Tom Crawley remembers some of his favourite childhood games while asking if they can really stand up to their modern successors.
Every aged gamer is familiar with that warm fuzzy feeling you get when reminiscing about your childhood days spent in front of the TV, controller in hand, beating your favourite video games. Anyone familiar with this knows all too well the utter disappointment when you realise your childhood classics aren’t quite as you remember them. So put down those rose-tinted glasses fan boys and fan girls; do retro games still hold up today?
Designed to mimic the graphics and controls from the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Yacht Club Games’s recent title Shovel Knight achieved success and critical acclaim, selling 180,000 copies within a month of its North American release. This suggests that there’s still some scope for retro games compared to their modern-looking counterparts, but Shovel Knight doesn’t face the same console limitations as the NES games of old. Some critics have simply labelled it as ‘nostalgia-bait’, where a game markets itself on the reputation of classic retro titles.
Thanks to online services such as Nintendo’s eShop and Sony’s PlayStation Store, I was able to play NES classics like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Kirby’s Adventure for the first time as well as replay some of my childhood favourites such as Crash Bandicoot, Tomb Raider and Sonic the Hedgehog. The first obvious difference between these games and modern titles are the graphics. The higher resolution of newer games allows developers to create more immersive environments. That isn’t to say that retro games have poor graphics; Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee still retains some of my favourite visuals in a video game to date.
There’s also a noticeable difference is the high difficulty curve of retro games compared to the hand-holding experienced by today’s younger gamers. I’m sure many of you remember hours spent trying to make that impossible jump or beat a particularly frustrating level – anyone else remember the water temple in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time? There are exceptions to this though, like the Dark Souls series, which is notorious for its intense difficulty. However, I found a lot of the difficulty was down to imprecise controls compared to modern games – a particular problem for 3D platformers from the pre-analogue stick era. Tomb Raider’s clunky controls left Lara Croft with the fluidity of a steel pole compared to her 2013 instalment. During the ‘golden-age’ of platformers, imprecise controls intensified the difficulty of many games at the time, but now present fewer problems in modern platforming titles.
Genres have also evolved differently. While platformers arguably took a hit, the popularity of first-person shooters skyrocketed. Shooters and fighting games have benefitted immensely from the rise of online multiplayer that all retro games lack. In the current age of social gaming, online features downloadable content and day one patches enable connectivity and balancing not seen in retro titles, increasing their replay value and staying power. This can be attributed to the success of long-standing franchises such as the Halo series and Activision’s cash cow, Call of Duty. Retro games can’t stand up to today’s games at all in this aspect, especially considering how extensively online play has driven modern-day gaming.
Ultimately, whether or not retro games can hold up against their modern counterparts without nostalgia boils down to the game itself; I personally found Kirby’s Adventure and Super Mario Bros. 3 to be enjoyable experiences despite both being more than 20 years old. But it’s all too common for many retro titles to age poorly against today’s technology. Whether your favourites stand up well or not, at least you can revel in the fondness of the nostalgia-fuelled memories of your childhood days spent playing them. Unless it’s the water temple. Fuck the water temple.