Stian loves to bring up how nostalgia is a seductive liar and clouds one’s judgment of video games. Of course, games that we played in our childhood might not be as fantastic as we remember them being. We might still cherish our memories of these games, but actually playing them is out-of-the-question; be it because our tastes have changed, we can no longer cope with their outdated mechanics, or because the games would be outshined by sequels and competitors. The following list of 12 games is in no particular order, because I can’t bear to replay these games and figure out how to rank them.
Pokémon Gen 1
It feels like picking an easy target for the first item on this list, but it can’t be understated how much time I sank into Pokémon Yellow as a kid. As an avid fan of the animated series, I was completely enthralled by the RPG series and probably cost my parents a fortune in batteries to keep the ol’ GameBoy running.
However, Gen 1 was no stranger to problems and looking back on it nowadays reveals many of the issues that didn’t bother me so much back in the day. From blatant programming errors to the horrible sprite art, it feels like Pokémon was rushed out the door. Some moves blatantly don’t work as intended or can cause your Pokémon’s stats to unintentionally plummet. More famously, the psychic types were hilariously overpowered because of the poorly-divided stats and their potential counters all lacking moves strong enough to take them down.
I still love the original 151 pocket monstrosities, but their original game presented them with butt-ugly sprites and a game that probably could have used a few more runs through QA.
We all know it nowadays, but Peter Molyneux is kind of a terrible person. Once the visionary behind many PC classics made by Bullfrog, the man’s career would take a PR nosedive when he became the face of the Fable franchise. And the original Fable and even Fable II are games I very much adored, but they have been retroactively soured by the storm that would follow.
All of the Fable games are wildly ambitious western fantasy RPGs, at least you got that impression going by their marketing. During the development of each entry in the franchise, Molyneux would promise fans the world and even flat-out lie about content, such as the famous promise that players would be able to plant acorns and watch trees grow over time as their adventure continued.
At the time, I still enjoyed Fable for what it did offer and for its interesting story and sense of humor. However, after multiple sequels that all followed the same pattern and Molyneux moving on to con people through Kickstarter, I can’t look back on the games in the same way anymore. There is a limit to forgiveness.
Borderlands released in 2009, which might be cutting it close to qualify as nostalgia in the eyes of some. However, I was still in school at the time and had fond memories of playing the game with my friends. It was an amazing multiplayer romp where up to 4 players could gun down enemies together and seek out amazing weapons.
All my attempts to replay it since have failed. Friends are no longer interested in playing the game and that just leaves you with a handful of unwelcoming, online strangers or an incredibly mediocre singleplayer experience. The game is poorly balanced and is weighed down by subpar FPS gameplay that work in conjunction with vapid RPG mechanics. Quests and questgivers are utterly forgettable and boring, and shoot-outs that seemed exciting back in 2009 with 3 buddies beside me now reveal themselves to be interchangeable and unrewarding.
I ended up purchasing the entire Borderlands collection for PC at one point and honestly can’t motivate myself to touch any of it.
Donkey Kong 64
3D platformers are some of my favorite games out there, so you can probably imagine what kind of dream console the Nintendo 64 is to me. While I love all the classic platformers that released on the console, Donkey Kong 64 is a bit of a special case.
Its claim to fame is that it has a bazillion things to collect, but each coin, banana, golden banana, balloon, and blueprint is all specific to one of the five playable characters. You can never get in a good flow with the game as you constantly track back to the tag barrel to swap characters and make a few more inches of progress. And while other Rare titles would stand the test of time, this and Conker’s Bad Fur Day control like absolute rubbish and struggle under a rendering distance that would embarrass Silent Hill.
The last time I tried to play it I got about as far as the first Jetpack races for Diddy and honestly felt like I needed about 3 more control sticks and a few extra buttons to actually play through that.
In the early 2000s, most of my experience with playing games on PC came from websites like Newgrounds and smaller alternatives, where you could just click on a game and play it in your browser within seconds. You didn’t have to install anything, it worked fast, and you didn’t need a good PC to make any of it work. Mindblowing stuff.
Neopets then came around and took this concept of fun, easily-accessed web-games and worked it into a big, social game. Players would sign up and start to take care of a cute fantasy creature, which they fed, entertained, customized, and educated with goods bought with in-game currency earned through activities and a wide variety of Flash/Shockwave games all set in the game’s universe.
