I've been gaming for nearly 20 years. I can still remember the first time I picked up a controller and played the Nintendo Entertainment System. I was six years old, in a basement while my mother had tea with a friend in the kitchen upstairs. I was told to go downstairs and play the Nintendo while they talked about floral wallpaper or how many spoonfuls to sugar would go into their earl-grey tea, or whatever the hell they might have been talking about.
The first game I put into that old NES was The Simpsons: Bart vs. The Space Mutants. Unfortunately, the game wouldn't boot up, and I was not yet familiar with the "blow-into-the-cartridge-and-slap-the-NES-around" method of gameplay as of yet. Looking back, it sure feels like destiny to me.
Who knows if I would be nearly as involved with my favourite hobby today if I had managed to get that awful Simpsons atrocity to function as my first ever video game. Luckily, the second cartridge I tried worked like a charm.
The game was Super Mario Bros.
I was instantly hooked. Unfolding before my very hands and eyes was the future of entertainment, and the future was bright and exciting. Next thing I knew, hours had passed and it was time to go home. I was literally torn from my new friend kicking and screaming. I clutched the controller in my mini-death-grip until it popped out of the console. Clearly this was not my finest childhood moment. I instantly began begging anyone I could to buy me a Nintendo system, and it was two long years before I had one to call my own.
How times have changed.
These days I own every system they are still making games for, and I have access to nearly any game I have even a minute interest in. Gaming has come a long way since I first got that NES and in many ways, has improved for the better. Games are better written, look photo realistic, and provide complex gameplay schemes that can challenge the player in new and exciting ways.
But, there was something magical about a simpler time in gaming. Video games have grown up right alongside me, and it's shocking to think how far both of us have come since that fateful day. Despite all the advancements, the early 90's were an exciting time to be a gamer, and a time period that I am thrilled to have been a part of.
So without further ado, I present to you the top 10 reasons gaming was better in the early ‘90s.
10) Jumping Sound Effects
Unfortunately, as video games have gotten more realistic and complex, those wonderful jumping sound effects seem to have fallen by the wayside. While there is no place for a "BLOING" sound effect in hardcore games like Call of Duty 4 or BioShock, adding the sound effect would add a hilarious throwback to any title. Mario would be proud if Gordon Freeman "bloinged" as he jumped through city 17.
9) No Internet
The internet is one of the most important inventions in human history. The free exchange of information has the power to challenge the biggest dictatorial governments and bring people across the globe closer together. This is even true in gaming, but it's ripple effects aren't universally great.
If you wanted to be a fanboy and express your console preference, you had to do it the old fashioned way. Face to face. I recall actually getting into a fist fight in grade 5 because some kid was claiming that Sonic the Hedgehog was way better than Super Mario World. I wasn't about to stand for that, no sir. For the record, I won the fight, retiring my fighting career an undefeated 1-0.
These days, if you want to express your pompous fanboyism, just head to your nearest forum and flame away. There's no pride, honour, or even good natured fun to these sorts of battles these days. It's just annoying.
8) Multiplayer Meant Actual Human Contact
This is something of an extension of the no internet point.
In the early nineties, playing a multiplayer game meant having a few friends over and actually being social. God forbid these days if a game releases without online multiplayer. Whatever would we do if we actually had to interact with other people?
The best part about "couch multiplayer" is no pre-pubescent jackasses screaming racial slurs into a headset. If anybody on a couch gets out of line, restoring order is only a punch away. The best multiplayer games are always the ones where your friends are around with you. It's why games like Rock Band has been such an unequivocal success lately.
7) Cheating Was Much Harder
If you wanted a walkthrough for a game 15 years ago, you actually had to hope your game was popular enough to warrant a strategy guide or published cheat codes in your favourite gaming magazine.
These days, anybody can just look up an FAQ and cheat their way to victory. Success in the early ‘90s meant you either had the brain power and skill, or you didn't. This leads me to my next point...
