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The Road To Retro Gaming Redemption

The Road To Retro Gaming Redemption

I feel like I am the sort of videogame devotee who should be basking daily under the warm, welcoming glow of jaggy, blocky, and ever so colourful retro-shaped pixels. The sort of devotee who loves nothing better than a day spent collecting coins, opening chests and jumping on the heads of my enemies, of which there are many. I mean, I knew the Way of the Exploding Fist like the back of my exploding hand, I was always in Pole Position, and I even had a Jet Set Willy, back when these things were cutting edge!

These and many, many others like them were games that devoured my youth, or at least a substantial portion of it. Once I fired up whichever machine was ruling the day, hours would fall away lost to a history peppered by tinny game music, a million and one deaths, and a million respawns before respawning was even a thing.

No joke, I once poured an entire afternoon into Hungry Horace on the ZX Spectrum. Hours spent seeking the end to a half-decent PAC-MAN clone that seemingly had no end. I mean if it had been Horace Goes Skiing then fair play, but Hungry Horace! Yet there I had sat, transfixed and mildly blissful as the sun gently dipped, then vanished under a starry sky. I mean, I’m guessing it was starry, I hadn’t taken my tired, bloodshot eyes off the screen all day!

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But it was a time when videogames were new and deeply exciting. They were a means to swallow your school dinner money at local arcades, they were rife with opportunity for bragging rights, and they were bursting from every seam with utter joy, escape and abandon. Just the recipe for a kid with a rampant imagination and no real appetite for school dinners. Yet, for whatever reason, and despite an overwhelming love for my hobby, I can’t help but feel consistently underwhelmed by the very same games that once held unlimited magic for me. And, to be honest, it makes me a little sad.

You see, I do love the games that carried me along the glorious path from an old Vic 20 to modern age VR. In fact, I absolutely adore most of them. There were games I didn’t ever get off the first level that I still remember with a furious fondness. There were games so hard they would make Vinnie Jones’ knees tremble that still give me a glow when they emerge through the mists of time, and even games that were simply a wall of adventurous text for me to explore that bring me a smile from time to time.

However, despite still harbouring a longing to return to these titles of old, and living in perpetual hope that I can invoke a similar spirit to the one I enjoyed down the years, I consistently find myself in a state of boredom mere moments after, whatever game in question, bounds onto screen like an old friend, delighted to see me as I hide the fact that I scarcely recognise them anymore. It’s like a reunion where the people I remember filling my life with joy, have aged so terribly they now bring nothing but tarnished memories and bad feeling. And for someone who invested so much into these little nuggets of pleasure, it bothers me considerably.

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And from this bother come the questions. What exactly is it that advocates of retro-gaming are taking from their time playing these older titles? Is it to bathe in the waters of a perceived golden era, or even just a quick splash with one utter gem of a game among the ruins? Is it about escaping to a more innocent time when the games themselves were as simple as our young lives often were? Or, is it that there is still genuine magic residing in the games that I am completely missing? Does it take a certain mindset to truly enjoy a retro-gaming lifestyle? Or is it about building a collection? And on and on the questions go.

I wish I could embrace the games I once loved, but unfortunately, a typical attempt will play out something like this: Insert disc, feel all warm and nostalgic at the title screen and music, begin playing, eject disc in disappointment, write about said disappointment, brace for mockery and wrath.

In an effort to change my mindset and open the door to a new horizon of long-forgotten classics, I scoured the internet and my friends in search of retro gaming fans and the reasons playing older games still light their wick. And there is a wealth of them out there.

Let us start with the big boys. Speaking to the BBC, Iain Simons, director of the National Video Game Arcade in Nottingham, said, “You don't know where you are unless you know where you've been. It's important that just because technology has moved forward, it doesn't necessarily mean that new games are better than old ones."

National Videogame Arcade

This is very true and newer games frequently fail to ignite any spark of excitement in me, but it doesn’t answer my question as to why retro gaming leaves me quite cold where it was once a haven of warm glowy gaming goodness?

He continued, "One of the things we do notice is that a lot of home computer games from the 80s were much harder than the games that kids are playing these days. Kids on school trips get very upset to discover that they can't even beat level one of Donkey Kong!"