To this day, I still find Neopets incredibly admirable. It offered a world map with many different themed lands that all had unique features and creative characters, it offered interesting content like player-run shops, haggling, an in-universe business simulator, as well as battles in which you could have your Neopet participate. However, the game would land in hot water as the years went by and the property traded hands numerous times, resulting in the eventual loss of its original team.
I went back to the game last year and, while it’s still online and active, it has aged terribly. It’s a cumbersome game to work with as every action has to reload entire webpages and the games that are central to the experience are no longer interesting or have broken down entirely. You need to do so little to keep your pet alive and with a community that is rumored to have dropped below 10,000 active users, there aren’t a lot of folks to socialize with. Perhaps it’s time they pulled the plug and finally put millions of abandoned Neopets out of their eternal misery.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
I have a soft spot for retro games and few titles from the 16-bit era are as well-remembered as A Link to the Past, the third entry in the Zelda series. It was one of the few games that I played a lot on the GameBoy Advance, yet every time I have come back to it since, I keep having to admit that it’s not that great a game.
The game lacks the simplistic appeal of the original, the combat is much more simplified compared to Zelda II, and the story & setting are underdeveloped, which puts it behind the phenomenal Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask that would follow soon after. It doesn’t have any aspect in which it excels compared to other entries in the franchise, and with its dull combat and mediocre puzzle-design, it rarely manages to keep my attention for long enough to get anywhere when I try to replay it.
Stian visited me in the Netherlands and pretty much had to drag me through it. I loved discussing the game with him, but it really made me wish I was either playing the NES originals or any of the later console titles instead.
And another childhood game that Stian potentially ruined for me is Prehistorik Man, which we played through after we both had a fantastic time with DinoCity and, hey, I got this other dinosaur-themed SNES game right here!
My family and I used to visit this old friend of my mother who lives on the other end of the country and they didn’t have a PS1 or Nintendo 64 like we did. Instead, they still had a trusty Super Nintendo and I’d play Donkey Kong Country, Primal Rage, and Prehistorik Man with their kids. I really looked forward to these visits, mostly because I got along really well with their kids and only got to see them so rarely. This gave Prehistorik Man a fond place in my memories. which doesn’t quite align with reality.
The game is a 2D platformer and is generally quite okay for a Super Nintendo title. However, it has a lot of peculiar non-linear stages that can take forever to explore and find all the mandatory items in, as well as vexing gimmick stages that had us retrying them way past the point where we were enjoying the experience. Even in the more straightforward levels, enemies take way too many hits, hit-detection itself is dodgy, and you’ll run into terrible platformer tropes like aggressive ice physics.
It is ambitious and different from your average 2D platformer, yet it is also so long and so unfairly hard. Now that I have finally finished the game, I am never touching the darn thing again.
I am probably not alone in my fondness for the original, 2D Rayman that released on numerous consoles and PC. It was a game I was gifted for my first computer and I used to play it all the time. However, I am probably also not the only one who is intimately familiar with just the first world of Rayman.
While I could get to Band Land and enjoy its beautiful theme song, the big difficulty spike found there made sure that younger me would never set foot in whatever lies beyond. In fact, I still haven’t cleared Band Land and really aren’t actively trying. I always felt the game felt more suited to a relaxing experience like that found in the Kirby games, so it was an unpleasant surprise when I found out just how harsh Rayman is. I am glad it founds its fanbase, but I just skipped ahead to Rayman 2 on the Playstation.
Still a good soundtrack though.
Digimon was perhaps the biggest competitor to Pokémon back in the day, so it’s only fitting that it received a video game adaptation on Nintendo’s rival console. At the time, I absolutely loved exploring the game’s world and training my Digimon, but I never got very far in it. Now, as an adult with a better understanding of how video games work, I still can’t get very far in it.
Digimon World is such a complex game that only the most dedicated, patient gamers will be able to make sense of it. Evolution isn’t attained by reaching a certain level, but happens over time and requires players to simply have their creature’s stats within certain ranges to decide what it will evolve into. What these stats are supposed to be is anyone’s guess. There is close to no in-game information to help you figure out what stats to train and, even if you grind the right activities enough to qualify, evolution is also affected by mood, the amount of battles fought, and even if your Digimon pooped alright or not. I am not kidding.
