Why Xbox Game Pass is like owning an Amiga circa 1993

In 1993 the Amiga was living its best life. Games such as Cannon Fodder, Syndicate, The Chaos Engine, and Lemmings 2 were gaining critical praise, taking the covers of multi-format magazines while making console owners jealous. Well, at least until their belated conversions turned up.

The system had plenty to give in 1994 too, with such gems as Theme Park and Elite II. As the year went on, however, things started to look bleak. Commodore had declared bankruptcy towards the end of April, thus making the Amiga line’s future uncertain, and with the PlayStation and SEGA Saturn on the horizon, even the recently released Amiga 1200 was starting to look outdated.  

It didn’t help one bit that piracy was rife. Many of my high school classmates owned an Amiga and would routinely share copied games. After caving into peer pressure (“You’re stupid for paying £40 for a single Mega Drive game!”) I traded in my trusty Mega Drive for a second-hand Amiga 600, feeling that not only was I missing out on a bunch of excellent games, but it would also improve my social standing. It was like being that kid at school who didn’t collect Panini football stickers.

Piracy was happening on an almost industrial scale. One classmate carried a list – a catalogue, if you will – with a quid a disc being the going rate. Alternatively, they’d swap one game from the list for one they didn’t have. Another had a large cardboard box filled with discs. So large, in fact, that I doubted they even knew which games they owned. There was also a chap at the local car boot who’d have all the latest games, again for a quid a disc. Incidentally, and to put things into perspective, the local computer shop sold blank discs for 25p each.

Unsurprisingly, then, it wasn’t long until I’d amassed a storage box full of games. In my defence (Your Honour), not all were copies – said computer store sold genuine Amiga software cheaply, including a huge range of budget re-releases – but the majority were. It was hard not to get caught up in the bootlegging scene, especially when it was happening within the school playground.  

Sure, I had my favourites, but many of the games I owned I had no real interest in – I only owned them because they set me back a mere quid (or were free). Theme Park was possibly my favourite (even though the Amiga 600 version was missing a lot of detail) and I’d often spend entire evenings playing Lemmings, Cannon Fodder, Superfrog and Walker. The Amiga version of Mortal Kombat II was visually impressive – and I loved the fact that it was on the Amiga – but it was a pain to play as performing a fatality often required a disc change. It was times like this I missed my Mega Drive.

Indeed, it was the perfect example as to why paying £40 for a single Mega Drive game was far from absurd. Another reason: copied Amiga games were essentially worthless. They had next to no value. It hit me hard when this penny dropped. I absolutely cherished the small amount of Mega Drive games I owned. The Sonic games, in particular, were prised possessions. I couldn’t say the same about my copied version of Superfrog, purchased for a quid from a random lad at school.

With so many games to play, they’d lost all value. I would play something for a few minutes just to see what it’s like and then never touch it again. Mega Games 1 on Mega Drive may have been a bit smelly, but I’d still try and squeeze some enjoyment out of it when there was nothing else to play.

Getting to the point, I finally took the plunge and subscribed to Xbox Game Pass earlier this month. Over 100 Xbox One games at my fingertips – full price releases, indie titles, Xbox 360 classics and more. Browsing the Game Pass catalogue, casually adding games to the download list, reminded me of my storage box full of copied Amiga games.

There was a handful I was keen to play, such as Void Bastards, Supermarket Shriek, Descenders, GRIP, ACA Metal Slug, Shadow Warrior 2, and Metro Exodus. The rest I either only had a passing interest in, or simply added to the download queue because, well, because I could. An entire day was then spent diving in out of games just to see what they’re like; a day which reminded me of coming home with a bag of random Amiga games to try out.

True enough, I did find a few hidden gems. I really enjoyed The Gardens Between, a short (two hour) time altering puzzle game. Other games I can’t muster up the enthusiasm to play, while some I simply gave up on. Manual Samuel is a hoot until the joke of remembering to blink and breathe ceased to be funny. Lichtspeer, for all its warped humour, is too simplistic to entertain, feeling more like a mobile game.

Had I paid money for Manual Samuel and Lichtspeer though, perhaps if they were on sale, I probably would have played them longer. As “free” downloads, they had lost all worth – it almost feels like I didn’t own them. When you’re staring at a full download queue of random games, it’s hard to appreciate the fact that these were once sold for around a tenner each.

The difference, of course, is that no laws are being broken – developers and publishers make a small amount of money signing their titles up for Game Pass. And before anybody thinks differently, I completely agree that Game Pass represents excellent value for money. Even if you only download one or two games a month, the initial outlay is covered.

Now for a modern-day problem. The downside to jumping in and out of numerous games is that my GamerScore ratio has taken a hit. Just a few achievements here and there per release. However, it seems that some gamers are spending even less time trying out Game Pass games than myself. After just an hour of play, I unlocked achievements in Next Hero Up that flagged as rare. And when I took GRIP’s free-roaming combat mode for a spin, no less than five rare achievements unlocked with very little effort.

So perhaps I’m giving these games a fairer shot than most. If only it made me feel better about owning all those pirated games back in 1993. The folly of youth, eh?

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