It's no secret that nostalgia is in. It's difficult to avoid people wearing t-shirts possessing the mascots of long dormant franchises, food products reverting to old-style packaging, and mere references to the past being an “in” style of entertainment. It's as if ingesting this nostalgia brings us this fuzzy feeling we can't get anywhere else. We're back in our childhood, back in a happy place many of us took for granted, as children naturally do.
And that nostalgic kick is in high gear in many entertainment industries. Film franchises are rebooted and remade with little reservation, which in itself serves to turn a spotlight onto the original films they are rooted in. Hell, Dr. Who is one of the hottest shows on television, and is itself a catalyst of the “revival” machine. It's the “in” thing to bring something back from the dead....no wonder “zombies” are still “in” too.
And the world of video games is far from exempt from this movement. Retro gaming is back in a huge way. Despite being able to pretty much find them on command, Nintendo Entertainment Systems, the video game console once so popular it was believed 1 in every 3 American homes had one, now goes for almost $100 in secondhand stores. That's a third of the price of this generations super-consoles; the PlayStation 4 and X-Box One, despite those systems being unfathomably stronger pieces of technology. And the games on such consoles are not exempt either. You'd think with it being a staple of almost any NES gamer's repertoire, Super Mario Bros. 3 could be found in a store for less than $30. And you'd be right if you stumble across it at a garage sale or thrift store, but garage sales and thrift stores aren't typically in the business of cashing their chips on nostalgia.
A very rare & highly-sought NES game, $249.99 for "Panic Restaurant" would now be seen as a bargain.
On top of that, many items try to cash in on this turning back of the clock. I myself am the owner of a Retron 5 video game console, a system that allows the owner to play almost the entire NES, Super Nintendo (SNES), Sega Genesis, Game Boy, and Game Boy Advance lineup (American or Japanese) on a High-Def television with cleaned up graphics and many tuning options to the graphics and sound. There's so many t-shirts and pieces of flair referring back to the older days of gaming, it's impossible to steer away from. Hell, some companies that have nothing to do with gaming are cashing their chips.
And yet, there is an undeniable charm to the games and consoles from this era. Where some see the technical limitations of the time, others saw (and continue to see) a special canvas to paint something only the gaming medium can offer. The simplicity of the graphics and art possessing a style and charm of its own, while still leaving room for the player's imagination to paint its own picture and feel their own emotions. This is something that modern games have a hard time offering. Now, I take nothing away from modern gaming; the graphics of many modern games border on uncanny-valley levels of realism, and the sound is just as likely to set your sound system ablaze as any TV show or Blu-Ray action film in your possession. Yet, sometimes your imagination demands not having the entire picture painted for it. Sometimes, simplicity tells the mood the game wants to portray, and your imagination does the work from there.
The gray and black 9th palace in Legend of Zelda paints a picture less of mystery and more of doom and gloom, telling a player their best just might not be good enough. The music also echos the graphics; a simplistic melody of dark notes that is completely devoid of any measure of hope or victory. Both are simply products of what are simple technologies by today's standards, but were high-tech in 1987, when this game was released in the United States in all its gold-cartridge glory. However, one of the many keys to the games we fondly remember are the ones that used these technological limits as a canvas, and didn't view them as handcuffs. They succeed “because”, not “in spite of”.
The reason for this is because videogames are still in their infancy compared to three forms media that they are often compared to; television, music, and film. Retro videogames come from an age where developers were still trying to figure out exactly how to create the visions they had. There was no "requirement" to how a character could jump, there was no "blueprint" to how the bullets should fly from a blaster. Graphics required a modern-art method of drawing, as drawing anything remotely realistic wasn't an option.
Or maybe my reason for being into retro video games is less influenced by that and just more influenced by nostalgia. I wasn't a good kid in elementary and middle school. I was a pain in the ass of anyone that I interacted with, even my friends at the time would attest to that. I was one of those kids that became obsessed with video games out of wanting an escape. It chilled me out to play something fun, even if I sucked at it or failed and became upset again. That “zone-out” was a therapy that, for better or worse, I felt like I needed.
Regardless, that's the realm I'm in now. I own some older games from my childhood, I own a handful of games I never got around to playing, I even own a small selection of fairly rare games. And even with the prices skyrocketing, it's still quite awesome to be able to pick up 2...3...5...10 games from your childhood at the price of one single modern game.
