The Problem With Revisiting Games

There are two situations that make it it painful to go back to an older game: when it's something you only liked because you were a kid and didn't know any better, and when you play a highly praised game.

The first is all about rose-tinted glasses: I know I've had my heart broken by games that defined me as a kid. I've kind of resolved to not dig too far into the things I played when I was younger, even though there's the possibility that it'll still hold up. Partially, I think: why hold on to the nostalgia? And partially it's the exact opposite, the need to keep my memories frozen in amber; perfect. Like how you might maintain your first love as this weird standard even though, looking back, the relationship might've been severely undeveloped and flawed in important ways. In this case, it's more like having the illusion of dungeons that felt like a healthy challenge when you were eight shatter when you're in your 20s and are better equipped to recognise design flaws over cherishing magical moments.

The second painful situation has more to do with having expectations set by reviews and hype all before you touch the game. It's not "revisiting" as in, "a game you played before," but you're not exactly going in fresh, either. This weekend, I sat down and blasted through most of Castle Crashers with a few other friends. I'd never played it before, although it's probably not a stretch to say that the side-scrolling beat 'em up is largely considered one of those "must play" games on XBLA.

I could sit here and write an essay about all the flaws that I saw. I'll summarise by with two points: 1) the game's tendency to devolve into mindless button mashing despite a built-in combo system, and 2) that overall it felt juvenile and uninspired. The specifics here aren't important; I'm sure you've had a situation where you've sat down with a hyped game and didn't get what everyone else saw in it.

So what exactly happened with Castle Crashers, then? Repeatedly, the thing that everyone mentions is the 4 player co-op. At the time — and to some degree, to this day — that's a big feature. People buy games they might otherwise never buy simply because it offers them an easy way to play with friends or loved ones. I can't name how many times I've found myself in a similar situation — it didn't even matter whether I enjoyed the game itself. Sometimes, the game felt fun not because of its design, but simply because I was experiencing it with a friend.

Now that that feature is common, it's illuminating to look back on Castle Crashers and think about what still holds up and what doesn't. It's not like that type of situation is so unique, either — where the mere existence of a feature completely frames how you look at a game, I mean. I think back on the MMO shooter MAG here. Honestly, I can't remember anything about how fun it was to play or how good it was. What I distinctly remember is the sense of excitement at the idea that players could form their own squads, platoons and companies. That players could have a large-scale war against each other, that individual battles meant something for the larger faction. It's wild to think about.

All those features — all those promises, in a way — are things that have situated MAG as a superbly important game for me. I mean, heck, those are the types of features that upcoming big-name shooters hope to get right; MAG, in theory, was ahead of its time. How "right" it got it doesn't matter so much as the fact that it tried. That's what I remember.

Still, I recognise that video game gems that hold up over time are rare. Revisiting an old favourite can be revealing, or it might be heartbreaking. There's only one way to find out. The question is, do you brave breaking those rose-tinted glasses?


The Multiplayer is a weekly column that looks at how people crash into each other while playing games.


Comments

    I recently replayed System Shock 2. I haven't played it since it first came out, and was inspired to after watching VideogamerUK's videos on it. The graphics are so, so terrible, the menu and controls are so overly complicated and clumsy, but... man, it's still an utterly terrific game!!!

      I was trying to explain something to a friend who didn't have a PC for several years, and was referencing something as having elements similar to System Shock 2.

      He'd never played it. We both checked out the Steam store, and looking at the graphics, I realized, "You can't play this. It won't work. You won't 'get it' because you won't be able to get past the graphics and other flaws."

      We were both very sad.

        There are a few mods that can help with that. A hi-res texture pack and the "rebirth" mod in particular.

          Yeah, my brother was mucking around with those a few months ago. But he said they weren't finished and looked like the projects had shut down. Given that I grabbed System Shock2 for a couple bucks on the sale recently myself, I'm tempted to go dig them out and see how much extra life they buy the old girl.

          Quoth the bro: "I wish someone would remake System Shock 2 in HD."
          My response: "They kind of did. Dead Space is basically SS2. Audio logs, upgrading/crafting gear, ammo scarcity (if you up the difficulty), ship taken over by alien infestation, re-purposing human bodies, same basic levels..."
          "Yeah, but Dead Space was less horror, more slasher. Also: No SHODAN."

          He was right. It wasn't really the same.

            Also no moaning voices from enemies you cant see saying stuff like "Your flesh betrays you" in raspy voices.
            SS2 was amazing if you played it at a time when the graphics weren't so outdated. Its sad that the massive resolution increases tend to kill older games like that.

