A Look at Five Video Game Franchises: Then and Now


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.


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


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…

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  1. There is an open world mega man for the n64. Its actually pretty good.
    (Mega Man 64 if anyone is wondering)

    There are a couple more 3d ones, but they don’t hold up. Best thing they ever did was throw back with Mega Man 9.

  2. You should research more before writing “historical” articles. Mario Bros did not start out on the Atari, it started as an Arcade game, and had much better graphics than the Atari Port. Also, Mario Bros wasn’t the first game in the Mario Franchise, Mario got his start in Donkey Kong (also an Arcade game) where he was called Jumpman. @Xin, The Atari Game “Jumpman” was stated by the designer to have been inspired by Donkey Kong, but it was not released by Nintendo and is not part of the Mario Franchise.

  3. What Anth means, is that in case you were sleeping through the whole run of the PS1, there was a little series…it was called Mega Man Legends. I think, unless you are quite retarded, that it would easily fit your definition of an “open-world” Mega Man. With just enough RPG elements to make it playable.

    As in, there were people to interact with, currency, shops, and a *GASP!* storyline to be followed. Deep dungeons and upgrades galore, I believe, is pretty much exactly what you’re talking about. If you disagree with this sentiment, then maybe you should explain what you mean, because this is LITERALLY what you’re looking for.

  4. Madden the most well known sports franchise? In the USA perhaps, but I’m pretty sure that in the rest of the world it’ll be either the FIFA games or Pro Evolution Soccer.

    USA!=The World!!

  5. Nice review – only one thing I had to say – you might want to reference “Mario Bros” from either the arcade (the actual original) or from the 8bit NES. The Atari 2600 version is the absolute worst version ever created/ported.

    Also, “Xin” – Jumpman from the C64 has nothing to do with Mario. Jumpman was the name given to “Mario” before he had a name in is actual first video game appearance in Donkey Kong. Man I’m starting to show my age! lol

  6. @Reverend Copernicus

    Yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what I had in mind as far as an open-world Mega Man game. And yes, I was sleeping through the entire PS1 run – never owned one. Thanks for the heads up. Your comment was nearly as helpful as Anth’s.

  7. Ummmm….Metal Gear? From the NES to the PS3?

    I just got MGS4 and couldn’t help but think of MGS for the PS1 or even the original Metal Gear for the NES. But even if you just consider Metal Gear SOLID to be the series in question, there is no doubt that a quantum leap occurred between MGS1 and MGS4.

  8. Love the list, but Metal Gear as someone said deserves honorable mention. Thank you for talking about Metroid. Every Metroid game is phenomenal. Samus rules!

  9. The Famicom Disk System version of Metroid plays identically to the US-released cartridge version, except all the text is in Japanese (obviously) and instead of a password system, it uses a save system like The Legend of Zelda.

    And yeah, Metal Gear’s a pretty good one to point out, especially concerning the differences between the Japanese MSX2 version and the American NES port, the non-canonical Snake’s Revenge NES game and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake for the MSX2.

  10. I would argue that the Mega Man franchise has changed the least, as last year’s Mega Man 9 was deliberately designed to look like the NES games of old. And while both Mega Man and Castlevania have attempted 3D versions, neither series found the shift very popular. We’ll see if Castlevania’s next entry, about which little is known, will be another 3D venture or not.

  11. it would be cool if they made mega man into a first person like they did with samus. the bad thing would be that it is to much like metroid (except for the storyline) think about the differences between the first megaman and the first metroid… not much

  12. Great article, I love most of your stuff and agree 90% of the time =P.

    Posting mainly to say, don’t mind the idiots ravaging your article because you don’t recall or have any knowledge of the most ancient version of super mario (Stone slab version, played with a flat rock, hammer and chisel).

    To those complaining: he isn’t writing an informative article to teach school children, it’s a simple blog, god forbid he doesn’t spend hours researching every last “critical” detail, you’ll live.

    Keep up the good stuff.

  13. @ Noodles

    Thanks a lot, I appreciate the comment. And I don’t mind people who criticize: they either offer helpful suggestions that teach me something or, in the case of the people who just like to call me names or whatever, make me laugh.

    And I think you get the purpose of articles like this: it’s to entertain, not necessarily to educate. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    Thanks for reading.

  14. sonic would be great to see the evolution, even though todays games arent as good as the old sonics, and megaman, spent many hours playing that on the NES

  15. First off…Mario Bros didn’t start ion the 2600. It started in the arcades. Second of all, Jumpman did not evolve into Donkey Kong. The guy who created Jumpman was a fan of Donkey Kong and was trying to write a knock off.

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