The video game industry has evolved considerably since the days of Pong and Pacman. Square four pixel dots have been replaced by beautifully animated images that look they are pulled from a movie. Memory limits no longer limit you to gaining at most 255 rupees or make the game crash on a specific level. Yet despite the amazing advances in every facet of the video game technology, new does not always mean better. Presented are five reasons that retro video games are better than modern video games.
Originality – New intellectual property is practically extinct in modern games. The hit games from the last decade are almost all sequels, many of which are at least the third game in the series. Games like Grand Theft Auto IV, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Fallout 3 dominate sales. New success stories, like Bioshock or Dragon Age: Origin are few and far between. New intellectual property was simply more prevalent back in the old days of gaming. While many of them spawned sequels, Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog, Pitfall, King’s Quest, Civilization, and Final Fantasy were all new and original games that were just some of the best of a nearly uncountable number of new games. Even more notable, new mechanics or ideas are so rare that when one does come out, like Portal, it becomes an instant hit.
Short Production Times – Speaking of sequels, back in the day, when a game was really good, the sequel was usually no more than a year away. In fact, some games came out so quickly in Japan that U.S. releases ending up skipping sequels due to the delays in localizing the games for U.S. audiences. King’s Quest and Sonic the Hedgehog are great examples of games that produced excellent sequels quickly and regularly. Compare the four Sonic the Hedgehog games all made for the Sega Genesis from 1991 to 1994 to the two Final Fantasy games that have been published for the PS3 during a six year stretch of time. Long production times are a bane to gamers that enjoy a particular series.
Low Prices – A video game used to cost about $20. For a kid begging for quarters to play Donkey Kong at the local arcade that might as well have been a million dollars. But, for a parent, relative, or friend looking to buy a birthday or holiday gift, that was an almost perfect price point. The $20 bill grandma put inside a birthday card could easily be spent the next day at the local game store. Modern games often cost $50 – $60 and special versions might cost over $100. Even including inflation, the cost of games has simply skyrocketed. Some new downloadable games cost only $10 – $15, but many of these are short and have little replay value. Comparatively, retro games can often be found for $2 – $10 and are almost always longer and, honestly, better games.
DRM – Copyright protection has existed in one form or another since the very creation of home video games. The early consoles all used cartridges, which were essentially impossible to copy. Video games for computers usually required the original disk and would sometimes require cross referencing the instruction manual in order to play the game. But, while these methods of copyright protection could occasionally be a little annoying, they were reasonable and not unduly hindering to the consumer. Modern DRM is an entirely different beast. The worst examples are Blizzard and Ubisoft, companies which create single player games that require an online connection to play. Other games actually add spyware the computers that run them. And some games like Bioshock limit the total number of times the game can ever be installed. Piracy is a problem and it is understandable that game companies are trying to combat it, but the current methods are simply draconian.
Conservation of Resources – If a game isn’t challenging, it isn’t fun. And one of the main ways to make a game challenging is to limit the available resources. One of the best examples of this in a retro game was Wolfenstein 3D. This game had limited ammo and limited health. All health and ammo drops appeared in specific locations and once used up would never return. Compare this to modern first person shooters like Halo or Resistance. Enemy respawn leads to potentially unlimited ammo. Similarly, a few seconds hiding in a corner will fully restore a character’s health bar. Some games, like the original Resident Evil went too far by even limiting the total number times the game could be saved. But for the most part retro games make resource management important while modern games might as well be handing out free items and money around every corner.