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Five Good Reasons to Love Old Videogames
Mystery Meat, Ninjas, and More!
Originality is tough to come by in the new world of videogames. It seems as though the multi-billion dollar industry is suffering from a severe case of “sequelitis,” choosing to rehash and update the same tired old games on a yearly basis. It works, too. Slap a number 2 or a “Director’s Cut” on the box and you’ve got yourself a financial success, without all the hard work involved in dreaming up something unique and dare I say, interesting.
But it wasn’t always this way. Back in those heady days of the 1980s and early ‘90s, game players were treated to something new and fresh so frequently that, in retrospect, we were spoiled. Rotten. Our decades-later punishment is today’s endless stream of the same-old: a cornucopia of crappy shooting games and high definition drivel.
What makes yesteryear’s stuff so much better than today’s overblown fluff? Read on for five reasons why old-school is still so cool.
Sliced Like a Ninja, Cut Like a Razor Blade
Ninja are perhaps the most ubiquitous of all ‘80s videogame characters. Many of us were lucky enough to grow up with Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so it’s safe to say the stealthy fellas made an impression. Just a mention of Ryu Hayabusa or Joe Musashi is enough to get most over-the-hill gamers giddy with ninja nostalgia.
I guess it was more a matter of the era rather than just a design choice. Ninja were chic and rico suave long before and after Gerardo briefly assaulted our cassette players. Unfortunately, sometime in the mid-to-late ‘90s, the masked swordsmen disappeared almost altogether, taking up residence on the videogame endangered species list. In their place, we got scores of identical skateboarding games and a gun-toting hoochie-mama in a halter top.
Lara Croft should have been a one-hit wonder, but instead we’ve had 14 years of raiding tombs in what amounts to underwear. No one knows exactly what Lara’s looking for (Cargo shorts that fit? Phone number for a good plastic surgeon specializing in breast reduction?), but she keeps on keeping on, no matter how stale the adventure has gotten. Persistence good, way of ninja much better.
Are You Really Gonna Eat That?
Mike Hagger was eating out of trash cans years before George Costanza rummaged through refuse for a bite of éclair. Simon Belmont stared down salmonella every time he snacked on…whatever that mystery meat is that’s so often hidden in the walls of Castlevania. Long before the days of recharging health meters and hand-holding tutorials, game characters got their eat-on with whatever was handy, regardless of it’s adjacency to bathroom stalls. Far be it from me to judge manliness, but I’ll take the iron gullet of Metro City’s mayor over some pansy space marine any day of the week. Chew on that, Master Chief!
Despite the seemingly universal appeal of eating pizza off the sidewalk, few game characters today are willing to risk the health consequences involved just to beat up legions of pixelated punk rockers and transsexual martial arts masters. Too bad for them. And us.
Heroes Come in All Shapes and Sizes
Anything could be a lead character in the days of gaming past. Stocky plumber? Sounds good to me. Blue anthropomorphic hedgehog in sneakers? Yeah, I always wanted to pretend I was one of those. Pink ball-like thing that viciously devours everything in it’s path without the slightest consideration of calorie content? Okay, but I think a visit with a mental health professional is in your future, Mr. Game Designer.
No one really knows for sure whether Bubble Bobble’s Bub and Bob are dragons or just deformed dinosaurs. There’s no way to discern exactly what Lolo is either, but the absurd and anything-goes game heroes of the ‘80s and ‘90s have a charm that’s sorely absent from the average Xbox 360 game. It was a simpler time when we could play as a boy and his jellybean-loving blob or a monkey-kid in a red jumpsuit. The more cracked-out the character was, the more appealing the game starring him/her/it could be. Insanity and genius, more often than not, went hand-in-hand, and games were better for it. So here’s to profound mental illness and t-shirt wearing bobcats sans a thread of pants. We miss you both.
Today’s gamers expect a Hollywood-caliber yarn every time we pick up a controller. We have our Call of Dutys and our Bioshocks and all the tacked-on, heavy-handed morality choices that go with them. The gaming narratives of the here and now are certainly a far cry from simply rescuing a princess or finding your mutated pet frog, but this game geezer isn’t impressed.
While the presentation is nice, the majority of game designers today aren’t exactly up to QuentinTarantino’s snuff. Part of the problem is there are only about five recycled game stories we get to play through today.
1) Zombie outbreak occurs due to negligence of pharmaceutical company. Entire town is annihilated by nuclear missile. Lead female protagonist searches for lost lockpick.
2) Angst-ridden emo kids set out to take down sinister corporation and express feelings through awful J-pop songs.
3) Ubiquitous gaming character, "Hand with Gun," destroys Nazi Germany with little help and even less historical accuracy.
4) Known felon steals cars, murders prostitutes, and shops for new leather jackets.
5) Sullen, post-apocalyptic anti-hero carries rocket launchers and gatling guns in backpack or magical attache case. People and other stuff blow up.
That’s about it. It seems the wishing well of creativity went dry somewhere around the year 2000, leaving us with plots better left for SyFy original movies.
What so many game developers fail to realize is that it’s tough to care about a bunch of shiny mannequins car-jacking other ugly, plastic-looking digital people. Please send these silicon atrocities back to the uncanny valley and resurrect those "outdated," 2D sprites. Leave the stories to Stephen Spielberg and make a game that doesn’t have nine hours of badly-acted cut scenes. We’re here for fun, not to watch computer-generated B-movies.
Anger Management Might Be a Good Prerequisite
Back in the day, Nintendo games were the cause of many a broken controller and ruined birthday party. Any ‘80s gamer can tell a tale of temper tantrums brought on by Battletoads and Bayou Billy. In the early days of videogames, finishing the fight was rarely easy, and we certainly got our money’s worth in tears and trauma.
Fast-forward a couple decades, and you’ve got a world of games afraid to frustrate. Nearly every new release spends the first few levels easing you in, handing out power-ups and positive-reinforcement on every texture-mapped piece of gaming real estate. It’s as though game makers think today’s gross-out, blood-soaked game discs are spinning in the Playstations of prissy princesses.
Well, listen here, Strawberry Shortcake. I wasted my formative years blasting through Red Falcon’s never-ending alien onslaught in Contra. I’ve lost too many summer days to Mike Tyson’s beat-downs to even begin to count the knockouts, and I’ll never get any of it back. I can deal with the lost time and social skill impairments, but waltzing through a game I just dropped $60 on is positively criminal. Where did all the need for superhuman reflexes and future lasik surgery go?
Yeah, those old games were borderline impossible, but that’s how we liked it. The excessive challenge only made us want to get better, and there was a sense of satisfaction game developers just can't cram into those swanky DVD cases these days.
I and many other slightly pathetic, stuck-in-the-past video veterans don’t want or need all the help. Keep your infinite lives and your shameful save points. If I’m not crying, it’s probably not worth buying.
Well, there’s my two cents on how the new-fangled, HD, motion-controlled videogames of today just don’t stack up to that pile of old game tapes you probably still have stacks of in your garage. The latest games look great but lack a lot of the substance and charm of the oldies. Put down that wireless controller and hook-up your dusty old NES or Sega Genesis. You’re welcome.
Posted June 29, 2010