A funny thing happened with the advent of downloadable games. Suddenly, those retro titles we know and loved, spent hours of our childhood on, were worth $5. That’s a steal, for sure. Anyone who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s will remember plunking down $50 at Kay Bee Toys for their copy of Sonic the Hedgehog (or insert appropriate nostalgic title here).
Now, the game is worth $5, something that holds true for a physical version of the platform classic and a downloadable, digital copy. This has set an odd precedent, in more ways than one, that any game that seems “old” is not worth more than an Xbox Live Arcade release.
IGN recently reviewed Deathsmiles, a horizontal 2D shooter from Cave (published by Aksys in the States), and their review instantly brought up that this is a retail release. This is $50 in stores, and not a game on the Xbox Live Arcade. Let’s ignore the bonuses inside the box which include a CD and soon-to-be-obsolete faceplate. We’re focusing on the game itself, nothing more.
What justifies $50? It seems to be time, which gamers immediately associate with value. If a game is $60, it had better be 10 hours at least, right? It doesn’t matter how the game actually reaches 10 hours. Personally, I gave up on the recent Transformers release for this very reason. I was tired of being “ambushed” in seemingly every room by waves of enemies who served one purpose: to falsely extend the game to add perceived value.
Value is very distinctly defined in this industry, odd since no other entertainment business works the same. Books don’t need to be 500 pages, and movies don’t need to be three hours. They simply need to provide value in their content, something that we as gamers seem to have forgotten.
Deathsmiles, as a horizontal shooter, has value. A lot of it. Comparing it to Ikaruga on the XBLA is unfair. That was a port. Death Smiles is also a port, but a modern one, not from a previous generation. Death Smiles does not toss the player into a room and expect them to fend off waves of enemies while stalled. It has progression, a sense of movement, and more importantly, satisfaction.
It justifies its price with its scoring system, its gorgeous visuals, and tight mechanics. The game may last 30-minutes or a bit longer. Length is irrelevant; the deal is in the gameplay. You don’t play Deathsmiles once, you play it twice… and a third time… and again. That’s how shooters are played. For a true fan of the SHMUP genre, there is far more than 10 hours of gameplay, but again, that doesn’t matter. You work at it, to showcase your skill in a run on YouTube or network with other fans who have accomplished the same. That’s the draw.
Deathsmiles is the type of game that makes you proud. You don’t see speed runs in War of Cybertron because it’s a hollow experience. Is it fun? Sure. Does it have value? Of course, but in it’s own way.
Just because Deathsmiles does not conform to some modern standard, whatever that may be to you, does not mean it is priced wrong, or should be dropped onto a download service to be forgotten when those servers are eventually pulled. It should be celebrated and enjoyed no matter the price, the type of game that makes you appreciate the intricacies of game design on a basic level. Few games these days let you do that.
Would anyone argue if this was $15? I can’t imagine so. Should it be $15? Not at all.