The Case For Backwards-Compatible Game Systems

Let's face it...switching up from your old gaming systems to the newer ones can be a joy and a drag both at the same time.  Since it tends to be the inevitable thing that must take place at least every 5 years or so (from what I've heard from other gamers, though home videogaming has only been with us for the past 31 years as of this writing), the market must eventually cause production of games for the previous generation of systems to dry up so that the games made for the new generation of systems can abound.  On the plus side, newcomers who buy the older systems benefit from the reduced prices of software that most of the time is discounted as it is being placed in the bargain bins, yet on the minus side, it also means that they end up having very little to choose from unless they're willing to take the risk of buying used gameware from places like Funcoland and whatever tag sales and flea markets they happen to come across.   For those who already own the older generation of systems, trading up may mean having to let go of the software they enjoyed on the previous system just to have the "new thing" that's out there...or they may have to make room for more than one game system and yet another library of gameware playing on the same TV screen, which can be a hard thing to do when you're pressed for space unless you happen to own a big enough residence for such gaming storage.

Expansion Module #1 for ColecoVisionSystem Changer for IntellivisionVCS Cartridge Adapter for Atari 5200
The idea for offering what we call "backwards compatibility", allowing a new system to play the software of an older system, started in the early 1980s with the ColecoVision system.  Right at the introduction of the system in the fall of 1982, Coleco not only offered gameware for the earlier systems like the Atari 2600 and the Intellivision, but also offered Atari 2600 owners a reason to switch up to the ColecoVision with its advertised Expansion Module #1.  While this did not sit well with Atari, who took Coleco to court over selling this module as well as producing their own 2600 clone system called the Gemini, it also exposed Atari's weakness insofar as what their 5200 system didn't offer at the time it came out.  Atari attempted to rectify the situation in two ways: first, they brought forth their own 5200-compatible adapter for playing Atari 2600 games a year or so later; and second, they began developing the 7800, the system that would offer immediate backward compatibility with the 2600 without an adapter.  By the time the 7800 was ready to roll, though, Atari suffered losses not only in profits, but also in support from its then-parent company (Warner Communications), its arcade gaming division (which broke up and became Atari Games, then Time-Warner Interactive, then part of Midway), and most of all from the American videogaming market which collapsed in 1984.  Mattel Electronics, who produced the Intellivision system, also offered compatibility with the 2600 through its System Changer adapter, but that didn't see much visibility by the time Mattel decided to pull the plug on its game system in 1984.

The Atari 7800Power Base Converter for Sega Genesis and Super Gameboy Accessory for Super NES
In the generation of systems that followed the NES and the Sega Master System (when the 7800 made its first appearance in the face of its own obsolescence), Nintendo and Sega both faced having to deal with weaning owners of the previous systems to upgrade to the Super NES and Genesis, respectively.  While Sega decided to produce the Power Base Converter which would allow Master System owners to play their games on the Genesis (provided that, given the lack of success the Master System had in America, that anyone would want to continue owning the software of that system), Nintendo decided that it would be more profitable to not offer any backward compatibility with its successful NES and, to the alarm of some fans, just continued marketing the NES until support for it had dropped in favor of the SNES.  However, as far as handheld systems were concerned, Nintendo decided to have the modern-day versions of the Gameboy -- both the Gameboy Color and the Gameboy Advance -- remain compatible to whatever previous software existed for it, which I think was a very good idea in light of the failure of trying to replace the system altogether with the not-quite-there Virtual Boy.  The same thought goes for Sony allowing their PlayStation 2 to remain compatible to their previous successful original PlayStation (nicknamed the "PSX" and "PS-One"), showing that they cared more about keeping their current gaming customers than alienating them through a forced abandonment of what gameware they had previously owned.

The Playstation 2The Gameboy Advance
While I may applaud the efforts of companies who had thought of implementing "backwards compatibility" into their systems, either through adapters or instantly built into the system, one can only wonder how long a company may choose to market an upgrading lineage of systems with an increasing backlog of games reaching back years from the current generation of systems.  With the Gameboy line of systems going back 14 years to the time of Tetris and Super Mario Land, one can see how the games have improved over the timespan in various particulars.  Had Atari chose to make the Jaguar a compatible system with the Atari 2600 and 7800 (which they didn't), we would have seen such a technological evolution of software dating back to the late 1970s playing on the unit.  However, the urge to come up with something totally new and to break completely away from gaming's past can unexpectedly come upon a company that built its success upon previously-established systems and software looking to keep up with what gamers want to play in the here-and-now.  So while the somewhat annoying inevitable event of change must take place somewhere along the line, let's not forget to at least enjoy the games we have on the systems we can play them on now and be thankful for the blessing of hardware that keeps yesterday's gameware working.


At this writing I now own a system for playing both NES and SNES games on the same unit called the FC Twin, an unauthorized Nintendo-compatible game console which was released late 2006.  Available in both pearl and near-black, the FC Twin console resembles the mid-1990s smaller-cased Super NES with a Reset button and a Power switch that lets you select between 8-bit (NES games) and 16-bit (Super NES games), even without having to switch the power off!  The system also comes with a pair of SNES-compatible joysticks that can be used for both systems' games, though because of that, NES games that require the light gun or Power Pad controllers cannot be played.  So far, the only games I have tested on the FC Twin system are Arcades Greatest Hits: The Atari Collection for the Super NES as well as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong Classics for the NES, yet aside from a bit of cleaning of one NES game cartridge, all three of them work perfectly on the system.  This may be the perfect game system for NES and SNES game fans who want one system to play all their favorite classic game cartridges on.

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