Why Retro Games Rule

Old School > Modern Gaming
December 01, 2011
Why Retro Games Rule

Old School > Modern Gaming

As a kid, Christmas was really nothing more than new video game machine day to me. In fact, the only reason the holiday season meant anything to me at all was because on the 25th of December, I knew I was going to end up owning a new gaming rig of some kind, be it a console, a handheld, a computer, or some other electronic device.

When I was a wee young lad, video games were not just an interest to me, they were an absolute obsession. When I was not playing them at home, I was reading about them in EGM or Game Players Magazine, or daydreaming about creating my own fantastical title on the playground. I even refused to accept paper money as birthday gifts up until the age of ten. Why? Because this was the 90s, and coin operated arcade games did not have slots for dollar bills yet. Long story short: if something did not allow me to play video games, or have some sort of oblique tie to gaming, it was practically worthless to me.

...although to be fair, I don't remember running into HER in that game...

Since I was such an avid gamer as a kid, you would think that I would be a pretty hardcore gamer in my mid twenties. In all reality, however, I do not own ANY of the modern gaming devices, and I probably spend more time playing the pre-installed games on my phone than I do anything on a dedicated gaming platform. As much as it pains me to say it, I am not really what you would call a gamer at all these days.

You may be wondering why that is the case. There are really a lot of factors at play here, but the big one is that I just do not have the time to get into modern video games. With so much going on at work, and school, and with my writing and my social life, there really is not a lot of time left over for trifling things like eating or sleeping, let alone kicking back and playing through all 400 hours of The Elder Scrolls V. And let us not forget that those damn things are EXPENSIVE, too - a brand new Xbox, with two games, two controllers, and an online subscription will run you almost $500 when its all said and done, and that is WITHOUT a lot of the necessary add-ons, like a headset and HDMI cables.

So it's either this, or college tuition. Choose wisely.

Although there are a lot of great modern games out there, the brutal truth is that modern gaming in general has very little appeal to me. As much as I loved video games up until I graduated from high school, the entire industry has changed, and in my humble opinion, not really for the better.

Despite the impressive technologies behind modern gaming, I still think that the games of yesterday were far, Far, FAR superior to the games of the present. Not only that, but I think the entire cosmos of gaming - the world of video games, if you will - was in a lot better shape circa the mid 1990s. After a little bit of dwelling, I came up with seven reasons why I believe retro gaming is better than modern gaming - and after taking a gander at my list, I do not think ANYONE would be able to argue to the contrary.



The Graphics And Sound Really Have Not Gotten THAT Much Better

The only difference is that one of these games is supposed to suck.

OK, this one sounds like it can be VERY easily refuted, and in SOME ways, I suppose it can. Clearly, video games today are using WAY more technological fire power than the games I grew up with. Obviously, Batman: Arkham City is more advanced, graphically and audio-wise, than a game like Sonic the Hedgehog CD or Metal Slug, but does that really mean that the games of today are BETTER than the games of yesteryear?

Certainly, games today look WAY more realistic than they did in the mid 90s. Comparing the visuals for Gears of War 3 and Earthbound is like comparing a fighter jet to a crop duster - one is state of the art, and the other is just plain basic in design. However, both do essentially the same thing, and one could argue that the outdated one actually does a better job of the same task, since it IS more simplistic and rudimentary. The same way the special effects in the original King Kong looked more appealing than the special effects in the remake from the 1970s, I personally think the games of 1993 looked more interesting and enticing than the games of the current. Gunstar Heroes, Contra III and Popful Mail were all games that, despite having pretty much the same hardware limitations, all had a certain visual aesthetic that made them stand out and look discernable from one another. Now, if I were to put a screenshot of Homefront, Metal Gear Solid 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops side-by-side (with the HUD removed), could any of you REALLY tell me which game was which?

There are definitely some exceptions, but when I think of modern gaming, I think of various shades of grey and brown. Everything is so grimy and grainy looking, instead of being pastel and vibrant. The games do indeed look lifelike, but at the expense of originality - I, for one, would be hard pressed to call a game like Duke Nukem Forever or Uncharted 3 prettier than a game like Super Metroid, Phantasy Star IV or even a Nights into Dreams.

Pretty much the dopest music EVER, don't you think?

