You have to hand it to Nintendo for having the gall to optimistically pose the question “why buy a game once when you can buy it twice?” to consumers with the release of Pokémon Red and Blue. Gamers answered with a resounding “gotta catch ‘em all!” by handing Nintendo more cash than they knew what to do with, seeming to gobble up every possible iteration of the pocket monster collection simulator. When it became clear that hardcore fans are more than willing to pay double for two or three subtle variations of the same experience, a trend was born. The early success of Fire Emblem: Fates, which represents the biggest ever North American debut for the series, is proof that this strategy is still, well, super effective.
While it’s easy to dismiss this approach as an unabashed stroke of marketing savvy, sometimes the differences between versions are enough to justify doubling down. That’s certainly the case with Fates, which uses the alternate version format in a couple of ways: by reinforcing the stark differences between the royal families at the center of its story and tailoring each experience to different skill sets. The Birthright variation follows the peace-loving Hoshido family and the experience is akin to previous games in the series — Nintendo suggests starting here if you’re new to Fire Emblem. Conquest, the alternate version, is decidedly more difficult, following the brutal exploits of the war-hungry Nohr clan.
Over the years, Nintendo and a few other publishers have done a fine job justifying releasing multiple versions of the same game. Let’s take a look at various games with alternate versions!
This one kind of goes without saying: starting with 1996’s Pokémon Red and Blue, there have been at least two — sometimes three — versions of every iteration of the series. While both versions of the game present the same story, world and characters, there are always some important distinctions. It all started with certain Pokémon only appearing in one version of the game, a design decision that encouraged use of the Gameboy Multilink cable, which allowed players to trade Pokémon between cartridges. In later generations of the game, the differences became more nuanced — for example, in Pokémon X and Y, in addition to each game featuring an exclusive set of Pokémon, there are differences in the mega evolutions of certain Pokémon, as well as the Legendary monsters featured in each game (represented on each game’s box art.)
The third variation of the games often serve as a kind of “special edition.” Pokémon Yellow, for example, tweaked the story from Red and Blue by presenting itself as an adaptation of the animated series. Instead of picking from Squirtle, or Charmander, players are stuck with Pikachu, who refuses to cooperate and spends the entire game following you around like a lost puppy.
Shin Megami Tensai: Devil Children
Atlus proved itself an early adopter of Nintendo’s multiple-version method with the release of Shin Megami Tensai: Devil Children for the Game Boy Color in 2000. There are three variants of the game: Red Book and Black Book, which came out first, and White Book, which came out soon after. Each game features a different main character with their own detailed backstory, though — again in another nod to Pokémon — the games themselves are mostly identical, save for certain Demons that only appear in each game. Subsequent games in the series adhere to a similar format, with multiple versions of each game.
Mega Man Battle Network 3-6
Capcom released multiple versions of Mega Man Battle Network 3-6. The differences in the games, especially in 4-6, are actually pretty substantial: each variation offers its own story and supporting characters, usually centering around one of the series’ iconic bosses. There are also specific “Battle Chips” — collectibles that could be traded between players — that appear in only one version of the game. I feel like we’re beginning to see a bit of a trend here.
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages/Seasons
A groundbreaking collaboration between two Japanese publishing juggernauts, Nintendo and Capcom, The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons were a pair of full-fledged Zelda action-adventures for the Game Boy, released simultaneously in 2001. Developed by Capcom subsidiary Flagship, who went on to port A Link to the Past to Game Boy Advance and develop The Minish Cap for DS, Ages and Seasons were originally planned as part of a trio, but the developers had to scale down to a pair due to the complexity involved with making interconnected game experiences. Both games are built upon the same engine, but Ages focuses primarily on puzzle-solving, while Seasons focuses on combat. In Ages, players use the Harp of Ages, an instrument that allows Link to travel through time; in Seasons, the Rod of Seasons allows Link to control the weather. Each game takes place in its own world, as well.
After finishing one of the games, players are given a password that unlocks a new variation of the other game. Players can also transfer items between games, allowing them to reach new areas and solve otherwise unsolvable puzzles. In terms of story, the new variation of the game serves as a sequel to the original game and ends with the satisfying defeat of Ganon and Twinrova.
Of all of the games on this list, Nintendo’s strangely entertaining Nintendogs, the pet care simulator that tasks players with looking after a digital puppy, seems the most manipulative. Nintendo released a number of versions of the experience, each centered around a certain breed of dogs, such as dachshunds or labradors. Maybe Nintendo’s motivations aren’t as money-grubbing as they seem on first blush, however: the games don’t contain many differences besides the different breeds, but Nintendo didn’t really bake in any incentive to buy multiple versions of the game, so most people were just went ahead and bought the game containing the breed they were most interested in. Players can also let their puppies interact with each other over Wi-fi across versions of the game, which is about as adorable as it is completely and utterly pointless. Woe to all of the neglected pups trapped in abandoned cartridges! May they rest in virtual peace.