Not all classics have aged gracefully, but pure fun is simply timeless
This morning I stumbled across an article that pondered the question, “is retro gaming worth anything other than novelty value?”. Having nearly choked to death on my coffee after mouthing the headline, I sat and reflected on the question Lizard Lounge’s Neil Bason had presented me with as I carefully wiped the freshly-spewed coffee off the dusty Panasonic 3DO FZ-10 that sits beside my office desk, making sure not to let any of the sticky residue seep into my wall of Sega Saturn games, that sits like a heavily-manned Gibraltar between my office door and a closet full of arcade circuit boards. Has everything I’ve been led to believe is fun simply wrong? Have the 31 years that passed since I discovered the joy of hunting digital ducks on the Nintendo all been a lie? Surely, the countless summer Sega Channel binges and trips to the boardwalk arcades as a kid, engaging in the “quarters up” tradition while dominating Street Fighter II cabinets and hammering my initials into the high score screen of Blazing Star on the Neo Geo with a mile-wide grin couldn’t have been just a dream. Neil from the Lizard Lounge argues in his editorial that almost no games developed in the pre Xbox or PlayStation 2 era are worth our time, but I can’t help but wonder just what games Neil has played from the golden age of gaming to come to that conclusion.
Maybe I’m just a relic of a long bygone era, but I feel that many modern games fail to live up to the standard of the classics that have inspired them. That’s not to say modern gaming is a shell of what it used to be, of course, but there is a certain purity found in classic games that many of today’s releases are simply lacking. Neil argues from his serpentine den, littered with broken dreams, Dorito bags and autographed pictures of Cliff Bleszinski that “these old timey games are borderline unplayable, littered with piss poor hit detection and, let’s say, less than precise control systems.” However, I’ve yet to play a modern fighting game that can match the fluidity and precision of Capcom’s legendary fighter Street Fighter III: Third Strike, or a platformer that captures the seamless mobility and sense of exploration that was found in Super Mario 64 when it released on the Nintendo 64 nearly 20 years ago.
Let’s not forget the groundbreaking titles that went on to shape the gaming landscape as we know it today. I’ve yet to experience a modern RPG that captured my imagination in quite the same way that Final Fantasy VII did when it first released in the winter of 1997, single-handedly raising the bar for production values in video games while building the foundation for the JRPG craze in the west. On the same token, Metal Gear Solid’s over-the-top tale of military espionage and intrigue redefined cinematic storytelling in games, and the impact it made on the industry can still be seen in countless titles developed today. These weren’t just flashes in the pan, either – Metal Gear Solid is still an immensely enjoyable experience to playthrough, despite the limitations of the PlayStation hardware and the less-than-stellar AI of the genome soldiers who patrol Shadow Moses. And Final Fantasy VII is still one of the apex entries in Square Enix’s long-running role-playing series, with a brilliant battle system and a massive world to explore. Even for all of the advancements in graphical fidelity and processing power, even their respective series have failed to quite capture the magic these pioneering PlayStation releases delivered long before Microsoft had even considered throwing their hat in the ring of the console wars.
While modern day online multiplayer modes are certainly convenient, they still largely lack much of the soul and sense camaraderie that can be found sitting on a couch with friends or standing shoulder-to-shoulder with another player at an arcade cabinet. Even to this day, during the monthly gaming meetups I host with dozens of friends, we seldom touch the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 or PC, instead opting for marathon sessions of WWF No Mercy or the classic multiplayer shooter Goldeneye on the N64, or countless bouts of Samurai Shodown, The House of the Dead and Mark of the Wolves on my arcade machines. This isn’t because they’re novel, it’s because there’s a certain timeless charm to these titles, a hold that hasn’t been shaken in the countless years since these games were first released.
Maybe this excitement comes from the fact that when games were developed without the luxury of photo-realistic visuals and post-release fixes, developers really had to ensure the games they were selling offered something fundamentally engaging to entice players into the experience. Be it with lengthier stories, more instantly-accessible mechanics or some inventive local multiplayer modes, these games of a bygone era have remained classics for a reason. These games shaped the landscape of the industry as we know it, and their influence can be felt in almost every release we see to this day. Sure, time may highlight some of the inadequacies of past-gen hardware, but truly good games are timeless, and there are thousands of them out there well worth revisiting to this day.
That said, what are your thoughts on retro gaming, readers? Am I living in an impenetrable, rose-tinted bubble of nostalgia, or do you feel that the classics stand the test of time? Be sure to sound off with some of your favorite games from yesteryear in the comments section below.
Editor’s note – Neil, I don’t truly feel you are a serpentine creature voraciously sustaining yourself by devouring the cherished memories of our youth, but I do recommend you give the the games of a bygone era a second chance. I’d be happy to recommend plenty of titles infinitely better than those you may have suffered through.