The same can definitely be said for audio. In the 90s, video games were built around solid, memorable, and catchy tunes that turned bleeps, bloops and chip tune noises into cultural anthems. Today, video game music is either a.) licensed stuff we have heard a billion times before, b.) generic sounding orchestra arrangements or c.) annoying, quasi-ironic music designed (but always failing) to emulate or update old school video game tunes.

As far as the audio-visual dynamic is concerned, the video games of today are without question more advanced than the games we grew up with. Unfortunately, more advanced is not necessarily a synonym for better, and I d take the simple charm of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 or Chrono Trigger over Heavy Rain or Assassins Creed anyday.


Three Words: NO. LOADING. TIMES.

This one, I believe we can ALL agree upon.

Since video game hardware and software is more complicated these days, that means we have to do something that was pretty much unfathomable in our youth - we have to WAIT for inordinately long times to get our game on. As awesome a game as Forza Motorsport 4 or The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword may be, the unavoidable reality is that if you want to play either of them, you are going to have to sit there for long periods of time as you progress from screen to screen. This, clearly, is a major pain in the ass.

However, if you want to play any number of old school classics - from Tecmo Super Bowl to NHL 94 to Final Fantasy III - all you really have to do is turn on your console and VOILA! Instant game time. If you wanted to play an arcade game like Street Fighter II or Final Fight, the MOST you would have to do to start a game would be hitting ONE button after plunking down your token. Really, the only delay time between you and some old school gaming is dependent on how quickly you can mash the start button - a sharp contrast to modern games, which often require MINUTES of waiting time in between gaming sessions.


Our Controllers Weren't AS Ridiculous

But at least you got a free copy of Eternal Champions with it!

Look, I am not going to sit here and tell you that we DIDN'T have some downright goofy controllers back in the day. In fact, we had TONS. . . probably as many as we have today, if not more. The difference is. . .and this is a BIG difference. . .is that for the most part, those super-expensive, super-elaborate peripheral controllers were mostly optional, or usable for only a select few games. Yes, if you wanted, you could plug in the Power Glove or Sega Activator or a Super Scope Seven or a Menacer if you REALLY wanted to, but at the end of the day, you could always rely on your standard control pad to get you through whatever you were playing.

Today, however, that really is not the case. Between the Wii-mote, the Xbox Kinnect and Playstation Move, you really do not have much of an option when it comes to playing set-ups. Yes, you COULD resort to a standard control pad for MOST modern games, but that brings up yet ANOTHER gripe I have with modern controllers.

When you look at these two controllers - one for the Super Nintendo, and the other for the Xbox 360 - which one just looks more intuitive and comfortable to you? The SNES pad consists of just four face buttons, two shoulder buttons, and the standard start/select buttons, alongside your traditional directional pad. It is simplistic, but it gives you enough options to have a deep, nuanced gaming experience with just about ANY genre of game play. The 360, however, has four face buttons, FOUR shoulder buttons, and three…COUNT EM, THREE!…pads for directional movement, IN ADDITION to a the start/select tandem AND a button that brings up a central multimedia hub for the player. Seeing as how most 360 games only use HALF of the standard controller buttons, this often forces game developers to include superfluous, contextual elements in games JUST so those wasted face buttons do something when you press them.

They might as well be honest and just call it the "Buyer's Remorse" edition.

And then, there are all of those completely needless plastic peripherals that get shoved down our throats seemingly every year. Nintendo wants us to use a Balance Board, the guys that made Skylanders want us to use ACTION FIGURES, and do not even get me STARTED on all of those Guitar Hero / Rock Band style games that have the gall to ask you to pay $500 USD for make-believe musical equipment. Sigh. . . Doesn't the sight of all that useless plastic make you long for the days of lima bean shaped Genesis controllers and six button arcade pads?


We Had Options When It Came To Our Gaming Opportunities

One of the most awesome things ever...as long as you could overlook the 20-minute battery life...
Today, if you want to play a video game - a REAL video game, and not some crappy, half-hearted app designed for a smart phone or a tablet - you really only have four options. You have what Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo gives you, or you have to make do with the scant releases coming out on your computer.

Now, let us go back to 1995, shall we? At that ONE point in time, we had ALL of the following available for our gaming pleasure:

The Super Nintendo, The Sega Genesis, The Game Boy, The Virtual Boy, The Sega CD, The Sony Playstation, The Atari Jaguar, The 3DO, The Game Gear, AND the CD-I, not to mention tons of games available for our PC and Dos operating systems, and ESPECIALLY not to mention all of the backlogged titles readily available for the NES, the Lynx, and the Sega Master System. And if that was not enough, we even had all of those Tiger Handheld games, if batteries were at a premium or something.

