Saturday, July 28, 2012

Stepping back in time

Maybe it's fatherhood. Maybe it's nostalgia. Maybe it's some sort of innate desire to recapture the glory days of my youth.  I dunno. But whatever it is, something deep down inside has been inspiring me to get my collection of video games back.

We didn't have much in the way of video or computer games when I was a kid, partly because we were too busy playing outside but partly because my parents (wisely) did not allow us to partake in those kinds of electronic distractions.  They encouraged us to build things with Legos, play with rubber band guns in the basement, dig holes in the yard, ride our bikes down to the park, go to the local pool to long as we were home by bedtime the neighborhood was pretty much fair game. It was a great way to grow up, and I hope I can give my son a similar type of childhood too.  As my siblings and I got older, and had something resembling disposable income thanks to paper routes and after-school grocery store jobs, we started to indulge in the electronic entertainment arts a little more.  Over the years we had various incarnations of Nintendo consoles like the Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Super Nintendo (we missed out on the original NES), Nintendo 64, Game Boy Pocket Color, Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Advance SP, and on down the line.  Put together a list of classic games from the early- to mid-90's era, and chances are we owned 'em: Super Mario World, Metroid II, Super Metroid (very close to the top of my list of All Time Favorite Games), Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy III, Super Mario 64, Pilotwings 64, Zelda: Link's Awakening, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Return of the Jedi, F-Zero, and the list goes on.
My first Game Boy was black, and I spent many nights poring over Zelda puzzles on it.
I'm now in my early 30's and still enjoy playing video games when time allows. I've got an Xbox 360 and enjoy games like Gears of War (own and have beaten all 3), SSX, Fallout 3, and recently, Oblivion (I know I'm way behind the times with this, but I missed it years ago and want to play through before I tackle Skyrim).  But still, there's nothing like sitting down at night with a Mountain Dew and some classic SNES games, which brings me clear back to my original point here: lately I have been attempting to rebuild my collection because, over the years, a good deal of my video games have been lost, traded, or (*snif*) sold on eBay.  Thanks to the Virtual Console, this is is much simpler than actually owning a cabinet full of physical video game systems and tracking down all their respective classic games (some of which can be quite expensive nowadays).  We've got a couple thus far, like Super Mario Bros. 3, Ocarina of Time, Sonic the Hedgehog, and most recently, Super Metroid, but one problem with the Virtual Console is the controller.  The standard Wii controller works, but not very well, which makes some of the games like Super Metroid very tricky.  I have an old Gamecube Wavebird controller, but the oddly-shaped buttons make precision maneuvers very tricky to pull off in some of the classic games of yesteryear. The solution? A Classic Controller Pro, which I finally picked up last weekend.
Playing through some of the trickier stages in Super Metroid (can you tell I like this game?) was a breeze with the new controller, though it was a little tricky to get some of the jumps in Super Mario Bros. 3 just right. For some reason, Nintendo configured the Classic Controller Pro such that when playing original NES games, the a/b buttons are actually more difficult to press than on the standard Wii controller.  On the Wii controller, as well as the original NES controller, the a/b buttons are situated right next to each other. But on the Classic Controller Pro they are angled upward, which makes it difficult to pull off maneuvers in which both buttons need to be pressed simultaneously.
On the NES and Wii controllers, it is possible to press the left button (a or 1) with the top of your thumb, and while holding it down rock the joint of your thumb to press down on the right button (b or 2).  This is very handy in the Mario games, where pressing a/1 makes your character run fast enough to get a boost when jumping with the b/2 button.  In those situations, I suppose going back to the Wii controller would probably work but that means adjusting to the Wii's small d-pad and 1/2 (i.e. a/b) buttons.  Still, these minor annoyances pale in comparison to the ability to revisit a vast library of classic games (the Virtual Console is missing some of the great ones, but hopefully one day they will add more) without messing with a pile of dusty cartridges and game systems. I hope my son will one day enjoy playing these old games too, but by the time he's old enough to do that we'll probably have Holodecks and he'll be too busy with Parrises Squares to pay attention to dad's crusty old collection of pixellated games from the stone age. And if that day ever comes, you know where to find me: sipping Mountain Dew while going head-to-head with Ridley.


Ben Rush said...

There is something strangely visceral about it, no?

I remember - many, many years ago - sitting in front of my TV on a rainy, spring morning in May (because that was my birthday) cracking open the Zelda - A Link to the Past for the first time. I had played out the intro video several times in my head that morning (before opening the game up). Those three pieces of the triforce spun around and around, came together, the sword fell through them....I remember it plain as a day...and I just felt happy.

It's strange how these games do that to you; how you remember it so strongly. It was a part of our childhood that I'm sure we'll never forget. Back when games were games not because of their graphics necessarily, but because they were good....damn good.

Thanks Nintendo!

Simon Ringsmuth said...

I'm trying to figure out if my affinity for these older games is due to nostalgia and rose-colored glasses, or if they actually are better. I own an Xbox 360 and enjoy playing modern video games on it (my favorites are the Gears of War series, of which I own and have beaten all three, as well as SSX and Fallout 3) but in playing through some of the old classics it just seems like games back then were superior. The 16-bit era seems to have been the ideal combination of graphics and gameplay. Modern games often put style and graphics over substance, but back then the graphics simply didn't allow for realistic CGI renderings or full-motion video. So a game, and a story, had to be about involving the player through his or her involvement with the on-screen action. Basically, because developers couldn't just fall back on fancy graphics, they had to have good gameplay.

Ben Rush said...

There were a lot of stinkers, too. So perhaps it was a quantity thing: hit enough hits and you'll eventually make a home run. I mean, there were a LOT of crap games.

I don't know. And in some ways I'm not sure I really care to think too deeply about it. I'd rather just play Starfox or Metroid and let the world be simple for a while.

Julie said...

So funny to think about the video games I started out with... Space Invaders on the Atari system! Not to mention Pong. I can only play PC games now ~ trying to work a game controller boggles my brain. ;)