“Games aren’t what they used to be.” This is a sentiment that pops up again and again among those who grew up playing games in the 80s and 90s and in many ways, it’s true. Video games have definitely changed a lot over the years, to the point where it’s hard to believe that the same studio that created Crash Bandicoot also delivered something like The Last of Us.
Although there are many problems with the state of the industry right now, there is some truth to the idea that we’re living in a “golden age” of gaming, as video games have never been cheaper (seriously, they are) or more diverse than they are right now. And while we’ve already covered the many things we don’t miss about gaming’s bygone era, there are plenty of things we are nostalgic for when it comes to retro gaming. The good ol’ days may not be coming back, but that doesn’t mean we can’t reminisce about what made those days special for so many of us.
In other words, it’s okay to be nostalgic for:
12. No Installs Or Day One Patches
Remember the days when you’d come home from the store with a brand new game and when you put the disc or cartridge in, the game would just work? This must be a foreign concept to today’s younger generation of gamers, as modern hardware has made it nearly impossible to start playing a game without enduring hours of installs and patch downloads. Logistically, it makes sense why this happens. With games increasingly composed of more and more data, we would have to suffer through even longer load times than we already do if our consoles had to read everything off of a disc.
Day one patches are another annoyance that seem to accompany every major release nowadays but when you take into account the length of time between when a game goes “gold” and its actual release date, it makes sense that the game’s developers have discovered a number of issues that need to be fixed in the interim. Still, the realities of modern gaming doesn’t make them any easier to endure and I’m sure I’m not the only one who longs for the days when games just worked right out of the box and didn’t make you sit through lengthy update screens.
11. When Games Were Complete Experiences
Advancements in broadband internet infrastructure have helped forge a reality where our games are no longer static creations. This means that a game like Destiny — which shipped as an unfinished experience with a ton of confusing systems and an overall lack of content — can be iterated on for years and turned into a much different, better game. Alas, this safety net has also resulted in many, many cases of developers cutting corners and shipping games in inexcusable states (take a gander at this list for some of the worst offenders). The other result of this is that publishers will deliberately withhold content from the full game in order to sell it as DLC later, a practice that has led to significant tension between gamers and publishers, as no one wants to be sold extra content that arguably belonged in their original purchase.
Back in the day when consoles weren’t connected to the internet, it was impossible for publishers to fix games they’d already shipped without recalling them and sending out new ones. Since that wasn’t going to happen, this meant that developers had to get things right the first time and make sure that the games they were shipping out were the best they could be. Of course, tons of old games are crap and should have never been shipped to begin with, but it’s also rare to see games nowadays that are essentially perfect experiences from the get-go, such as a Super Mario Bros. 3 or A Link to the Past. Take into account the fact that many publishers are making it more difficult than ever for critics to get their reviews up in a timely manner and it’s becoming increasingly risky to purchase any game at launch, which isn’t an ideal situation for anyone.
10. Local Multiplayer
Local multiplayer has by no means disappeared from the modern gaming landscape, but it’s certainly not as prevalent as it used to be. Prior to gaming going online in a big way in the late 90s and early 2000s, pretty much every game with a multiplayer component allowed you to play through split-screen, as the only way to play games with friends was to be in the same physical space. Online gaming has given people more options than ever for linking up with friends to play games, but it’s had the unfortunate side effect of making split-screen and local multiplayer in general much less of a priority for developers.
For whatever reason, the industry at large just decided one day that people don’t like to physically hang out with one another to play games and much prefer doing so remotely. While the convenience of online gaming is to be commended, I for one long for the days when local multiplayer was a standard feature. The irony of newer consoles becoming more “social” is that they’ve arguably become less so, as there really aren’t that many games on PS4 or Xbox One that can be enjoyed at parties. Thankfully, Nintendo is keeping the local multiplayer train running, with their Switch console being partly marketed as a system to be played with friends rather than alone, but it’s safe to say that the golden age of split-screen gaming has surely passed.
