Three Video Games I Wish I'd Played When They Were First Released

The trend of re-releasing old, underplayed classics is a recent phenomenon. It makes sense: the generation that grew up playing games only really started to comprehend nostalgia en masse about a decade ago.

We longed to relive that false history and the market responded in kind, monetizing our memories with a fresh, slick veneer. High-definition, 60 frames per second new textures, new characters, new content...

And that’s all well and good but, for some of us, those memories literally don’t exist. There are games we simply didn’t play. We have nothing to feed off, nothing to help us push past the primitive design decisions we ignored as children. It’s like a joke retold a second time, the impact is lost in the retelling.

You had to be there, we often say.

With so many of these classics it’s hard to shake a similar feeling. ‘You had to be there’. You had to be there to forgive Ocarina of Time’s shonky framerate. You had to be there to forgive Resident Evil’s clunky controls. You had to be there to marvel at Mario 64’s now primitive camera work. You had to be there.

The following video games are examples of this phenomenon: I wish I had been there. But I missed out. I could play these games now, in HD on the Wii U controller. The experience may be slicker, more accessible, but time has rendered their magic dull and impotent.

Insert sad face. These are the games I massively, massively regret not playing when they were first released.

Earthbound

Why I Didn’t Play It Back Then

In the UK, where I grew up, Earthbound was a game that existed only in some God forsaken corner of a magazine. It was a single screenshot and a caption. That’s it. I don’t remember reading a single review of this video game. I don’t remember seeing a single copy of this game on shelves. Sure, there were stores that imported NTSC versions of games but it was always more convenient (and cheaper) to buy PAL. And it wasn’t like there was a lack of quality games to play on the SNES.

Why I Wish I Had Played It

It’s a genuinely unique video game and those tend to be my favourite. It’s funny. It’s original. It’s surreal and loaded with obscure cultural references. It’s a video game you want to talk about, share with others. It’s a bloated, clumsy beautiful thing.

Or so I’ve heard.

Why I Can’t Play It Now

I just can’t. The moment is gone. Video games have evolved to the point where a game like Earthbound just isn’t as unique as it once was. Earthbound’s mechanics and visuals are a bit clunky with hindsight and, with multiple other games waiting to be played, it feels a bit pointless. I would be playing it to say I’ve played it. And that seems a little silly.

Super Metroid

Why I Didn’t Play It Back Then

This is a tricky one. The short answer is I have no idea and I am ashamed.

The long answer is that I was young and my gaming budget only stretched so far. I’m sure it's something we can all relate to. Games were doled out at birthdays and Christmas almost exclusively, so certain games had to go unbought, unplayed. Super Metroid, sadly, was one of those games.

Why I Wish I Had Played It

It’s arguably the best designed video game ever made. Seriously. People are still finding ways to speed run this game more efficiently – to this day.

Even now, playing this game feels like diving head first into an ice bath. It’s a shocking, terrifying, bewildering, unforgiving experience yet it always has its player in mind. As primitive as it looks today, you could argue that no game made since has managed to evoke quite the same level of atmosphere, with the exception of (maybe) Metroid Prime.

Why I Can’t Play It Now

Here’s the thing: I totally can play it now. I’m in the process of playing it now. It’s so amazing that I can’t help but wonder how much more I would have enjoyed it upon its first release. That idea is haunting me.

Is this game timeless? Has it aged? I honestly can’t tell. If it has aged, and playing it today has less impact than it once did? Well, that’s simply terrifying. It’s probably the best game I’ve played this year.

That’s scary, and it makes me mourn the experience I could have had all those years ago.

Deus Ex

Why I Didn’t Play It Back Then

I was never much of a PC kid growing up, and that’s sort of filtered throughout my life. I play games on PC, but it’s never my first choice. Deus Ex was a game that just slipped under my radar. Simple as that. I never got the chance to be blown away by it. That upsets me.

Why I Wish I Had Played It

Deus Ex wasn’t just a game, it was a manifesto. It was a message delivered via megaphone: this is what games are capable of. This is what games can be. I really wish I could have been part of that realisation.

Why I Can’t Play It Now

This is relatively simple: the game hasn’t dated well. As a manifesto it remains relevant; as a game? I feel as though there are others that do similar things in a more modern fashion. Dishonored springs to mind, a game I absolutely adore. I think I’d rather just play that instead.

What games did you miss out on? Let us know in the comments below.


Comments

    Xenogears - played this around 3 years ago. The mythology and history of the world is still fascinating, and Mitsuda's score is still timeless, but the graphics and gameplay...eww. Not to mention the s..l..o..w..t..e..x..t..s..p..e..e..d. Definitely would've enjoyed it more in the late 90s (if only they released it here).

