My Thoughts on Big Buck Hunter Arcade for Nintendo Switch and the State of Home Ports in the Modern Arcade Industry

October 1, 2018

As many of you already surely know, home console ports of arcade games are bit rare these days. The disparity between home console and arcade tech has, to some extent, leveled out, and new video arcade games have become increasingly expensive. To protect operators and ensure a satisfying return-on-investment, most games stay arcade-exclusive these days. After all, why shoot the operator in the foot?

            However, that’s not to say that home ports are no longer a thing. We’ve seen sporadic home releases here and there from pretty much every major developer. SEGA’s House of the Dead 4, for instance, made the jump to the PlayStation 3 six years after its initial 2006 arcade release. Additionally, Namco brought three games (Razing Storm, Time Crisis 4, and Deadstorm pirates) home in their “Namco Shooting Collection” back in 2010. But of course, titles like 2015’s Time Crisis 5 have yet to receive any home approximation. Like I said, console ports are super sporadic.

            When these ports do come, though, they’re definitely of interest to the consumer. (Just look at any comment section for footage of a new arcade game and you’ll see whole big bunches of people pleading for a home version.) And recently, it was announced that a Raw Thrills/Play Mechanix game is actually coming home.

            Hoo-boy!

Raw Thrills history with ports isn’t too prolific. In 2007, Midway brought the 2004 Fast and the Furious arcade game home as “Cruis’n”, stripping it entirely of the movie license. Then, in 2008, Konami brought Target: Terror to the Wii…four years after the arcade version dropped. Time and time again, we’ve been told that, yes, Raw Thrills is solely focused on the arcade environment. And that’s okay. That’s what Raw Thrills does best, and we love ‘em for it.

            One series that has seen a few home installments is Big Buck Hunter. Big Buck Hunter Pro, most notably, came home as a pretty good Jakks-Pacific plug-and-play TV game, as a Wii game by Crave Entertainment, and as part of the SureShot HD plug-and-play system alongside Big Buck Safari. Compared to the vast majority of Raw Thrills/PlayMechanix/Specular Interactive games, Big Buck is pretty well represented outside of arcades.

             Now, Big Buck fans have another home version on the horizon: Big Buck Hunter Arcade for the Nintendo Switch. It’s not actually that exciting, I guess. It’s just the same Game Mechanic Studios/GameMill Entertainment game from PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on another platform. But if you’re looking to shoot some gosh danged animals anytime and anywhere, then you are absolutely in luck. (After all, every game is perfect for the Switch.)

             While I’m not actively against this game or anything, I don’t know if it’s going to much more than “okay”. For one thing, it’s nearly impossible to find any major reviews of the PS4 and XB1 versions online, which is kind of concerning. Additionally, none of the versions—including the upcoming Switch version—are exactly full approximations of 2012’s Big Buck HD.

             The base game is what it should be. Like the arcade version, you’ve got three main play modes: singe-player, turn-based multiplayer, and the “Head-2-Head Shootout”. From there you can choose “Adventure” to “Go hunt’n in all of the regions in one continious [sic].” (I kid you not. That is literally the official description.) If you’re not up to playing an entire trek, you can choose “Standard” for just one region or “Bonus Only”, to play only bonus games—exactly what it says on the tin. This is Big Buck Hunter at its purest.

            Where Big Buck Hunter Arcade falls short is in its total content. This is, like, extra-vanilla Big Buck HD. The official Nintendo.com listing boasts 45 total hunting levels, seven bonus games, and over 20 critters. While this may sound like a lot, BBH Arcade is actually missing…well, a lot. It doesn’t seem to have any of the new animals like Buckzilla, and it certainly doesn’t have the Duck Dynasty expansion or Doe of the Dead. Even the graphics seem a little…off.

            What I find especially odd is that, despite the excellent Joycon controllers, the Nintendo Switch version does not support motion controls. Like the PS4 and XB1 versions before it, you’ll have to manipulate the onscreen reticle with the analogue stick. I’m not complaining, I guess, but it just seems like a huge missed opportunity.

            So yeah, Big Buck Hunter Arcade isn’t exactly the most complete port in the universe. It’s kind of a shame, because Big Buck HD was and still is one of the best arcade games out there. (Oh, it’s so gosh darn GOOD!) In that regard, it’s upsetting that this is such an inferior port. On the other hand, I suppose operators don’t have to worry about the home game snatching away the popularity of the arcade version, and players still get to play at home in some capacity. Make no mistake: it may be vanilla, but it is Big Buck Hunter. It’s got the aesthetics and music and everything—it’s just not too fleshed out.

