8 Reasons Old School Video Games are Just Better

Video Games

Published on June 01, 2016

I grew up in what I feel is truly the golden age of video games. In particular console video games.

It was the post Atari but pre PS2 era where my fondest memories of gaming lye, right in that sweet spot where the games and the technology to play them existed in what I feel is a perfect harmony. The first gaming system I ever owned was the original gameboy. The one with the green, dot matrix display that ran on AA batteries. I soon had a Super Nintendo, then an N64, and actually worked my way backwards eventually acquiring an NES.

In my opinion, the overall quality of games hasn't been as consistent as that time since. Sure, there are gems to be found. Shadow of the Colossus, The Last of Us, GTA & Fallout standout as great games that managed to find balance in a saturated market of demographical sales statistics and huge production budgets. But in general I don't feel truly connected to 90% of the modern games I try.

Here are 8 reasons why I think that may be:

1. Older Games are More Casual

This is not a statement about difficulty, which I will get to, but a statement about the overall framework of older games. For the most part, older games can be played in much shorter bursts than modern ones. I can pick up Zelda or Mario and play it for 20-30 minutes with no problem. Try that with Fallout, and you're lucky to get from one location to the next. This is not to say that you couldn't sit down and play Final Fantasy or Earthbound until 5 in the morning, but you could absolutely play those games in shorter bursts without completely losing track of your progress and how to play the next time you picked up the controller.

2. Older Games are Generally More Challenging

I find it interesting that modern games like Dark Souls use their difficulty as a gimmick. Back in the day, it was assumed that most games were pretty difficult. Dying usually meant something, and often if you died too many times, you'd have to start from the very beginning of the game. There are very few titles now that punish players so wickedly for their failures. I think that this goes beyond the fun factor of the games as well since it teaches players to be more reckless and less precise. Games have become much more passive and less about skill by allowing players to fail indefinitely with little to no repercussions.

3. Graphical Limitations Were a Benefit

I love the 8 bit / 16 bit look of older games. There are some amazing artistic approaches that can be taken when you have to work with pixels, sprites and limited color palettes. It's a really interesting and specific aesthetic. But the fact of the matter is, working within these constraints limits the graphical wow factor you can work into a game. Games now have nearly unlimited graphical capabilities, and too often this becomes a crutch for developers as well as players. I feel like many people will rave about how great a game LOOKS without thinking too deeply about the gameplay. If I just want to look at something neat, well, I'll watch a movie. Older games couldn't rely solely on their graphics, and so had to emphasize gameplay and overall fun factor. In my opinion, this led to more consistency in terms of great games that were actually fun to play.

4. Smaller Budgets, Bigger Ideas!

Because of technological limitations, older games had generally smaller budgets. This meant that if a game didn't sell particularly well, it wasn't as disastrous as if a huge budget game like Call of Duty fails. In turn, these smaller budgets allowed for more innovation and experimentation in terms of story, genre and gameplay. When you look at it in perspective, most of the major franchise games that still exist were initially created around this time. Modern games are much more financially driven which I feel has lead to a ton of unoriginality within the industry.

5. Perfect Timing

I personally feel that the sweet spot in gaming is right around the time of the SNES vs. Sega console wars. At this time, game and console developers had been around just long enough to know what NOT to make, but were still small and nimble enough to take some big risks. This again meant innovative and original games that were truly fun to play.

6. There Was No Other Choice But to Innovate

It's rare these days that a game comes out that isn't a spin on an existing gameplay style or genre. Older games didn't have as much history to build on, and this meant that there often wasn't another option besides creating something completely new. And I'm not talking about the innovation that smaller budgets and graphics allowed, I'm talking about originality from necessity. The fact that developers knew they couldn't keep pumping the exact same game out and stay in business meant that they had no choice but creating completely new ideas and concepts. When Zelda or Metroid were first released, the concepts were mind boggling to some, and created completely new ways to approach gameplay and level design.

7. Cartridges Are Kind of Awesome

Okay, so this is admittedly an opinion, but it must be said. I like cartridges. I know they present myriad technical limitations, but by this point you'll probably note that I don't mind some 16 bit graphics and shitty sound effects. I like cartridges. They have a tangible element that CDs and DVDs don't, and I like that. They're also WAY more durable. Go grab a 30 year old NES cartridge from the pawn shop that someone found jammed in a box in their basement and it will likely still work. The same is unlikely with a CD or DVD.

8. Less Bullshit

I remember when cinematic games first started coming out on the Playstation, I was pretty impressed. Squaresoft in particular had some great titles that used it effectively. But this has gotten more and more out of control over time. I will again try not to condemn ALL modern games for this, as some use it tactfully, but many other games use beautiful cut scenes to make you forget the boring gameplay that led you to that point. Old school games didn't do this. Why? They couldn't. 3D rendered cutscenes weren't possible, once again forcing game designers to focus on story and gameplay. A perfect example of this watering down of games by cinematic sequences is what has happened with the Final Fantasy series over time. Basically, the better the graphics have gotten (since 7 at least) the shittier the games have gotten.

This is of course just my opinion, and I can't emphasize enough that I don't think ALL modern games are bad. I was horribly addicted to Fallout 3 for months, and I'm pretty sure The Last of Us is the first game that actually made me cry. I just wish the video game industry would find a little more balance between its bottom line and innovative roots at times.

Why do you think old games are better?
Why do you think modern games are better?
Am I right or just a dick head?
Leave a comment!

Photos courtesy of: Tyler Einberger

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