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Why I once loved it: Phantasy Star was the first $70 game I ever saw… and this was in 1987 dollars. Somehow, it surpassed even the expectations of such a ludicrous price.
Its graphics were so incredible for 8-bit, I couldn’t believe they were possible. It had first-person, “3D” dungeons. I marveled at the animation as the camera actually rotated when I turned a corner! The game was also impossibly huge. You could explore three entire planets! You had a talking cat in your party that could be equipped with various mouth-wielded weaponry! The final boss was freaking terrifying.
Above: Limping back to the starting town after a grueling bout of giant wasp hunting
Why I now hate it: Phantasy Star possibly invented grinding. I don’t mean that you had to fight random battles to gain experience. I mean the very beginning of the game was hours and hours of fighting the same two damn enemies - a giant wasp and a tarantula - over and over because if you tried to walk more than half a screen length away from your starting town, you would never make it back alive. You were lucky to survive three fights against wasps.
Then there were the amazing-looking dungeons. Every corridor looked exactly the same, and the maps were horrendously convoluted labyrinths, and of course the game provided no maps. I had one save file where I literally was trapped inside a dungeon and never found my way out. I had to restart the game from scratch. Which meant, of course, killing 5000 wasps all over again. And people think children are impatient.
Why I once loved them: Because I was eight years old and therefore stupid. But in my defense, most home consoles in 1980 looked like the unholy offspring of a ham radio and a station wagon and played nothing but Pong in several variations. The Atari 2600 was a whole new world. It played tons of games that actually weren’t Pong, and they were color instead of black & white. Atari was imaginative and cool – if I saw the Yars’ Revenge box art painted on a mirror at a carnival tomorrow, I’d spend every dollar I had until I got it – and everything else was a pretender.
Plus, the 2600 had Space Invaders – that’s a real arcade game! And you could play it at home! The future was mind-blowing!
Above: A cutting-edge RPG, circa 1980. You are the square
Why I now hate them: Because there’s a reason the controller only needed one stick and one button – these games are soul-crushingly simplistic. Outlaw? Draw your gun faster than the other guy. Breakout? There’s a bouncy ball and some bricks. That is all. Kaboom? Catch the bombs. Even Pitfall, arguably the 2600’s finest game, feels incredibly tedious today. Only a few 2600 games still hold up – Asteroids, Berzerk, Space Invaders – but they’ve all spawned better-playing descendants.
Don’t get me wrong: I cherish my childhood memories of playing Atari, I still think this is awesome, and I still have 2600 cartridges in my garage today. But ten minutes with any of them is enough to make me wonder if all eight year-olds are as dumb as I was.
Mar 23, 2010
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