Sunday, 16 June 2013

A Love of Retro Games Consoles

Recently we’ve had announcements about the next generation of games consoles. Nintendo’s Wii U is already kicking about, and we now have some details about Microsoft’s XBox One, and Sony’s PlayStation 4. Whilst I do like video games (although I don’t have much time to play them these days) I struggle to get excited about these new consoles. For me, the golden age of video games was in the past.

When looking at a video game, many people will comment on how good the graphics are, and how good the music and sound in the game is. But for me, I’m not so fussed about that. All I care about is gameplay. A game can look and sound as bad as it likes, as long as it has plays well. I buy video games to enjoy playing games. And many of the games I have for retro consoles have huge amounts of gameplay, and are just as enjoyable to play today as they were when they first came out.

I have quite a lot of games consoles, namely:

  • Sega Master System II
  • Sega Megadrive
  • SNES (I have both a US and a UK SNES)
  • Panasonic 3DO
  • Nintendo 64
  • PlayStation
  • PlayStation 2
  • PlayStation 3
  • GameBoy Light (this is like a GameBoy Pocket, but has a backlight – was only ever released in Japan)
  • Super GameBoy (plugs into a SNES and allows you to play GameBoy games on a TV screen)
  • GameBoy Colour
  • Nintendo DS Lite (which also allows me to play GameBoy Advance games)
  • PlayStation Portable

Just some of my games consoles

I could go on to list all of the games that I have for them, but that would take far too long – just let me assure you that it is a lot.

Of all these consoles, my favourite by far is the SNES.

My US SNES with a Super GameBoy plugged into it

(By the way, I prefer the US SNES to the UK one – without going into too much technical detail, the US SNES runs faster than a UK SNES, which is necessary for some games that were only released in North America, and it also runs with a full 4:3 picture, unlike the UK SNES which had a letterboxed 4:3 picture.)

The SNES had some fantastic games on it. One of the first games that came out at launch was Super Mario World, a platformer that is still fun to play today. Super Mario Kart is another great game – iterations of it are still being made today, but the original is still just as fun to play. Super Metroid was another fantastic game which is different from everything else that I’ve played – it was a non-linear and very atmospheric platformer.

Axelay was an early shoot-em-up, which, unusually, alternated between vertical and side scrolling levels. Gradius III was a popular side scrolling shoot-em-up, which even had a parody made of it, called Parodius, which is just bonkers!

Other games that stand out are Zombies Ate My Neighbours, F-Zero, Contra 3 (a.k.a. Super Probotector), the Super Bomberman series (in my opinion, these are the best multi-player games ever), Starfox (a.k.a. Starwing), and the various permutations of Street Fighter II.

And this is all before we get to my favourite genre, the Role Playing Games (RPGs). These were adventure games which told a story, and could take as much as 50 hours of gameplay to complete. The first of these I ever played was Soul Blazer, where the souls of everyone in the game’s world had been sold to an evil being called Deathtoll, and where you were sent by the Master (who was effectively God) to go and save everyone. It’s a simple little game, but it got me hooked, and still remains as one of my favourites.

Other RPGs that stand out for me are Secret of Mana which was an expansive action RPG, Mystic Quest Legend (a.k.a. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest) which was the first turn-based RPG I’d played, Illusion of Gaia (a.k.a. Illusion of Time), Super Mario RPG, Chrono Trigger, and Breath of Fire.

And then, of course, there is the Final Fantasy series, arguably the greatest series of RPGs ever. The fourth, fifth, and sixth instalments were all originally made for the SNES, and, for me, they were the high point for the series. (Most people will enthuse about Final Fantasy VII, claiming that it is the best in the series. Whilst I think it is great, I’d rate Final Fantasy VI over it any day.)

It has largely been the Final Fantasy series that has kept me buying games consoles. I bought a PlayStation so that I could play Final Fantasy VII, I bought a PlayStation 2 so that I could play Final Fantasy X, and I bought a PlayStation 3 so that I could play Final Fantasy XIII. And I will eventually be buying a PlayStation 4 so that I will be able to play Final Fantasy XV.

Whilst I really hope that Final Fantasy XV will be good, later games in the series have been disappointing, either for being far too easy (Final Fantasy IX and Final Fantasy XII), or far too linear (Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XIII). The problem, for me, with Final Fantasy XIII is that it was trying to be far too cinematic. You had to go in a straight line in the game in order for it to tell its story, and you rarely got the chance to branch out and explore the world. And whilst it had impressive fast-paced battles, a lot of the strategic thinking was removed – you only got to directly control one character, as opposed to all of the characters in the party (the same was true of Final Fantasy XII).

In many modern games, with new consoles being able to produce better and faster graphics, people who make games are often focussed on how good the game looks, but I feel that sometimes too much emphasis is placed on this. When playing a game I prefer a 2D to a 3D environment – for the games that I like to play I feel that the games are more enjoyable to play with the mechanics that a 2D environment offers. For example, if I’m making my way through a maze in an RPG it’s easier for me to keep track of where I’ve been in a 2D environment – I can map it in my head easier.

I would love to see more games that used a 2D environment, and were just as fun and enjoyable to play as the old SNES games were. I’m personally not that fussed about gorgeous 3D environments. Good 2D environments can still be produced on modern consoles, and better than what the SNES could do – I’d love to play a RPG that had 2D graphics, but which were detailed and in HD (perhaps in an anime style).

Another factor of modern consoles that I don’t like is that they’re moving too far away from what I think a games console should be. For me, a games console should be something where you can just plug a game into it (or insert a disc), and get on and play the game – no hassle, no fuss. I don’t want to have to install anything. I don’t want to have to download anything. I just want to play games! I don’t like it when games consoles start becoming too much like PCs. Microsoft’s XBox One is certainly guilty of this – in order to use it you have to connect to internet at least once per day, you have to validate games before you can play them, and there are restrictions on who you can sell used games to. This is not what a games console should be! (Microsoft have received a lot of criticism for this. Sony have announced that they’re PS4 won’t have any of this – you will be able to just buy games and play them on it, without ever having to go on the internet. This has won Sony a lot of favour in the video games world.)

Retro consoles, of course, didn’t have these problems. With my SNES I can just plug a game in, and get playing. (And, unlike modern disc-based consoles, there are no loading times!) Whilst I will be buying a PlayStation 4 so that I can play Final Fantasy XV, and will probably try other games on there as well, the SNES will always be my favourite console, and I’m sure that I will still be playing games on it for many decades to come.

Next Week: Koyaanisqatsi


Brad said...

The SNES is a damn fine console and it's one of the biggest regrets of my life that I never had one as a kid.

I know, first world problems, right?

Still, these days many of the greats have been rereleased on the GBA/DS/Wii shop, so all is not lost.

Karl S. Green said...

Yes, it's good that many of the greats have been re-released on newer systems! (Although, there may be *ahem* nefarious ways of playing old SNES games on a PC, not that I, erm, know anything about that...)