And then, there were these things called arcades.

Belinda Carlisle was right: Heaven REALLY is a place on Earth

Believe it or not, not only were arcades available in the United States, they were actually thriving, too. With just a couple of quarters in your pocket, you could experience state-of-the-art thrills and chills, blasting through Mortal Kombat II, Virtua Fighter and Darkstalkers the way they were intended to be played, on a dedicated cabinet, complete with that sweet, sweet CRT glow and soda stained low kick buttons.

Back in the day, you definitely got a lot of diversity in your gaming experiences, which is something that is completely lacking in today s gaming world. . .an aspect which, obviously, hinders and hampers the entire industry at the present.


We Had Original Games, And Not Just The Same Old, Same Old

A game you would NEVER see in today's market...and that's not just because intelligent design proponents would probably boycott it

Don't call me a revisionist - I know full well that there were PLENTY of rehashes and rip-offs back in the 16 bit era. There were plenty of horrible games derivative of beloved works, and there were more horrendous licensed games than you could shake a stick at. Even the franchises we LOVED sort of had a tendency to trot out the tried-and-true in lieu of innovation. . .Mega Man 5, Castlevania: Bloodlines and Sonic and Knuckles, anybody?

The difference between now and then, however, is that even though companies STILL had a habit of releasing recycled material or yearly updates, they also had the ability - the WANT, even - to create ORIGINAL titles, too.

Nowadays, game developers are pretty much screwed into ONLY investing effort and money into projects that are GUARANTEED to turn a profit. That means most developers are too afraid to take a chance on an unproven property, let alone an entirely new I.P. So if you are wondering why we are STILL getting Tony Hawk, Harvest Moon and Dance Dance Revolution games. . .there you go.

In the mid 90s, however, even the biggest video game developers had a desire to experiment and wheel out new, original titles. Yes, Nintendo was all about the Link and Mario circa 1994, but they were also giving us titles like Earthbound, UniRacers and Kirby s Adventure, as well. Sega made a ton of money off the Sonic and Phantasy Star games, but they were also investing money in titles like Comix Zone, The Ooze, Gunstar Heroes and Ristar. Even the companies we rip on today for giving us the same old, same old - namely, EA and Square - were releasing titles like The Haunting! and EVO: The Search for Eden to accompany the bajillion dollar Madden and Final Fantasy franchises.

Yeah, this is way better than having a new Earthbound game, isn't it?

Sadly, fewer and fewer companies are willing to explore new ideas in gaming - which means there is DEFINITELY a greater dearth of creativity than there was a good twenty years ago for the industry.


Our Games Actually Provided A Challenge

The mere sight of this arcade cabinet ought to be enough to get any early '90s child's blood pressure rising...

One of the problems I have with games these days at that they are just WAY too easy for my liking. Yeah, there are a few games out there that provide a challenge, but the aggregate difficulty for gaming has dropped CONSIDERABLY over the last two decades.

Back in the day, we would spend months. . .sometimes, even YEARS. . .trying to conquer certain titles. When you played a game like Mike Tyson s Punch-Out!!, Heavenly Guardian or Super Monaco GP, it was pretty much a given that you were not going to beat the games in under a week (which is the average length for most MODERN games, in case you were wondering). This is something that, in my view, changes the entire gaming dynamic, and not for the better.

You see, the old school games were more like pieces of music than they were modern gaming offerings. To play the old games, you had to develop a certain rhythm, and develop skills that were specific to that individual game. You had to memorize, and strategize and play each level perfectly, as if you were performing a piano medley note by note. One misstep, however, and all of that went out the window - if you did not have a game like Battletoads or Ninja Gaiden II firmly mapped out in your skull, you were pretty much on the road to virtual ass beating after ass beating.

Basically, if the game wasn't in here, you were pretty much effed

And this was BEFORE the Internet, too, so we could not just go to gamefaqs and look up a cheat code, or hit up YouTube and figure out what we are supposed to do to solve the puzzles in Goof Troop, A Link to the Past or StarTropics. Our options were limited to cafeteria gossip, the occasional hint from a video game magazine, and most of the time, good old fashioned trial and error. You young turks may not believe us, but back in the day, we actually used to draw maps with pencil and paper to use as guides for our gaming experiences. . .if you even remember what pencil and paper looks like, that is.

