It’s incredible how much video games have developed. What started as a couple of dots and bars on a screen has evolved into stories with character development, fully-realized worlds, and eye candy that even the most zealous traditionalists can appreciate. I still like playing old NES and Sega games on emulators, and it’s astounding to think that 8-bit and 16-bit franchises have stayed with us through the years, changing as modern technology allows for more detailed gameplay, yet retaining that certain charm that made the games so endearing in the first place. Here’s a look at five video game franchises; specifically, what they looked like back then, and how they look now:
Mario Bros. started out on the Atari 2600, and for Atari standards, the game looked pretty fresh. Not anymore, though. This archaic game had one screen (e.g., no scrolling), and the only goal was – as was the case in lots of old games – to score a ton of points. That was it. We’ve seen the Mario franchise evolve tremendously, from the NES 8-bit classic Super Mario Bros. all the way to the visually stunning Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii. It’s a safe bet that as Nintendo’s consoles get better and more efficient, so will the Mario Bros. games. Take a look at far the franchise has come by comparing the Atari clip to the one below of Super Mario Galaxy. Wow.
The biggest and most well-known sports game franchise is Madden, and nothing else even comes close. The first Madden games appeared in 1988 and is a far, far cry from what the series has become. In fact, 1988’s John Madden Football featured only six players per team. The game gained popularity in the 90s, becoming more and more like real football, especially in terms of team formations and play calling. It’s to the point now where a Madden game can be overwhelming, what with training camps, free agent signings, and franchise modes of play, not to mention online play. If you’re playing a current Madden game in high definition, there’s a very good chance that you grandfather or great great uncle will think there’s a real-life football game on television. It’s happened to me on several occassions, and I always play along, calling the plays before they happen and then claiming to have clairvoyant abilities. I stopped after my grandpa freaked out and put his shotgun in my face. The above clip is a montage from the 1992 Madden game for the Genesis, and the below clip is from Madden 2009.
The original Metroid for the NES still holds up as a fantastic game, and its non-linear style of play was fresh and innovative at the time of its release in 1987 (although apparently there was also a 1986 version of the game for the Famicom Disk System – does anyone have more details on this?). I’ve confessed my love for all things Samus many times on this site, and as the Metroid franchise evolves, so does our heroine, acquiring new beams and gadgets to help her fight off space pirates and metroids. The series took a drastic turn when Metroid Prime was released for the Gamecube, abandoning the horizontal and vertical third-person scrolling format in favor the first-person shooter format, yet still retaining the labyrinth-like levels and familiarity of little details, like doors like require missles to get through. The above clip is from the 8-bit Metroid for the NES, the below clip is from Metroid Prime 3: Corruption.
Final Fantasy is one of, if not the, most popular console role-playing video games in the world. Published by Square in 1987, Final Fantasy for the NES was an instant classic and to this day remains my favorite RPGs of all time. The battle system, story, characters, and especially the graphics have all improved significantly over the years, and the soundtrack has consistently been terrific. Final Fantasy VII in particular stands out as an incredible gaming experience. Final Fantasy XIII should be released sometime in 2009 (I hope). Viddy the NES original above, and check out an early look at Final Fantasy XIII below.
The Legend of Zelda
Just like with the Mario Bros. series, as long as there’s Nintendo, there will be Zelda games. Released in 1986, The Legend of Zelda for the NES combined role-playing, action, and adventure into a game featuring a vast overworld and maze-like dungeons. The story of Hyrule and the Triforce stuck with gamers and has evolved into a mythology in and of itself. There’s been a Zelda game for every NES console, and in my
humble authoritative opinion, The Ocarina of Time for the N64 is one of the greatest games ever made. See how far Link has come by comparing the above clip of the 8-bit NES version with the below clip of the Wii’s Twighlight Princess. It is so easy to become completely immersed in a Zelda game.
Are there any other series that have evolved so dramatically? Let me know. Castlevania’s come a long way, but the format is largely static. I’d love to see an open-world Mega Man game one of these days, or even an updated version of Kid Icarus…