      I clicked on this page just to mention Xenogears...
      Because I can't mention it enough.
      It's the best story ever written shackled by the limitations of a low-budget and an ageing system.
      I regret that people who have never played it will never be able to enjoy it the way 1998 wanted you to enjoy it.

        Yea i was a massive final fantasy fan when i first played xenogears but xenogears was just better in nearly every way

      I have no issue with the gameplay or the graphics even today. But yeah that slow text speed >_< As a working adult now I just can't spend that much time waiting for the text to finish. Still a great game though.

    I think Super Metroid proves that great games don't have to be played when they come out. Sure, you might miss out on some of the original joy of discovery because there is a wealth of knowledge about the game that's almost unavoidable. That still doesn't take that much away from the overall experience.

    Some games were merely great for their time. Those are the ones to watch out for.

      I really wish they'd bring it out on the 3DS thought via the eShop. Unless they have and I'm retarded...

      I think it came out at a good time too. The SNES was a real peak for 2D game design. Deus Ex was arguably a better game, but it was released when developers were still struggling how to implement 3d effectively.

        Even when it was released Deus Ex wasn't the prettiest game, but the depth and choice it offered set it apart. It was one of the first games to offer multiple ways to accomplish an objective and even allowing the game to continue if you did things a different way.

          All true, but boy is it hard to play now.

            Yeah, without a heavy whack of nostalgia to help it's rough going. Still aren't many games which have really followed in it's footsteps, though.

    FF7 was always one of those games that fell in this catagory for me, simply because I played it post FF8. It wasnt a big gap in time, but there was vast improvements in graphics between the two, enough to distance me from it's predecessor forever and ever :(

      Yeah I was fortunate enough to start on FF7 then advance in a chronologic order with FF's which has made the whole experience 1000x more magical I don't know why but it just does xD

      But I gotta say Deus Ex fits in this category so well I don't know if i'll ever play it even though I have every which way version of it from classic to new in my steam games with little over 15mins spent on each thinking to myself I could be playing something better ha..

    The original Starcraft is probably the biggest example I can think of.

    RTS games have evolved by quite a lot since that burst onto the scene. I tried my darndest to play it during a past Shameless Gaming Month and just couldn't do it. I felt like I was fighting the UI and controls the whole time which drained most of the fun for me.

      Anyone who hadn't played Warcraft 2 is in the same position. And then Warcraft 1.
      Boy, things sure have changed since those two games.

        And even between those two games. Right click to move: a magical thing.

          And Dune II before that. I tried to replay it but not being able to group units and having to move each one individually? Impossible.

    there are so many, but in comparison they are fairly modern games.
    Im talking ps2/xbox era onwards.

    I live for my old games, i have a SNES still in a beautifully maintained original box (foam and all).
    Earthbound was amazing and still is as you mentioned unique, no other game has ever been as odd and as amazing at the same time.

    As i collect old console and games, i find that the older console games are more fun, more challanging and just all round better.
    Im a PC gamer with a BS rig, so i do love me some high end graphics and amazing environments, but theres just something about the older games that makes them better, sitting around with mates playing on the ps3 or 360 is fun... but we seem to have a better time when we hook up the snes/MSII/megadrive or dreamcast.

      Speaking of PS2 games that would fit into this category, The first Killzone fits this pretty well, in its day was head to head in quality gameplay as Halo 1, but thesedays the first Halo still remains a decent FPS where as the first Killzone is a bit of an eye sore and has abominations such as their failed attempt at aiming down sights - It needs a HD PC release :P

        yeah killzone fits well in that category, i was talking any Metal gear game after MGS, ICO, shadow of the colossus... so many games that are apparently amazing, that i just cant bring myself to play.

        But thats even more odd, because i love retro games... but the PS2/xbox era sit in a weird spot IMO, not retro enough to be fun, but still just new enough to fit in the ugly category..

    Omikron: The Nomad Soul. Even now I can see how awesome it was and the Quantic Dream fanboy in me will probably play through it eventually, but it's not the same as it would've been back then. :'(

      I recommended Fahrenheit to a few mates who liked Heavy Rain, having loved the shit out of it (especially that sad-O-meter - great mechanic). He told me he wished he'd played it when it was new, as it would have had more impact.

        I loved Fahrenheit. So damn good, got sort of crazy towards the end but really cool experience. Looking forward to Beyond: Two Souls.

    I hate how I can't enjoy the simpler things in games like I use to!
    I've always wanted to play Ultima Online. But the mechanics and graphics just leave so much to be desired.

    When i'm explaining to people what Counter-Strike was like back in the late 90's; i find it incredibly difficult to actually portray the amazement and next-gen compeditiveness, the atmosphere and the community back then. Something that CS:S CS:GO and every CoD has not been able to obtain because they just came during an evolved era.

