Seeing all of the Metroid I hate being flung around has put this topic on my mind.
What makes a game age well? What makes a game age poorly? Is nostalgia the biggest factor of your enjoyment of an old title?
Feel free to share any of your experiences. I'll start with one: StarTropics. A very divisive game. Never played it back in the day, bought it on VC. It was clunky by modern standards, but still eminently playable, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. In fact, I found it's lack of mercy to be quite refreshing. That's how most of the games that I was introduced to on the VC feel to me: refreshing. It seems that many of the modern tenets of game design annoy me.
A counter-example: Beyond Oasis. Blech. Interesting in concept. Horrible in execution. Actually, much of the Sega Genesis Collection gave me that impression.
Begin the Segacide!
But first, let's go back to good ol', controversial ol' Metroid 1. When I played that game, it was like a nuclear bomb. Just so fresh and innovative and incredible, and, at the time, I was so receptive to that type of exploratory experience. And, like StarTropics, I feel like the game design generally accounts for those 'antiquated' elements. But maybe it's almost impossible for a new player to appreciate things like the Ice Beam and Morph Ball after the game has had so many sequels.
On the other hand, I got the 3D Classics version of Twinbee, which is significantly more simple than the sequels that I am familiar with. But I can appreciate it for what it is.
So it seems that I am capable of enjoying an old game, as long as the design is solid (or NOT enjoying one, if it's a Sega game). The question is, can I personally overcome the power of nostalgia? I'm trying to think of a game that I loved before, but hate now (or vice versa), and I'm having some difficulty. So either my judgment was always coolly rational, or I can't separate out my happy memories.
How about you guys? What's your take on vintage games?
Let's discuss that enemy respawning thing. That was part of many NES games. Somehow, I don't think it was a programming limitation, since there are obvious ways to avoid it, and showing more enemies is actually more taxing on the hardware. I think it might've been an intentional post-arcade mechanic, to keep things exciting and intense. One which can be annoying in games like Castlevania or Ninja Gaiden, but never bugged me in Metroid.
I really don't think I can talk about Metroid dispassionately, though. I could spin almost all of the 'flaws' that you mentioned in a positive way.
But, yeah, the genre's evolution is an important point. Look at Super Mario Kart. In many ways, it's still an immaculately designed game, perhaps still the best in the series, but the lack of analog control and 3D graphics are a huge barrier.
What about Altered Beast? Was that EVER a good game? Personally, I think it still provides the same stupid fun now that it did then.
Final Fantasy VII hasn't aged well at all. Translation is terrible and the graphics look archaic. Gameplay-wise, it's the same as any old Final Fantasy. The story's still decent. The only thing it added was the CGI (which doesn't look as good on an HD TV). From an artistic standpoint, it's not a very good game anymore.
I'd argue it was never as great as some think in the first place, but that's for another topic.
I too never played StarTropics until it came to the VC, and I agree that it's a lot of fun. Perfect, no, because it's got clunky, grid-based movement (plus it trolls players in the first dungeon area with those potions) but the game is designed for it and still holds up in my opinion. I'm glad we agree on that, Anand.
I'm not sure where else to go with this, since we'll end up going in circles about Metroid.
Donkey Kong Country? That game and its sequels are still excellent. They have a degree of polish and good level design that even modern 2D platformers (say, DKCR) have trouble exceeding, only matching. But then, the genre hasn't seen much evolution in the recent console generations. So many modern 2D platformers are throwbacks to the 8-bit and 16-bit days, which says a lot about how well the platformers of that generation have aged.
I said 'some have said', because I don't personally have strong opinions on all of those games. I never actually played DKC much until the VC, where I beat the first game. It wasn't my favorite thing ever (I probably prefer DKCR by a large margin), but it was decent, with great music.
It's hard to quantify why I like Mario so much better than DKC. Maybe it just comes down to the physics.
@rebonack That might happen in this thread, anyway. The other roundtable that the Metroid discussion inspired was In-Game Maps: An Unnecessary Crutch?
Maybe I'll try that one later.
Making this thread has reminded me that I should really finish off StarTropics. Did you play through the sequel, too?
@Anand I actually never finished StarTropics. I got to chapter 5 or 6 and something distracted me, as often happens. And since I never finished it, I never played the sequel.
I am probably in the camp that prefers DKC Returns over the original trilogy too. I don't hate them, but I agree that they're a bit style over substance. I played them back in the day and I've always kind of liked them, but not as much as most people.
Genius in the game design, mainly. If the game still plays well (SMB, Kirby's Adventure, Sonic 2) then it has aged well. There's also an X-factor in the art design - if the characters and levels feel timeless, then there's more appeal. Some games even have gameplay flaws and still, for me, manage to overcome them with this X-factor (Castlevania, ToeJam and Earl, Ninja Gaiden).
What makes a game age poorly?
