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Passing The Torch

 

 

One of my fondest memories as a kid was Saturday afternoons watching The Man From Uncle with my dad while I ate my lunch. Lunch was traditionally a thing he called "pizza burgers," which were small pizzas that he'd bang under the grill for fifteen minutes, place a slice of processed cheese on top of, and then slap into a buttered bread bun to serve. I remember more about those incredibly unhealthy lunches than I do about The Man From Uncle, but that show was nearly twenty years old by the time I was watching, and was one of my dad's favourites from when he was growing up.

 

My dad loved introducing me to TV shows and movies that he'd watched in his youth. I suppose it was his way of passing the torch on to the next generation. Television, films, books, music... He'd pass it all on. This was a bit of a double edged sword at times. I mean, sure, I got early access to the complete works of Laurel and Hardy, and I was probably the youngest person ever to declare Some Like It Hot as their favourite movie, but I also wound up listening to Billy Joel and becoming a lifelong fan of Sheffield United Football Club. They can't all be zingers, I suppose.

 

The one thing that my dad didn't show me much of as a kid was video games, which, ironically I suppose, became my biggest passion growing up. Video games were still a new medium at the time, so he didn't have much experience with them, but he did show me my first ever video game, which was Prince of Persia on PC. He'd told me all about this thing he called "Prince" which was on his computer at work, and how he had to control a guy who would swordfight with villains, leap across perilous gaps, and escape from death traps of deadly cunning. Eventually he took me to work one Saturday to sneak me into the office so I could play it. I played it for about fifteen minutes, and probably died around forty times, but something inside me just clicked, and that was it. Years later, here I am, having spent thousands of dollars on consoles and games, an addict.

 

Despite being 34 years old, making me considerably older than my dad was when he was taking care of me on Saturdays long ago, I have yet to hear the pitter patter of children's feet in my life. Things were, apparently, different back then. But when it does happen, and I'm sat plying my children with nutritionally dubious meals on a weekend, what will I be passing on to the next generation? Video games are my biggest passion, and one that I've been heavily involved with for nigh on three decades at this point. But which video games from your youth do you show to kids who are used to seeing the razzle dazzle of Call of Duty on their PlayStation 6's?

 

Like movies or TV shows, some things just age better than others. Consider a movie like Jaws from 1975 which could be transplanted into practically any time period and still work, largely as is. For all of that the shark might look comically fake at this point, the story stands the test of time. Other movies, even later ones, haven't aged as well. Video games are similar in a lot of ways. Technology might have improved exponentially in the years since the birth of gaming, but gameplay wise, something like Super Mario World on the SNES still works just as well as it ever did. Those classic Mario games felt great to play at the time, and they still do today.

 

But what about more problematic classics? Metal Gear Solid for the original PlayStation is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential games of all time, but while the storyline is still more compelling than those of many games releasing twenty years later, the gameplay hasn't aged quite as kindly. The N64/PlayStation generation was the first to fully embrace three dimensional gaming, but many of the titles that released in that era did so before dual analogue controllers became ubiquitous within the industry. It was a transitional period, before developers knew exactly how to tackle the new problem of avatars being able to move in three dimensions, and they didn't get everything right first time. As a consequence, some games that released on those systems, like Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, or even Mario 64, have aged more awkwardly than earlier games. Playing Mario 64 today, even as a seasoned gamer, it seems far less intuitive than World despite being the more recent release.

 

Gameplay, I think, transcends console generations, and is utterly impervious to all of the bells and whistles that new technology affords developers. It doesn't matter how pretty a game looks if the mechanics are broken, or the level designs clumsy. On the flip side, it doesn't matter that Pong has been surpassed by practically every other game that has ever been released on an aesthetic level, it's still a simple and addictive classic that anybody can pick up and play.

 

We live in an exciting time as gamers. While AAA blockbusters like The Last of Us are graphical powerhouses that push the limits of what we think video games are capable of, consoles have become easier to develop for, meaning small teams can still release indie titles that complement the big names like Assassin's Creed and Forza on your shiny new systems. For games on a smaller budget, with less money to spend on photo realistic graphics or big name voice talent, gameplay, much like in the early days of gaming, is king. If your kid is playing a brand new platformer like Celeste, it shouldn't throw them for a loop too much if you introduce them Mario and Luigi's early adventures. Shooters like Resogun are, conceptually, not a million miles away from classics like R-Type or Xenon 2. A popular title of recent years like Shovel Knight has roots in the Mega Man, Castlevania and Metroid series'. Most games today, share DNA with retro classics, and so when it comes to passing the torch, to showing your kids what you loved as a child, there's plenty to choose from.

 

What classic games would you like to get your children into? Would you try and find them something that's like what they play today but an older version, or will you just lock them in a room with Super Metroid until they tell you they love it? What games do you want to pass on to the next generation, and why?

 

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