Weekender: Second time around
Some games age like fine wine, whilst others end up tasting like virtual vinegar.
A couple of weeks ago I downloaded the Sega Mega Drive collection to my PS Vita. It cost a pittance and included in the package was a selection of classic games spanning from the late-80s to the mid-90s. Sonic the Hedgehog (1991), Altered Beast (1989), Ecco the Dolphin (1993), VectorMan (1995), Phantasy Star IV (1994), Golden Axe (1989), Columns (1990) and Virtua Fighter 2 (1996) are just a few of the names that will be easily recognisable to gamers the world over. In short, it's a collection crammed full with a variety of the quality games that helped Sega give Nintendo a run for their money during the console war of yesteryear.
I try, as often as is possible, to go back and play quality games that I missed the first time around. I also find the experience of replaying games like Sonic is made more pleasurable when done so with access to save features. I've recently finished a few games where completion had eluded me in the past. Finally conquering Sonic 2 (1992) has a provided me with a particular sense of satisfaction. The inclusion of saves made the game so much easier to finish, but finally getting to the end after failing so many times before proved a massive relief.
Playing old Sega games isn't the only retro gaming i've been doing recently. I've also been playing with Mario and Zelda on my 3DS. Ocarina of Time (1998) might not be best suited to playing on a handheld console, but Miyamoto's masterpiece still shines regardless. It's hardly cutting edge any more, but it still retains more charm and personality than most current releases can muster.
Super Mario Land (1989) has also been played in recent weeks. Platform games don't get much more infuriatingly addictive than this. What I love most about it is the weight of the controls; they still feel as robust today as they did when the game was first released on the Gameboy all those years ago. And whilst I'm on the subject of the Gameboy, Tetris (1989) needs a mention.
It's the puzzle game that has accompanied me throughout my life. I've had it on consoles, handhelds, computers, phones and on LCD devices. I've probably put in more hours here than on any other game. Ever. Even Halo (and those who know me will find that hard to believe, but it's probably true). It's also been recently downloaded to my 3DS, and likely to prompt a resurgence in the stereoscopic device's usage.
Tetris is fiendish game that punctuates failure with a cheeky little love heart. Sega tried the same trick with Sega Rally (1994), which wraps up failure with a brash and cheesy ‘Game over YEAH'. That humiliating voice-over didn't put me off downloading it to my Xbox recently, and although the Live version has plenty of trimmings added on top, the core experience of the original is in there somewhere if you look, and it's still as exciting as ever.
Sega Rally wasn't the only racer of old that I've been playing lately. I wrote about my recent experiences with the original F-Zero (1990) a couple of weeks ago, and I also had a spin on the Daytona USA (1993) demo the other day. I particularly enjoy the old-school racers, but sadly I never seem to have enough time to play them. Woe is me.
Reading Gillen's recent review of Kinect Star Wars got me thinking about Tie Fighter (1994) and Knights of the Old Republic (2003); two fantastic Star Wars games from a long time ago. Both of which are best played on PC, itself a wonderful source of retro gaming. In recent weeks I've gone back to my desktop and flirted with Quake III Arena (1999), Wolfenstein 3D (1992) and Doom (1993), all classics from a time when id Software were supreme rulers of the FPS genre.
None of the many games I've just mentioned are as hardcore - or as old - as Defender (1980). Age has done nothing to lessen the challenge presented by this arcade favourite. Alien ships search out helpless victims, and it's up to you to take them out before they can. Not only do you not get any points if you fail to save the people dotted across the spartan landscape, but once the aliens have picked them up and taken them to the top of the screen they convert into much faster, much deadlier enemies. No matter how much time I sink into this game, it still kicks my ass.
At the moment I'm suffering from a full on FIFA 12 addiction, and most of my spare time is being invested in the managerial campaign. What I love about retro games is their accessibility; they're very much the epitome of ‘gaming on the go'. They fit nicely in the gaps around the core games (like Call of Duty and FIFA) that take up such a large percentage of the average gamers time. Whilst I might not fancy getting stuck into Skyrim or Mass Effect 3 at the moment, as finding the time to do so would be tricky when already engaged in something as time consuming as a FIFA managerial campaign, playing Columns or Mario for half an hour is a genuine alternative.
Retro games are definitely an acquired taste. You either love em, or can't be arsed. I love them, because for me they form the mortar around which new games can be played and enjoyed. Whether they provide inspiration or distraction, some games are just as good, or even better, when played the second time around.