# 5. Games were simpler in the past.
Video games have undoubtedly become more ambitious and impressive in recent years. When you look at characters like The Last Of Us, it’s impossible to overstate how far video games have come since people played Pong forty-odd years ago. But despite all the innovations within the medium, and all the new trendy ideas and increasingly elaborate control schemes, there is something to be said for how much simpler things were in the games we played as children.
Today’s games can be difficult for people without the muscle memory that comes from years of dedicated games. Give your mom or dad a PS4 controller and if they’re like mine, they’ll spend half their time playing looking down, trying in vain to remember where all the buttons are. Use the left analog stick to walk, hold X to jog, or tap X to run. L2 is aiming and R2 is shooting, but R1 becomes shooting if you’re driving because in a car R2 is the throttle. R3 (that’s when you click the right analog stick) allows you to look back and to open the menu you need to hold down the touchpad. And that’s just part of the control scheme for Grand Theft Auto 5, one of the best-selling games of all time.
Even for seasoned veterans, the increasing complexity of the games can become a hindrance. Super Mario World is still as intuitive as it was in 1990 because the inherently simple design and play-and-play nature made it timeless. You can give the controller to a child who has never played a Mario game and in seconds they will have figured out how to play. This simplicity is an attractive concept, which is almost certainly part of the reason that retro games like Shovel Knight and Axiom Verge are so popular today. The easier a game is to play, the more inclusive and immediate the fun will be. Retro games have that in abundance, and that’s why I keep playing Super Mario World twenty-six years after launch.
# 4. Retro games have better music.
As game production values have risen over the years, we have seen the average change in many ways. We made the leap to 3D, now we have elaborate voice acting and cut scenes that tell complicated stories that rival those seen on television or on the big screen. Today’s games feature fully orchestrated scores or soundtracks with popular music that are as impressive as what we would see in other media, but it seems we’ve lost something along the way too.
I can still hum the Treasure Island Dizzy theme song on the Commodore 64. I’ve been playing that game almost thirty years ago and haven’t played it since (and I’ve never won it yet, damn it) but I can still remember the theme song that sounds in the background in its entirety. I played games last week and couldn’t even tell you if they had music.
Due to the simplicity of the early games and without the voice acting to tell a story, the music had to be good. Aside from a few horrible sound effects, the game’s music was the only auditory stimulation the games provided. There are still great game soundtracks today, but they seem few and far between compared to the games of my youth. Mega Man, Castlevania, early Final Fantasy games, and iconic titles like Zelda, Mario, and Sonic the Hedgehog all featured highly memorable tunes that stick with us long after we last played them. I still remember how the music of the Commodore 64 classic Prince Clumsy changes when you save the princess at the end of the game like she was playing it yesterday. We can’t really say that about Shadow of Mordor, can we?
# 3. Games used to work out of the box.
One thing that the games of yesteryear certainly did better than the games of today is that, well, they worked. You’d think it should be a pretty foundational aspect of any product released, but it’s truly amazing how many games in 2016 are shipped broken, requiring days or weeks of server tweaks for multiplayer to work, or a huge day one. patches to correct all the errors that appeared on the disc. Nowadays, if you don’t have a decent internet connection at home, some games are really unplayable and many others are seriously hampered.
Street Fighter V launched earlier this year, and Capcom promised that the single-player Arcade mode, a staple of the series, would be available for download in July. What if you don’t have an internet connection? Well then you have half a game. That’s not a problem we faced when Street Fighter II launched on the SNES in 1991. Back then, we didn’t have the internet to act as a safety net for developers. The games had to work out of the box.
Going back and playing Global Gladiators today is as simple as placing the cartridge in your Genesis and turning it on. It works now as it did then; exactly as it should and without any problems. This is one of the many good things about retro games; If you have the game and the hardware, you’re good to go. No need to download drivers, updates or patches. You put the game on and then you play. As you should.
# 2. Games used to be more of a challenge.
Today, anyone who keeps up with the latest trends in games is likely to be aware of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and the reputation these games have for punishing difficulty. Gamers flocked to the Souls series, excited to play a title that challenged them and refused to hold their hands. There are no extended tutorial sections. There is little help. You cannot pause. And every enemy can mince you unless you learn their attack patterns and act accordingly. It’s exciting that a game provides us with an uphill fight like this, but I’m old enough to remember a time when every game was like this. And worst.
Modern games tend to explain things to the player, often to an almost insulting degree. Putting a disc in a PS4 in 2016 means waiting for the install, then the day one patch, and then when you finally have a controller in your hand, you spend the next two hours going through the early stages of the game like a kid. your first day of school. Everyone likes a little help from time to time, but there’s something to be said for simply being thrown to the bottom and told to sink or swim.
# 1. Nostalgia
Nostalgia may seem like an avoidance response; after all, looking back in rose-tinted glasses is often what fans of all things retro are criticized for. It’s easy to dismiss nostalgia as a way to justify the view that everything was much better back in the day, but the truth is that nostalgia is an immensely powerful agent and should not be ignored.
Today, we watch junk movies and regret the obvious use of CGI, but we will gladly sit down to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark and not bother to mention that the Nazi melting at the end looks like he’s made of clay. We listen to the hideous pop music of our youth with a thoughtful smile on our faces as we lift our noses at the latest Justin Bieber video. And we’ll talk about Final Fantasy VII as if it’s the second coming of Christ, completely ignoring all the flaws in the game that we’d hang a modern game to dry for. Nostalgia is a strong enough influence to make us believe that Sonic the Hedgehog was really good. That is serious.
The reason many of us like to play old games is simply because of the feeling we get from playing them. I have played hundreds, if not thousands of games in my time as a gamer. And I’m smart enough to know that in that time video games have improved in almost every way. But that doesn’t change the fact that if I load Street Fighter II I remember the days when I played it during summer school break with all my friends. I remember the day I finished Toejam and Earl with my brother every time I hear the first few bars of their ridiculously funky theme song. And I remember the dizzying excitement we had when we had the deaths working for the first time in Mortal Kombat II.
Playing old games, like watching old movies or listening to old albums, takes us back to a time in the past that we like to remember. Whether it’s memories of old friends, loved ones, people we see every day or have lost touch, every old game we load is a window into the past and that is special. The latest Call of Duty will never compete with that.