For those of us who spent their younger years basking in gaming glory, there’s no denying that video gaming left a lasting impression on our lives. Just like we simply became bigger kids through the years, the gaming world evolved in stride. For many reasons, gaming always triggers giddy feelings of nostalgia in the controller-wielding community.
While what’s old may be new again, there will always be gamers who miss the classic, “retro” style of gameplay from years past. We loved those simpler times too! Without further ado, here are five things we miss from video gaming’s golden years:
1) Memorable Soundtracks and 8-Bit Melodies
Pokémon, Pac-Man, and Super Mario – oh my! Every gamer knows that while stunning visuals provide great eye candy, an impressive musical score transforms gameplay from mundane to fully immersive. Despite how graphically rich a title may be, it means little if each scene’s mood isn’t tangibly conveyed to players.
One element retro games always brought to the table was incredible music. If you think back to the classics, soundtracks played a central role in differentiating between stages of the game. One leg of a journey may be tumultuous, another laden with adventure and happiness. No matter what, those song choices set the mood flawlessly. In fact, these playful songs were much simpler in their composition than their modern counterparts, yet easily managed to draw players in. Those are the soundtracks that leave you humming for hours or even days afterwards – bringing a smile to your face, fearful sweat to your brow, or raising goosebumps on your forearms.
To cite one example, the original soundtrack of Super Mario 64 has over 2.5 million views on YouTube. That’s a huge amount of musical admiration to go around, playing a major role in having entire generations of players coming back for more.
2) Local Gaming Was All the Rage
Nowadays, modern video gaming takes place on many platforms: PC, console, and even mobile. Pointing back to Super Mario as an example, Nintendo’s recent release of Super Mario Run for iOS triggered a wave of frustration amongst gamers - for its reliance on an internet connection. Many who awaited its arrival argued that Mario Run’s gameplay had no reason to require online connectivity, marring an anticipated release with disappointment.
However, the vast majority of our favorite retro titles faced no such issues. Out of the box, classic titles could be played exclusively using the console in a fully-featured format (more on that later). What helped make retro games so accessible is that they could be binged virtually anywhere. Whether you plopped down at home or made an excursion to your grandparents’ internet-free dwelling, the game would entertain for hours on end.
As a side benefit, a greater emphasis on local gaming also included better multiplayer options. Maybe you’re raring to fight cooperatively with your group of friends, or complete mini games together – a la Mario Party. In the past, these multiplayer options were more varied, and more plentiful. By contrast, current trends are pushing most multiplayer features online. Even reflecting on the Gameboy Color days, players could connect their devices via cable to enjoy shared features – instead of relying on the airwaves.
3) Simpler Controls
You might have seen this one coming from a mile away. As video games have become increasingly complex, players have relied on confusing button combinations to complete in-game actions. While some developers like Quantic Dream have integrated them well, players are tripping over themselves haphazardly to complete quick time events (QTEs). These contextual controls leave players stumbling to press the correct button and have a knack for inducing fat-fingered reactions. As a result, QTEs are quite polarizing in the gaming world.
In many cases, less is definitely more. The greatest video games ever made thrust players into a fantastic virtual world and focus their attention on the storyline. When games place greater emphasis on button presses over scenery and dialogue, playability takes a major hit. When a game becomes less playable, gamers feel less invested in the outcome.
Understandably, PRESS X + Y seems much more reasonable than PRESS R1 + R2, X, shake the DualShock controller. In many ways, retro games struck a perfect balance of challenge and reward. Rarely did actions require a combination of more than three buttons. Accordingly, button combos tended to be more ergonomic to use.
Think back to enduring classics like Tetris, which relied on the directional pad, or Pokémon Silver, which relied on simple navigation and clear decision making. Such games were joyful to play repeatedly because they didn’t get in their own way. Many of these classic games are still the gold standard by which others are judged today.
4) Troubleshooting Problems Was Easy
If you spent any amount of time around the Nintendo system, then one tip immediately jumps to mind: remove the cartridge and blow on it. For retro games, solving technical problems wasn’t as puzzling as it is now. When most games were played on cartridges, blowing on them to remove stray dirt and dust was a common fix. After reinserting them, your game would roar to life with familiar, almost triumphant music.
Without sounding too “get off my lawn-ish” regarding new technology, electronics have become massively more complex over time. While this allows for richer gameplay, troubleshooting issues has become nothing short of console Operation. Trying to fix issues is like performing intricate surgery, and having more sensitive components means a greater chance for accidental damage. Don’t forget to factor in the time investment, also.
When blowing the cartridge was ineffective, taking a cotton swab or q-tip doused in rubbing alcohol to the connector pins typically solved nagging issues. That’s a far cry from removing a staggering amount of screws and messing around with fragile internals.
5) DLC, What’s That?
After careful deliberation, we saved the best for last – the big kahuna, both the undisputed champion and scourge of the gaming world. Today, gamers must often turn to downloadable content (DLC) to get the most from their favorite titles. This involves a couple of annoying things: increasingly-expensive game purchases, and a growing plague of in-game purchases.
What was purchasing a game like in the era of retro gaming? You would walk into a store, hand the cashier your money, and walk out with the game in your hands. From there, the buying process was complete. Gamers could expect to receive the entire playthrough experience with a standard purchase, without being prompted to buy credits, loot boxes (looking at you, EA), or limited editions.
Consider the Call of Duty series, which requires extra purchases for expanded features like exclusive Nazi Zombie levels and multiplayer maps. Many other games have followed this formula. Retro games, by and large, never relied on these tactics.
Classic games and developers at the time respected the sensibilities and wallets of gamers much more than they do today. Retro games were much fuller-featured and were thus more accessible to players by comparison. We certainly can’t complain about that. A happy gaming community is a loyal gaming community.
Thanks for reading! By no means are modern games poor experiences, but every now and then, we can’t help but turn a fond eye towards the good ole days.