Debate of the Day: Were Older Video Games ACTUALLY Better?

So I’ve read Nattyb’s post today about how he yearns for the days of NES and Atari, and it echoes a sentiment I hear a lot that “video games used to be more fun.” Even if I’m of a different generation, I can still think back and say the most fun I’ve had playing video games was as a child with Mortal Kombat on Genesis,Goldeneye 64 and so on.

But is this correct? I propose an alternate theory. Video games used to be more fun because…you were a kid, and back then, everything’s more fun.

Imagine trying to play with action figures now. You could feign punching and kicking for a minute or two, but soon it would feel boring or stupid. But remember doing that when you were a kid? You could have epic battles between superheroes and Ninja Turtles that would last hours, and you did this for YEARS.

The fact is, everything is cooler when you’re a kid, and that’s definitely true of video games. You didn’t have to worry about balancing them with work or a girlfriend, you could just play, and the activity was inherently more relaxing.

But the flipside of this today is that the culture has changed, now with online play, you have to worry about ranking up, so all your other Xbox Live friends think you’re cool, and also trash talking and being trash talked by total strangers who with their ignorance make any game M-rated, so I can see a counterargument there. Simpler can be better.

Though I do think Halo is inherently a “better” game than Pong. It just is. Ask any kid to play a modern title compared with something on Atari, and they will pick the former. Even if it’s their first experience with games, new titles are simple better by definition as the medium has evolved.

The clouds of nostalgia can often cloud our minds, and though we had fun with these systems as a kid , it doesn’t mean things can’t progress. The same is true of movies and TV shows. Try to go back and watch Ren and Stimpy or Rugrats. It’s pure idiocy, and adults back then were shaking their heads at us for watching it, just like we don’t understand our kids’ obsession with Spongebob. But it was cool to us because we were kids, and unfortunately for us, we’ve just grown up and are constantly reminded we’re not supposed to have as much fun anymore.

  • Sam

    I agree with almost everything you said. I watches rugrats the other day and it was still pretty damn good. The biggest difference though is rocko’s modern life, I actually get the jokes now. I had no idea the chokey chicken was supposed to be funny.
    Most older games do suck. But there are some solid gold classics, I’m looking at you super mario bros. 3, that you can still play today and its still awesome.

  • Schiapu

    Exactly that, Nostalgia. Games have evovled way too much and are now more complex and accesible for everyone. If anybody thinks The first mario is better in quality that New. Super Mario Bros., they would be soooo wrong. But it’s just that, it was a different time.

    It’s the same dilemma for movies and tv shows as well. When I was young I loved the Street Fighter movie, cause it was flashy and had van damme kicking ass.

  • Cartman86

    I had more fun with the PSone and PS2 era and it just so happens that was the era where I was 10-18. Nostalgia clouds everything. It doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for some of those older years to have better games, but I would hazard a guess that games these days are just as good. Portal and Bioshock can stand toe to toe easily with classic Mario and Zelda. I’m also of the age where I find Atari games incredibly boring.

  • NY not NYC

    Nostalgia be damned. It’s “been there done that”.

    I remember the first time I played Final Fantasy and everything was new and awesome and I had to memorize stuff. Or the first round of Baldur’s Gate. Now, playing any FF or Neverwinter, I already know the stuff, so there is nothing new. (except for Final Fantasy 6 – destroy the world and start over? Wow that took cajones).

    It is like watching a movie where a friend already told you what happens. Sure, it is a bit different, but you pretty much know where it is going to go and how you are going to get there.

    Is GTA 4 that much better than GTA 2? Or is it just a prettier version with tighter controls? Nothing new, just … fancier.

    Same thing for FPSers. The stealth level. The oops you got caught and we took your guns level. The get out of the building before it explodes level. It’s all been done.

    On a different note, I think this is why my dad hates movies. He’s prolly already seen them all…

    No one gets nostalgic over sports or fighting games, though, or the niche games like Ace Combat or Sim City. Remember Tecmo Bowl? It had 4 plays. 4! Ace Combat keeps turning out good games because it actually finds something new to do once in a while.

    No one sits back and says: oh man Street Fighter 1 was the BOMB. Punch AND kick?! That game was sooooo rad.

  • rutkowskilives

    I actually way prefer the older games, and you can accuse me of nostalgia if you want, but the fact is I can hammer out a fun race on Road Rash III for a quick distraction in my day, but I don’t feel like sitting down to play these so-called “epic” new games for hours at a time.

  • I’m going to go play Shark! Shark!

  • Totally right about how nostalgia colours our perception of the present. I’ve never been a big Tron fan, but I remember seeing the original Tron in theatres as a kid and really enjoying it. I watched it again only a couple of hours before going to see Tron Legacy and lemme tell ya: Tron Legacy is a way better movie. But I’ve heard lots of people complaining about Legacy because it’s not as good as the original. Thing is: if someone who had never seen Tron watched it today and then went out and saw Tron Legacy, there’s no way they’d pick the original over the new one. Tron Legacy is better constructed, has better acting and better special effects – it’s just a better made film. But nostalgia keeps people remembering the experience of seeing the original Tron as a kid and the excitement they felt, so it will always seem better to those people. It’s like Kevin Smith wrote in one of his movies (the title of which escapes me at the moment…I think it was Chasing Amy): nothing will ever live up to the fuzzy memory of your first love.

