Five Things We Can Learn from Retro Classics

Passionate groups are making retro games better than they ever were. PHOTO: Freepik Passionate groups are making retro games better than they ever were. PHOTO: Freepik
<center>Passionate groups are making retro games better than they ever were. PHOTO: Freepik</center>

The latest Timesplitters game has been canned by Embracer. That is terrible, terrible news. Not only because it’s yet another embracer fumble costing people their livelihoods — although that’s the main one — but also because it was a chance to learn from one of the classic retro franchises.

There are a lot of design decisions from the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 eras that just don’t exist anymore. Some aren’t missed. Quality of life features are better than they ever were, and playing is easier because of it.

But others are just common sense things that have fallen by the wayside. Usually, this isn’t because they’re bad, but because they don’t gel with modern sensibilities or expectations.


For passionate gamers, retro games are always worth checking out. Like watching classic films or books, you learn to appreciate more about modern titles by looking back at where we came from. There are fan efforts to make things more palatable to modern audiences, such as raytracing, graphic overhauls, and even achievements. Passionate groups are making these games better than they ever were.

And thank goodness they are, because 90 percent of old games aren’t available officially. Publishers can’t only learn from their history, they refuse to even share it.

Big Isn’t Always Better

One of the biggest problems facing modern gaming is that it has lost all sense of scale. It seems publishers are terrified of not appearing big enough, at not justify that $70 price tag. And maybe that’s fair — the reaction to short games used to be violent on social media.

But that’s the wrong attitude all around. The reality is that short games are usually tight games. They usually hit the beats they need to hit, and usually in a far more satisfying way than something that is 30 hours long and set over an entire country.

Scale is impressive when it’s done right. Red Dead Redemption comes to mind. But Metal Gear Solid can be finished in just a few hours. Take out the backtracking (because developers weren’t immune to padding in the 90s either), and it’d be even shorter. And it’s still about the most perfect game ever made.

Graphics Are A Tool

Maybe I’m crazy, but it seems like we used to have more visual variance in mainstream video games. Developers tried different graphical styles to match what they were making. Well, that has gone by the wayside.

Part of that is because the variety in engines has dropped off a cliff. Part of it is because beautiful realistic graphics sell, and gamers have a ridiculously high bar for what registers as beautiful and realistic.

That’s not how it should be. Graphics are a storytelling tool and should be treated as such. When everything looks realistic, nothing stands out except for the next most realistic thing.

And, naturally, with every leap forward, everything else starts looking a little more tired.

Fun is Fun

There are a lot of people clamoring for serious and gritty storytelling, and worlds that look a week away from collapsing. Heavy gameplay is the name of the game, where every action feels weighted.

I’m not wishing for that to disappear. But you know what’s more fun than serious stuff? Fun stuff.

Many games just don’t prioritize fun in the same way anymore, and I respect that. There was a time when building something that was specifically challenging or not immediately entertaining would be met with open-mouthed stares by gaming fans. Now we’ve swung back the other way.

I guess what I’m saying is how happy I am that SEGA is bringing back the likes of Crazy Taxi. And not a moment too soon.

Cheat Codes Aren’t Just Retro

Gather round, children. I shall tell you of the days when magic combinations of buttons would unlock new costumes, characters, and game modes. Almost every game was filled to the brim with these combinations, which we called cheat codes.

But then publishers decided they weren’t making enough money and now cheat codes aren’t a thing anymore.  Those with credit cards on the go can still access some of the content.

The rise of DLC saw cheat codes become obsolete and even frowned upon. And I don’t expect that to change back. But some version of it should come back. Discovering hilarious easter eggs and secrets was part of the joy of playing older games, and it just doesn’t exist in 2023.

Smooth isn’t Always Better

There are a lot of games that feel a little bit too perfect. And I don’t mean they’re fantastic and flawless. I mean they seem to be made by a committee, and by an algorithm. There’s never anything blocking your progress. You’re a superhero, and if you die you’re put right back where you started.

There are exceptions to this one, and I don’t want to be the guy advocating for games that waste your time. But everything feels so polished today. There are no surprises. You follow a waymarker, you fight a boss (spawning outside the arena if you die), you rock some QTEs or watch a cutscene, and then you follow the next waymarker. Anything that could slow you down or impede your maximum enjoyment for even a second is smoothed down to the bone.

And yes, that means there are less moments where you get your ass kicked unfairly. Anybody who played the GTA Trilogy when it was released knows how annoying it is for five guys to simply surround you and there’s nothing you can do about it.

But that was a moment. It was a memory, and it was an unscripted one at that. Was it fun? Hell no. But it didn’t feel overproduced. I felt good about overcoming it — even if it meant breaking the rules somehow. That’s something sorely missing from a lot of mainstream games today.