9. Gaming Magazines
The decline of print media, like any major cultural shift, comes with a number of positive and negative repercussions, but it’s hard not to feel a pang of sadness over how this has affected traditional gaming magazines. Once a vibrant industry unto itself, video game magazines are now all but extinct and even though there are a number of gaming websites that have picked up the slack digitally and deliver a superior experience in many ways, they can’t fully fill the void. Names like Nintendo Power, Official PlayStation Magazine (OPM) and Official Xbox Magazine (OXM), among many others, offered monthly doses of valuable gaming knowledge. These magazines were not only packed with previews and reviews of the latest games, but also featured insightful interviews with figures in the industry, helpful tips and tricks sections, and a host of other pages to pore over.
Sure, this sort of stuff can now all be found online and for free at that but for those who grew up excitedly with monthly game mag subscriptions, it’s hard not to feel that something has been lost with the move to digital media. Content that once felt so finely curated and assembled to meet a deadline now feels disposable in comparison — and yes, I’m aware of the irony of waxing poetical about this on a website that makes its bones through digital advertising — and whether or not it’s actually true, games media as a whole feels diminished by the decline of print.
8. SEGA Consoles
I miss Sega.
Sure, they’re still around and continue to put out new games, but I don’t think anyone would deny that the Sega of today is a shell of its former self. While I’m personally of the mind that Sega gets a little more credit than they deserve — the Genesis was great and had some good games, but most of them don’t hold up; also, Mario games of the era were and still are superior to Sonic — the company’s impact on gaming cannot be disputed. Even the Saturn, which has to be one of the most ill-conceived gaming consoles of all time, had its fair share of gems and isn’t the total write-off people make it out to be.
Then there’s Sega’s final console, the Dreamcast, which remains one of the greatest, most forward-thinking pieces of hardware in gaming history. We have the Dreamcast to thank for introducing the idea of online console gaming and its stable of exclusive games remain beloved for a reason (Power Stone 2 is one of the greatest brawlers of all time and I will brook no argument). I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering what the industry would look like today if Sega had been able to stay in the console space and I can’t help but think that it would be a better place overall.
Yes, demos still exist but they’re not as prevalent as they used to be. In fact, most games don’t even release traditional demos anymore, having been replaced by betas and play tests. While betas and play tests are certainly useful, they’re of much more value to developers and publishers than they are to consumers. That is because betas are meant to provide data to publishers and developers in order to help make tweaks and changes to a game before launch, whereas demos are designed to demonstrate to a consumer what a game is about and whether they should purchase it.
The PlayStation and PlayStation 2 in particular featured a plethora of demo discs — ah, remember demo discs? — that were invaluable to younger gamers with limited disposable income. Speaking from personal experience, when my parents brought home the original PlayStation, I had to make do with the included demo disc for at least a month or two before acquiring a full game … and it was actually pretty great. I got to learn the ins and outs of multiple levels and got to experience many more games than I ever realistically would have been able to otherwise (being a broke child and all). Sure, it’s great that we can just download demos now instead of having to get them on discs, but it would be nice if there were more of them.
6. Game Manuals
There was a time when physical game manuals were practically an integral component of a game’s design. Before the days when you could just look up a guide online, manuals were one of the few ways to make sense of a game’s design and sometimes, you’d only be able to start playing the game if you read the manual first. While some developers put more effort into their manual designs than others, some of them were practically works of art and went above and beyond what you’d expect to see packed in with a video game. A standout for me is Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series.
Each new iteration would not only come with a traditional manual explaining each game and its systems, but a detailed, fold-out map of the game’s open-world environment as well (unless I’m mistaken, I think they kept this practice up with Grand Theft Auto V). Now, if a game comes with a manual at all, it’s only available digitally in the game’s manuals and overall, the decline of physical manuals just makes ditching physical media in favor of digital all the more enticing, as it’s simply no fun buying an empty plastic case.
This point may sound a bit vague, but let me try to explain. The internet has become an invaluable tool when it comes to mastering games. There are no shortage of guides, tutorials, and videos available that will tell you literally every single thing you might want to know about a particular game and reveal all of their secrets. Unfortunately, while having near limitless resources available at the click of a button is extremely helpful, it’s also killed any chance of their being any mystery about the games we play. Back in the day, the only way to find out what you wanted to know about a game was to track down something in print or turn to your friends for help, which helped form something of a mythology around certain games.