6) No Distinction Between Casual and Hardcore
These days, every game that is released falls into one of two camps; easy going casual games or intensely complex hardcore titles. Back then, there were just video games, some were hard, some were not, but all of them used a maximum of six buttons. Today, games use two analog sticks, 14 different buttons, or fancy motion controls. Hand an Xbox 360 controller to a non-gamer and watch them squirm as they try to figure out the frighteningly complex control schemes of modern video games.
Accessibility to gaming is far more limited today because of these control schemes. It's a shame, because a major stumbling block towards mainstream acceptance of our favourite pastime are these controls. The Wii is helping put things back on track, but more (or less) is needed.
5) Release Dates Were More Spaced Out
These days, it seems that there's a triple A title being released every week, and it only gets worse during the holiday season.
Maybe it's just the high speed college life and two jobs taking up all my time, but it just seems like there's not enough time to play every great game that gets released. In the Super NES days, I found the time to play through Chrono Trigger a dozen times among many others. I think back to 1994 specifically, and the release dates seemed perfectly spaced out. Mortal Kombat II came out, only to be topped by Super Metroid, which then begat Donkey Kong Country a few months later, only to be taken over by the holiday release of Final Fantasy III. One title at a time was all we needed.
4) A Console and TV is All You Needed
With the exception of Sega's idiotic add-ons to the Sega Genesis, playing games was as easy as finding the closest TV and screwing in the coaxial RF connection to the back of the TV. Then you were off and running to your favourite game worlds.
These days, if you want to experience a Playstation 3, Xbox 360, or PC game to its fullest, you need to spend a year of tuition on hardware alone. Your old 20" Sony Trinitron TV from the 80's won't cut it anymore. These days, you need a high definition display, a surround sound set, wireless controllers, a fancy surge protector/power bar, and in many cases, specialized controllers for games like Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero. Once you have all that hooked up, you have to go into endless settings menus and optimize them to your liking. The days of connecting that simple RF switch are long gone. Simplicity has gone by the wayside in the name of quality.
3) Instead of Being Blockbuster Movies, Games Were Like a Good Book.
I know many will not agree with this one, but it's a point worth making. These days, most games want nothing more than to emulate the bombastic excitement of a Hollywood summer movie.
Sure, the writing quality of those early games were not any higher than your average Curious George book, games still utilized a lot more imagination in the early part of the ‘90s. I still remember looking at well drawn box art for a game and wondering what level it was supposed to represent.
As anyone who has ever blown into a NES cartridge can attest, going through this little pre-game ritual beats the hell out of turning your Xbox 360 on only to encounter that terrifying Red Ring of Death staring you in the face.
Even that unreliable NES would survive my constant brutal physical assaults on the unit until I finally saw that inevitable startup screen. Take it from someone who is currently on their fourth Xbox 360 unit, I would simply kill for the durability of a cartridge based system today. I have washed pants with a DS cartridge in the pocket and it survived without a hitch.
It's a real shame that console reliability has become a relic of a bygone era in gaming. As even the PS3 and Wii have hardware issues of their own, as any google search will attest to. My trusty Super Nintendo keeps right on truckin' though.
1) Gameplay Over Graphics
Going as far back as the days of the Atari 2600, gameplay had to be king, because there simply wasn't enough polygon pushing power to cover up lousy gameplay with spiffy graphics. One game released in the mid-90's started a trend that disappointingly continues to this day.
The game was Rise of the Robots.
Hidden not far below it's glitzy veneer of breathtaking graphics was a simplistic fighting engine that featured the depth of mud puddle and fun factor of a barium enema. The game gathered so much hype on virtue of its phenomenal graphics alone, that the game still made a mint in sales before players realised they had been duped.
These days, graphics, audio, and cinematic techniques can do a better job of hiding a bad game experience, but that template set forth by Rise of the Robots remains the same. It's the same philosophy behind a McDonald's Big Mac. Give them something pleasing to the senses, and the masses won't realise that there's no nutritional value to what they're eating.
Before Rise of the Robots came out, it was a lot easier to differentiate a bad game from a good one on the virtue of its graphics alone, simply because better graphics was indicative of a higher level of effort on the part of the designers. The best looking games of this era were usually some of the best playing as well. Case in point: Is there an NES game with better graphics than Super Mario 3?
I miss the early 90's. What a time to be a gamer.