What I'm doing and what I should be doing (aka, in praise of the rewind feature)
|It's always dangerous to go alone. Always!|
Instead, I've been playing a lot of NES and SNES era Legend of Zelda.
See, a while back I got a year of free Nintendo online service for the Switch. I used it a little. I tried to get my stepson interested in playing the old school Super Mario Bros. titles with me, which resulted in much eye-rolling and pleas to play Super Mario Odyssey instead, "Alone, please."
I told my fiancee that they had Metroid and, later, Super Metroid – her favorite childhood franchise – hoping that we could enjoy some retro gaming bonding after the kids were in bed. Instead we were both so tired after days full of work and evenings full of baths and dinners and fighting to get teeth brushed (why do kids hate oral hygiene so vehemently?) that we were ready to shower and crash after we'd wrestled the adolescent and the infant into pajamas and cajoled them into slumber.
So the service sat, unused but at least unpaid for. Then, last week, my year of free service expired and my account was charged for another year. (They always get you with the auto-renew. Always.)
I considered for a moment calling Nintendo tech support and asking for a cancellation and refund, but I've dealt with Nintendo tech support before. It's not a pleasant endeavor. Calling into a tech support call center rarely is, but Nintendo's convoluted policies create a special kind of Kafkaesque consumer nightmare. Instead I decided to eat the 21 bucks and take advantage of the NES and SNES titles it afforded me access to. After all, I'm furloughed. I should be able to take some time to enjoy some classic video games, right? You'd think so. But you'd be wrong.
|This is how you game after you have kids.|
So, I've done what I presume fathers have done for generations – I've taken every opportunity to nap with the little one during the day, and after he and his mother have gone to sleep for the evening, I've stayed up to read and watch TV and play games for as long as I can keep my eyes open. Or, until the baby wakes up and I have to get him back to sleep, whichever comes first.
Now, I'm no newbie to these games. I played most of them the first time around 30 years ago, and since I've played them again through emulators on my PC, through my mobile devices, and on my favorite little cube console the OUYA (using legally obtained ROMs from game cartridges I already own, of course).
But the Switch has a feature that I've not experienced in any of the emulators I've used, and that we definitely didn't have on the original consoles. The Switch lets you rewind, and it's been a game changer.
Now, the Switch also has a save feature, and that's awesome too. With it, I don't have to lose my progress on Super Mario Bros. 3 when I start nodding off at 3 a.m. I can save my game where I'm at and pick up again the next evening, or after I get the baby back to sleep. But a lot of my emulators had that too (and let me tell you, it made a HUGE difference when playing games like Fester's Quest). Saving your progress and being able to restart later, or go back to a save spot just before a big boss fight that might kill you, is a God-send. I love it. It's also something we've all come to expect of most games to come out over the last few console generations.
But what about when you unexpectedly get killed by a random enemy on your way to the next boss fight, and your last save is just before the previous boss fight? Yes, you probably should be saving more often (I tell myself this same thing all the time), but what if you didn't? Do you really want to go back to fight Dodongo again when you were ready for dungeon 3? Because it's that, or use the default game restart status, and nobody wants that.
On your way to fight Bowser, misjudge a jump and fall down a shaft? Rewind and jump again.
What I love about the rewind function is that you don't need to worry about that now. At all. You can just rewind to right before that Armos stabbed you or that Tektite leaped onto your back from out of the rocks (stupid Tektites...) and be prepared to own that Tektite bastard. It's fantastic.
It also feels a little like cheating. And it is, in a way, even though it's Nintendo approved cheating. Cheats aren't anything new. Everyone who was gaming in the 80s and 90s remembers the Game Genie, even if, like me, you never owned or used one. Devices like the Game Genie and, later, emulator mods made these difficult older games – and let's not kid ourselves, these old games, based on, or descended from, code designed to keep kids pumping quarters into arcade machines, are often frustratingly difficult – more accessible to the casual player at the time. They can also make them playable for a new generation that doesn't always have the patience for or experience with these "hardcore" difficulties. But while the Game Genie worked by allowing you to replace game code with new inputs that would give you infinite lives or extra ammunition, the rewind function on the Switch version of Nintendo classics just lets you skip death altogether.
If you've played Braid, you know what a game changer the idea of rewinding is. But while it was a feature in Braid that you had to use to solve certain puzzles, in the NES and SNES classics on Switch, it's really just a cheat, and I find myself using it for more than just avoiding death. I've used it to collect missed one-up mushrooms. (Why I still want those when I can just rewind to avoid death, I don't know, but old habits die hard.) I've used it to collect lost rupees. I've used it to get further in Kid Icarus than ten-year-old me could ever dream of. I still haven't beat it, but it's finally going to happen now that I have the ability to rewind it, I'm sure.
And while it feels a lot like cheating (because it is) it's also a wonderful way to finally experience these games in full. If we're going to cling to the premise that games are as much art as film or literature or photography – and they are – that's an important feature. Modern games have addressed this need by adding no fail "story mode" features, or at least some of them have. But if we want the younger generation of game aficionados, and future game designers, to understand the roots of the art they are practicing, we need these features like the anytime save and the rewind function.
As esports become more prevalent, I could see the rewind feature becoming valuable in other ways as well. Want to evaluate the mistake you just made, and practice other ways to get around the obstacle before you? Rewind and try again. Want to really learn the landscape without a tedious grid-type survey? Play through the level as fast as possible, beat it, rewind and do it again another way. Like a parent allowing their child to "take back" a chess or checkers move, the rewind function has the potential to create better gamers – and more entertaining game performers, which is imperative as esports grow as a spectator affair.
There are probably even more potential uses – beyond simple cheat – that I haven't even considered yet. But now that the genie is out of the bottle, I expect we will see the option available in future classic offerings from Nintendo, even those that have modern-style game save options.
Have you used the rewind and save game functions for classic NES and SNES games on Switch? On other emulators? What do you think about it? Sound off in the comments section below and, as always, you can email me at email@example.com if you have story ideas or anything else you'd like to say to or ask me about.