  • xXburekXx

    i think games are still fun no matter how old, i still play goldeneye, diddy kong racing, starfox 64, donkey kong country, hell i still play pokemon stadium every once in a while

  • William O’Brien

    It’s a give and take. Because of the expectation on modern games to have tremendous graphics and sound, a lot of the development time, budget, and disc space that could be used towards gameplay is spent elsewhere. So you end up with a game like Final Fantasy 13 that looks tremendous but has very limited gameplay compared to other games in the series.

    Of course, when the proper balance is found you get some truly excellent modern games.

  • Buiff

    I completely agree. A lot of hardcore geek gamers claim the games were better when they were kids because of nostalgia, pure and simple.

  • Drester

    You should do a debate about if older animated series were better. Because I really think they where. With:
    The Simpsons
    The Tick
    The Ren and Stimpy Show
    Pinky and the Brain
    In the 2000s:
    Family Guy (1999)
    Futurama (1999)

  • brian

    what do you mean by better
    graphics, gameplay, story
    As a whole neither is better
    there are gems and duds in every generations
    It is not nostalgia, in the same way as cartoons
    cartoons like were aimed at children so of course you
    are not going to enjoy it with an adult perspective
    games of the past can be enjoyed by people of all ages
    It’s also not fair to compare pong to halo because they are
    extremely different where one has a lot more to offer than the other. Are you honestly saying you would rather play luigi’s mansion than super mario bros 3, doom 3 rather golden eye, gran tourismo rather than battletoads

  • tissmekyle

    i was able to play crash bash and starwars battlefront for hours because they were no where near as serious as to days game. not saying i dont with modern one. i just figure todays games are genrally more “serious” then old ones.

  • terrysilver

    I would disagree. Playing games since the atari generation i’ve seen unbelievable improvements from what existed. Most you have covered, but still look at what we have now from what we had then. I remember the frustation that was found in ninja gaiden. Great story at the time, but dying from a bird every time i tried to jump between ledges didn’t make it a great video game. it made it frustrating as hell. I remember complicated passwords and struggling for hours trying to find out the combination of attacks needed to defeat a boss. Think about that. Do you think call of duty would be successful if to defeat the current pmc ceo you had to throw a bomb at its head then shot it with a silver arrow three times. Arbitrary yes, but it does prove a point. Video games are trying to leave the repitition that its ancestors left it. Stortelling exists. Even comparing the story of river city rampage with halo. All you need to know is bad guy kick in head/shoot, but there is a story for halo. If you’re trying to compare them use good examples. A hint Tecmo super bowl and madden. One anybody can play because its simple, and the other is filled with garbage distracting from the game.

  • Mike

    I started with the NES so I guess there is some nestolgia involved but I do believe that the story telling has went down hill. Not since the NES since they usually didn’t have good enough tech in order to tell a story. Instead I think it started going down hill when the MMP’s like Everquest started happening. I think that is when the designers relized that they didn’t need to make good stories anymore as long as they could get people addicted in other ways.

    Also what makes the old games better to me is that the designers actually had to invent the way games happened. Zelda and Mario will always go down as classics because no one had ever even thought of doing things in games like they did.

  • Kyle

    I’ve seen Ad’s for Rugrats and it makes the kids look like they are on crack or something. :p

    That’s besides the point:

    Older games I believe had a (WOW!) feeling that can’t be re-created because they were new to you. Like using the keys to unlock a whole new world.

    I know that’s cliched but hey. They don’t call them oldies but goldies for nothing!

    My genre was the BroderBund/Humongous Entertainment era.

  • Kyle

    Even thouh I suck at platforming I still find the older mario games fun and the post N64 ones sucky just for even looking at them.

    The N64 showed A WHOLE LOTTA potentiol that Nintendo refused to take and they flushed the machine completely down the toilet by blaming their incompentency on Sony or this or that.

    Nintendo needs to learn that creativity starts WITHIN them and outside influences should NEVER stop them from trying.

  • Kyle

    End of line.

  • Percy

    I have to partially agree with you. A lot of older game lovers are bound by a bit of Nostalgia. however, being an old school gamer myself it isn’t all nostalgia. I have everything from a nes to a Wii, PS 1 and 2, and an X-box. I think my biggest differentiation is old school simple complexity vs. newer games Complicated simplicity. older games were simple in game play and abilities but there were lots of things to find and little odds and ends that kept them interesting. more and more modern games tend to focus a lot on How pretty a game looks and How many awesome things you can do in this game till you have overly complicated controls with several abilities that you sit there and go “ooooh” and use every other blue moon.
    a lot of games I sit and go if you spent less time on looks and tweaked the gameplay just a little, and gave me a little mental stimulation this’d be a totally Badass game.
    Although, I do love walking into someone’s college dorm or apartment, see someone get stuck in a game and going “the item you need is over there, and you need to hit that switch” have them ask, “you’ve played this before?” and me reply, “I haven’t a damn clue what this is.”

    yes if for nothing else, old school games made me use my brain far more than modern games do. However, I don’t curse at new games near as much as I do old school games

  • thatotherdude

    its really about how games were made back then.

    no one cared about having killer graphic and the biggest assortment of weapons or any of that stuff. it was ALL about gameplay. they wanted make things fun.

    i’ve said it before and i’ll say it again. all 10 of the top 10 most difficult yet insanely fun games come from older consoles. nearly all of them come from the NES and SNES. maybe a couple from the genesis. even atari.

    that said there are some modern games that blow the gameplay of older games right out of the water.

