Playing Games Past Their Prime

I’m about to type something that might prove…irksome.


I don’t get Shadow of the Colossus.

Oh, I heard that gasp! alright. But hear me out. I’ve only just started the game and have taken down a mere four colossi. It took me three of them to really understand the controls and tactics of the game, so I feel like I’m off to a slow start anyway. I see where the story’s going, but it’s far too early to know exactly where it’ll lead. And it’s is a really gorgeous game, so I’m not balking at its look or style. It’s just…well, it doesn’t feel terribly compelling at this point, because all I’ve done so far is find colossi and take them down. And while the battles with them have been amazingly intense, I feel like I must be missing something.

Whether I am or not, my guess is that Shadow of the Colossus is an experience that occurs in stages, and I’m just not far enough into it to understand its concept (outside of large monster encounters). Whatever the case may be, I plan to stick with it.

Interestingly, my experience with Shadow of the Colossus has so far been very similar with my attempted playthough of Metroid Prime a couple years back – one of expected but yet-to-be-seen (on my part) ingenuity. Both games were heralded in their times, praised beyond words by fans and critics alike. Both game have loyal followings and are often cited as the best of the best. And, most recently, it was announced that both games will be making comebacks, Shadow of the Colossus in the form of a remaster, and Metroid Prime in the form of Metroid Prime 4.

With Metroid Prime, a game that I tried to play when it was new, I kept waiting to get hit by the tidal wave of enthusiasm that had been seemingly promised with the game. I kept wanted to find in it the utter joy that I found in Super Metroid. But the other shoe never really dropped. I enjoyed Metroid Prime quite a bit, but I didn’t fall in love with it. And I have to admit that I likely wouldn’t include it in a personal top favorite games list. I can’t help but wonder, though, had I stuck with the game when it was new, would my feelings be any different? Did playing the game some dozen years after its rise to popularity, and carrying with it all its praise, hamper my experience? This is how I feel with Shadow of the Colossus. I keep thinking that I wish I had played it while it was new, because something about its simplicity feels rather dated now. I could also say the same about The Secret of Monkey Island, as well. A great game with tons of past (and present) fandom, but one that I found just okay.

This sense of playing games past their prime certainly isn’t some sort of blanket issue. I assume that everyone’s going to feel differently about the games that they play. Borderlands 2 is five years old, and it sucked me in right quick. It felt new and refreshing, but that may have only been because FPS games are new and refreshing to me these days. Bioshock, which turns ten this year, and I only just played for the first time a couple months ago, was a knockout of a game that absolutely blew me away. Nothing about it felt “old.” Like with the Borderlands games, its fandom has quieted down in recent years, so the Internet isn’t clamoring as frenetically about these games as it once did. And yet, nothing about them feels less than prime. I could say the same about Assassin’s Creed II, as well. A great game with tons of past (and present) fandom, and one that hooked me despite its age.

Video games don’t come with statutes of limitations. And yet, there is something to be said about playing games in the moment of their release, when everyone is playing and talking about the same thing. When you and your friends all come together over a single game that all agree is amazing. When a game seems to take over the thoughts processes of the Internet and the world at-large (a la Portal, I’m thinking). Once all that hype has died down, a great game becomes no less great, but it can be accompanied by baggage, positive and negative, in later years. I’ve certainly been chided for missing out on the best of the best in games, but am I really missing out? While I’m glad that I did play Metroid Prime in earnest, I likely could have passed it up and not been the wiser. I’d like to think that Shadow of the Colossus will be different, and I hope it is. But if it isn’t…? Well, I suppose the jury will be out on that until I see the credits roll.

What are your thoughts on playing yesterday’s most hyped games today? If you pick up an older game to play, do you care about its past praise (or vilification)?