            In all honesty, I might pick up Big Buck Hunter Arcade once I get a Switch. Maybe. I’m iffy on buying a somewhat content-dry BBH game for $30 if it doesn’t even support motion controls. Seriously, people—why on Earth are there no motion controls? It’s the Switch, for goodness's sake. I’m just a little dismayed that one of the most perfect arcade games of the past decade isn’t being recreated with the care it deserves.

Perhaps the Nintendo Switch port of Big Buck HD isn’t anything to write home about, but home console ports in general are pretty interesting. While home ports were once as ubiquitous as the arcade games themselves, we’ve gotten to this weird point in the industry where most game makers won’t even touch them. But you know, I absolutely get it. Releasing a solid home version of a popular arcade game oftentimes hurts the operators who paid out the nose to buy the arcade version in the first place. And goodness knows new arcade games ain’t cheap.

            Still, I think there is a place for home console ports in today’s day and age. Don’t get me wrong; I have zero pity for the YouTube commenters who desperately beg for home versions of new games. But even I, as someone who understands the many benefits of the arcade experience, can’t help but wish to play at home sometimes. I’d certainly still play the games in actual arcades, but I sure wouldn’t mind a home option.

            For me, a home port is just another opportunity to practice the game when I’m away from a machine. Just because I own Time Crisis 3 or Crazy Taxi for the PlayStation 2 doesn’t mean I won’t play those games at arcades anymore. (Especially since their arcade controls are so much more tactile and exhilarating.) On the contrary, I’ll actually play them more, because I like showing off my skills. And let’s get real: it’s simply a nice luxury to have arcade games on home consoles, whether you play for mastery or not.

            Admittedly, I’m a bit of an anomaly. I actively seek out arcade games, even when I own a home approximation. I love the experience. However, not every gamer is like this, and home ports thusly eat into arcade operators’ profits. This is most noticeable with fighting games. Once the home port comes out, arcade earnings plummet—hard. It’s sad but true. So yes, I fully understand why home ports went away.

            However, I do think that, at some point, home ports will be necessary for arcade game preservation. Arcade games are out-of-home, commercial equipment. When the equipment gets past the point of reasonable maintenance and completely dies, the game itself dies, too. It’s a shame, but it’s reality. But with home console ports, the game exists in mass quantities and on a consumer level. Even if the arcade cabinets kick the proverbial can, gamers can still access the software in some capacity, whether the experience is inferior or not.

            That’s why, for many arcade games, I really wouldn’t mind seeing physical home console releases. (I say physical, because we’ve already lost way too many games to the impermanence of digital storefronts. Cough, After Burner Climax, cough.) To protect the operator, these home versions could drop five years after the arcade version. Heck, developers could even release an update for the arcade software at the same time to keep it competitive. Wouldn’t you love to own Time Crisis 5 on your Switch or PlayStation 4 in 2020? I know I would—and I would still play the heck out of the arcade version.

            But of course, I understand the pitfalls of home ports in 2018, and I understand that they are essentially a pipe dream. I’m certainly not expecting any home ports of Raw Thrills games like The Walking Dead or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles anytime soon. 

            Besides, I know and good and well the fun of the arcade experience. I sure as heck don’t take it for granted.

While Big Buck HD may still be a stellar—dare I say perfect—game, I have my doubts about its third home console release. Since it doesn’t seem to take advantage of the Switch’s unique features and leaves out a substantial chunk of the arcade content, I don’t think Big Buck Hunter Arcade for the Nintendo Switch is much more compelling than the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One versions. (Despite being, you know, portable.) Still, if you want it, it’s gonna drop on October 16th.

            I also acknowledge that home consoles ports probably won’t come back into vogue anytime soon. One thing that’s going to be really interesting, however, is the relationship between Exa-Arcadia and home platforms. Every game announced for the upcoming arcade hardware thus far has at least one home version alongside it. This creates direct competition and spurs an interesting dynamic. Can Exa games, with their arcade-exclusive content, prove their worth? Will they still earn quarters despite being readily available on home platforms? It’s an interesting situation. As with all things Exa-related, I’m excited to see how it plays out once the hardware drops later this year.

            I hope you all liked today’s article. I kind of took a recent piece of news (the Nintendo Switch release of Big Buck Hunter Arcade) and turned it into a discussion on ports in the modern arcade industry. Should I do more stuff like this? Who know. Y’all should tell me in the comments. (That’s a call to action, by the way.)

            Okay bye now.

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