Retro games are starting to feel REALLY old

Castle of Illusion has been trending on Twitter recently, thanks to the fact it’s just one of a clutch of games from my childhood that are getting remade. So I thought I’d get out my Mega Drive copy of the original and have a go on it. Normally, it would just be a blast from the past in terms of how Mickey looks, but still the same feeling as the game's always had. But it wasn’t, not this time. This time… it was old.

Not ‘a bit outdated’, but properly ancient. Archaic. Antiquated. A whole load of words starting with ‘A’ and ending in sadness. What the hell are these things on my shelf? Fat plastic boxes with anthropomorphic animals on the front. Great big cartridges inside. And what the hell is this where the HDMI cable should be? A coaxial cable? Really? 

Does my TV even have one of those on it? Oh, yes it does. OK. Well let’s play some Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse then.

So I tuned my TV to the analogue signal from my Sega Nomad (my Mega Drive is somewhere in the garage so I brought out the big guns) and went to sit down on the sofa.

But I couldn’t. The aerial cable was too short. Sure, a 'proper' Mega Drive would have a pad attached to the console with a longer lead, but even so, the experience is restricted by cables. Cables that in my case now could only deliver a black and white picture that wobbled and flipped out if I moved. Probably because something had taken a big gash out of the flex. So I tried some DIY repairs. 

That’s not a comedy mock-up; That was my genuine effort to fix it. It almost worked. But not really. So I gave up with the TV and sat back with the Nomad. A level into the game, the battery light came on, indicating it was running out. That’s fine. These batteries have been sat in the battery pack for a few months.

Six new AA batteries and I’m back in the game. But this time, level 2 was again interrupted by the battery light coming on. What could possibly be wrong with these batteries? I bought them from Poundland last week... oh, right. Hmmph. So out comes the AC Adaptor. And *finally* I can play.

Mickey looks weird. His face is too white and his animation is pretty poor for a Disney game. And the Nomad’s screen isn’t even the same resolution as a 480i TV. Plus the edges of the picture are straying into photographic negative territory. I can’t find a decent compromise between brightness and deep colours.

So I move onto Virtua Racing. After a few non-responsive boot attempts and a few good ‘blow on the contacts’ reps, I’m in. On the small Nomad screen, it looks acceptable – god knows what the chequerboard shading effects would look like now through HDMI. I’m getting good lap times. In fact, I’m getting incredible lap times. My old personal best of 37.70 on Big Forest (indelibly stamped onto my long-term memory, it would seem) gets smashed by almost half a second. Woot.

But before I can take a picture of my first new record, I have to finish the Time Attack, which I’ve set at 20 laps. Of course, it all goes wrong. As I'm sure you're (almost certainly not) aware, Virtua Racing on Mega Drive has an interesting mechanic where too many directional inputs in quick succession makes your car lose traction. But if you’re good, you can use four swift re-applications of ‘right’ to get around the final turn of Big Forest flat out.

But on the fourth, excited push on the fastest of fast laps, my game freezes. My over-exuberance at seeing the outside of the corner approaching with a full press left in the bank has made me jog the Nomad somehow and it’s stopped working. Frozen.

I haven’t had my time uploaded to an online leaderboard. There is no such thing as flash memory. It’s gone. In fact, Virtua Racing never even had battery back-up in the first place, unlike F1 from Domark, the save files for which (incredibly) still work on my cartridge. In VR's case, the game probably expects me to write the time down with pen and paper. But instead, when I finally post an even better lap, I take a mega-high res photo and upload it to Twitter using my mobile telephone. That's a pretty major lick of technological progress we've seen in 20 years.

Head on over to page two and see Mickey Mouse as an old man... er... mouse.




  • pinoklin - April 22, 2013 6:54 a.m.

    well in my case my NES is a pain in the ass when i try to turn it on. but the other day i managed to play some smb and it was awesome, but it felt as bit old on how mario was controlled, i have grown used to movement being perfect and precise so i kept dying in the most absurd situations because the response from the character was not fast enough. needless to say it was fun but frustrating.
  • jack-lindsey - April 21, 2013 6:47 a.m.

    Dont agree i look upon vintage games as being reborn on portable, my S3 has every game known to man pre Ps1/N64 and a good few post ps1/n64
  • Fruitbat - April 21, 2013 3:30 a.m.

    I think this is more decrying the faults with ancient hardware rather than the games themselves; a lot of retro games are available on WiiWare and most of the problems listed here are gone; for much older games like NES and Master System, it's worth just using a PC emulator with either an original controller and adaptor or a USB replica, not to use all the fanciest filters under the sun but to smooth out the rough edges that came with the hardware of the day. Castle of Illusion is still very much playable as a game, I can tell you that.
  • vincentdarkwood - April 20, 2013 9:46 p.m.

    When they announced Duck Tales remastered, I decided it was time to remove some dust from my old NES and bring the memories back to life. Luckily the NES has video/audio outputs so i didn't have any trouble plugging it into the TV. When I finally managed to get it running i was not disappointed at all, the game was still the same awesome expierence I remembered from years ago. So I don't think every retro game is powered by nostalgia
  • dcbernman - April 20, 2013 8:35 a.m.