              Yeah, the calls and barks from monkeys and symbiotes and robots was always nerve-wracking in the extreme. You'd check your ammo supplies and weapon condition and try to figure out what you were up against by straining your ears while thinking, "I really don't have the ammo for this," and it was incredibly tense.

              The ambience really sank in. I fired it up the other day and just the main menu low electric buzz was ominous to me. :) S o much association there.

          I've been using those mods for years. I bought System Shock 2 when it first came out. Played it. Loved it. Got a big fright quite a few times. Still love the music.

          But the game is too old. Even for someone like me, who did play the game. Who did love the game, it's hard to go back to it.

          Same with the original Deus Ex. You can slap all the mods on it you like. But it's very, very dated.

          If you didn't experience these games when they were current, then you missed out. But I think their time has long gone. I'm the first to admit that nostalgia is the only reason I still play them. Because I'm remembering how I felt when I was 20. And that's cool.

            Ah System Shock 2. That game is always awesome and even when I know where to go and what to do its still an awesome challenge. Was playing it a few months ago and got caught by a camera near the xray rooms in medsci and had to waste all my ammo on hybrids and monkeys. Then had to spend a while clearing rooms with a wrench.

            As for the mods the high res textures are great but anything to change the look of the models kinda takes away from the original experience. its just as good playing it vanilla.

    I am one of those people that still consider Castle Crashers a must play game on XBL . The Behemoth really brought their A-Game with this title. It didnt need giant explosions or realistic graphics to be enjoyable. It was just plain fun and something everyone could play without being intimidated when playing it with groups of friends.

      Don't you mind ol' Patty H, some/all of her opinions on everything are highly questionable.

      Castle Crashers was pure fun. Great visual style, gameplay that moved too fast to get boring despite being repetitive, and the music was excellent too. One of the best side-scrollers I've ever played.

      Yeah. I still praise it's hassle free drop-in drop-out gameplay. Aside from the LEGO series not many games have that old Player Two Press Start level of simplicity to their multiplayer.

      Me and my friends only picked up Castle crashers on the steam summer sale and have thoroughly enjoyed beating the game but I feel it could do with dlc that isn't just another character but additional worlds/weapons would allow us to look forward to something more.

      My main gripe with the game is it rewards people who just spam melee, I went for the poison (green) knight spent all my points in magic and basicly was out damaged and outsped by my mate who just slashed everything and then took all the coins because I was at the back.

      If it shared out the coins evenly and didn't require everyone to pass around a weapon each time it dropped so everyone unlocks it and had even more levels it would be a 10/10 indy for me

        I think that's the way the game is meant to be played though. Like the old Gauntlet games. You control how it goes so if you want to be selfish and greedy the game lets you. Nothing stops you from communicating with your team mates and saying "Hey guy! Gimme some of dat loot!" Just tell him you won't play with him if he's going to be a coin hog!

      I'm an arcade rat from the 90s and I grew up on side scrolling brawlers, one of my favourite genres ever. I couldn't wait to play castle Crashers. But for some reason it didn't click with me. Dunno why. Maybe it's that a hand controller just isn't the same as the arcade, I dunno really. I just never found the desire to finish it. Shame really, it's got a really nice art style.

    I never played Ocarina of Time despite being a big Zelda fan prior to that, due to not getting a Nintendo 64. A couple of years ago I tried playing it via emulator, with both the "best game ever" and my love of the earlier Zelda games ringing in my ears. I found it so clunky in controls (possibly a function of the emulator rather than having a gamepad, but not a problem I had with other emulated old games) and so slow to get going I abandoned it after about half an hour...

      I enjoyed it back in the day on the N64. my copy failed and so emulated it and it was crap. Got another copy for N64 loved it!
      Controls will always be clunky with only 1 stick to play with however the enjoyable elements are still there.

        Once you get used to the trigger shoulder pad targeting combo it plays pretty well. It's not how we'd do it on an XBOX or PS3, but it's well designed for what it is. It's not like Mega Man Legends of Resident Evil where you go back and realise (control-wise) they were failed experimental versions of what eventually became the standard. I can't even load up Mega Man Legends without getting frustrated. =(

      I was the same - Zelda fan who never had a N64. Playing on an emulator was a disappointing experience. It wasn't until I got it on 3DS that I was able to appreciate how good a game it is.

        Yeah the 3DS does it justice!

