It’s tough to look back on something you love and admit its time has passed. Even if you can see the wrinkles and warts that time has wrought, it’s tempting to think of them as quaint and charming rather than old and obsolete. Separating a thing from the memories it created can be tough - that’s what makes nostalgia such a powerful force. Dangerous, too: some companies are only too happy to prey on affection for the past with cheap cash-ins and shoddy remasters. Facing the fact that childhood exuberance and general naivety were the true causes for your infatuation can be mighty unpleasant, to the point where the ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach often triumphs. We irrational humans like to think our tastes and values are static and consistent from birth to death - how many of you, upon first tasting coffee/alcohol, decided then and there that you would never, ever drink the horrible stuff?
With all the excitement surrounding the recently unveiled Final Fantasy VII Remake - a game I missed at release and subsequently never got into - I’ve been reflecting on some of the games that I hold dear to my heart and wondering how well they’ve weathered the ravages of time. Graphically, the answer’s given, but from a gameplay perspective the question is worth exploring. Here, then, are a selection of my most cherished games with what is hopefully a discriminating assessment of their timelessness sans nostalgia:
(As hard as I’ve tried, nostalgia has surely still crept into my choices below. If you think I’m way off the mark, let me know in the comments!)
Banjo-Kazooie vs Super Mario 64
Banjo-Kazooie holds a very special place in my heart for its colourful, offbeat characters, its vibrant and varied worlds, and its quirky array of upgradeable abilities - Kazooie pooping eggs has to be one of the most memorable moves I’ve ever had the pleasure of executing. That said, there’s a reason the game’s collect-a-thon structure went out of fashion. Unlike Super Mario 64, BK can feel unnecessarily padded at times, and for as fun as the levels are to explore, they lack the masterfully timeless puzzle design of Nintendo’s classic platformer. Even from a visual standpoint, BK looks muddy and flat while SM64 remains surprisingly crisp thanks to Nintendo’s impeccable artistic design. On its own merits, I have to sadly admit BK is a relic of its time.
Star Wars Battlefront II vs Knights of the Old Republic
Battlefront II is a game I had an enormous amount of fun with back on the original Xbox. Featuring massive maps with hundreds of combatants, a wide range of authentic Star Wars vehicles, and even the ability to play as franchise heroes like Yoda, Luke Skywalker, and Darth Vader, it was pure fantasy fulfilment for a kid obsessed with all things Star Wars. Going back to it now, though, is tough. The AI alternates between bullet-sponge idiocy and unfeasible efficiency. Movement and shooting are floaty and lack punch, and there’s a lot of downtime between spawning and getting into battle. Having said all that, I think it still trumps the new Battlefront by a long shot.
In contrast, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic - far and away my favourite Star Wars game of all time - remains a quality RPG to this day. Featuring an original and engaging story that still retained the Star Wars feel, branching dialogue, a paragon/renegade system, and an accessible implementation of RPG mechanics, the game stands out as one of Bioware’s best and is well worth going back to.
GTA 3 vs Simpsons Hit and Run
I don’t think many people would argue that Grand Theft Auto 3 changed the face of gaming upon its release. With a vast open world, an unprecedented amount of player freedom, and a mature tone that sent shockwaves through the public consciousness, the game undeniably deserves its place amongst the most influential games of all time. Separated from its time and place, however, GTA 3 really shows its age. Its world, though open, feels lifeless and empty. Shooting, driving, and flying mechanics all feel like pale imitations of their respective genres - admittedly, their mere existence was impressive enough at the time. The ‘mature’ themes - sex, drugs, and crime - are conveyed with considerable immaturity; curses and casual racism are in abundance, while sex is used for titillation and little else.
On the flip side is a game that at first glance seems like nothing more than a cheap GTA clone with The Simpsons name tacked on. Surprisingly, both now and at the time, Hit and Run is an above-average open-world game that uses its source material for good instead of evil. Classic Simpsons humour is threaded throughout the entire game, with plenty of visual gags for long-time fans to pick up on. Iconic character and locations abound, offering an intimate perspective no Simpsons game has matched since. In fact, the dearth of Simpsons games since Hit and Run is probably part of why it holds up so well; there aren’t too many places to go for your polygonal Springfield fix.
There are plenty more games of yore I want to revisit without my rose-coloured glasses, but I think that’s enough for now. I’m more interested in finding out what games you get the warm and fuzzies for despite the toll time has taken, and what ones you feel remain as compelling now as the day you first played them. Share your reflections in the comments below!