It was thanks to Cary’s recent post, Playing Games Past Their Prime, that I had a revelation concerning a few questions I had been asking as of late. It largely boils down to: why do some old games feel dated, while others from the same era do not? Furthermore, how is it that even new games can, on occasion, feel dated right from the start? It’s a strange paradox, isn’t it? One might expect all old games to feel dated by virtue of being old. And that means it’s not possible for a new game to feel dated until enough years have passed. Right? No, not right.
Dated, put simply, means old-fashioned. Of course, you all know this. In less simple terms, it means, I outgrew this, or society as a whole has outgrown this. It means, this would have been acceptable years ago, but we’ve advanced beyond this, and I can’t enjoy this by virtue of knowing there are better games I could be playing/movies I could be watching, etc.
But not all old games feel dated. Why not? Well, I’ll get to that, but first, I want to point out the rather strange conundrum that even some new games can feel dated the moment they’re released. A few games that really stood out to me that illustrate this were the Banjo-Kazooie games on the Nintendo 64 (released 1998 and 2000, respectively) and Yooka-Laylee, released in 2017. You would think Banjo-Kazooie and Tooie should feel dated because they are nearly 20 years older than Yooka-Laylee. Surely a spiritual successor released two decades later is going to feel fresh and new, while the games it’s trying to replicate are going to appear that much older.
Logic would dictate this, but instead, I feel the opposite is the case. When I first played Yooka-Laylee, it wasn’t, to put it lightly, quite what I had hoped for. Curious as to whether or not the feeling was just me or gamers at large, I looked up reviews online. Now, the exact web sites I visited and the exact statements I read have since been lost to me. All I remember is that people did indeed feel Yooka-Laylee was not as fun as they had hoped. Some even considered it dated despite its youthful age. At the same time, these reviewers went on to say that Banjo-Kazooie and Tooie only stood up today because of nostalgia. Those voices many claimed were annoying in Yooka-Laylee…well, we only like them in Banjo-Kazooie because we have good memories of playing the game, so we are willing to accept BK’s shortcomings.
Okay, so these are people’s opinions. I can’t really say they are wrong…except when they speak of these attitudes in broad terms. Is it really only nostalgia that is keeping you and me from hating the voices in Banjo-Kazooie as much as we might hate the voices in Yooka-Laylee? Is nostalgia really fooling me into loving a game I would have otherwise disliked? Nay, I think that, while nostalgia is strong, it is not strong enough to make two games from the Nintendo 64 era widely regarded as classics when they don’t rightly deserve to be so. If that was the case, I would have never grown tired of Donkey Kong 64 because nostalgia simply wouldn’t have allowed it.
Even so, this got me thinking. Is it really only my fond memories that make me enjoy these N64 classics? How could I truly know if my opinions of these games were genuine and not just some undeserved favoritism I was showing thanks to my nostalgia? It’s impossible to erase my memories of Banjo-Kazooie and Tooie in order to properly judge if I would still like them just the same if I had discovered them today. Instead, I did the next best thing. I recently revisited Yooka-Laylee, as I had missed a good deal of Pagies and wanted to see if I could collect a few more. A couple hours of frustration later, I had completed every challenge I possibly could, along with suffering a few bizarre glitches. My tolerance for the game’s unfairly difficult challenges at an end, I soon after replayed my old childhood pals, Banjo-Kazooie and Tooie.
I could be fooling myself, but I seriously believe that if 2017 marked the first time I had played these three platformers, Banjo-Kazooie and Tooie would still come out on top.
Even after all these years, I had a blast playing the bear and bird duo’s old 64-bit adventures. They still feel as fresh and fun as the day I first played them. And I don’t think it’s only nostalgia talking. If I had never heard of these games until recently, I think I would have been thrilled to find platformers with such charm. (I was super excited to play the Sly Cooper series for the first time recently. Nowadays, finding good platformers I haven’t already played is a rare delight.) There is just so much to love in the BK games. The bright, colorful graphics. The silly characters. The wide variety of challenges and worlds. And Banjo and Kazooie themselves work together so seamlessly, with a wide variety of moves you just never see. Can Mario do as many things as these two can? I think not.
To be as fair as possible, I tried to look at the games objectively. I really did. And they’re not perfect, though I never believed they were. The first game can be rather cheesy. The dialogue doesn’t always make sense. In fact, plenty of times the dialogue is just not very good. (Example: the conversation with Nipper in Treasure Trove Cove.) Some challenges are totally unfair (cough, Canary Mary, cough). And sure, in the first game, it can be annoying having to collect every Jinjo and musical note during a particular visit to a world. But that never ruined my experience with the game. And this particular issue has been fixed in the XBox Live Arcade, so that’s not even relevant anymore. And no, I don’t think the voices in the Banjo games are just as annoying as those in Yooka-Laylee. I like them because they are charming, not because nostalgia made it so.
Now let me return for a moment to the brief discussion Cary and I had in the comments section of her post. A game being “dated” does not necessarily mean it has to be old. I realized after discussing my thoughts with Cary that “dated” really can refer instead to a game that has since been upstaged by better games like it, or, as is the case with Yooka-Laylee, a game that fails to be as good as an older game it was trying to mimic. As I had talked about before, I prefer Paper Mario over Super Mario RPG. The latter feels dated to me because I feel better, similar games were released since then. A lot of this is pure opinion, as many people still prefer Super Mario RPG. I just like Paper Mario better, so Super Mario RPG feels dated as a result. Of course, this only applies to similar games. I can compare Paper Mario and Super Mario RPG because they are both Mario-based RPGs. I would not compare Paper Mario and Final Fantasy IV and claim the latter to be a dated RPG. (I would claim this, but only in comparison to, let’s say, Final Fantasy VI perhaps.)
In a rather opposing fashion, Yooka-Laylee, a very new game, already felt dated to me pretty much the moment I first played it. Why? Well, this game and the pair of games it is trying to replicate all involve a platforming pair of pals, who collect items and use their own innate abilities to overcome challenges (not guns, as would be the case with similar duos like Ratchet and Clank and the later incarnations of Jak and Daxter). And out of three very similar games, Banjo-Kazooie, Tooie, and Yooka-Laylee, the Banjo games just do it better. That’s why, for me, Banjo-Kazooie does not feel dated. It is still a fresh, fun idea that has yet to be properly mimicked. Yooka-Laylee, on the other hand, simply feels like a watered down experience of a pair of games I already have.
Let’s end with one final example, shall we? EarthBound. When comparing EarthBound and Super Mario RPG, the former is less likely to be considered dated, and Cary pointed out the reason why. EarthBound is extremely unique and has never quite been replicated, even if multiple games have been inspired by it. A fresh idea does not feel dated as long as that idea is never replicated and improved upon, and it is this factor that contributes far more to a game being dated than its age. Technology is in no way responsible for EarthBound’s timeless qualities. Franky, Super Mario RPG looks better. Heck, the enemies in EarthBound don’t even move when you fight them. They are static images. But it doesn’t matter. A good game is a good game, no matter the technological limitations.
In the end, quality never feels dated.
That’s Why the Duck Will Never Seem Dated…
Screenshot by Flickr User: Justin Taylor