Time and time again, I see people lauding the likes of Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time as the two best games of all time. Being a PlayStation-only user for most of my life (I’ve had an N64 ever since they could be bought for £10 at car boot sales, and now having a full time job and a steady flow of money I’m finally able to whore myself to all of the new consoles the minute they’re launched), I didn’t get to play either of these titles until long after their initial release. I just don’t get how they could be considered the best. I pretty much despise the camera in both games, and they can seem slow and glitchy to me at times. Sure, they’re not bad by any admission, but the best? Meh!
However, the moment I think about PS1 games, or even SNES games, they suddenly seem so much better to me. The thing is – are they? Are they fundamentally better, or is my brain just jaded with time and memories? While there are some games (Ape Escape and Spyro both spring to mind) that I can still today play and love – and I got Ape Escape relatively late, a year or so after I got my first PlayStation 2 – others, when I replay them expecting a blast back to the wonderful past, I just get hit with a wave of old, outdated gameplay and flaws aplenty.
Crash Bandicoot is one of these. I’m far too used to being able to control the camera in games with the right analogue stick – it’s intuitive and works fantastically. In the days of PS1, not everyone had a controller with analogue sticks. In place, L2 and R2 turned the camera left and right – fiddly as all hell. But Crash Bandicoot took it one further – you could control the camera in the same way you can control an avalanche. That is, you can’t. The camera is fixed to follow the level route, a claustrophobic, linear path. What makes the game (almost) unplayable for me nowadays is that judging where you’re going to land is an absolute bitch. And the games demand you hop carefully across tiny platforms even in the first set of five levels. As with Mario 64 and OoT, it’s not a bad game to this day. It’s just aged and flawed.
Some games have it even worse. One of the first games I played for PS1 was called Mr Domino (or something like that). I doubt I’d touched the game since the 20th century until I rebought it off eBay a few months ago. What I got was a very, very, very bad game that bore no resemblance to my fond, happy memories, and went so far as to take a big, domino-shaped shit on them.
The thing is though, some games have aged incredibly well. I only recently got to play through more than just the demo of PS1 game Tombi, as it’s expensive as heck to get a hold of. But it’s amazing. It’s original, it’s a side scroller so it’s not plagued with all the problems games attempting 3D for the first proper time had, and it’s funny and cute as heck. It’s not just PlayStation either – games like Super Smash Bros and Mario Kart 64 on Nintendo 64, and any highly rated 2D platformer on NES, SNES, Master System and Megadrive/Genesis, are still fantastic fun (though also pretty difficult, and old platformers’ tendency to destroy your progress when you run out of lives makes me angry).
Happens with other media as well. Think back to whatever children’s TV programmes you watched as a youngster. For me, that’s shows like Budgie the Little Helicopter, Finders Keepers, Art Attack, SMart, Alphabet Castle, Playbus, ZZZap!, Fun House, I could go on all goddamn day. I recently watched an old episode of Budgie, and yep – childish, godawful writing and storyline, bad voice acting, and the animation was cheaply done too. Yet it was my favourite TV programme 15 years ago. And think what you will of the music you grew up with – if someone released a song today that was as any ’80s or ’90s song would go, today it would be laughed right off the charts by today’s artists.
So is nostalgia a good thing? It depends. Its problem is that it lures you into revisiting memories, which can sometimes bring up fond results, but can also sometimes irrepairably break said memories. Mind you, without it, we’d all be into rap right now. And that would suck.