Many of us look back fondly at the “good old days” of gaming; those halcyon days where games simply worked right out of the package and pre-order bonus nightmares were a distant concern. Although the pure simplicity of retro gaming may look better in many ways than what we have now, there are plenty of reasons to be happy that we’re no longer stuck in the old school era. In many ways, nostalgia has clouded our judgment and glossed over many of the less desirable aspects of old video game technology. “Games aren’t what they used to be” may be a common refrain on gaming message boards, but that’s really not such a bad thing in most cases. We’re so used to the conveniences of modern video games, that we forget just how frustrating things used to be. While there are still reasons to hold onto that love of retro gaming (it’s hard to think that some SNES games will ever truly be topped), there sure are a lot of things that are best left in the past.
*Note: For the purposes of this discussion, we’re considering the PlayStation 2 era and earlier as “retro.” The console did come out the better part of two decades ago, after all.
10. Controller Cords
As much as having to change batteries on our controllers (or in the case of the PS4’s controller, constantly plugging it in thanks to its less-than-adequate rechargeable battery life) is its own unique hassle, tripping over cords is not something we’d be keen on going back to. Wired controllers used to be the only option, but the advent of dependable wireless technology — beginning with the Nintendo GameCube’s Wavebird controller in 2002 — allowed for much more freedom than wired pads ever could have provided. That freedom didn’t just extend to having less clutter in the house; wireless controllers could effectively become wired just by plugging a charge cable into a console’s USB port, giving gamers the best of both worlds. Most of us take our wireless controller for granted now, but there’s no way we would trade them for those trip-hazard cords again.
9. No Voice Acting
While some series still refuse to add voiceover for whatever reason (The Legend of Zelda being the most famous example), voice acting is practically an essential feature in modern games, to the point where some voice actors are becoming just as recognizable as movie stars. Compare that to just a few generations ago, when having voice over work in a game was the exception rather than the rule, with most titles relying on text to get their points across.
That’s not to say that games with no voiceover work are automatically inferior, as games like Final Fantasy VI were able to tell sophisticated stories without a single line of spoken dialogue, but it’s hard to deny that voice acting has expanded the scope of what games can achieve in a narrative sense quite profoundly. A game like The Last of Us, centered around the dual lead performances of actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, just wouldn’t have been anywhere near as affecting without its voice acting. Although, having no voice acting at all is certainly a better alternative than the next item on this list …
8. Bad Translations
“A winner is you!” and “All your base are belong to us!” have become popular phrases in the gaming lexicon to represent just how bad some old translations used to be. During the NES and SNES era when most of the best content was still being made in Japan, American and European audiences experienced many a rough translation, as all of these games had to be converted from Japanese to English. Nowadays, companies have entire localization teams focused on making sure games are translated properly, but such quality assurance didn’t exist on anywhere near the same scale back in the late 80s and early 90s. Thus, there are no shortage of titles from that era with hilariously-bad translations and while it’s entertaining to look back at some of these and laugh, we’re much happier with the quality of modern game conversions to want to go back to a time when broken “Engrish” was running rampant.
7. Memory Cards
Memory cards rose to prominence during the PlayStation era, necessitated by Sony’s decision to use CD-ROMs rather than cartridge-based games. While memory cards were generally sufficient during the PlayStation’s heyday due to the small size of game save files, they really started to become obsolete by the time the PlayStation 2 came around, especially once the system was given online functionality in 2002.
With no built-in hard drive, any patch released for an online game had to be downloaded onto a memory card and with such limited space to begin with, gamers would need multiple cards just to have enough storage space for all of their games. Their small size also made them something that could be lost easily, which may not seem like a big deal, but when you had a game save file that you had worked on for years stored on one of them, it could be a pretty trying experience. Thanks to large hard drives now being standard in modern game consoles, we don’t even stress about this kind of stuff anymore and with cloud saves, our games are pretty much secure forever. Memory cards … good riddance!
6. The Prices
Gaming is an expensive hobby, that much is true. It’s also true that we all like to complain about the price of games a lot, claiming that things never used to be this bad. If you subscribe to the idea that video games used to be cheaper two decades though, you’re sadly mistaken. Although it’s difficult to make direct comparisons considering just how many different price points games sell at right now, the fact is that games overall are much cheaper than they used to be, even at the higher end of things. For instance, an N64 cartridge typically sold for $70 in 1998; that’s over $100 in today’s money when you factor in inflation. If anything, those $60 games we complain about aren’t priced high enough (which is why we see so much nickel and diming on the downloadable content front). So just keep in mind the next time you think that you’re paying way too much for games that this hobby is actually much more affordable than it used to be.