    You don't know how great you have it until it's gone :(

    You probably would have appreciated Super Metroid less thoroughly when it was released. Consider - at the time, did you recognise and acknowledge excellent game design? Or were you like me back then, who just said "This is cool!" without thinking too much more deeply?

      It wasn't Super Metroid, but I remember trying to play Metroid 2 on the Gameboy way back when it was still relatively new.

      The thing is, back then, the very concept of a non-linear game was totally foreign to me. Literally every game I had played up until that point (well, those that actually had a beginning and an end anyway, ie not an endless arcade game or something) were strictly linear affairs. You started at point a, and the end of the level was at point b, and you more or less made your way straight there, jumping on or shooting bad guys on the way.

      Then I borrowed Metroid 2 from a friend, because I had heard it was good, and tried to play it. I got to the first point where you hit a wall and needed to backtrack (which wasn't very far in), and I was like "what the hell am I supposed to do here?". After about 5 minutes of not understanding the fact that I needed to backtrack (the thought didn't even occur to me), I concluded in my young mind that the game was stupid, and turned it off.

      And I'm embarrassed to admit that I never, ever returned to it, despite the fact I'm a big Metroid fan to the point where I have written FAQ's. Could I go back and try to play an original Gameboy game now? Ehhh...unlikely. I wish my young mind wasn't so quick to dismiss it back then.

      Last edited 13/08/13 2:06 pm

        I think you could. I only got Metroid 2 much later in life, after having played Fusion, Prime, Echoes, Zero Mission and Super (also ended up playing it on my SNES rather than my Game Boy but hey), and I still really enjoyed it. Found it quite mind-blowing for a GB game.

        Having to backtrack to this day does my head in, even in obviously open world games. Even in linear games, you know when you want to go explore bits that aren't on the actual advancement path? I always think the off-path bits are the way to go.

      I was about 9 years old when I first played Metroid Prime and while at the time I'm sure I wasn't looking into the design of the game very deeply, I recognise now that it was the game that sparked my interest in game design and was probably the first instance of me recognising games as something more than just something I wasted my days doing.

    Kind of the reverse of what's going on here, but - Killer7 was amazing back in the day. I tried to revisit it to show a friend a couple of years back, and... holy crap I have no idea how I managed to play it at all the first time around.

    System shock 2 and ocarina of time

      Same goes for me for ANY of the iconic N64/gamecube games. I skipped those generations of classic mario/zelda/metroid etc, and in viewing youtube playthroughs to see what I missed? They have not aged well.

      (Edit: I thank all deities everywhere that I played System Shock 2 when it was new, though. That doesn't hold up all that great now either - I have a friend who missed it, and I feel sorrow for his loss.)

      Last edited 13/08/13 2:35 pm

      Take this with a grain of salt, because I did play it at the time, but I've always found Ocarina of Time to hold up particularly well. I think its because the graphics are fairly cartoonish, and the controls and design were pretty tight - Darksiders used a very similar control system 15 years later.

      That said, I've only ever played it on the N64, so I don't know whether the pro control pad holds up.

    Regarding Deus Ex, the recent one (Human Revolution), boss battles aside, basically captures almost everything that made the original so interesting, but with modern visuals and design. it's also an awesome game. So you could play that.

    Last edited 13/08/13 2:12 pm

    I approached gaming from the oposite direction to you, Mark, starting as a PC gamer and getting my first console with the N64, one I bought myself.
    That said, one game I really regret not playing was Anachronox. I heard great things about it and love cyberpunk storylines, but I was in Year 12 when it came out so I didn't have the time or money to get it.

    Regarding Deus Ex, you realise that there are a whole heap of Graphical mods out there right? Just do a google search, they increase the visuals really well.

    Any of my PS2 collection. I happily played PS2 for a year (2009) before buying a 360 - now i can't go back to the awkward controls of that generation.

    I had the dubious blessing of always being behind the technology curve. I was given a C64 in about '96, and that was the only thing I had to play games on until about '98 when I got access to an old Win95 PC. As a result, I always enjoyed older games, and any time my friends reminisced about a game from childhood I was able to play it as if it were new.

    Good thread! For me they were...

    GoldenEye 64 & Perfect Dark 64
    Had a PSX at this age, a few friends had N64 so I played around with them a bit, but never really got to give it a solid go. Still hear people raving about them today and it burns me up inside...

    Deus Ex & Bioshock
    Always been a mostly PC gamer, but these two somehow managed to just pass me by. No idea how, I played both Human Revolution and Infinite (and loved them both) but the awful graphics and floaty controls turned me off after 5 mins with the originals.

    Grand Theft Auto
    Somehow managed to avoid this series my entire life, again, no idea how. Think I might pick up GTAV and see what all the hype is about! Picked up Sleeping Dogs on Steam for about $6 and am enjoying it, and I'm pretty sure it's just a GTA clone!

