The gaming industry is going digital. Chants of “it’s easy,” “it uses less plastic,” and “it’s cheaper… sometimes,” fill the streets and, after dark, tempting eShop sales let out their siren song to pull in any weary traveller after a boxed copy with sweet calls of “Oooh, ahh, up to 80% off”.
The times may be a-changing, but within this (potentially) download-only future, there sits a brave group of stewards who wish for a simpler time. A time when games came in boxes and were bought from stores. A time when all of those boxes contained a cartridge and on that cartridge was a full game. A time when those cartridges were made of brightly coloured plastic and looked even more edible than they do now.
Note: Do not eat your game cartridges. Please.
“We used to be a real country,” the boxed brigade cries as they wait an extra year after the launch of critically-acclaimed indie before getting their hands on the promised physical release. The cases are still adorned with gorgeous art. Some special editions even come with game manuals (ask your Dad). But the carts themselves are dull and grey. What has become of us?
We are just about to arrive at the 20th anniversary of Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen, two titles that were by no means the first to receive the coloured-cart treatment, but are surefire star players of the lineup.
The Game Boy Advance’s cardboard boxes were not the sturdiest storage method on the market, so for many of us, the carts themselves rattled around in a shoebox, small bag or dedicated carry case. In large collections, you’d be rooting around for minutes at a time to find your copy of Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow or Metroid: Zero Mission, flipping the grey rectangles like a professional dominoes player. But not with FireRed and LeafGreen, their vibrant casing leaping out at you as if to say, “it’s me you’re after! I’m here!”
And this wasn’t just the case for the odd GBA / Game Boy release. As long as Nintendo has produced cartridges, there have been some swanky colour variations. The gold editions of various Zelda titles (NES original, Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask on N64), Kirby’s Adventure‘s pink Famicom copy, the yellow Donkey Kong 64. Not everything got the tinted treatment, but at least the offer was there.
And then we have the translucent carts. The cream of the crop. Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald and a whole host of Game Boy Color-only games. Most of us have no idea how a game cartridge works. You stick it in your GBA, turn it on, turn it off, remove it, blow into the bottom, reinsert, turn it on again and play. But these beauties made the whole event feel a bit more technical. No, we are not children dislodging dust with the power of our breath alone, we are computer engineers, examining a motherboard before putting it to the test by catching a Pidgey and naming it “Bum”.
If these were ‘simpler times’ then why have things become so bland today? The DS ushered in an era of grey cartridges that Nintendo hasn’t been able to shake. Yes, the 3DS opted for a lighter grey, but there was still no variation to be seen. Sure we could just look at the unique stickers that adorn each of these cartridges, but where’s the fun in that? Let’s not pretend that we wouldn’t have lapped up a sparkly red or blue square with Pokémon X / Y written on it if we were given the chance.
For the past seven years, the Switch has continued this trend. Of course, the cartridges themselves are now smaller than they have ever been, with a sticker and connectors taking up the majority of the colouring-in real estate. But who says that little stars can’t shine brightly? Okay, maybe astrophysicists, but who else says that? If there’s room for Micro SD cards to have a splash of colour, could our game cartridges maybe do the same?
The answer could be right around the corner. All the signs point to new hardware in the year ahead and most of the time this comes with a new cart design too (even if that is just a little 3DS nub added on to stop us from showing ‘Switch 2’ games in our old consoles). What if, for special occasions, colourful carts made a comeback?
We can see it happening with vinyl right now. Why would you pick up a boring black copy of the Barbie soundtrack when you could get one in green, pink and white? The gauntlet has been laid down, so it’s up to Nintendo to pick it up.
As we look to the company’s future and the possibility of more ‘deluxe,’ ‘ultimate,’ ‘plus’ and ‘super duper editions,’ does it not make sense to have these stand out from the crowd as Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen once did?
It’s not a case of dropping the M&M magic in with every single upcoming title, but a gold Breath of the Wild ‘Remastered’ cart? The Pokémon Company moving on from the dark days of Gen IX with a little bit of sparkle? It sure does sound appetising.
But what do you think? Would you like to see coloured Switch cartridges make a comeback on the next Nintendo console or do you think that variation like this is a thing of the past? You can fill out the following poll with your thoughts and then take to the comments to tell us some of your favourite colour cart memories.