Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Retro game bash: The bad
Yesterday I talked about the high points of the retro game bash. Not everything was hunky dory. Take the food. (Please!) I don't know when it happened, but at some point over the last 10 years I stopped enjoying junk food. It wasn't even a conscious decision. Little by little, things like soda and chips vanished from my diet. Gorging on this crap at the bash came as a shock to the system.
Drinking Mountain Dew was not a pleasant experience, nor was drinking several more, all from the World of Warcraft-themed "Game Fuel" line. Both the cherry-flavored Horde and berry-flavored Alliance varieties are sickly sweet, but you have to give the edge to Alliance because it is a blue color that exists nowhere in nature. It looks like it should be in a beaker in a mad scientist's lab. Plus, I just don't understand why soda has to be high-concept these days. (You even see beer starting to go this way now and again, when "it gets you drunk" ought to be the lynchpin of the whole thing.) But the drinks weren't nearly as bad as the food.
The Doritos "Late Night" line is, frankly, bewildering. What is the difference between tacos at midnight and tacos at another time of day? Has anyone ever gone to Taco Bell at 6 P.M. and thought, well, this is okay, but what it could really use is another six hours sitting out at room temperature? Because that's essentially what "Tacos at Midnight" Doritos taste like. Don't even get me started on the other flavor, "Last Call Jalapeño Poppers." There's no way that's even a thing. I mean, at least people have occasionally eaten tacos at midnight. Nobody has ever rushed the bar at last call for remaindered apps.
Onto the games. I'm not hugely into bigtime retro gaming (i.e., pre-NES), and it didn't take long to remember why. The Intellivision controller is insane. The control pad is a shiny disc, which might lead you to think it rotates. You would be wrong. You press its sides for four- or eight-way controls. I understand that when the Intellivision was released, there was no precedent to draw on for the controller, but they could have done better with a little common sense. Atari's joystick made perfect sense at first glance.
I am not a big fan of the Atari 2600 catalog, though, and it's not hard to remember why. It seemed like every game for that system was a direct clone of something else, usually Space Invaders. Even acknowledged classics like Adventure and Yars' Revenge seem unplayable to my modern sensibilities. They're like cave paintings: obviously important, and fascinating historical artifacts, but I can't engage them on their own level.
Some of the bad games we played weren't surprises. We love Area 51 precisely because of how bad it is. That was the lightgun shooter that used digital photography of costumed actors to depict an alien invasion of the infamous government facility. The pace is slow, the graphics choppy, and the gameplay rote. Enemies all explode in an identical, cartoonish gib animation. The cover art depicts some sort of ghoul in a sleeveless orange jumpsuit brandishing two assault rifles. At one point, an actor playing an ally runs in front of the camera, waves his arm slowly, and shouts "Stay low!" in the least intense tone you can imagine. It is truly terrible. And so awesome.
A couple games, sad to say, have aged terribly. I remember Treasure's Guardian Heroes as an unappreciated classic. It's a sidescrolling fighter with heavy RPG elements and what I remember to be incredible hand-drawn graphics. Today it's a pixelated mess, prone to slowdown, and not very fun. Granted, we were locust-like in our approaches to every game that day, swarming from one to another, but Guardian Heroes didn't hold anybody's attention for very long.
Then, of course, there's GoldenEye. I know I didn't love this game 10 years ago, but today it is beyond bad. Unplayable. With four people playing at once, the frame rate drops to what feels like single digits. Even with two or three players, the low resolution and copious anti-aliasing makes it seem like the part of the eye exam where the doctor is showing you different lenses and you say, "Worse!" But you expect graphics to seem worse years later. What's surprising is how bad the gameplay is.
In GoldenEye, you can't jump. There's no crosshair. The levels are largely flat and nondescript. You can only aim along the y-axis when you're motionless. Firefights are nothing more than players running circles around each other. I know this game deserves a lot of credit for being the first successful console FPS, but we used that logic to determine what's good today, then people would still be riding bicycles with the giant front wheel. Nothing in this game gives me what I want from an FPS.
Tomorrow: The ugly. It will be a shorter post, I promise.