Thoughts on Going Home Again

There’s a reason I’m not going to go back farther in my reviews than around the mid-‘Nineties.  That reason is that I and most of my generation of gamers have grown past Mario and Sonic.

When I was a youngster, I worked, hard, to finish Super Mario Bros. 3.  No save files to work from, and the first time I did it I didn’t even know about the warp whistles.  Then—I won’t say I beat it, no.  I’ll say I defeated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a game so blasted hard, from a company already known to make gamers wonder, “Why do you hate us so?”  I managed to beat that one twice, shockingly enough.

But as I changed, so, too, did video games.  Where saving your game was once a new and odd thing, we eventually had save crystals/books/moogles/whatever every few miles.  Where we were given no instruction, at all, on any aspect of the game that wasn’t in the manual, we ended up with tutorials lasting almost half the game.  Where the only “achievements” we ever got were the cheers if we had a friend watch us beat a game, now we get “achievements” just for watching the introductory cut scene.

I won’t say that games are getting dumber or easier, necessarily.  I mean, yeah, getting stupid achievements for things like powering your console up is dumb, but I don’t think anyone would argue that modern games are less complex than their ancestors, nor would I think anyone would say that, in at least some cases, having a save crystal-or-whatever every few miles is a bad thing for games where bosses are only vulnerable to one attack and you aren’t told what that attack is.

I will, though, simply say that games have changed, rather drastically.

This was driven home in two semi-recent examples.  A few weeks ago I pulled out Super Mario 64 and found that I couldn’t really control Mario.  Well-deserved acclaim for what that title represented for the time aside, Mario moves clunkily.  When it was newer, I could work through it, more or less.  I’d never get all the stars, but I could at least beat the game, if eventually.  This last time—it took a few tries just to get into a painting.

Not long after that, I pulled out the tried-and-true Phantom 2040 game.  This was a game where I’d found most of the twenty-ish different endings, on my own, before I had access to GameFAQs.  Now?  I was slaughtered.  Worse, when chatting with other gamers of my generation, I found that I wasn’t alone.  Most of us had suffered similarly when attempting to bring out the old classics we loved as youths.

After discussion and thought, I realized that it’s not that our skills deteriorated (not that such wasn’t likely at least a contributing factor in some cases) as much as we were “trained” differently now.  We are “trained” for modern and modern-ish games.  Even if we’re terrible at games published in the last decade, we’ve still become “wired” for them.  Trying to go back to the games of yore just—doesn’t work.

This is why I generally won’t review games published before the mid-‘Nineties.  I won’t write a review unless I beat a game, and beat it well enough to really know what the game is “like”.  As a matter of course, I can’t rely on childhood memories, so that means many games from my generation’s youth will go unplayed.

That’s a shame, it really is.  Yet there’s a certain mentality almost required for games today, particularly in the action-adventure and platforming genres, that is rather at odds with the mentality required for many games from our youth.  There’s also a certain shift in skills—not necessarily having “better” or “worse”, but different—when going back to older games. To a large degree, it’s not necessarily true of R.P.G.s, but it still exists.  While someone playing most recent Final Fantasy titles can go back and, say, play Final Fantasy IV at least decently enough, there’s still a bit of a mentality shift.  We bring with us certain expectations that we gained from more modern games.

Games like the original Super Mario Bros. line or the original Sonic the Hedgehog line, even the original Contra—those defined us, shaped us.  They’re that “stuff” in the box you never get rid of, because you open that box and just—smile.  Sure, it’s a box that is usually shoved in the bottom of the hall closet or the darkest corner of the garage/attic—but it matters.  When you open that box, when you look back on the games or other icons of your youth, even if you can no longer enjoy them as intended—they make you smile.

In a world where twitch-game play (see here, about halfway down the page, at the section “Mix of Strategy and Twitch”) is becoming more pervasive in the gaming world, or even now that “bullet time” has gone beyond being merely cliché (seriously, look here and note that the video game section is at least twice as long as any other)—contrast to back when a game switching to slow-motion meant our console was about to sputter and fry itself—in such a world, is it really any wonder that we can’t really go back?

Sometimes I’m not sure we even should.  There were so many wonderful games back then that today’s gamers might sadly never play and enjoy for themselves, but there are also plenty of games today that are at least as wonderful.

It’s too bad that you really can’t go home again, even in such a hobby as video games.  But—we can at least pull out that old cartridge, blow the dust off, and just smile.


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