Gamers have gotten older. They’ve grown up, had kids, and as they raise their little tykes they’re looking back on their own childhoods for inspiration on what kind of gaming experience they’d like to provide their new families. And Nintendo is cashing in on the nostalgia.
The NES Classic released last year sold out almost immediately, and if you’re still looking to get one, well, good luck. Nintendo ceased production in April, and consoles go for as much as $300 on eBay.
Nintendo recently announced a new retro console with the SNES Classic and promised that this time they’ll make enough so that every sentimental thirty-something gamer can get one. It’ll be released in September, giving ample time for Christmas shoppers to grab one, and it’ll come with 21 classic titles like Super Mario World, Earthbound, and F-Zero. But many are looking at the list and noticing a few pretty glaring omissions.
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Where are Chrono Trigger and Donkey Kong Country 2?
There’s no denying that Nintendo has already got some shining examples of gaming history on the upcoming console, but Chrono Trigger is widely regarded as one of the best games of all time. While the original Donkey Kong Country is included on the console, platforming enthusiasts agree that Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest was the superior sequel and the best in the DK franchise. So why aren’t they on the SNES Classic?
We may never know the true reason, but the answer likely dwells in gaming’s old foe: licensing agreements.
In order for Nintendo to sell a game on their console, they have to enter into a licensing agreement with whoever developed the game. It’s basically a legal contract that says how and where the game can be sold, and what Nintendo is allowed to do with it. As a gross oversimplification, most of the time these agreements can be boiled down to “you can sell my game on the SNES for as many people that want to buy them, and we get X dollars per sale.”
Notice that agreement only mentions the SNES and not the SNES Classic. Licenses generally only last the life of their console and aren’t always provided in perpetuity. When Nintendo wants to re-release a game on something like the SNES Classic they have to reach out to the original developers in order to make a new agreement.
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If your game is made in-house then you can skip this process since of course you’d want to sell your own game again, but Chrono Trigger and DK2 aren’t made by Nintendo - they’re made by Square Enix and Rare respectively. So, Nintendo had to reach out to both companies when they were making the SNES Classic to negotiate a new agreement.
We don’t know what those negotiations looked like since they’re always done by lawyers and corporate bigwigs behind closed and locked doors, but if something doesn’t get nailed down it usually has to do with money. For DK2 that’s the most likely reason. Nintendo already managed to get DK1 for the SNES Classic, and Rare (now owned by Microsoft) probably just wanted too much money for the sequel. So no DK2.
Chrono Trigger is a bit harder to pin down. Nintendo already managed to snag licenses for two other Square titles for the SNES Classic - Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy III - so it seems unlikely that Square put the screws to Nintendo on Chrono Trigger, especially considering they’ve re-released the game on previous Nintendo consoles already (the Nintendo DS). It could be that Nintendo already has plans for Chrono Trigger on the Switch, and doesn’t want to dilute their potential future sales.
Or maybe Square was just asking for too much money. Until someone spills the beans, it’s impossible to know.
Whatever the reason, it’s almost a guarantee that no matter what games Nintendo decides to include with the SNES Classic they’re going to leave somebody’s cherished childhood game behind. You can’t please everyone, so all you can do is try and please the most people with the least amount of licensing dollars spent.