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Physical and Digital Releases


MegaMan52

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Introduction

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Of course, I had to talk about this eventually. Things have clearly changed in the last decade or so, and even in the last few years. For more than a decade, video games have been released both physically and digitally, with some games receiving digital releases only. With some exceptions (Disney Classic Games Collection, for example), video games don't usually include manuals anymore. Some games are released physically in a limited amount. Some physical releases don't include the full game. And then there are the other "physical" releases that you find in the store...but is the game inside the case?

Physical Releases

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When it comes to first-party games for Switch, usually you can expect the physical releases to contain the full game. Whether it's earlier Switch games like Super Mario Odyssey or newer releases like the Super Mario RPG remake, Nintendo has been good about including the full game on Switch cards. 

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There are some exceptions, like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. When it was released in 2017, it was basically a full game containing all of the tracks, characters, modes, and downloadable content from the original Wii U version, while also adding other features like more characters and the double item boxes from Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. Then in 2022, Nintendo announced the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Booster Course Pass. The Pass added 48 more tracks (some new, some remakes of tracks from previous Mario Kart games) and more characters like Birdo and Diddy Kong. The added content was released in "waves" in 2022 and 2023. Of course, the new content has to be downloaded because the physical release only contains the base game released in 2017. This is both great and a little unfortunate for those who bought the game physically, because the physical release, while complete when the game was released, now only contains about half of the content.

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As mentioned above, video games don't usually have manuals anymore though there are some exceptions. This isn't new, and has been going on for at least a decade now. But there are some games that do include manuals. Disney Classics Game Collection includes a manual. Limited Collector's Edition packages can also include manuals.

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When it was originally released in 2012, Animal Crossing: New Leaf included a physical manual. In 2016, an updated version called "Welcome amiibo" was released with a lot of added content (more than just amiibo support). Though the "Welcome amiibo" edition got a physical released, it was an early example of a game that didn't include a physical manual even if it did when it was originally released. Instead, a digital manual appears as an item in the game itself. Nearly all of the content from the original version and added content from the Welcome amiibo edition are included the physical release at least, along with an amiibo card that can be used with the game.

The Things I've had to put up with as a Collector of Physical Releases

Unfortunately, things don't always go well for collector's of physical releases, and nowadays it's a good idea to do some research before buying a physical copy of a game you want. 

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The Switch version of Starlink is notable for including Fox McCloud from the Star Fox games. A physical copy of the game was released. But, like a lot of modern third-party games, a download is required to get all of the content. I've also read about some of these packs not including the game, even though they're supposed to.

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One of the first games I noticed that didn't include all of the content was Spyro: Reignited Trilogy for Switch, a compilation containing remakes of the three Spyro the Dragon games released for the PS1. As someone who prefers physical and wanted to actually have the game in my collection, of course I wanted to buy the physical release. In 2019, I pre-ordered the game on GameStop and received a poster as a pre-order bonus. Things weren't quite as impressive when I turned on my Switch with the game inside. First I had to download a system update. Then I had to "read" the game's privacy statement before I could start playing. Then I finally got to play...for about an hour. After completing the first few levels in the first Spyro game, a message appeared saying that a mandatory download is required to play the full games. That's right, only the first few levels of each game were actually included in the physical release...and it cost $50 Canadian.

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I found the required download, totaling 8.7 GB, for the rest of the levels in each game.

Sega has also done something similar, though not quite to the extent as Activision. 

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Sonic Mania, a game that harkens back to the style of the first three Sonic games for the Sega Genesis and Sonic CD for the Sega CD, was only available digitally when it was originally released. A collector's edition package was also released, but did not actually contain the game. The game later received both a physical release and an expanded version called Sonic Mania Plus, due to demand. The regular version of the game also received a physical release, by itself and with Team Sonic Racing.

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The 2 in 1 package is what I bought, so I needed to download the content from the Plus version. The Plus content added an Encore mode featuring Ray the Flying Squirrel and Mighty the Armadillo, characters from the SegaSonic the Hedgehog Arcade game.

