Piepacker is designed to support any gamepad or keyboard. We tested it on a variety of laptops and PCs with different keyboards and controllers and found it worked well. Some games are best suited to a gamepad, but regardless of what you use, there’s currently no option to remap buttons or keys. It’s a feature that has been widely requested and Devienne says it’s coming soon.
Single-player feels more fluid and stable, but there’s less to tempt you into playing Piepacker on your own. Games have their original save systems, but Piepacker’s cloud saves are very handy, particularly for tougher titles. The ability to play in a browser anywhere is also a hook, but the game library needs to grow.
“We plan to continuously expand our catalog on a monthly basis with new games,” Devienne says. “We’re having positive discussions with legendary game publishers and studios to bring their all-time classics to our platform. Beyond retro games, we also plan to offer board games, card games, as well as more modern games in the foreseeable future.”
How does Piepacker make money? It all started with a successful Kickstarter campaign. Early Kickstarter backers were able to get six months of Premium membership for $40 or a lifetime membership for $100 (the final cost is still under review). Premium membership lets you bring your own games by dragging and dropping any digital ROMs you own into Piepacker to play them online. All the platform shares is a video feed from the game owner, not the ROM, so the other players are technically joining a virtual desktop, and the legality is the game owner’s burden.
Premium membership also includes extra 3D filters for video chat, enables upscaling, unlimited save slots and other advanced features that have yet to be implemented. There’s also mention of a rewind function, something I found very useful in Capcom Arcade Stadium when I revisited the unforgiving Ghosts ‘n Goblins.
There’s also a hardware component, the Piereader, which has not yet shipped. The idea is that you can plug in your old physical game cartridges from the NES, Super NES, Sega Genesis (Mega Drive), or Game Boy and Game Boy Advance and play multiplayer with friends through the browser. Imagine dusting off those old Mario Kart, Street Fighter 2, or Secret of Mana cartridges and using Piereader to relive your youth with old friends, no matter where you all are now.
It’s a unique proposition, though how well it will work remains to be seen. Devienne says it should ship in October, but the company is focused on fulfilling Kickstarter orders first and there are no plans to sell it at retail. One nice perk? The company doesn’t serve up ads at the moment and says it will never sell or share your data.
Full of promise, Piepacker isn’t quite there yet, but there’s enough fun to be had to make it worth a look, especially since it’s free. You can still find great couch co-op games, but they are increasingly few and far between, so the option to revive old favorites and play them with friends or family around the world is enticing. It just needs to iron out a few wrinkles.
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