This post is part of Mashable’s You’re Old Week. Break through the haze of nostalgia with us and see what holds up, what disappoints, and what got better with time.
Video game nostalgia is a tricky thing.
Unlike other media, video games are inextricably tied to the hardware they were developed for, making them harder to get ahold of and harder to appreciate with every passing second.
If you’re feeling nostalgic for a particular game from your childhood or want to dip back into a so-called classic game, it’s not nearly as easy as going back and watching an old movie or TV show. Between the fact that many classic games aren’t available on current, mainstream platforms and they have a hard time holding up to current standards, classic video games are losing their appeal.
The death grip of hardware
As new games come out, they tend to be made for a few platforms, or sometimes exclusive to one platform. A copy of any given game will only work with one platform, and as time goes on it gets harder and harder to find working copies of games and their respective consoles, and even if you do have access to old games and consoles, they can fall into disrepair.
There are classic re-releases like the SNES Classic but if, say, you only want to play a single SNES game, you have to shell out $80 just to play on Nintendo’s official platform.
Some classics are available through modern consoles’ online marketplaces, but there’s no guarantee that the game you want to play will be available on whatever new console you have hooked up to your TV. Although Nintendo has a robust selection of its classic games available through its Virtual Console service, that service isn’t even on the Nintendo Switch yet.
I, for one, put my Wii U in a bag and shoved it in the closet
Sure, Virtual Console is available on Wii U with a great selection of NES, SNES, handheld, and some Nintendo 64 games, but most people put their old consoles to rest after they get the latest one. I, for one, put my Wii U in a bag and shoved it in the closet to make room for the Switch, and any consoles older than that were either sold or given away.
Meanwhile, basically every TV show or movie you’d ever want to watch are readily available on the internet to either watch digitally or buy on DVD or Blu-ray.
To even get on modern platforms, games have to be reworked to work on different hardware, or emulators have to be developed to mimic old operating systems, and not every game is going to get that treatment.
Even if they do, there are a ton of old games that really don’t hold up.
Pitfalls of technological limitations
There’s a reason that video game developers don’t make games look like they used to back in the 80s. Games from that era tend to be… aesthetically unpleasing.
When developers do want that nostalgic feel, they usually don’t go all the way back to 8-bit. When they want pixelated visuals, the games are usually at least 16-bit or higher, and usually have lighting systems and other modern additions that are loads better than what consoles of the time could do.
Look at Pitfall!, a classic and pretty well-respected game for the Atari 2600:
It’s certainly considered one of the “classics,” but to be honest it looks like garbage. Why would someone want to play Pitfall! when they could play something gorgeous like Uncharted or Tomb Raider on a console they might already own.
When you go back and watch a classic, beloved movie like, let’s say, Die Hard, it holds up very well. There was really nothing holding that movie back in 1988. The visuals are still great, the sound is great, and the plot, pacing, and writing is some of the best of all time.
There are a few games worth revisiting from 1988 but for the most part games were extremely limited by the hardware they relied on. Sure, Super Mario Bros. 3 is great, but that game and dozens of others were never able to meet their full potential thanks to the technological limitations that, at the time, felt like ground-breaking innovations.
Dragon Quest III was one of the biggest games of the year in 1988, but compared to modern RPGs, its pacing is agonizing and its visuals are less than appealing. Why would someone born in 2000 spend a few dozen hours playing Dragon Quest III when they could play 2016’s Final Fantasy XV?
Games from that era rarely hold up. Go back and play the Sega Genesis game Ghouls and Ghosts. Compare it to a modern platformer with better collision detection and overall design.
As video game standards have improved over the years, so have our own standards. To go back and forth between a game from 2018 and a game from 1988 can be a difficult and frustrating experience.
Most older games can’t live up to the hype they launched with, and even in the rare case that they do, they can be a pain in the ass to get your hands on. Maybe this is one time we should just embrace the letting go.