Lede image by Flickr user Charlie NZ (CC BY 2.0)

20 Comments Add yours

  1. I think not being enamored with Shadow of the Colossus is a perfectly legitimate lifestyle 🙂 I tend to read into games a lot, so for me, the long stretches of riding around on Agro seemed to illustrate the single-mindedness of Wander’s quest (for better or for worse, as I talked about on my site). It was the little details of the game, like seeing how the colossi didn’t seem to actually want to fight until you provoked them, that made it so special to me. I really enjoyed the freedom and subtlety in the game, so that’s what drew me in. BUT having said all that, I think the reason it was so lauded when it first came out was precisely because it was so very different from other games available.

    Enjoying a game is always going to be partly about timing, in my opinion. When you play a game is almost as important as which game, but I wonder if it’s because of some “expiration date” in regards to mechanics, story presentation, etc., or something a little more subjective as to player expectations and player wants/needs. Very interesting article! Now I want to go back and play through some games I haven’t touched in a while to see if I still am as in love with them as I once was!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. cary says:

      We took on a little project like that here – replaying favorite games from the past and examining if they were still our “favorites” – and I found the process to be extremely interesting and rewarding. I’m sure that if I had played SotC back when it was new, that replaying it today might evoke all sorts of good feelings, and maybe some not so good, I don’t know.

      I hope I didn’t come off as being harsh on the game itself. In truth, it’s been a great experience so far; it’s simply that I’m not yet enamored of the story and am therefore not finding it as compelling as I thought it’d be. I have to admit that I really thought I’d be wowed by it right off the bat – this is what I’ve often heard implied. But it’s more of a slow burn, it seems.

      I’ll have to look for your article about the game and bookmark it for later reading :). Playing through The Wanderer’s sole purpose — to defeat colossi — has been intriguing but, frankly, a little dull. Though I do like juxtaposition between the intensity of the colossi battles and the sereneness of the world itself.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it can be a great idea to revisit old games sometimes. I know of games I loved “back then” and still love, and also games I loved “back then” that I haven’t touched again because somewhere in my heart I know they wouldn’t be that much fun for me anymore. So that’s an interesting project you have going!

        And not at all! I thought your assessment was perfectly fair! I’d agree that it’s a slow burn, but even if you wind up hating the whole thing, you’re definitely well within your rights to do so! haha I’ll be interested to hear any thoughts you have once you complete the game (if you decide to complete it).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. megaeggz says:

    Shadow of the colossus is chill and the animations of the guy running around and stumbling as he climbs stuff. Also the graphics were immense for PS2. Maybe hype has built your expectations too high.

    Metroid Prime was also cool but I wanted bits of action to break up the exploration. Metroid Prime 3 is best because it has the action and the exploration and the abilities were so much fun.

    Anyway cool blog ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Well, thanks! 🙂

      What I’ve seen and read of massively fan-popular games like Shadow of the Colossus and Metroid Prime has colored my view, certainly. And it’s not always easy to separate the hype from reality…until you start playing something that doesn’t live up to your expectations, that is.

      The Wanderer’s stumbling is as charming as it is frustrating. 🙂 It’s kind of cute at times, but it gets to me during battles. More than once I’ve had to walk away out of frustration, and fear of breaking a controller!


  3. Hundstrasse says:

    There’s certainly something to be said for playing a game ‘in the moment’ that it was released. I’ve experienced similar feelings many times… A kind of regret that I didn’t play it when it was fresh. SotC is one of my favourite PS2 titles, but in recent years there have been many games that have expanded on the idea of a sprawling world with an emphasis on the ‘journey’. I’d recommend sticking with it though… 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. cary says:

      The simplicity seen in Shadow of the Colossus is something that we’re seeing more and more in recent games, isn’t it? Slower, quieter, and more thoughtful games are populating the field, which is great. Not everything can be all FPS frenzied and madcap action. If SotC might have started that trend (without even knowing it) then kudos. Despite my feelings about the game now, I do look forward to seeing how it plays out.