Remember the Missingno glitch and infinite rare candy exploits from the original Pokemon games? That stuff was schoolyard legend and at the time, I wasn’t even sure if it was true since I never quite worked out how to do either thing … but it was still cool even thinking these things were possible. Would I want to go back to a time where being stuck on a boss probably meant I was never going to defeat it? Probably not, but it still feels like we’ve sacrificed something, however intangible, by being able to reveal all of a game’s secrets in a matter of seconds.
When I say I miss the challenge offered by retro games, I’m not talking about the controller-breaking frustration offered by titles like Battletoads. There’s a difference between games that test your skills and ones that test your sanity but unfortunately, most modern games don’t seem to offer either experience. Admittedly, as games have become more complex, both in terms of design and technologically, it’s become increasingly difficult for developers to find the right balance between tough, but rewarding gameplay and games that aren’t just a cluster of poorly-explained concepts and broken systems.
That being said, the trend now is to artificially increase difficulty by throwing more enemies at the player and increasing the damage they take from said enemies, whereas the challenging games of yesteryear (or at least, the good ones) put faith in the player’s ability to learn and overcome its design, rather than hold their hand through the experience. This helps explain why games like Dark Souls have become so popular in recent years, as these games hearken back to the design philosophies of old and offer players a hefty, but fair challenge.
Arcades are certainly not dead — and in some ways, they’ve been experiencing something of a renaissance in recent years — but they’re nowhere near as prolific as they once were. The rise of home consoles and PC gaming have made arcades obsolete in many ways, but they still offer an experience that I think is valuable and can’t be replicated at home unless you have the means to buy a bunch of arcade cabinets.
While built-in leaderboards have helped replicate the thrill of high score chasing, the fact that they’re online and reflect a global player base means there is little chance of being able to place anywhere near the top of a leaderboard, let alone in the top few hundreds of players. Nothing can beat the rivalries that used to spring up at arcades, as local players battled it out for high score supremacy with nothing but their skills and quarters. Even if you had no interest in shooting for the high score, arcades offered something for every type of gamer, including many experiences that were difficult and expensive to replicate on home consoles, such as light gun games, arcade racers with the steering wheel and foot pedals and of course, pinball machines.
2. Good Licensed Games
Good licensed games are still being made — in fact, one might argue that the modern gaming era has delivered some of the best licensed games ever thanks to the Batman Arkham series — but the overall quality and quantity isn’t what it once was. The SNES era in particular saw a plethora of great games based on existing properties, from quality movie-tie in platformers based on The Lion King and Aladdin, to a ton of Konami-produced beat-em-ups based on franchises like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons.
The Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era in particular was a dark time for movie tie-ins and superhero games, with a ton of forgettable games based on hit movies like Cars and Ice Age to some of the worst Spider-Man games I’ve ever seen (seriously, how has no one bested 2004’s Spider-Man 2 yet?). Fortunately, it looks like publishers are keenly aware of this decline in quality, with Disney in particular taking big steps in recent years to make sure its properties are receiving great games, with top-tier developers like Insomniac hard at work on a new Spider-Man game and Crystal Dynamics (Tomb Raider, Deus Ex) being enlisted to craft a proper Avengers game.
1. Big Jumps In Graphics
Graphical technology is constantly improving, which means we’ll continue to see leaps forward in visuals … but it definitely feels like these jumps are becoming smaller and smaller. Generational leaps between consoles used to be much more exciting because they would come with very noticeable changes in graphics. For instance, the jump to the NES to the SNES was huge because of the move from 8-bit to 16-bit graphics and this became even more substantial with the introduction of the Nintendo 64 and the dawn of 3D game design.
We’re still seeing companies try to trumpet how much more “graphics” they can pump out of their new hardware and why this makes the old hardware obsolete and ugly, but to be honest, a game like Horizon Zero Dawn looks breathtaking on my regular PS4, which makes me question why I would need to upgrade to a Pro at all. Obviously, there are always going to be those gamers who demand nothing but the best hardware, but with it being increasingly difficult for the average consumer to tell much different between the visuals pumping out of a PS3 vs. PS4, I kind of long for the days when a new console launch truly felt like the dawn of a new generation rather than a half step forward.