OK, this is going to be hard. I have to write this and not sound like I’m a great-grandfather, talking to a room full of small children about how back in the day everything was better. Here we go: back in the day, everything was better. Seriously though, it was. I’ll break it down to a couple of different categories and then you tell me if I’m lying. Oh and just to specify, when I say “back in the day,” I mean Nintendo up to the PlayStation 1 cause I grew up on Jampack demos and Final Fantasy VII. I’m only 28, I’m not THAT old—geez.
I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way and give “now” it’s one point. The graphics on games these days are mind numbing. I can remember playing Madden ‘95 with my dad and thinking, “man, how can it get any better than this?” Flash forward to Madden 15 and there’s just no comparison. Everything from water effects in BioShock to creating detailed characters in the WWE series (not so much 2K15 but that’s neither here nor there) are light years ahead of what could be produced on the older consoles. Just as a point of comparison, consider this: going from PS3 to PS4, Killzone went from 10,000 polygons per character to upwards of 40,000 polygons. Gaming works in leaps and bounds.
There cannot be an argument for this. Find the most digitally out of touch person you can and I bet they can hum the Super Mario theme. Check the CD cases of some gamers you know. I’ll bet money a majority of them have a Final Fantasy soundtrack in there somewhere. Games these days have music, but it’s just not the same. You don’t hum these new songs all day. You don’t know the names of the songs. Your mind doesn’t jump to that moment in a game when you hear these new songs, because they’re just cycled over and over. It’s not like “One Winged Angel” or the “Underwater Theme” from Mario. They’re just ambiance tracks at best, but usually nothing more than background noise.
The only reason I have to go with a tie here is because for as many amazing stories as there were in the Super Nintendo, Genesis, PS1 days, there were just as many ridiculous ones. Seriously, the story for Mario is just about as acid-trippy as you can get. On the other hand, even when more recent games have less than stellar stories—I’m going to call out Diablo III for this one—it still makes more sense than a plumber stomping on turtles for the sake of anything, much less a princess. At least Link was from that world. He has a sword and…just nevermind. Either way, THEN has Zelda, Final Fantasy and Suikoden and NOW has Mass Effect, God of War and Skyrim. I think we all make out pretty well here.
There was no better time for ‘easy to play, hard to master’ than back in the day. With the entire gaming world dumbing down to reach a wider audience, you see IPs like Mass Effect and Dragon Age start as dial based, hotkey games focused on strategy over flash, which become more streamlined with sequels built like an American action movie. Not that I don’t enjoy all the iterations of those games, but they so clearly cut much of the details to get you to fight more and think less. There was no “think less” on SNES. There was no auto save on PS1. There was get it right or be stuck forever. Could most people beat Mega Man X? Sure they could. Could everyone get the Hadoken in Mega Man X? NO! You had to grind for that. You had to learn to use your powers, jump at just the right times, and search a little bit harder than you really needed to if you wanted it. There was no codex/journal/anything that told you to look out for these things either. You either looked or you didn’t. That’s the difference people. There was no dumb down for us. It was greatness or bust.
*check out Caleb Hart crush Mega Man X in this speed run*
Fun Factor: THEN
First of all, some of you may not recognize this category. It’s from a magazine called Game Pro and you missed out. Anyway, I play games for fun, not headaches. No matter what the genre, I feel like I should have fun. From Vandal Hearts to Motor Toon Grand Prix, WWF In Your House to Power Stone, Lufia to Joe Montana Football, I had fun. I was very rarely bored with a game I owned or even games my friends owned. Pit Fighter was a TERRIBLE game on both the Genesis and the SNES, but my friends and I had the time of our lives playing it. I have difficulty saying that about Def Jam Icon or Too Human. There was just a different vibe back then that the machine of consumerism has kind of sucked out of the creative process. Unfortunately, you won’t get another Bubsy 3D. It’s not unfortunate because it was a groundbreaking or amazing game; it was actually pretty bad, but my childhood was better for having played it.
