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Ode to the Cartridge

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The end of an era is upon us. Within the next few months, the final cartridge based home video game will find its way into dedicated gamers homes. Samurai Shodown V Special will be released on the Neo Geo home console to the most die-hard group of gamers left. The cart’s cost is astronomical, but considering its place in history, it all seems worthwhile.

It all started with the Fairchild Channel F, the first ever cartridge-based console to hit the market (The Odyssey had carts a few years prior, but each one was, technically, its own hardware). It was revolutionary for the time but failed miserably when the Atari 2600 began one of the most dominant reigns in the history of the industry. Well, that and the fact that the games were just plain awful.

All of us who grew up fighting with are large toaster NES consoles (as they are called amongst the classic gaming community) will surely have “fond” memories of blowing into the carts, slamming them, inserting them ever so carefully, or cleaning them constantly just to get a chance to play the latest Mario Bros. game. It was an unforgettable part of video game life back then. Kids today have no idea what they missed out on.

Carts had no load times. The game was instantaneous as soon as the start button was pressed. They have withstood years of punishment and you’ll find very few that are completely dead. Their battery back-up and flash memory eliminated the need for memory cards.

They were completely different from everything on the market. Now, CD’s and DVD’s are indistinguishable from any video game. Every system had a different style of cart, each of them equally as recognizable as the systems own. We had some classic designs and gimmicks, whether it is the well known gold Zelda cart or the various colored carts of the 16-bit era (also continuing onto the N64 with games like Doom).

Scanning a shelf of cart just screams “video game collector.” A stack of CD’s just doesn’t seem like a true video game collection. Die-hard collectors spend hours organizing their carts to maximize shelf space. Now all gamers have to do is head over to an electronic store and buy a rack specially made for whatever may be thrown at it. What’s the fun in that?

In ten years, where will all of the current generation games be? Most likely in a dumpster, but not because of quality. After working at a video store for four years, trust me when I say it only takes a matter of time before that game comes back defective due to scratches. Sometimes it can only take one rental period before the disc is useless. Carts are special. Even if you little brother Huey drooled on it, rest assured it would work the next day.

This is really the end for most collectors. Many have vowed never to collect for CD based systems. Though I’m not one of them, their point is well made. CD’s/DVD’s just don’t seem like a real video game. Many more believe that the CD-ROM format marked the turning point in the industry towards the mainstream. Sure we have the Game Boy Advance, but the days of plugging a cart into that console connected to the TV are all over after this. Let us all bow our heads in respect for this classic format.

Originally posted at Breaking Windows.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • I still have a functioning Atari 2600. And an NES. And a Sega Genesis. And a Super NES. And a PSO. And a computer with 5 1/4 inch floppy drives.

    I just can’t bear to throw any of them away. I mean, they still work!

  • Wow, a functioning 2600. There might, theoretically, still be one of those in my parents’ closet, but that’s iffy. Nowadays, they have those little joystick+a/v cable devices to get your old school groove on. Still, I miss those chunky cartridges and wierd spring-loaded switches.

    I must readily agree about the whole mention of the fragility of CD-based media. Practically obselesence by design. ‘Course, back in the day, CDs came in caddies… 😉

  • i have an atari jaguar i got from…i forget which game store it was. Possibly Game, actually. Anyway, waay back about 3 years shortly after i’d started uni, i was in town and they had a stack of atari jaguars, boxed, unopened, i think they’d been unearthed and game were selling them as a joint venture with Telegames (who are THE most overpriced retro gaming store i’ve ever had the misfortune of reading the price list of) for 9.99 a pop, so i couldnt resist. Also got an extra pad.
    Brutal Sports Football is ace for two-player action, and there are one or two other games i intend to get. I’ll also be getting at least one of the Neo-Geo models when i have my own place (my parents are already pissed off with all the stuff i have “taking up too much room” so i doubt they’d appreciate having an arcade cabinet, or even the home version). I have a neo-geo pocket colour i bought when they first came out, now i have loads of games for it that i bought cheap over ebay.
    For all its faults, ebay is a great place to get old consoles.

  • Since you mentioned Neo-Geo, I’ll state, for the record, that the “Metal Slug” series has got to be the pinnacle of side-scrolling, mindless, sprite-based action. The background animations alone in that game make it a winner. Add explosions and waves of enemies, and you’ve got a classic.

  • also, the Metal Slug series add about as many original concepts to the platform mix, without actually doing anything other than platform action, as possible.
    if you think there’s no life left in 2D platformers, try the Metal Slug games.
    What i don’t get is, surely in this day and age, it’d be possible for them to come up with a slightly more affordable version of the Neo-Geo (as in, affordable new – i know at least on ebay you can pick up the hardware and games for affordable, if still a little pricey at times, prices)

  • Well, the Geo is pretty much dead. The Geo CD had much cheaper games and system was roughly the same price. Of course, the loading times sucked.

    The problem with the Geo are the carts. Later ones were almost a gig in size. That’s not cheap.