Modern gaming for the most part is still great. Games are bigger, possess higher production values and are more immersive than ever. However, for a brief two year spell gaming was a complete no-no for me and it wasn’t until a few years ago that I eventually regained my thirst and appetite.
Whether it had to do with a life style change (marriage, kids, etc.) or simply that I couldn’t be bothered anymore but all of a sudden the passion fizzed out. It was only when I booted up some Mega Drive and SNES classics that the motivation for gaming gradually returned, resulting in a swift purchase of the PlayStation 3.
Looking back I can narrow it down to what I feel helped bring back the desire and passion and why even today I feel that the retro scene is as important as ever. Now by retro I’m referring to my experience of gaming and games from the ‘80s and ‘90s (the golden age for me) so the list below is by no means defined to encapsulate all of what’s come and gone before.
1. The controls were so much simpler
Now it could just be me getting older and suffering from wild memory lapses but how many of us have played modern games, learnt the enormous number of moves, figured out the eight0button combos, put the game down for a few days and then completely forgotten what each button does? Even within gaming sessions I’m getting in a muddle; square this, triangle that, circle this, shoulders buttons that… you know the drill!
Back in them days though most games were based around three to four buttons. In fact there was a time when all the beat ‘em-ups had the same configuration set-up: jump, kick, punch with the latter two combined for your one and only special move. The hardest game I recall controlling was Double Dragon II which for some unknown reason had the punch and kick buttons swapped around depending on what direction your character was facing. Most bizarre!
2. Games were more creative
The fact that games were 2D, without complex graphic mechanics meant that developers could focus more on other areas. Take platformers for example, and the huge difference between the likes of Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands, New Zealand Story and the Super Mario Bros. games.
Shooters were in their prime, yet titles like R-Type, Thunderforce, Hellfire, and Gunhed all played vastly different despite employing similar control mechanics . The way levels were laid out was key to this as too the bosses which were in general both creative and dynamic in their nature. We see some of that now in the likes of action games (God Of War, DmC, Metal Gear) but for the most part all I’m seeing is set piece after set piece, and then the odd decent boss fight.
3. Addictive and instant appeal
Whether it was the pretty cartoonish visuals, bright colours or easy on the eye pixels you can’t deny the instant draw and attraction the games brought. This is clearly evident now with mobile gaming where the short bursts of play perfectly suits the style of games available – they have enough depth to keep you interested but are not too taxing on the brain.
4. The music was more memorable
Shatter and God Of War stand out as two of the more memorable games with a really good soundtrack but for the majority this gen they have been largely forgettable. Yet many games of yesteryear still have their tunes ringing in my head. Stage 4 of LifeForce/Salamander, Track 5 of Streets Of Rage, Thunderforce 3, and Revenge Of Shinobi to name a few are as good today as they were back then.
It seemed that developers were simply more creative with what limited technology they had at hand. No doubt that this was aided by the rise of dance and trance in the ‘80s and ‘90s, some of which made it into games. I recently stumbled across the Streets Of Rage remake (unofficial and not by Sega) and not only is this for me the greatest scrolling beat ‘em-up ever but has the best remixed tunes of any game I’ve played.
5. They were challenging
What and you thought that Dark Souls and Ninja Gaiden were hard? Well clearly you haven’t tried Ghouls ‘N Ghosts or attempted completing Shinobi with one credit! Heck them arcade games were torture as they’d make you pop in your entire lunch money only to die on the last level and then have the Game Over sign flash up without being able to continue! Hair pulling stuff I assure you.
Sure the games were linear, focusing on skills based mainly around reflex, memory, eye-to-hand coordination, but it didn’t matter as we loved them. These days the skill that I seem to be most deploying is the art of staying awake through endless cut scene after cut scene (Naughty Dog’s masterpieces aside). Yep, these games used to kick you in the teeth, maim you, spit at you and laugh in your face but you know what? We kept coming back for more ‘cos we were hard back then and proper tough.
6. Shared personality
Believe it or not people associated themselves with a certain type of genre. Basically if you played Street Fighter II you were trendy, Sonic and Mario made you conservative and anything on Amiga or Atari ST meant… err… you’d be the next great boffin. Respect at school was gained through two facets: one if you could fight and two if you were any good at Street Fighter.
Of course some took this a bit too literally. I recall a playground fight where my friend was involved in an all too unpleasant altercation with another and I swear that the way he was standing and threw the first punch reminded me of Ryu doing a hadouken! I did nothing to stop this of course, hilarious it was and playground scuffles would never be the same again.
So that’s it and if I could sum up why I still love retro gaming in a nutshell it’d be because they are simple, fun and addictive. As I’m getting older with less time on my hands I’m finding that I’m spending more of my gaming sessions with retro titles. I‘d say that at least half of it is spent that way. Mobile gaming may have its advantages over blockbuster titles for accessibility but for me, despite their pretty visuals, they’re simply watered down versions of the sorts of retro games I grew up with.
Would I like full retail release and modern day updates, reboots and sequels of classics franchises from the past? Well that depends. If they’re of the quality of Super Mario Galaxy, Donkey Kong, OutRun 2 and Ninja Gaiden then yes, but sadly these are few and far between. Nay, where retro upgrades would truly flourish and remain more relevant is the download and indie scene. Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, Super Stardust, Bionic Commando Rearmed, and After Burner Climax showcase what can be done when upgrading old franchises into the modern era on a limited budget.
Shatter, Limbo and The Cave are on the other hand class examples of retro ideas being used as the main base to create something new but just as addictive as the earlier games they’re influenced by. So here’s hoping for more of the same and continued creative development on the indie scene.
One thing for sure though years from now when gaming has become photorealistic and movie-like many like me will still be returning back to the charm of games in our youth to remind us of where it all began.