Needless to say, video games today are WAY easier than they used to be. Just about every game released these days includes a beginner mode, and do not even get me started about all of those challenge-less NON-GAMES you will find on the Wii and the DS. Granted, games today may be way longer and more massive in scope than anything we played on the Genesis, but it is EXTREMELY rare to find a modern game that captivates you for years and years the same way Super Metroid, Tetris Attack and Snatcher gave us half a decade of extended game play. In our day, beating a video game was like triumphing over technology, this thing that gave you a REAL sense of achievement. Today? Its an event so commonplace that it doesn't even elicit a reaction out of gamers anymore. I mean, really, when was the last time you felt a sense of accomplishment after completing a video game? That sense of pride used to be a commonality with gaming - and now, it is virtually nonexistent in the medium.


For Us, Gaming Used To Be An Experience

Pictured: the best 60 plus hours of my third grade year

When I think about retro gaming, I think about singular experiences. Each and every time I played a game, I was drawn out of reality, my brain placed in a vacuum outside time and space, with my neurons and nerve endings virtually tied to the game. My head might as well have been super glued to the screen. . .for that hour or so of gaming, there was nothing go on in this universe other than me, the computer space, and an overwhelming desire to triumph over the machine.

Today's games simply do not absorb you into the experience the way the old school games did. Since we are the multi-tasking age, it seems as if we lack the want or attention span to just pour ourselves into one focal area for a prolonged period of time. . .there always has to be distractions of some kind going on around us.

The next time you are around a bunch of kids playing a video game, pay close attention to their behavior. Every few minutes, they'll pause the game to check their text messages, or they'll take a break from the game to scour the web browser on the console. Even in the heat of the virtual battle, they are periodically pulled out of the experience, as that on-screen indicator pops up to let them know that one of their friends is online, too. At no point does it seem as if it is truly just them and the video game locked in symbiosis. . .and in a lot of ways, the competitive aspect of gaming has been diluted even WORSE than the single player experience.

Some of my all time favorite gaming experiences occurred in head-to-head battles - an awesome back and forth brawl in Super Street Fighter II, a triple overtime thriller in NHL 94, or a game of Bomberman II that came down to the very last second. Playing these games, there was always the great variable of the other player, because they were right there beside you the entire time. You could give them a stern pre-game glare, or send them a playful push after you defeated them. Hell, if you really wanted to, you could even sock their baseball cap over their eyes and score a few free shots. The social component was something that not only changed the experience, it was something that pretty much MADE the experience, whether you and your sibling were using teamwork in Bubble Bobble or you and five complete strangers were united in a struggle against the arcade version of X-Men.

The fact that today's generation will never get the opportunity to experience THIS is one of the saddest things I can think of...

Thanks to online play, however, we have lost that socialization aspect of gaming. Yeah, you can say that playing World of Warcraft and Halo with an online guild or clans create stronger social ties, but at the end of the day, it is all machine-assisted. Its not the same thing as being able to see the kid that kicked your ass at Mortal Kombat II at school the next day, or even hanging out with your buds and setting up a mega-terminal to play Doom II death matches in your mom's basement. Yeah, you can post a video on YouTube of you getting five stars on Guitar Hero, but it just is not the same thing as having an entire arcade crowd gather around you as it looks like you are about to break the high score on Galaga, or officially vanquish Goro for the first time in neighborhood history.

Unfortunately, the kids of today will never get to experience that. They ll never know the joy of writing down passwords instead of saving a game, nor will they experience the wonder of hearing that token machine turn your quarters into magical currency. They will never enjoy that feeling of wrapping the wires around a controller pad after a hard days gaming, or trying to find the instruction manual before you return a rented game back to the video store, or even know what it s like to play a game without using analog sticks.

And in that, I think we should all feel pretty fortunate in knowing that, in our lifetimes at least, we got to experience video gaming at its absolute zenith.


James Swift is a freelance writer currently living in the metro Atlanta area and the author of How I Survived Three Years at a Two-Year Community College: A Junior Memoir of Epic Proportions and Mascara Contra Mascara: A Tale of Two Masks. He really, really wants to play some Sega Genesis after writing this article.
My Twitter:twitter.com/jswiftmedia
My Youtube Channel:youtube.com/user/JSwiftMedia
My Blog:internetisinamerica.blogspot.com
More Articles From JSwiftX
An unhandled error has occurred. Reload Dismiss