What Playing Old Games Can Really Teach Us

SNES Mario WorldI wrote last spring about how I went ahead and bought a used SNES. Sure we’re finally getting into the real meat of the true “next-gen” of games – the new releases look better than they ever have before, and we’re seeing some pretty cool approaches to gameplay too. But I still think that there is a lot of value in going back 20 some years to playing the classics. Some of those games are a bit expensive, so it’s maybe a little slower going if you’re building up multiple collections like I am (Xbox One, SNES and Sega Genesis).

As it stands right now, I still only have three games for the SNES – Super Mario World, Super Metroid and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. For my Genesis, I have a few more, but I find myself playing the SNES way more, thanks to it having an A/V cable input, as opposed to the cable input. I just got Link to the Past, probably two weeks ago, and if I don’t feel like grinding in Destiny, I have a perfect single player experience now to fall back on. This might be a little weird to think – going back to the SNES for a single player game to play, instead of playing one of the new ones like Dying Light, Dragon Age: Inquisition or my Minecraft project. There are a couple aspects to why I do that. Partially, I just get burned out on certain parts of gaming – sometimes it’s shooters, sometimes it’s open-world games; and I look for something distinctly different. In this case, lately I’ve been burned out on grinding in Destiny – I recently hit level 32 on my main character, and just need a break before I start trying to really get my other two characters there. I’ve gotten back into playing Advanced Warfare a little bit, just to fill my liking for a competitive shooter online, but that’s more of a short burst game.

A Link to the Past

For the most part, my experience with the Zelda franchise really picked up with Ocarina of Time on my friends N64. I had played the original game years back, but I was too young to really understand the game’s mechanics and flow – I was more interested in platformers like Mario and Mega Man. And since I never owned a SNES, I never had the chance to play Link to the Past. I had of course always heard that it was considered one of, if not the, best Zelda game. Now that I have a bit more varied knowledge on the series, I feel like I can put my thoughts on it better now. Generally, people point to Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time as the best two. And really, they’re both incredibly similar. I think we’ll save the actual comparison for another day, because where they both really shine is in the same place – design. Both have a very easily identified difficulty curve. The initial dungeons are so much simpler than the later ones – partially because of the increase in amount of items that Link has on hand. There’s not a lot of hand-holding – that’s especially apparent in the Turtle Rock dungeon in Link to the Past. You are immediately faced with an interesting puzzle, which you need to use your new Cane of Somaria from the previous dungeon – but in a way that you didn’t in that dungeon. And unlike what might be the case in modern games, there’s nothing there to hold your hand and tell you what you might better do. It puts the impetus on the player, and as a result, whenever you figure out the puzzles, you feel a lot more prideful than in modern games. The entire success is on your hands and brain.

Mega Man 2 American Box

I don’t think that we necessarily need to completely go back to the old way – that’s the opposite of progress after all. But I do think that there is still a lot that we can learn from looking at the games that we consider classics – and apply those lessons with the new technology and ideas in design we have now. Capcom was on to something with the now cancelled Mega Man Universe – it featured a level editor using assets from Mega Man 2 levels. I think that the upcoming Mario Maker is taking that same idea – letting the devoted fanbase have access to the assets behind the levels, create their own, share them for others to play and let the cream rise to the top. It’s the basis behind Halo’s Forge mode. When you have players who grew up with these design principles, and then you give them the tools to apply them with their own imagination, you can get magic.