    1. shadow of the colossus.
    2. red faction
    3. fable
    4. halo 3
    5. elder scrolls IV: oblivion

    i dare you find a single open world RPG from any console before the xbox that can hold a candle to oblivion. it just doesnt exist. a lot of that is because of what the console were capable of, but given that exception i’d have to say the best one would have to be the ocarina of time.(one of, if not THE best game ever, and even it cant stand up to oblivon on sheer gameplay. a lot of its prestige comes from nostalgia.)

    that said, i dare you to find a single modern platformer that can hold its own against super mario world. that damn game just doesnt quit. its just down right fun. bottom line. no matter how many times you beat it, its still fun. the only modern game i can think of would be crash bandicoot: the wrath of cortex. and even its fairly old.

    • baxtus

      Those games have some advantages due to modern technology and storage capacity, but they don’t have the fun of older games

      Games like Unreal Tournament, Perfect Dark, LoZ 1 and 2, etc. are just more fun, even if they don’t have the bells and whistles of modern technology

  • Nytekreepr

    I think the problem with video games today are that if they aren’t mainstream and graphically powered, they are frowned upon. I grew up in the NES and SNES days and think that the best games came out for those two consoles, and here’s why: During those days just about every idea for a game was fresh. Granted there were the more popular games and sequels (I’m looking at you Mario), but the games coming out at the time had never been seen before. That made them so much more fun to play because you were pretty much guaranteed a new experience. Today’s games are so sequel heavy and unoriginal that there is hardly any fun to be had. Now I like blowing up a city as much as the next guy, but doing it game after game, with not much else changing, gets old and repetitive. I still play the oldies (and definitely, goodies) and I still love them as much today as I did when I played them for the first time as a child. My favorite game of all time? Super Mario Bros. 3.

  • James

    the problom with games today is that they worry so much on how they look that they dont care about the gameplay i started playin games during the ps1 and then a few years ago i started payin 50 squid for a game tat although looked great i could finish in half a day even though im not that good so i started playing games on nes snes gameboy and 64 and iv loved them all they might not look great but once you get playing them you dont care because the gameplay is amazing although dont get me wrong there are new games that both look great and play great today that the old ones cant hold a candle to but not enough of them the first thing to consider should always be gameplay then looks otherwise iv just bought a very expensive movie
    p.s fave game super mario bros 3 nes funnest game ever

  • Travis

    Alright, hold on to your pants people. Its about to get bumpy in this comment. I still do watch Ren and Stimpy, and older nick shows such as invader Zim, and so on. It is not a pure nostalgic reason in which i choose to watch these thing, I watch them because there is nothing better to do haha and they still entertain me.
    Now to adress the older video games, I have quite a few rom emulators on my pc ranging from gba to gamecube. So i can play the older titles, I play shining force on my PC all the time. Sure I could torrent the newest titles and play them, and yes some of the new titles are awesome, but most new titles are just over done and reused way to much. Such as war games ( Modern warfare, Black ops, and so on) they are so over used!! Every one is very similar to another shoot, run, shoot, run, shoot, you beat the game!! Its boring. Sure Skyrim was fun, I had a blast playing it, and i still play it! Im not saying that new games are crap, but I am saying that old games hold more of a challenge and more of a not recycle rinse and repeat style to it.

  • embercoral

    @Travis I don’t blame you for watching that stuff. Cartoons of old seem to have much more intelligence to them than the ones of today. What really bugs me is when an older series morphs into something different just because of changing times.

    Case in point, Spongebob Squarepants: When Spongebob first came out, it had a childlike charm to it while also having subtle adult humor. It might not’ve been so out there like Anamaniacs was, but it was still fun to watch. Nowadays, I could care less what season the show’s in. After seasons 3-4, it started to become more adult humor and less childish wonder, and that killed it for me.

    Another good example is Looney Toons. They’re a much older series of cartoons, but somehow they still find their way on TV. I managed to catch a glimpse of the newest adaptation, and I was all WTF. All the main characters and side characters were living in a town of some sort, and not only that, but it was up-to-date with current technology. Everyone had a cell phone, a car, a house, a job, and…and it was just so weird. I remember when Yosemite Sam used to shoot everything to kingdom come with nothing getting in his way (except for Bugs Bunny, obviously). In the episode I saw, Sam had his guns taken away by the town court, and he was trying to get others to sign a petition in order to get them back. Since when did he ever even remotely abide by the laws of…anywhere?

    I guess some series’s (?) just don’t know when to call it quits…

  • baxtus

    Nope, I’ve gone back and played many older games, and they are more fun, even now