So this is where we stand as this blog launches; I'm collecting old video games, re-obtaining some games I once had and lost/traded, some I always wanted to give a real shot but never could, and others being strange anomalies that'll be brand new to me.
The current collection.
So the rest of this post will be devoted to the kinds of things I wanna discuss on this blog. When I was learning to write in college and spending a year plugging away at a journalism minor, I was interested in the Top Gear TV show (the U.K.'s original version of it), and how they showed off automobiles with a well-mixed blend of personal account and critical analysis. I'd set my folks' DVR to record it while I was at school during the week, and then watch it on weekends. That's what I'm trying to go after here. Each game will be put in a strong spotlight, where I will discuss my personal experience with the game both in the past, how I obtained it, and my thoughts on the game both at the time of release (when applicable) and how it stands in the current day and age. I want to examine each game, artifact, item, etc. in great detail. I want to break down why a game holds up (or not), how a game uses its technology or gameplay to present things in unique ways, and how well those ideas are executed. It's easy to just say “Mario's music is iconic, the graphics are iconic, blah blah blah”. Go watch a ScrewAttack video or read an IGN article if you want the “what can be said that hasn't”. I'm not in the market of echoing somebody else. Each article will be both a critical review as well as a personal reflection.
I intend on updating every other week, but with a caveat. Oftentimes, I plan on doing multiple-part posts. I plan on keeping posts between 1,500-2,000 words, as I'm afraid any posts going over that would be exhausting to read. When I do these multi-part posts, I will go to a weekly-post schedule; if a post should be split into 3 parts, then it'll be 3 weeks straight of posts followed by a week break.
I don't intend to discuss recent news happenings unless it involves retro games in some way, and even then I don't intend on often making a big hooplah about anything. I am aiming to post every other week (at the moment I'm not sure what the regular schedule of those posts will be, in regards to a specific date and time). However, I want to make these posts substantial in length. I believe I will need the proper amount of space to put each game through the paces I want to put them through.
And each game I play (unless noted) will be played on authentic cartridges and be played “fresh”. I will not be writing these reviews through the rose-tinted glasses of yesteryear, and I vow to try my damnedest to put those shades away as I play each one in the current day-and-age. In fact, in leading up to this blog I dug up a handful of games I owned in an effort to see what games I'd have that would be good to review first. And in playing some of them, I'd naturally make a mental rating of those games. And oftentimes, they would fail to live up to that rating. Suddenly, “Road Rash 2” wasn't a 4-out-of-5 game to me.
I plan on reviewing games on a scale of 1-5 stars in half-intervals (1, 1 ½, 2, 2 ½, etc.). I plan on handing out the extremes in VERY rare instances. For me to give a game 5 stars, I have to finish the game and know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is a 5-star game. If I have to even question whether a game is a 4 ½ or a 5, it's a 4 ½. 4 ½ is still going to go to fantastic games that you owe it to yourself to play. But 5 stars is meant for legendary games, ones whose faults (no game is truly “perfect”) make little-to-no dent in the experience.
Likewise, I intend on doing this with any 1-star games I run into. Even now, I wrack my brain trying to think of what games I own or have even ever played that could be a 1-star game. I used to read reviews often, especially in the Nintendo 64 days and onward. When Superman 64 got no better than 3-out-of-10 across the board (oftentimes much worse), you didn't need to tell me not to play it. I stayed the hell away from it. So even I'm curious as to which games will earn that dubious honor. I've naturally stayed away from games that are often considered “bad”. But if I'm going to do this right, I can't just collect the “fun” stuff. Eventually I'm gonna find a game or a game lot that's got a lot of trash in it. It's only inevitable. And I'm not looking forward to it; I'm not the kind of guy that finds ironic “fun” in bad video games, or even bad films/TV shows for that matter. But it'd be irresponsible to sugar-coat and only cover “the good stuff”. Or else, what's the point? My rating scale would be like Nintendo Power's, where even universally panned games would receive 6s and 7s.
Reviews will not be the only kind of posts I plan on writing. I also plan on doing the occasional piece on random, obscure items within retro gaming. Any idea I come up with and feel I can do justice will get a piece here. I don't wanna spoil a large amount of the plans, but you won't have to wait very long for those pieces.
But until then, I hope you all enjoy the posts and games to come. I know I'm gonna enjoy this whole journey.