The industry could learn a thing or two from gaming’s glory days
As a product of the early 1980’s, I’ve had the great pleasure of watching the video games industry evolve in some very exciting ways over the course of my 30-something years as a gamer. From the advent of virtual reality in our living rooms and games set within the confines of constantly connected online worlds to consoles that far surpass the visual fidelity of the latest arcade releases, games have managed to do so many things that would have made my bulbous little head spin had I known they were on the horizon when I first got my NES Deluxe Set on Christmas morning way back in 1986. I consider myself tremendously lucky to have grown up in lock step with the hobby I adore so much, and to this day I still find it hard to contain myself whenever the latest batch of consoles are unveiled.
Still, for all of the amazing advancements the industry has seen in the transition from gaming’s “golden years” of the 1980’s and 90’s to the industry we know today, I can’t help but feel that a good many things that players held dear have been left on the cutting room floor in the mad dash to innovate or have simply fallen to the wayside due to the ways technology and the way we consume media have changed. There are so many little things that have been excised from the gaming landscape that I never realized I took for granted until they were already gone.
Without further ado, here are five things I feel classic games did better than the games of today:
6. Classic games required skill to complete
Settle down, Brotato Chip. I’m not trying to cheapen how many times you’ve managed to beat that one boss in Bloodborne or how many times you’ve hit Prestige in Call of Duty: Black Ops III, but the effort you put into putting the Blood-Starved Beast’s noggin on your mantelpiece is nothing compared to the grit and determination it takes to successfully race your way to the end of the Turbo Tunnel in Battletoads. And while that criminally challenging trek through the pulpy pink corridors of one of the NES’ most notorious stages may be an anomaly when compared to the average challenge of the games from the 8 and 16-bit eras, countless games released back then could still take an entire summer vacation of unrelenting practice before our nimble thumbs finally carried us to the ending credits.
Whether it’s dumping concept of limited lives into the dustbin of gaming history or the abundance of auto-saves that never keep us more than a few moments behind our last grisly demise, plowing through a game in just a few short sittings has become increasingly commonplace over the past few generations, and that’s a damn shame. This more laid back approach to the difficulty of games seems to be a direct result of studios’ efforts to make games more cinematic in their progression. Sadly, this streamlined way of handling the single-player portion of many games oftentimes leads to hollow endeavors that seem to play themselves and require the bare minimum of effort to complete.
I long for the days where games that knocked the snot out of me and demanded precision and practice were commonplace, but it seems like every year those games become fewer and further between. That said, it seems I’ll have to keep diving deep into my backlog of classic games whenever I want to face a real challenge.
5. Instruction manuals were more than just scraps of paper
Ahhh…manuals. Remember these lovingly crafted accessories tucked into the packaging next to the disc or cartridge you just bought? Fun Fact: I spent a good twenty minutes out of the time I set aside to put this feature together so I could thumb through the pages and breathe in the smell of the ink in the ones pictured above. Is that weird? If so, I really don’t care – I absolutely love these relics of gaming’s glory years. And when I die, I fully expect to be buried along with my treasure trove of them to read during my long journey through the underworld.
Despite their name, instruction manuals were than a handy tool to help you come to grips with a game’s controls and mechanics, these miracles of ink and paper were often filled with additional bits of story info, character and enemy descriptions, and other useful information that added some welcome context to the game they came bundled with. Many of them even came emblazoned with fantastic artwork as well – especially the ones from teams like Working Designs and Atlus, who took video game packaging to a whole new level.
Sadly, these days we’re lucky to get a single scrap of promotional material packed in with the games we purchase. And when we do, it’s often because we’ve shelled out an additional chunk of cash for a special collector’s edition of a game.