      It also reminds me that I never played many games on the PS2. (I was far more enamored of the N64 and Gamecube at the time.) I’d love to go back a revisit more titles for the system. Ah, but only if there was time…more time…

      Liked by 2 people

  4. duckofindeed says:

    I had the same feelings when playing Super Mario RPG a year or so ago. I heard great things about it all the time, and I was very excited to finally play it on the Wii U via the Virtual Console. And…I just didn’t get what was so great about it. After completing it, I still can’t say I’d ever want to play again. And yet, I bonded with EarthBound very quickly (which I also played about a year ago) and would love to play it again in the future. I think I would have probably liked Super Mario RPG much more if I had played it while it was new. Maybe. And yet, why could I not get into that game and still enjoy EarthBound? I have no idea.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. cary says:

      I’ve only played a little bit of both Super Mario RPG and Earthbound, but I wonder if the former game just hasn’t aged that well? There seems to be something oddly timeless about Earthbound — it’s weird, wacky, and very charming. Even the graphics still hold up. Super Mario RPG, while still a great game, feels a little dated. Or, at least that’s what I thought when I tried to play it. Plus, it’s hard to not be at least a bit spoiled by newer, fancier RPGs.

      Super Mario RPG was a rather special SNES game; there was nothing like it at the time. That’s what a couple folks here have alluded to in terms of the “special-ness” of Shadow of the Colossus – there was nothing like it when it first came out. The same can be said of Earthbound…but, there’s still really nothing like it today. That uniqueness is likely key.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. duckofindeed says:

        You make some very good points. I guess unique games never really age, but games that are “mimicked”, so to speak, in coming years lose that special quality they once had. Instead, they are compared. Super Mario RPG was unique until Paper Mario came out, and for everyone who prefers the Paper Mario games, Super Mario RPG feels a bit too old and simple. I feel like the opposite happened with Banjo-Kazooie and Yooka-Laylee. The Banjo-Kazooie games were very unique and special, and they still are because nothing quite captures the feel of those old N64 classics. Yooka-Laylee tried to replicate what Banjo-Kazooie had. Since Yooka-Laylee was less successful, it feels more dated to me than Banjo-Kazooie, which, along with Tooie, are still the best of their category.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Chris Scott says:

    Some games click with people some don’t, even “great” ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Precisely! That’s the way it is with so many things in life.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Some games can be great yet remain outdated at the same time. Although I’m not a particular fan of the current trend of constant remakes and remasters, they at least make these classic games feel better to play with updated controls and so on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      I’d agreed with you there. I’m not much of a fan of the “making the old new” trend in gaming either, but it does serve as a way to help make older games more accessible to newer audiences. As charming as it can be to play games in their original forms, it’s not always ideal.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hatm0nster says:

    I think that timing is important no matter how good or bad a game is. For example, I absolutely love Knights of the Old Republic 2 even after years of replaying it over and over. The thing is, it’s really not the best RPG ever made and I’m pretty sure that if my first encounter with it had come any sooner or later, I wouldn’t have become such a huge fan of it. Whether or not a game clicks with you is dependent on what kind of person you are.

    When I played KotOR 2 for the first time I was the right kind of person for it. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Witcher 3. It’s a great game. I can recognize that it’s a great game. However, it’s just not a game for me as I currently am. Maybe it will be someday, but right now it just isn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      That’s a really great point! It’s natural for our personal tastes to change over time, and the same certainly goes for gaming. Your experience with KotOR 2 is akin to mine with Fable. It’s not the best RPG ever made either, but it was a great RPG for me when I first played it. Replaying it (as Fable Anniversary) proved enjoyable, but it wasn’t particularly as magical as that first time. And we’re on the same page with The Witcher 3. Looks fun, cool, and all that, but it’s also not for the current gaming “me.” But, y’know, it’s a game that seems ageless, so I’m sure that’ll go a long way in preserving its longevity.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    In gaming, there remains something special about cracking open a fresh, new game on day one and playing it along with everyone else in the world. In the past, that “world” might have only consisted of a small group of friends; nowadays, when we play a new game, the literal “world” plays with us. This I contemplated recently on Virtual Bastion, particularly as much of my present gaming has been spent in the past. Is there something to be said of playing games past their prime?


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