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Sonic Origins, released in June 2022 for the Sonic series' 30th Anniversary, was originally released digital only with no physical released planned at the time. The compilation contains updated versions of Sonic 1, CD, 2, and 3 & Knuckles along with lots of extra content. In 2023, Sega announced Sonic Origins Plus. The expanded version was released both digitally and physically, and adds Amy as a playable character in the main four games, Knuckles as a playable character in Sonic CD, and all of the Sonic games released for the Game Gear. There's a catch, though: the physical release, known as the premium physical edition, only contains the regular version of Sonic Origins, though at least with all of the previously released downloadable content included. A code was included to download the added content from the Plus version. Sega was nice and included an art book and a reversible cover with the physical release. This is basically the same thing that Sega did with Sonic Mania: originally a digital only release that later got a physical release and a Plus version. The difference is that Sonic Mania Plus got a physical release with the Plus content included, while the regular version of the game was also included in a 2 in 1 package also containing Team Sonic Racing (on one card, though they appear as two separate games on the Switch's menu).

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The physical releases of other third-party games, such as Mega Man 11, Cruis'n Blast, Pac-Man Museum +, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, Ghostbusters: The Video Game Remastered, and Axiom Verge pretty much contain the full games. Updates were released to patch some issues. And Mega Man 11 and Pac-Man Museum + have some downloadable content like music and wallpapers, but the games themselves are all included. Bubble Bobble had extra content released for it a little later that was offered as a free download for those who already had the game, but also got another physical release that includes the added content.

Then there are hacks, and unreleased games (or versions of games). As these are hacks of existing games or very unfinished games that weren't released, they can usually only be found physically on reproduction cartridges sold on eBay or other sites that specialize in these kinds of releases. One notable game is Super Mario Land 2 DX, a color hack of the original Game Boy game that also adds Luigi as a playable character.

GoldenEye With Mario Characters is exactly what the title says. It's a hack of the N64 game, but with Mario characters instead of James Bond characters. It also changes some of the multiplayer levels to levels from Super Mario 64. It was released on cartridge, which I found on eBay. 

This is the unreleased Game Boy Advance version of Resident Evil 2. It was released on a reproduction cartridge I found on eBay. It was just a tech demo, and can be completed in about 2 minutes. The graphics look pretty similar to the console versions and even the sound effects and voices sound almost as good.

Limited Physical Releases

Nowadays, even if a game gets a physical release, it's not a always guaranteed that it'll be available at retailers or at retailers that you usually purchase games from. Sometimes the only way to get a game physically is to find out if it's even getting one and order it online. Various distributors that specialize in limited physical releases exist, such as Limited Run Games, Iam8bit, Strictly Limited Games, and Signature Edition Games. Sometimes, these and other distributors are the only ones that provide physical releases of certain games. Here are some examples.

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Bubble Bobble 4 Friends received both standard and collector's edition physical releases with the latter being released by Strictly Limited Games, a distributor in Germany. The physical release wasn't really limited, but the collector's package, of course, was. 

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Axiom Verge could be found at some retailers, but wasn't something you could just find at any store with video games. The physical release of this 2d, Metroid-style platformer was available at certain retailers for a limited time. Not as limited as many other games, but limited compared to, say, a Sonic or Mega Man game. Some versions of the game were released physically via Limited Run Games.

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TMNT: Shredder's Revenge was widely available, but if you wanted a fancy collector's edition package you had to buy it online. Various collector's editions were available at many distributors like Limited Run Games and Signature Edition Games. I imported the collector's edition from Signature Edition Games. It included a soundtrack CD, keychain, a drink coaster, and a card signed by the game's developers, in addition to a physical copy of the game.

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There have also been games, including previously unreleased retro games, that got physical releases in other ways. Wonderland Dizzy, pictured above, was originally supposed to be released for the NES in 1993 or so as an unlicensed game (like all of the other Dizzy games for the NES). The ROM was made available for download and a physical release for the NES, limited to 150 copies, was released as part of a Kickstarter campaign for a book titled "Let's Go Dizzy!: The Story of the Oliver Twins". I found the game on eBay a year or two after its release. It was and still is the most expensive video game I've ever bought. I have the book too. The Oliver Twins (Philip and Andrew Oliver), BTW, are the ones who created Dizzy.

