When you start playing video games as a kid, as I did when I first picked up the NES controller at my cousins’ house, you notice some things about games as you get older. A lot of things have changed: Maybe it’s been the huge advances from 8-bit technology to the glistening graphics we have today, maybe it’s much better gameplay elements, or maybe it’s just nostalgia. Regardless, for every gamer there are some important points of self-discovery that shape perceptions about games in significant ways. Here are some personal milestones for me, as it will.
Playing a game and enjoying it as a kid, then growing up and discovering it’s a turd
Ack, this one has a few immediate standouts. One of my earliest PC games was this stinker:
Ah, Crusaders of Might and Magic. Drake is a young lad whose family is murdered by legions of the evil dead in Medievalville because…I guess his family owed back taxes. This was one of the first games rendered in “full 3D” so it had a lot of hype behind it, and the opening cinematic seemed so badass to an 11-something gamer like me. Of course, it wasn’t until I got older that I noticed certain things. Drake speaks with a hilariously casual tone of voice as he confronts the evil lord who killed his family, his face looks like it’s melting, and combat is so imbalanced and awkward looking that you’d swear the enemies were falling down from exhaustion due to some form of break-dancing.
Quest 64 also deserves mention for this category since I actually managed to finish it, albeit with heavy GameShark usage. This seemed like an epic, heroic, moving tale of a young wizard/sorcerer named Brian who goes on a quest to find his father, stop evil lords, and ultimately confront a giant demon. Later I would realize how silly the story is and how incomprehensibly boring the combat is, even for an old school RPG. Maybe I was just entertained easily as a kid.
The first time you hated a game when all the reviews loved it
At some point in every young gamer’s life, he or she discovers that game reviews are, in fact, opinions, rather than the highest authority. Upon playing this game, a gamer will realize it is perfectly rational to dislike a game when everyone else is heaping praise onto it. What’s my game for this?
Few games induce as much bile in me as Star Wars Galaxies. In a way it’s fitting that this was my introduction to MMORPGs because Star Wars Galaxies was an itemized list of everything wrong with them. Despite the game-breaking glitches, routine server crashes, ludicrous amount of grinding, unintuitive menus and interfaces, and laughably stupid combat reviewers hailed Star Wars Galaxies as the digital Second Coming, assuring reviewers that, in time, it would be a great game as soon as the problems were ironed out. Based on how the user base plummeted, my guess is it didn’t. I consider this retribution for the $50 I would never get back from LucasArts, personally.
Loving a game, then watching it age horribly graphics-wise
There are a lot of PSX/N64 era games that could be hot contenders for this, but for me, there can only be one:
I can’t count how many hours I poured into Goldeneye. Between replaying single player missions over and over again, exploiting cheats and hilarious glitches, and multiplayer with friends, it’s safe to say there are entire days of my life logged into this game. However, as time went on, something was happened to my beloved Goldeneye. As time wore on, the faces of the characters grew more and more pixelated, their faces increasingly less descriptive, and their bodies more awkward and gangly looking. Or was the game itself just looking older? Yes, Goldeneye is one of the most notorious casualties of hindsight, what with the shiny glistening seventh generation graphics we have now. It’s still fun to play in a campy way, but it’ll never quite be the same.
Watching the decline of a beloved game or franchise
This one has less to do with nostalgia and more with watching a good franchise inevitably end, as immortal as it may appear at the time. It might not even be because the games got progressively worse; it could simply be that the developers abandoned it. Speaking of which:
Ah, Tribes. The first Tribes and its sequel, Tribes 2, were no strangers to my computer. The huge, open worlds, vehicles, bases, and ability of flight gave you a lot to do for 1998 and 2001, and what’s more, you could do it all with your friends. These games were a lot of fun and some of the best multiplayer offerings back when PC gaming was soaring high, but after Tribes 2 the series started to weaken. Tribes: Aerial Assault didn’t make nearly the impact that its predecessors had. Tribes: Vengeance was better and even incorporated a single player storyline, but by now the competition had grown severe. 2004 gave us Half-Life 2, Halo 2, Counter-Strike: Source and Unreal Tournament 2004. Ultimately, the developers sadly abandoned the Tribes series, officially concluding it and marking the end of a great series.
Watching a beloved older game turn into a horrible reboot
Let’s conclude this journey down memory lane by coming full circle to today. Every so often a video game developer will attempt to remake or reboot an old franchise. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, and some of them are awful enough to negate every good thing the older, better games had ever done. Case in point?
Sega’s Secret Level team apparently thought it was good idea to turn a classic 2.5D side scrolling series into an aggravating, needlessly hard, flat out boring game. It’s difficult to believe a game about a bikini clad woman riding a fire-breathing dragon on a quest to avenge fallen loved ones by confronting a giant demon could be this dull, but somehow they pulled it off. I haven’t used the term revival because I can’t in good conscious consider this a revival of anything.
So that concludes some critical elements of growing up as a lifelong gamer. I admit to still having some fondness for Quest 64 – the feeling of epic grandeur it held for me as a 10-something year old has been replaced by a campy retro charm that’s hard to overlook. It’s a guilty pleasure, to say the least. That being said, it’s important to not to simply dismiss the bad titles we played as young’uns, no matter how deeply they shame us today. They shaped our perceptions and gave us some entertainment while they lasted, and even bad games have a place in history.