Lots of factors, but usually it's stiffness/looseness in control. There's also the inverse of the "timeless character" argument from above. If everything feels stuck in 80s or 90s trends (like, for instance, all those copycat Animals With Attitude games) then any quality of the gameplay might be overwhelmed by those issues. Gex, for instance, is a decently designed game but I just get no pleasure out of it because it's so unappealingly 90s in presentation.
Is nostalgia the biggest factor of your enjoyment of an old title?
Not the biggest, but it's a factor, for sure. I'm unrepentant about that. I can tell the difference between a great game and a flawed one that I still enjoy for personal reasons, but I don't feel that's a problem. There's no requirement that I have acutely sensitive critical faculties whenever I evaluate a game for my own personal enjoyment. Nostalgia can factor in. Who says it can't?
But even with games I didn't play to any significant degree, it's easy for me to accept flaws in old games as experiments that merely failed - if the game makes up for it by being interesting in other ways. That's not a crime against good taste. Take something like Kid Icarus. I adore that game, but I'm very aware of its flaws (lame boss battles, frustrating difficulty curve, etc.). But it was an early NES game and I can easily see where they were trying to do something different with it. I can still respect that to this day. Any scientist will tell you that you have to accept failure as a possibility when you experiment. That's true in game design, too. Sure, Nintendo could have just repackaged Mario platforming a few dozen ways and we'd have a bunch of games we couldn't really criticize. But, then, they'd all play the same way, wouldn't they? Where's the fun in that? So my attitude is, if Kid Icarus or Metroid controls feel stiff nowadays, so be it. They get other things right. And that's enough for me to have a good time when playing them, even in 2011.
I tend to agree. Even the great games from the era have certain issues, but when you get down to the B and C-listers things quickly roll down the hill.
Still, that was a particularly experimental generation - almost like the 2600 era in 3D - so I'm willing to forgive some of it. The fact that I didn't play many games during that generation keeps me from being too forgiving, though. Maybe that's a kind of anti-nostalgia, I don't know.
@Oldmanwinter I think the 3D stuff on the PSOne suffers more than similar games on the N64. Even back in the day, when people complained of blurriness, I far preferred it to nasty jaggies and crawling textures.
Or did you mean in terms of gameplay? I think Nintendo's early forays into 3D remain playable.
@rebonack Yeah, I stopped at about the same place. SPOOKY.
@kriswright Early 3D IS kind of like the 2600 era. Or maybe the Space War era. But the third dimension adds so much slop into the equation. I mean, anyone could make a playable, decent 2D platformer, but it's way harder in 3D. Especially without a blueprint.
I'm not sure that Nintendo's solution to 3D combat was the best, though. Z-Targeting always seemed like a bit of a crutch.
Game that's aged poorly: Pac-man One map? Seriously? I just clear the same maze over and over again? I clear it once or twice and I'm done well before I've run out of lives.
Game that's aged well: Ms. Pac-man Now we're talking. Game changes things up with new maps periodically and the core gameplay is still as solid today as it was when I was a kid. I still pop quarters into these machines when I see them and have time to kill. Never gets old.
@GameDadGrant I still have my Sega Genesis hooked up for one reason - Toe Jam & Earl sits in it almost permanently and I still play and love it along with my kids. Such a fantastic co-op experience and randomized levels keep it fresh and keep you guessing even this long after it's release.
Good game design. There's a reason why Tetris is infinitely replayable, in any form. Because the game design is solid, and doesn't require über-processors to run.
What makes a game age poorly?
Bad game design for sure. Also, era-specific nods and references. This mostly applies to old sports games - those games get dated within a year's time. Sometimes less.
Is nostalgia the biggest factor of your enjoyment of an old title?
Only if I played and enjoyed the game before. Otherwise, no. I've tried a few games from back in the day that I've never played before (thanks, Virtual Console!) and I've enjoyed them immensely. Again, it all comes down to the game design. If a game has a solid foundation, I feel it can stand the test of time.
I thought someone might try to call me out for that.
Look, the thing about ToeJam and Earl that a lot of people seem to miss is that they're deliberate parodies of 80s hip-hop culture. So you can throw that picture up and say "Look how dated they are" but it's like putting up a picture of Austin Powers and calling it dated because he looks like a 60s spy-movie character - it misses the whole point. If you made a parody of 80s hip-hop culture today, it would look almost exactly like ToeJam and Earl. That's why it still works. Timeless may not be the correct word, but it has a bigger appeal outside of the year it was released, that's my point.
Compare that to Gex - my example - and you can see what I mean. Gex is like all the unfunny 90s "sarcastic slacker" tropes rolled into one. He spouts non-sequitur, 90s pop-culture one-liners over and over again. But it isn't a parody of those tropes and it isn't particularly entertaining today. YMMV, of course, but that's how I draw the line.
And I'm not a Genesis-thumping SEGA fanboy, and I'm starting to resent that characterization. I didn't even bring it up. Gui did. How much have I ever talked about SEGA around here?