Wonderland Dizzy Main Page: https://www.olivertwins.com/wonderlanddizzy 

Wonderland Dizzy Kickstarter Campaign Page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/zzap642021annual/the-story-of-the-oliver-twins

Digital Releases

Some games are released digital only nowadays and as mentioned above, sometimes you have to download some or even most of a game even it gets a physical release.

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Super Mario Bros. 35 is a game I can understand would get a digital only release. All of its modes were online only that have been shutdown, so a physical release of the game would've been useless other than putting it up for display. Of course, Nintendo could've added offline modes and then a physical release would've been somewhat less pointless, but they didn't. It was online only. Similar games have been released: Tetris 99, Pac-Man 99, and F-Zero 99, with Tetris 99 getting both digital and physical releases. 

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Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 is a collection I would've preferred a physical copy of, but don't really mind having a digital copy of. I bought it mainly for Mega Man 9 and 10, which were originally released digitally for Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360. In the U.S. and Canada, only the first Mega Man Legacy Collection was released physically on Switch with a code to download Legacy Collection 2. Japan, however, received physical copies of the second one as well.

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Unlike all of the other Kirby games released for the Switch, Super Kirby Clash and Kirby's Dream Buffet received digital only releases. While they do have offline modes, that's only about half of these games. So if physical copies were released, you'd still be able to play them but would only have access to about half of the games once the online modes shutdown. Physical releases wouldn't be entirely pointless, but I can still understand why these two games didn't get physical releases.

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The Sega Ages series includes Sega Genesis games with additional quality of life features. You can, for example, use the Spin Dash in Sonic the Hedgehog 1, or enable the drop dash move from Sonic Mania. The Sega Ages release of Sonic 1 also includes the "Mega Play" version of the game, which was originally released in Arcades. The Mega Play Arcade version of Sonic 1 has fewer levels and no special stages. You're given a limited amount of time to complete a level, and no 1 ups in any of the levels. And a ranking screen was added. The Sega Ages versions of Sonic 1 and 2 also include Ring Keeper and Time Attack modes that were previously included in the 3DS versions of Sonic 1 and 2.

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The original Fire Emblem game, originally released in Japan only for the Famicom, was kind of a surprise when it was released for Switch. It was released digitally, fully translated into English. A collector's edition package was released, but did not contain a physical copy of the game. If the game was released physically (on the Switch, not talking about the original Famicom cartridge), I would've appreciated it but am not surprised that it was digital only. It's an NES game, that's it. Not a compilation of games. The good news is that it's not part of the Switch's NES App (which requires an online membership) and was instead released separately on the eShop, so it should still be playable even after the Switch's online features shutdown.

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Sky Skipper is a rare Arcade game from Nintendo that was originally to be released in '80s, but was poorly received. It was released digitally for the Switch as part of the Arcade Archives series. I would've been all for a physical release if it was released in a compilation, but I think expecting a physical release of a single '80s Arcade game would've been expecting a little too much. Personally, I'm just happy to be able to play a game that I otherwise probably wouldn't have been able to play since it didn't get much of a release. 

Other Digital Games that Have Been Preserved

Internet games, also known as Flash Games, are a little more difficult to play due to flash being discontinued. However, many flash games have been preserved and can still be played. Here are some examples. I also made a blog about these kinds of games.

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Iragination has Mega Man flash games, like Fireman: Incoming Storm (based on a comic series that Iragination created featuring Fireman from Mega Man 1). These can still be played on modern browsers.

Newgrounds has a variety of flash games that can still be played, like Ultimate Flash Sonic (which is similar to Sonic Advance 2).

Homestar Runner released a bunch of flash games in the early 2000s. Many of them are still playable, like Awexome Cross '98.

Sonic Mega Collection + Mini was playable on Sega's Sonic Central site in 2004, when Sonic Mega Collection + was released. It was archived, and can still be played if you have a flash plug in installed.

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Some Java/phone games have been preserved and can be played via emulation. Recently, various Mega Man games released for phones (some dating back to 2004) were preserved.