        Also I have no idea why people liked Castle Crashers. A four player beat em up is not revolutionary in my book when we were playing these games in Arcades back in the 90s

          The kids never knew the joys of "Elf... needs... food... badly". Arcade-style gameplay is new to players who didn't play in the arcades!

            Good point! That would explain why my kids like it more than me!

    I'm really sick of button mashers, people are button mashers, not games.
    I played through Castle Crashers multiple times with friends, most of whom tend to button mash, and I always kill more, get more exp and die less.

    I have this issue with 2 games currently. Firstly, Final Fantasy 10-2, a game I initially thought was very underrated with some fantastic graphics and smooth cutscenes and a fluid battle system etc I recently borrowed from a friend thinking "I don't need to wait for the HD re-release". How wrong I was, the textures are muddy as hell, loading times are slow and overall, I had to stop playing and will now wait for the re-release.
    The second game is dark souls 2. I understand that it is designed to be an overly hard experience where countless deaths ensue and I went in knowing this, but what I wasn't prepared for was that none of the bosses were difficult by smart design, they were difficult because of bad design decisions, chief of which was telegraphing an attack only to do a full body pivot on one leg to land the attack on you regardless of where you were, secondly, the UI. It reminds me of how terrible borderlands 1 was for UI navigation. Clunky movement, poorly lit areas with too many point lights and not enough ambient light where increasing the brightness merely made the game look washed out, lack of explanation on basic gameplay elements and lack of "clear" information on items and equipment and an imperfect camera.
    I am however persevering and muddling my way through because those aspects I "do" enjoy are worth playing for.

      If you have a fast PC, backup the disc and emulate it. The problem with most of Square Enix's PS2 games (FF X, X-2, XII, KH, KH2) was not the texture quality, but the resolution. Knock that shit up to 1440x1080 (or whatever the 4:3 letterbox in 1080p is) and it looks brilliant, even now. If you're running the backup off a HDD, it's going to be faster than off the DVD.

      I've been running it at 1920x1440 off a 300 MB/s RAID0 volume and it's a great experience. I still have my PS2 and discs here, but the experience on the PC is sooo much better for me.

      With this is mind, my main problem with FFX-2 is the patchy story and horrible fanservice. They both take such a step back from FFX, however I loved the battle/class system. That was awesome.

      Last edited 30/07/13 7:04 pm

        I was actually able to overlook the charlies angels vibe the game had going for it. the combat and class system was great, it was like taking the ideas of the past and bringing it into the new generation without butchering it. I also have it emulated on the PC but the FMVs aren't displaying properly which turns me off a bit (if you know how to fix that, I am open to advice but it does the same thing with 10 as well). FF12 however, works brilliantly with crisp clear graphics and a much more enjoyable experience all round.

          F9 will allow you to switch between Hardware and Software rendering mode. Software fixes the issue for most people, so if you can live with tapping that button when an FMV opens, that should work. :D

          I didn't experience this issue with FFX, however...

    MAG? That's old news... Want the same but more and larger? PlanetSide was a lot earlier to the mix and definitely had everything MAG had + more to an extent. It was super-advanced for its time and it did really well Now that was an MMO-FPS! I constantly went back to PlanetSide 1. Having played that while I was younger on my 56k connection for around 3 months, I couldn't help myself but go back again after I finished High School and had a cable connection, I played for another 6 months! (unprecedented for a guy like me who finishes a game then shelves it)

    Now? I play PlanetSide 2... 6 months and counting and no end in sight. Maybe that's the cure for your MAG blues? Join the NC! :)

    I run a 125-strong outfit! It's not so much the game that's different but its playing the game with all these people and formulating plans and working in Squads, Platoons and in an Outfit (a.k.a. Clan or Guild in other games)... It's definitely an experience that I've never really had from other games, 50% of the fun comes from the people you play with as well!
    https://recruit.soe.com/recruit/smlanding.action?iId=MSYC8BCVT7LHXRZWQGE4&gamecode=PS2

    Last edited 30/07/13 2:28 pm

      Don't listen to this NC scum! Be a part of the Vanu Sovereignty. Nothing named Sovereign based on alien technology has ever been bad.

        Typical Vanoob... If it weren't for your utter co-dependence on "Technology" and your complete disregard and hatred to those who don't, we could be allies fighting against the Elmos, but alas. We must strike you down and march onward to Freedom...

        In reality though, we seriously need some good players on the NC side. We get spanked by TR and VS almost daily! NC = Hard mode people, come play NC!