Hang on a minute! Hold the joystick! I was one of those kids! And, I am now one of those big kids that still can’t beat the first level on most older games! And by ‘most’, I mean all!

Maybe, this is the answer? Perhaps my youthful patience has dwindled with age whilst my skill-set has remained the same. I do know a five-second YouTube advert has my toes curling where once I would sit through five minutes of my ZX Spectrum screeching at me as a game loaded, in fact, the old speccy didn’t so much load the game as give painful birth to it, but I would sit like the dutiful, concerned, expectant player-to-be. Have I simply become a player seeking a more gentle ride through the game, than one who is willing to die, and die again, when battling through level one?

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But I must dig deeper, I must try to find out more about what makes these games tick decades after they first landed. It must be that time of day when I bother my good retro-gaming infused friends.

Next stop, Llewellyn Care, part man, part golden age of gaming machine, and owner of a serious retro collection of consoles and software including such gems as the Super Nintendo, and less glitter filled offerings like the Atari Jaguar. But why Llewellyn, why?
Well, he had a fairly convincing answer, “Retro gaming is more fun and a whole lot more challenging. Some of the games are far superior to the games that are released for the latest consoles, and you just have to love those simple graphics!

You know, I do love those simple graphics, however, this ‘challenge’ thing has surfaced once more. Perhaps it is that I am seeking the easy road to glory? And possibly my only reason for playing continuously back in the day was that there were no alternatives to fill my game-seeking void! I’m beginning to get flashbacks that I spent an awful lot of ten-pence-pieces on 30 seconds of arcade play before the inevitable and glory-free death arrived.

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This is interesting to me. Could I possibly alter my ways and become a more patient gamer willing to give older games a chance? It is nearly Christmas after all and change seemed to work for Scrooge. At least it did when he found out death was the other option.

But I must know more.

My next port of call was to a retro-gamer with little time for the trappings of this modern age razzamatazz. Chloe Jade is a player lost in a retro-shaped landscape of vintage platformers and gaming heroes the likes of which tend to be spurned by today’s bloodthirsty youngsters. She took a break from taking Blinx on a time sweeping adventure to explain the draw of such a seemingly dated means of escape, saying, “I love how straight-forward the older games are, they have traditional levels and for me it makes the experience pretty slick in comparison to the all singing and all dancing games we get today. You also get to enjoy the challenge the game offers instead of having to take the fight online. So, for the retro player, the joy comes from pitting your skills against the game designers themselves which is great.

Now, I hadn’t really thought of taking on the game designers as a part of the challenge, and I quite like that. Not that it will help me in my endeavours to avoid an early level death of course, but at least I might look at things from a different, and more interesting perspective. This could potentially be the ignition to restart my retro-fuelled engine.

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But, if I still needed a nudge over the edge, then retro magician and advocate of the pixelated playground, Charley Dearden, gave me an almighty shove when he told me, “Retro games appeal to me because they are brutally honest and fair. I always preferred one on one competitive gaming or two-player platform beat-em-ups.

The simplicity of these games reflected how it was to grow up in the ’80s and ’90s. No prize for coming last. Game over.

I love that sentiment. It was seemingly a simpler time to be a kid, and it was echoed in our games. Maybe I’ve been missing the point of what it is to go retro all along. Maybe it’s about leaving the trinkets of modern play at the door, and embracing great design and simple action?

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It seems that based upon what I have read, and what I have been told, the key is for me to adopt a more patient approach, to not expect to experience the same thrills that made my soul soar back in the days when Doc Brown’s DeLorean was still in warranty. And I must look beyond the initial hit of nostalgia to what lies beneath games that are considered legendary for reasons so many other players already understand, and that I shall seek out. And by the end of my journey if all I leave with is some new found patience and the ability to sit through a five-second YouTube advert without wanting to put my own head through the window, then it will have been worth it. Level two, here I come!

However, as I prepare to embark upon this trip, I remain curious. Are you a retro-gaming monster? Do you have a taste for the glorious past and its pixelated trappings? And if so, what exactly is it that you love about games gone by? I’d love to know.

Neil Bason

Neil Bason

Staff Writer

Embracing all the good stuff that keeps his nerd heart beating like a Pixies bassline.

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