5. Physical Media
While each current-gen console has an optical drive for reading discs, digital games are quickly making these drives obsolete and it’s only a matter of time before we no longer have to rely on physical media to play our games. That being said, unless you exclusively purchase physical copies of your games, there’s no longer any need to switch out games anymore, as you can access them all on your system’s hard drive. Well, just a few generations ago, switching out games was much more of a hassle. Well okay, switching discs is really not a big deal at all, but have you actually had to do it lately? It’s surprisingly annoying, especially if you’re used to not having to do it at all.
On top of that, early game discs, particularly those infamous blue DVDs used in the PlayStation 2’s early days were prone to scratches, which could quickly turn your expensive games into nothing more than mini frisbees. Yes, the collector in us is certainly disappointed that physical media is going away, but when you take the many benefits of digital games into consideration, it’s not as hard to say goodbye as you might think.
4. No Online Multiplayer
While it’s true that many gamers don’t care about or play online multiplayer, the very fact that it exists is something that should be celebrated. Online gaming has completely reshaped the way we play and experience games and has led to the creation of multiple new genres and communities. eSports are becoming increasingly popular and in general, online multiplayer allows for an element of connectivity with gamers around the world that would have been unheard of two decades ago. The one downside is that online multiplayer is increasingly being privileged over other types of multiplayer experiences, as seen last year with the Halo 5 split-screen debacle, but the ability to play games with friends no matter where they are is objectively better than not having the option at all.
3. Early 3D
As exciting as the move from 2D to 3D programming was during the PlayStation / Nintendo 64 era, it was by no means a seamless or even very pretty transition. For every killer 3D app like Super Mario 64, there was another dozen or so early 3D games that were just an eyesore, even at the time of their release. Titles like Tomb Raider and Goldeneye 007 were hugely entertaining from a gameplay perspective, but were hard on the eyes and do not hold up at all nowadays. Ironically, the retro games that actually do hold up visually are the sprite-based, 2D sidescrollers that the industry was trying to move away from in the mid 90s.
Early 3D’s problems didn’t just end with the visuals though, as many of these titles also featured poor controls and truly awful cameras. While we have fond memories of the PS1 and N64’s early days, we definitely don’t miss the jagged breasts and bizarrely-shaped heads that defined the era. And don’t even get us started on the three dimensional crime against humanity that is Superman 64; we still get nightmares of trying to fly through those damn rings and ugly, fog-infested cityscape. The horror!
2. Bad Licensed Games
Superman 64, anyone? Okay, that was just a bad game any way you slice it, but the truth is that it was emblematic of another unfortunate trend that plagued gaming for decades and still does, to a degree: bad licensed titles. The video game adaptation of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is infamous for helping usher in the the video game crash of 1983, but poorly-made licensed games continued on well after thousands of copies of E.T. were buried in the New Mexico desert. The practice of releasing a tie-in video game adaptation of a popular movie or TV show is something that very much still exists today, but the 80s and 90s played host to all sorts of truly bad games.
The problem was that many of the developers of these games were forced to churn them out quickly in order to be ready for a respective movie or TV show’s release date, meaning that the overall quality of the games often suffered. The Batman series is a prime example, as that series went through decades of bad games before finally getting a legitimately good release in the form of 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, which among its many achievements finally did justice to the Batman license. Licensed games are still a bit of a crapshoot, but the fact is that they are much better overall than they used to be.
1. No Updates
While we all grumble and complain about having to sit through a new firmware update seemingly every time we turn on our consoles, it’s still much better than the alternative of not getting any updates at all. As much as some companies are definitely guilty of using patches as a crutch to release unfinished content, having the ability to make games better over time far outweighs the drawbacks.
Some older games had game-breaking bugs and glitches, to the point where they couldn’t even be finished in certain cases and the worst part is that there was no way to make fixes to these games after the fact.If you were stuck with a broken game, it was broken forever unless the publisher decided to release a new, updated version, but even that required you to make a whole new purchase. Nowadays, games evolve over time and can look and play quite a bit differently from when they were first released, all thanks to the ability to release updates over the internet. It’s not a perfect system, sure, but it sure beats being stuck with a permanent lemon on your shelf.