo Wire.