*Wallpaperflembot (what a name) braves through five minutes of gameplay from Bubsy 3D*
Let’s take the genre of fighting games. THEN has Power Stone, Killer Instinct, Street Fighter, Tekken, Mortal Kombat, and Bushido Blade. These are just off the top of my head and trying to pick games that have strong differences in gameplay (which is why Guilty Gear and Soul Caliber are not on the list). NOW has continuations of the majority of the aforementioned games and various copies (like Guilty Gear) or copies of copies (like BlazBlue). You want to find something interesting and unique? Check out a game on the PS1 called Evilzone. I’ve never seen anything like it since. What about Tobal #1 or Ehrgeiz, which fused an actual adventure mode into a fighting game instead of the traditional arcade mode story. They beat Tekken to the punch, that’s for sure. If all you played was a specific genre back then, you could be OK. You could see a wide variety of play styles, controls and characters without stepping out of your comfort zone. In sports, there was a time when Deion Sanders Primetime Football, Joe Montana Football, Bill Walsh College Football, Madden, Mutant League Football and Tecmo Bowl were ALL poppin’ at the same time, and when Quarterback Club came out, my brother and I got that too. NOW is too weighted down with legalities, deadlines and other soul-killing ‘machine’ jargon that most developers are afraid to take the steps into left field they once did. NOW can’t touch THEN on variety in any way, shape or form.
It is generally understood that games based on licensed properties (e.g. movies, TV shows, etc.) are destined to bomb. This was not always a foregone conclusion. Debate me if you dare, but Aladdin on the SNES was high fun. As a matter of fact, most of the Disney games were fun. Space Jam, so good. That’s not to say it was going to replace NBA Live as a yearly series, but it was a fun game. Spiderman’s Maximum Carnage and Separation Anxiety are still two of the most fun beat ’em ups I’ve played outside of Turtles in Time (another solid use of licensing) and Streets of Rage (not licensing, but classic all the same). Compared to the flops we’ve seen in more recent years, like Aliens: Colonial Marines and pretty much anything that comes from Cartoon Network and hits consoles, we see that graphics can’t save everything.
Seriously, I can still plug in a Nintendo right now and it’s going to work. There are Xbox 360s that came out of the box broken. You just can’t compare the lasting ability of a cartridge vs CDs. I was the WORST at taking care of my games, but as long as I had strong lungs and—in extreme cases—a Q-tip, I was good to go. When we came to the disc era, I definitely had to tighten up because a scratch or two in the wrong place meant the end. No matter how skilled I was, if the game froze mid cut scene, I’m not beating that game. Even with the Dreamcast and PS1 being a part of THEN, it still doesn’t match up to the disc-read errors, red rings, yellow lights and internet outages of NOW.
There’s so much more that I can get into, so many other games that I’ve played, so many more amazing childhood memories that we could be here all day. The point of all this is, THEN gets the W. Do we love the new technology of today with its fancy graphics and updated rosters and such? Of course we do or we wouldn’t still play them. Comparatively speaking though, it’s just not the same anymore, and it’s not simply because we’ve grown up. When anything creative, be it music, art, or gaming, starts to become a major industry, it has the potential to collapse in on itself. When money is the motive, as it understandably is for these Fortune 500 companies, there is less freedom in expression. Those who do leap, do so into the shadows of bigger marketing and development budgets. Could a small team recreate something like Bushido Blade in this day and age? Possibly, but that small team has to eat. It’s hard out here, and the harder it gets, the more likely it is to become uniform. Support those indie devs like Drinkbox Studios and Polytron, or the landscape of gaming could get pretty monochromatic.
So, now that I’m done with my rather morbid final word, I’m absolutely sure you’re either cheering with tears in your eyes, planning to dig up your old systems and hug them, or you’re foaming at the mouth waiting to systematically tell me how I’m wrong (you can reach me @AceofSpades1245). Either way, you’re right. I’m so clearly biased it’s almost painful, but I made some good points. Maybe made you look back and have a couple laughs; probably gave you a point of discussion for you and your friends. I’ll take that as a win. You’re welcome.