Conclusion

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I appreciate both physical and digital releases. It's a little unfortunate that it is now a little more difficult to obtain physical releases and that some of them don't even include the full games, but I'm thankful that the full versions of first-party games are still released physically and that some physical third-party games also include either most or all of a game. Digital releases allow people to play games that are uncommon and may otherwise be almost impossible to find (unless they happened to be released on repro carts, which can sometimes be costly but still worth it to some collectors). I'll always prefer physical, as I prefer actually having games in my collection, but I appreciate both.

-MegaMan52

Edited by MegaMan52
Fixed typos and added pictures

9 Comments


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I played through Breath Of The Wild when it came out and followed along in the official guide I have for it. I went page by page through the guide to make sure I had everything, even crossing off 900 of those Korok seeds from the included map. I got to one section with some swords and clothing with a description that they can be accessed by tapping the appropriate Amiibo but I couldn't find anywhere about how to get them without the Amiibo. I phoned Nintendo to ask them how I'm supposed to do it because I paid full price for the game and there were sections in the game I purchased which I could not access. They told me it was impossible, I had to buy hundreds of dollars worth of plastic toys in addition to purchasing the game in order to get all of the game's content.

I felt frustration with the fire of a thousand suns and vowed I would not pay for the next Zelda game that comes out in order to recover my portion of the game I did not receive. When Tears Of The Kingdom came out, I refused to pay for it and instead taught myself how to hack my Switch and installed a pirate copy I downloaded from a torrent. The game played perfectly and I got hours of enjoyment from it for free while Nintendo lost my $80 purchase price for the game because they tried to force me to buy plastic toys.

Releasing new content after the game's release is one thing, locking me out of items in the base game is totally different. I paid for those items and still have not received them.

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2 hours ago, Code Monkey said:

I played through Breath Of The Wild when it came out and followed along in the official guide I have for it. I went page by page through the guide to make sure I had everything, even crossing off 900 of those Korok seeds from the included map. I got to one section with some swords and clothing with a description that they can be accessed by tapping the appropriate Amiibo but I couldn't find anywhere about how to get them without the Amiibo. I phoned Nintendo to ask them how I'm supposed to do it because I paid full price for the game and there were sections in the game I purchased which I could not access. They told me it was impossible, I had to buy hundreds of dollars worth of plastic toys in addition to purchasing the game in order to get all of the game's content.

I felt frustration with the fire of a thousand suns and vowed I would not pay for the next Zelda game that comes out in order to recover my portion of the game I did not receive. When Tears Of The Kingdom came out, I refused to pay for it and instead taught myself how to hack my Switch and installed a pirate copy I downloaded from a torrent. The game played perfectly and I got hours of enjoyment from it for free while Nintendo lost my $80 purchase price for the game because they tried to force me to buy plastic toys.

Releasing new content after the game's release is one thing, locking me out of items in the base game is totally different. I paid for those items and still have not received them.

That's just day 1 DLC tied to external toys which use NFC tech - you could just as easily have bought a programmable NFC card for literally a dollar a piece on Amazon and programmed that to be each of the 25 compatible NFCs to get the in-game items (none of which are required to actually enjoy the game). You're acting like this is the first time any game ever had Day 1 DLC and being scummy about it by using that to justify pirating.

Be better.

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There is absolutely NOTHING in Breath of the Wild that is integral to the game that is exclusive to the Amiibo lineup.  NOTHING. 

In fact, there aren't enough armor inventory slots in the game to hold all of the armor items from the game, DLC and Amiibo all at the same time.  Therefore, you aren't intended to have them all anyway.  

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5 hours ago, Gloves said:

You're acting like this is the first time any game ever had Day 1 DLC and being scummy about it by using that to justify pirating.

It's not really DLC. Like you said, it's already included in the physical game, and doesn't actually require any additional purchase. 

If the game did have day 1 DLC, I don't think the fact that other games also have that should excuse it. It's always scummy, and should be criticised every time it happens. 

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20 minutes ago, Sumez said:

It's not really DLC. Like you said, it's already included in the physical game, and doesn't actually require any additional purchase. 