      Sorry amigo, didnt mean to post a reply :)

      Last edited 13/08/13 3:30 pm

      Bioshock? Aged? Do you mean System Shock 2 or do you actually mean Bioshock because that game still has good graphics and controls almost exactly like Infinite in physics.

    I'm quite young, only being 18 years old. Regardless, my love for video games lead me to the decision to play all the games I missed out on because I was either not born or too young to experience them. I've gone back and played a lot of the great NES, SNES, DOS and old Sega titles that I missed out on in order to have a more cultured and experienced knowledge on video games and game design because, you know, it's kinda the love of my life.

    With that said, there are a few games that I just can't play due to the fact that I just don't understand the context, or the game mechanics/designs employed have just been improved by later games of the same genre.

    There is one game though that I am really quite sad I can't get into, and that is Diablo 2.

    Diablo 2, in concept, seems like SO much fun. I love dungeon crawlers, and Diablo 2 just seems like the perfect model of the genre, but the problem is that its just so dated. The graphics are unappealing, the world is kind of a cliche in fantasy video games now, and ultimately everything could just be more streamlined. I hate that modern games are too streamlined, often holding our hands and not letting us overcome challenges on our own merit (ultimately not trusting the player to be any good, or maybe being afraid of hurting the players feelings by letting them fail), but, a positive of modern games is that we have the technology, processing power and knowledge of game design in order to achieve better conveyance (i.e, showing the player where to go, or at least, where they could go). Diablo 2, unlike Torchlight 2 or Shadowrun Returns, lacks a sense of direction. I suppose, if it was the only game of its kind, that could be overlooked and overcome, but because there are so many like it, it just isn't good enough in a modern context.

    I guess because nearly every dungeon crawler since Diablo 2 has been an improvement on what Diablo 2 brought to the table, I am unable to kinda go back to it. Its popularity is unfortunately the reason why its not accessible to a modern audience.

    Ocarina of Time - I now own this on the 3DS but havent even opened the box yet :|

    Chrono Trigger - Same story....own this on the 3DS, actually played 4-5 hours of it but was distracted by other shinies.

    System Shock 2 - Massive Bioshock fan, only seems fitting i should play it.

      Definitely sit through Chrono Trigger dude, if you can, you'll love it. One of my top 3 games still. Recently played it through again and loved it.

        I did enjoy my time with it but right as the adventure seemed like it was going to kick off I stopped playing it, still its on my to do list :]
        The ONLY thing I could knit-pick about was Chrono not having a voice, buuuut given how old it is, its understandable.

      I first played system shock 2 when it was 6 years old - because it was the only decent thing that would run on my POS PC. It held up quite well against the PS2 games I was playing at the time, it's a great game.

      Ocarina of Time has aged well, contrary to what others say. 3DS version is the best way to play it, but the 64 version doesn't do too badly either. Graphics are a little blurry, but that's the 64 for you :)

    In regards to Deus Ex, I found Alpha Protocol actually hit alot of the same buttons for me that Deus Ex did years earlier. It was a great find.

    Go back to Earthbound. Trust me.
    I think it has aged at least as well as Super Metroid.

    Any pokemon game after gold and silver theres just seems too many changes outside the core gameplay, eg pokemon breeding, new pokemon types and becoming harder to catch them all. Practically every mmo and tf2

    I can relate to the reason you never played Super Metroid. I was lucky in that I had a friend whose entire family loved games so I could borrow most major titles eventually, we also tended to hire games rather than buying them so if the video store had it at any point I played it, but I still look at some people getting nostalgic over literally everything and wonder how they hell they played so many games.
    As much as I loved Mega Man I played 1, 2 and 3, then X. I got in a little time with X2 but I'm talking half an hour of actually playing it. I didn't own my own copy of Link to the Past until after Majora's Mask. It wasn't until later during the N64 era that I really gained the freedom to get hold of obscure games.

    one game that I found to be really hard to play now is Max Payne. Maybe my computer is too powerful or something, but I distinctly remember playing a small part of it at a friend's house ages ago and the slow mo mode was genuinely slow and I was able to aim at enemy heads all over the place. Now it's barely slow enough for me to aim at one person. My reflexes may have gone down compared to when I was in uni and at my peak physical condition, but it's definitely better than when I was a little kid trying out Max Payne

    This is where I really understand that games have a shelf life of about 5-10 years max.

    I used to see all the older console games as classics that would never die, as well as older PC games. Now I see that games today have an extremely short shelf life, not counting the shelf life of the consoles that play them.

    Games are not so different to TV shows in this respect. I find it a bit harder to compare them to movies though, except AAA titles, but even then it's only the money spent and the fanfare that accompanies them.

    I am currently playing my way through Earthbound. It is pretty great, but the design hangovers are...shall we say...quaintly archaic?

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