        Last edited 31/07/13 9:16 am

    My big issue with games like Castle Crashers, Borderlands, ect, is that they are very primarily designed to be enjoyed multiplayer, which can really kill the enjoyment of a game if you're late to the proverbial party. I didn't pick up Borderlands until after all my friends who were playing it had stopped, and trying to convince any of them to play back through the main game, let alone the DLC, was a near impossible task. I had one friend play through it all again with me which was awesome, but I can't help but feel like I missed out on a lot not playing it 4 player.

    Yeah I do this all the time because I'm a collector and have kept all my consoles.

    The biggest "heartbreaker" is easily Super Metroid. Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan is that game boring.

    Daytona USA, Super Punch Out and Donkey Kong Country for me, have held up better than pretty much any other old game out there.

      Daytona USA held up better than Super Metroid? You're crazy! Original Metroid? Yeah that'd be a fair call, but Super Metroid is super.

        Damn straight. There's a game I played on emulator years after playing it back in my SNES days and it totally held up.

      DONKEY KONG COUNTRYYYYYYYY!

      Is a must buy for me when it comes out on wii u.

    I've lucked out with my nostalgia kicks recently. Got a 3DS and the first two games I played were OoT and Link's Awakening. Holy damn, great games.

    Mostly though, nostalgia should be enough. Some things don't hold up, and why take the risk, right?

    Now I want to watch 1990 TMNT (because that one DID hold up, and I have verified that many times) and Super Mario Bros movie (shut up, I still like it).

      1990 TMNT was dark and gritty sort of like Batman Begins. It's a pity that film doesn't get more respect.

        It got a fair bit - it was the highest grossing independent film of all time! :P

        That said, there's always room for more love for that film!
        You gotta know what a crumpet is...

        Last edited 30/07/13 9:59 pm

      Finishing Links Awakening for the first time damn near made me cr-- er... Have a manly welling of near-tears. In a very manly way.

    I recently played Thief for the first time, as my girlfriend owned it (old games collector) and I had heard it was a classic. It was crap, and I stopped after 15 minutes - graphics were terrible but I expected that. What I didn't like was the interface, I realised that newer developers have generally made the game interface a lot better.
    So I loaded up Thief 2 instead and really enjoyed it

    I played FF4 on my Android because people always go on about how amazing FF4 is, and how it's one of the best FF games out there... It's an alright game. Fairly average to be honest. The story is thin, the gameplay is alright at best, the characters coming in and out doesn't exactly help me feel connected to them. I think I felt emotion about... what, 3 times throughout the whole game?

      I must admit I've never heard anyone talk up FF4 as the best. Those of us who played the SNES era of Final Fantasy almost always name FF6 (ok, ok, the guys who loved grinding for job points and messing around with different jobs loved FF5).

        Not the best, just one of the best. Kotaku rates it 3, saying how great it is and how it stands out and such. To be honest it felt more linear than FF13. Open world means very little when I'm not given much choice in customizing my characters, or them being killed off all the time. Or them just not having much of a story at all...

    Since I can't be bothered connecting my wonderful mega-drive (actually, it's more like there's no room to connect it) I've resorted to an emulator to go back to the classics.

    What stands out most though is the memories of being at friends places, eating lollies, and enjoying gaming without a care in the world.

    At the risk of going way off topic I'll say that gaming now is not only so different, but in a socially destructive way. It really is a case of "why go to a friends place when you can play online?" and I think it sucks.

    Every month or so I have mates around and we fire up a set of games where it's just fast and furious fun (boxing, racing, and other sports games mostly) and it really brings me back to the "old days" which I so enjoyed.

    Anyway I'm ranting now so here's some of my favourites from the 16-bit era which I revisit quite regularly.

    General Chaos, Golden Axe, FIFA 95, Jungle Strike, Shadow Dancer, Wiz 'n' Liz, Micro Machines, Quackshot, Earthworm Jim, Road Rash, Streets of Rage, Wonder Boy, Herzog Zwei, Sonic, Ecco, Phantasy Star IV, Street Fighter 2, and Mortal Kombat 2.

    I played and finished Half Life 2 for the first time ever this year. Even years later I could still see why so many people are fans, as I too am now (a lil late to the ball game).
    I tried to flex my nostalgia on games like Syphon Filter and MediEvil....I found them unplayable :(
    I got about an hour into Syphon Filter and couldnt fathom how i'd ever played it. Shame.

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