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Were Retro Games Actually Better Than the Modern Ones?

August 30th, 2022 by Clark Kent Comments

The saying “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” is something that many people of a certain age say about gaming. Gaming is something that’s evolved so much since its mid-1980s heyday. The reality is that many of us would not recognize what gaming was like for those who were there at the outset. That Renaissance period of gaming spanning 1985 to 1992 covered the inception of Mario and Sonic, who are still completely embedded in popular culture, not least when it comes to the movies. 

And with a new Super Mario Brothers movie coming out next year that remains more than faithful to the original, maybe now it’s time to start looking at the world of retro gaming as something that was far more than what it is now. Were retro games and the retro lifestyle associated with games better? There’s an abundance of online games that people play now. There are major differences between the modern and retro beyond the games themselves, so let’s have a closer look.

Being Rooted to One Place

The fact is that these days we are able to go gaming pretty much wherever we want. While there’s plenty of mobile games that you can use, and as long as you have unlimited data, there are unlimited possibilities, but the accessibility of retro games means you have to stay rooted in one place. Yes, the same still applies to the vast majority of games, but the benefits of retro games in comparison to the modern game is that you had no means of communication with the outside world, unless you wanted to have people come over. 

Retro gaming was a far more communal experience, and now you’ve got the opportunities to communicate with anyone and everyone wherever you want, just over a headset. There are certainly fantastic benefits to this, especially in a post-pandemic world, but if we are looking for the closest relative of retro gaming, it’s the LAN party. A LAN party, where people bring their computers and have a gaming gathering in one place, is something that’s not necessarily a modern phenomenon anymore. You can still find LAN parties if you look hard enough, and there are still many people keeping that flame alive, but retro gaming, where you were rooted in one place, made it a far more intimate experience. 

Whether it was taking it in turns on Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis or having a full player shoot ‘em up on GoldenEye on the N64, the experience was unparalleled, and it’s something that cannot be replicated now.

The Challenges of Retro Games

Modern gamers, in some respects, have it easier. These days, there are opportunities to play a game and swap it out for another one, and there are infinite chances to save your progress. This is something that just didn’t happen with retro games. A game like Super Mario Bros on the NES in 1985 was an event and had far more in common with the arcade machines of the time. 

You invested time and energy to go as far as you could. It was something that played on your mind when you went to sleep at night, because you couldn’t believe that the boss got you like that! You had to learn patterns and you had to gain a deeper understanding of how you can make it to the next level. But once you made it to the next level, you had a whole new selection of challenges to frustrate you. You might have worked all night on your last life to get to the end of level 4, only to find that you were completely wiped out as soon as you hit level 5! 

The challenges in retro gaming made it equally frustrating, but endearing in equal measure. It was something that, in the 90s, was picked up on by Sega. The game Flashback, and many others that followed suit, had passcodes that enabled you to get back to where you were. But a game like Flashback was incredibly complex and would have been impossible for some seasoned professional to do it all in the space of one sitting. 

Retro gaming was something that demanded a unique individual who had the patience and the fortitude to stick it out.

The Charm

One of the reasons many people denigrate retro games is because they look primitive in comparison to now. But the fact is that an 8-bit game is not “inferior” to modern games just because it looks different. That would be like saying that older records or movies are boring because they sound a little crackly or are in black and white. This is a very myopic approach to looking at video games. 

Yes, there are many people that are completely caked in nostalgia and will only opt for retro games because it takes them back to a simpler time. The developers of retro games worked hard to create a story with engaging characters in an amazing environment with a limited palette. This is something that we just can’t appreciate now. 

Resources were limited, and they did their best. We have an industry in the modern day where every permutation is well thought through. Games with characters as deep as even Shakespearean anti-heroes are not uncommon. The range of working roles in the gaming industry, including scriptwriters, is a testament to this, not least the fact that it is an industry that is worth much more than the movie industry. But retro gaming was first and foremost about story and characters: substance over style. This meant that the experience was a far more unique one. The graphics didn’t overwhelm the gaming experience as a whole. 

You can also point toward music as another reason why retro games certainly had their charm. Ask anybody over the age of 35 the theme to the original Super Mario Brothers or the Green Hill Zone music from Sonic 1 and they will tell you instantly because they’ve heard it so much at a formative part of their life, it is embedded in their subconscious. 

We look at the last 12 years or so in the modern gaming world and there have been more soundtracks that have turned people onto amazing artists and there have been songs that took on a life of their own. You don’t have to look far to see the evolution of Sonic the Hedgehog in terms of music with songs like “Reach for the Stars” from Sonic Colors to make the modern gamer fizzle with nostalgia. But this is also down to the business side of gaming. Retro gaming, albeit a money-making machine back then, evoked a primitive time when things weren’t perfect, and the music made it seem like we were discovering a new planet. Now, we just take sophistication for granted. We demand high-level high-quality games instantly, and we quickly complain and blast them on the internet if it doesn’t meet our expectations. 

The fact is that retro gaming is something that is uniquely tied in with nostalgia, because of the entire package: the sounds, the music, the images, and the gameplay. Even the difficulties associated with a game like Super Mario Brothers 2 made people step away for years. Ask anybody over the age of 45 and they might still tell you about how long it took them to complete it. It was a relationship that you had with this game. And it’s not something that we even contemplate now. We pick up and put down games as if they are nothing.

Were Retro Games Better? 

The fact is that there’s a lot we all can benefit from. Retro games didn’t have the modern touch because it was all brand new, but the sheer creativity and resourcefulness forced these developers to find ways to make things far more accessible. There were cheat codes in retro games, but back then you either stumbled upon it by accident or you had to wait for the latest video game magazine to come out. 

Retro gamers had to wait for things far more patiently than now. Yes, modern gaming demands a system update or a game update, which is frustrating, but when you compare this to the amount of time you had to wait for a Commodore 64 to load up, you felt it was completely worth your time playing something that was, at the very most, an average game. 

Retro games had that level of charm, but retro games can also teach us a lot about patience, and developing innate skills that make us far more resourceful as people, but the games were infinitely more challenging, and many people bemoan the fact that modern games are simply not challenging enough. 

If you are looking for an organic and real game experience, it might be time for you to put down your PS5 and venture back to 1985 or 1995. The challenges are something else. If you want to unplug from life and go back to a simpler time, you could benefit from retro gaming.

Usually very busy as, em, professional cos-player but also enjoy putting fingers to buttons from time to time.