If the game did have day 1 DLC, I don't think the fact that other games also have that should excuse it. It's always scummy, and should be criticised every time it happens. 

Functionally no, it's not DLC, but I'm not really interested in debating semantics. I simply mean it's extra content which is not in any way required; it's an extra reward for people who bought the Amiibos. It's not too dissimilar to pre-order bonuses and the like.

You may not like the concept of Day 1 DLC (I'm neither here nor there, personally), but its mere existence doesn't give him a moral right to just straight up pirate the next game in the series. If he felt that he NEEDED those Amiibo bonuses, if we're in a world of "eye for an eye", he could/should have done as I said and bought a re-programmable NFC card and gotten the things he felt he'd been cheated out of for basically free. Not stolen their entire next game. 

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@Gloves arguing the "moral rights to pirate" is a completely different subject that's never gonna end well anyway

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Criticizing is one thing.  But pirating / stealing the next game is ridiculous, imo.  This scenario feels like the equivalent of buying a bag of candy from the store, and the nutrition label on the back says there are 40 servings in the bag, but someone counted and there are only 39, so they called the company to complain and when the company didn't do anything they went to the store and stole a whole new bag.

That person could justify the theft all they want but it's still a gross overreaction to a very minor 'issue' and should not be commended or condoned in any way, imo.

  • Agree 1
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On 3/15/2024 at 6:39 PM, Gloves said:

That's just day 1 DLC tied to external toys which use NFC tech - you could just as easily have bought a programmable NFC card for literally a dollar a piece on Amazon and programmed that to be each of the 25 compatible NFCs to get the in-game items (none of which are required to actually enjoy the game). You're acting like this is the first time any game ever had Day 1 DLC and being scummy about it by using that to justify pirating.

Be better.

Your arguments and my rebuttals:

 

A: It's day 1 downloadable content.

R: No, it's not. It's not downloadable content, it's part of the initial release of the game.

 

A: I could have paid more money to buy something cheaper than the toys and get the same end result.

R: No, I will not pay 5 cents if I already paid for the entire game. I paid for the whole game, I get the whole game, I'm not buying anything else.

 

A: It is not required in order to enjoy the game.

R: I don't care. It's part of the game, I paid for the game, I should get all parts of the game.

 

A: Other games do it.

R: And? If someone else murders someone, is it okay for you to do it?

 

Imagine if you buy a movie and in order to watch the credits you have to tap a plastic toy on the remote control. The credits aren't required to enjoy the movie but does that sound bizarre? Do you think that should be allowed? If I pay for the movie, I want to see the credits without buying anything extra.

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53 minutes ago, Code Monkey said:

Your arguments and my rebuttals:

 

A: It's day 1 downloadable content.

R: No, it's not. It's not downloadable content, it's part of the initial release of the game.

 

A: I could have paid more money to buy something cheaper than the toys and get the same end result.

R: No, I will not pay 5 cents if I already paid for the entire game. I paid for the whole game, I get the whole game, I'm not buying anything else.

 

A: It is not required in order to enjoy the game.

R: I don't care. It's part of the game, I paid for the game, I should get all parts of the game.

 

A: Other games do it.

R: And? If someone else murders someone, is it okay for you to do it?

 

Imagine if you buy a movie and in order to watch the credits you have to tap a plastic toy on the remote control. The credits aren't required to enjoy the movie but does that sound bizarre? Do you think that should be allowed? If I pay for the movie, I want to see the credits without buying anything extra.

As I said, I don't mean DLC in a literal sense, I just mean it's content which is gated and was released on Day 1. It's a reward for those who buy Amiibos; not getting them isn't a punishment for not getting the Amiibos. 

You bought the guide lmao. 

You got all parts of what the purchase of the game entitled you to.

It's exactly like a pre-order bonus: It's nothing that's missed by not having it, it's a bonus for those who are extra dedicated to the series.

It literally says on the game case that you can use Amiibos to gain boosts, and that Amiibos are sold separately; you just had to use your eyes, but instead you're just making entitled excuses to justify theft:

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  • Agree 2
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