Reinventing the retro game: how UGE discovers the masters of the past and creates its own classics

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The retro gaming community is bigger than ever, and with the demand for classic titles at an all time high, the prices of old games are skyrocketing. Last month a copy of Super Mario 64 sold for just over $ 1.5 million, leading to allegations of market manipulation and highlighting how financially unsustainable access to games of yesteryear is for many.

Rather than forcing people to pay more to check out classics from the past, German company United Games Entertainment (UGE) is re-releasing acclaimed games, while supporting all-new titles it says meet the needs of the same demographic. .

Founded in Stuttgart in 2010, UGE aims to capture the essence of old school experiences through two subsidiaries; the first, Strictly Limited Games (SLG), re-releases physical and digital versions of Golden Age favorites on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PS Vita. The company is also focusing on games that for one reason or another never had a full console release, including arcade-only titles and experiences previously only available in Japan.

As a second string to its bow, UGE also operates ININ Games, which publishes “high-quality, feel-good retro and arcade games” that channel the spirit of the 80s and 90s, often under the banner of well-being games. established and very popular. IP.

His vision clearly strikes a chord with the behemoths of the industry as well; Along with its role as publisher for Sega, UGE is now working in partnership with Japanese juggernaut Taito to bring its games to new consoles via SLG and ININ, including successful franchises like Space invaders, Bubble Bobble, and Darius. More versions of Taito are on the way – part of a 30-game lineup from SLG and ININ before the end of 2021 – and new partnerships could be on the horizon.

Dennis Mendel, who founded SLG alongside Benedict Braitsch and UGE CEO Helmut Schmitz in 2017, says the Taito deal is a highlight for the young company. “I have been a huge fan of Taito since childhood,” he explains, “so we feel deeply honored to be one of their partners, and we are well aware of their fantastic legacy. “

Mendel’s passion for Japanese games is evident in SLG’s ever-growing catalog, and it helps the company make a name for itself in Japan. While this is one of several companies that release physical limited-edition copies of old and new titles, SLG appears to focus on the spiritual home of the game; its first release in 2017 Tokyo 42 set the tone for a formation that now prides itself on Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, Space invaders, Vasara, Cotton restart, Turricane, plus the next release Mechanical aquarium.

“Our titles are a carefully curated selection of games that we believe really need to be made available to gamers,” says Mendel. “These limited edition versions have an exclusive touch as they are somewhat outside the mainstream, but still excellent.”

Rather, the biggest problem Mendel and the SLG team face is deciding which games to add to the company’s lineup. “There are so many wonderful games and it’s almost impossible to publish them all,” he says. “Just like with other art forms, what makes them so special is in the eye of the beholder. “

While SLG pursues a subjective approach to acquisition, Mendel and his team focus on other important factors. “All of our versions follow the principle that Nolan Bushnell formulated with ‘easy to learn and hard to master’,” he says. “As much as we love to play modern games with huge open worlds and sandbox-like environments, all of our games are more or less built on the same principles that were established in the early days of video games.”

As such, it’s not strictly about the age of the games chosen, but rather their content, look and feel. He says, “We love these titles that carry the spirit of the good old days: once you insert the record or cartridge, you can immediately jump into the action, whether you’re a super experienced gamer or relatively new to it. she.

“Sometimes you just want to have a ‘pure’ gaming experience, without any added flavor – just get in the game and have fun, alone or with friends, without the need for lengthy tutorials or yourself. remember a plethora of buttons. “

Mendel praises his team’s ability to faithfully port the games, but bringing them to modern consoles is no mere emulation. Along with licensing issues, each game is tweaked for modern control schemes and the demand for trophies and achievements, as well as the introduction of features like new game modes, as well as ‘quality of life improvements’. Like fast rewind and save.

“The person in charge of the port or emulation has to like the game,” says Mendel. “For example, Mechanical aquarium took a year longer than expected due to missing graphics that had to be rebuilt with the original development team, but everyone involved was so excited about the game and its qualities that no one ever thought of to give up.

In order to offer many of its titles to a new or already admiring audience, SLG regularly partners with ININ, which also offers games in certain stores. These titles include Mechanical aquarium, which has never seen an official release until now, despite having been created in the early 1990s by the Wonder boy team.

“You could say that ININ’s mission is to bring out special games,” says Mendel, “whether it’s a piece of video game history or brand new titles from creative developers and developers. ‘artists. The only thing that ININ titles have in common is that they are very resistant to the passage of time, providing a lot of fun without being overly complex, so that they can be enjoyed by a lot of people regardless their age.

Thanks to SLG and ININ, United Games Entertainment has big plans for the future, including opening an office in Japan, as well as releasing “one of the finest 2D action games ever released outside. arcades “. Additionally, Mendel announced that new console platforms are actively being considered.

“We started with PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 4 and after the Switch was released we received a lot of requests from our customers, so we were happy to add titles for this great platform to our portfolio,” he says. . “For Xbox fans, we may have something special up our sleeves by the end of this year, just in time for Christmas.”

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