    Liek dis if yu cry, evry teim. For me, the oldest games I'm familiar with are on the SNES (never really got into the old Sega consoles, though riotous playthroughs of Bananster Brothers at a friend's house resound in my memory) and I'd like to give the old Sega consoles a few chances. I've been really enjoying the old games on GoG, and while some remain timeless to me (Master of Orion 2, anyone?) Baldur's Gate, while obviously amazing for its time, feels really old to me too... but I also have to remember that our sensibilities have changed since the 90s, and that has an effect on how we perceive old games. When I'm able to get past all the F2P MMOs and other modern staples, I still enjoy my favorite classics as much as I ever have. Which is funny, because just about all of these old games I've played since 2009, when I was 18. So I think there's plenty of room for younger gamers to find joy in the classics.
  • AtlanteanLancer - April 20, 2013 6:35 a.m.

    we shouldn't engage in hyperbolas when comparing old games to modern the way we see the old games in our nostalgic visions is NOT the way they truly are, not only has the technology changed our expectations but our child-like minds are gone as well if you didnt experience it back then, might as well not even bother. and if you have, better leave those memories innocent and intact nothing can ever again replace the feeling of Yoshi's island or Donkey Kong, and that's a bit sweet and sad at the same time.
  • RADencker - April 19, 2013 11:07 p.m.

    This game was THE platformer for me back on the Genesis. One of the best looking 16-bit era games. Can't wait for it' s HD remake.
  • Galgomite - April 19, 2013 4:37 p.m.

    Justin, the last time I read one of your articles you were gushing about Sonic and Nights. I assumed you had a rad old-school setup, not a Megadrive lost in your garage! Perhaps nostalgia really has run its course for you, but at least seperate the wheat from the chaff. There's a world of difference between even a derivative 2D platformer and a janky, 20fps tech demo like VR. 3D racers of all stripes are still a popular, advancing genre, so why would you be nostalgic? 2D platformers, meanwhile, have slipped if anything over time thanks to wireless controllers and laggy HDTVs. Before you give up on a solid and likeable platformer like Castle of Illusion, you owe it to yourself to play on a decent CRT screen, with a high-end connection like SCART. And BTW: Adult eyes + Nomad = Blindness:)
  • J-Fid - April 19, 2013 3:13 p.m.

    Maybe this is a Sega thing? I still enjoy playing my old Game Boy Color games. They look fine to me (for what I'm expecting) and they still play just as well as they did when I first got them.
  • Bobkatt - April 19, 2013 3:39 p.m.

    Probably not. On the GG or Nomad you could actually see what was going on onscreen even if the viewing angle and lighting was less than optimal in the room. ;)
  • MrXLiebezeit - April 19, 2013 3:09 p.m.

    To me this kind of seems like complaining that Black and White movies aren't good because they're black and white. But then there are some people that can look past it....
  • larkan - April 20, 2013 12:27 p.m.

    Games are not art, and like everything else, once you've watched or played something half a million times, it gets awfully tiresome to see them made over and over and over again (indie devs making 8-bit games and charging $15, I'm looking at you.)
  • MrXLiebezeit - April 20, 2013 3:09 p.m.

    Yes games are art. And any art has that same feeling. If you see the same painting over and over again it gets old. I'm not going to argue with you "Games are not art" people, because you obviously have no idea what art even is, and explaining it to you is not going to work. I'm not even going to try but I am going to say that they are But I do agree that indie devs making 8 bit games is one of the worse things to happen, because it does make the older games seem tired out to our brains. And honestly it's very unimaginative on their part, just like I feel people who make black and white movies these days are.
  • MrXLiebezeit - April 21, 2013 6:47 p.m.

    I disagree. They are art, they are just crappy art. If that was the argument then cubism and impressionism wouldn't be art. Though many don't consider those art, but I guess that's something for another discussion, in another place(as in, not gamesradar)
  • Bobkatt - April 19, 2013 3:06 p.m.

    Gameradar: "" There is no such thing as flash memory. It’s gone. In fact, Virtua Racing never even had battery back-up in the first place, unlike F1 from Domark, the save files for which (incredibly) still work on my cartridge. In VR's case, the game probably expects me to write the time down with pen and paper."" Technically not true. The Japanese version of Virtua Racing did have battery saves.
  • GR_JustinTowell - April 19, 2013 3:29 p.m.

    Good thing they passed on the saving to the cust... oh.
  • Bobkatt - April 19, 2013 7:57 p.m.

    Yes I think it was jolly decent of them. Not like today when games cost nearly nothing to print, but are they nerly free as a result, no. Pinchy bastards! But just what was the profit margins on that game after the hardware scale back anyways?
  • W.A.C. - April 19, 2013 2:37 p.m.

    This is big part of the reason why I play older games on emulators. You can't get older games to look this nice on original hardware.

Showing 1-20 of 37 comments

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