I tried playing the game again and using an online calculator to figure out what stats I needed and then comparing this with a chart that maps all potential evolution paths, and still, you somehow wind up with something you didn’t want at all. And this is not some kind of overcomplicated Tamagotchi, there is actually a game you are supposed to be playing here. Trying to play the game nowadays just feels stressful, both because you gotta figure out all this math and because the slightest mistake can damn all your plans right away.
Higurashi: When They Cry
Ask me about my favorite anime series out there and the answer will always be Higurashi: When They Cry. A masterpiece of a psychological horror story, this underappreciated anime first came to us in the form of visual novels in 2002, and fan translations eventually found their way across the internet.
Much of my nostalgia comes from the 2006 anime and I didn’t find the visual novels until much later, but I did read them and used to write about them non-stop. I have gone on mad quests to find copies of various Japan-only versions like the Alchemy PS2 port or Kizuna for the DS. When Manga Gamer then remastered the originals for release on Steam, you bet I was all over that! Until I actually played them.
The Higurashi visual novels are held together by using real-life photographs with heavy distortion as backgrounds, which looks absolutely hideous when contrasting with the brightly-colored characters, and even breaks the immersion in some scenes. The characters received upgraded sprites for Manga Gamer’s re-release, but switch them back to the originals in the menu and you’re in a hilarious surprise. The characters look like angry crabs that have been turned into anime girls against their will and it’s almost impossible to take the story seriously when it’s presented this way.
While art can be fixed and modded, what can’t be fixed is that every chapter is severely padded until all of them are between 8-10 hours long each. The anime and manga all went through this source material with a scythe and managed to still tell a complete story, which just goes to show many hours of text we got here that is all effectively deadweight.
Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout
Dragon Ball Z held this almost mystic appeal to me as a kid. We didn’t have any channel on which it aired, but I’d often see VHS tapes of it in stores and actually ended up getting a few. The episodes I had were all in English and I couldn’t understand them, but I was still hyped enough to get Final Bout on the Playstation 1.
Obviously, I didn’t have much of a standard for fighting games back in those days and thought it was great. Going back to it now… oh dear. The controls are absolutely horrid, it’s slow and confusing, except for the AI that will gladly wipe the floor with you. Characters look ugly and animate like slugs; it all has 0 of the excitement that the series is known for and it feels like you are sending every button input to the game via a fax machine.
I wouldn’t play another Dragon Ball video game until one of the later Budokai titles and man does that put Final Bout into a bad light.
Half-Life 2 was one of the main reasons I returned to PC gaming. At the time, we only had a family computer and I was only allowed to play World of Warcraft on it. When I started doing well in school, I was given a PC of my own and eventually upgraded it after saving up money through a part-time job. I immediately signed up for Steam and bought the Valve classics, all of which I absolutely adored.
I still love the original Half-Life as a solid, fast-paced FPS with a mysterious story. The game is very dear to me and I often replay it, despite some of its flaws. The same can’t be said for Half-Life 2, which I hadn’t touched until I tried to replay it for a canceled review. I honestly don’t even quite know where to start with this one…
First of, the game is obtusely linear and unexciting. It railroads you to slow exposition sequences where you just stand around and listen to NPC banter, with no interactivity or choice. The gunplay, like with Borderlands, is nothing to write home about and it gets too little time to shine as the game keeps throwing you into gimmicky vehicle sections, which themselves get interrupted to have you fix tedious physics puzzles. I had fond memories of the big, memorable missions like Ravenholm and the highway, only to now find that they severely outstay their welcome.
And, of course, there is the complete absence of Episode 3. Even if it came out tomorrow, I still wouldn’t play it because my goodwill towards the franchise is gone. The game is at least 10 years overdue and Valve has kept its fans in the dark, all while letting trash like Hunt Down the Freeman feature on its platform. Even if you can cope with the mediocre gameplay, replaying it now just serves as a somber reminder of the time when Valve actually cared about its products.
Now, with Stian’s challenge overcome, I have one for him as well. A veteran of many an RPG, I am sure Stian could compile for us a list of his favorite storekeepers in video games. Of course, traveling merchants, tavern owners, everything is permitted, so long as their primary role is selling the player goods.