Behold, the ravages of age!
Going back to play your favourite old games can be a bastard, can't it? The steady, goose-stepping march of progress steadfastly disrespects all that it tramples over. As such, those golden gaming spectacles of youth can rapidly end up looking about as awe-inspiring as a drunk tramp fumbling to unbutton his fly for five minutes while mumbling about the pigeons. Before ultimately pissing himself.
But fear not. Some games have been drinking from the fountain of youth. Whether by canny visual design, tight game mechanics, or random freak luck, there are some you can go back to year after year, knowing that although you might have changed, they won't have for a second. So click on, and leave your nostalgia at the door. You won't need it here. You're in a safe place.
Resident Evil 4
How old is it, really? The original version was released in 2005. In game-years, that makes it a well looked after early-thirtysomething. The kind who moisturises well.
So why is it still so damn perky? Basically because Resident Evil 4s gameplay mechanics were perfectly pitched and finely honed at the time of release. Forget any erroneous recent criticism that it feels dated compared to modern shooters. That thinking misses the point. Although it set the template for the over-the-shoulder vibe of modern cover-shooters, Resi 4 is intentionally a very different beast. Although more accessible than the previous games, Resi 4s gameplay model is still resolutely built around restriction rather than freedom. The idea is to immerse the player more directly and immediately into the player-characters position, and use that immediacy to facilitate more frantic, yet still highly evasive, combat situations. Resi 4s stiffness and control limitations arent a failing. Theyre a deliberate design decision, intended to force creative, precise use of space and economical, tactical crowd control. Theyre not a clunky misfire, but rather the whole damn point.
Final Fantasy VI
How old is it, really? Released in 1994, Final Fantasy VI is now 20 years old. In game-years, that puts it somewhere in its late-40s.
So why is it still so damn perky? Because it presents pretty much the pinnacle of 2D pixel-art in a 16-bit game. Its the technical and expressive high-point of its era, whereas its follow-ups suffer from stumbling through their periods messy childhood and awkward adolescence. Although released only three years later, the PS1s Final Fantasy VII isnt holding up anything like as well, due to its use of clunky, early 3D polygons and basic CGI. By keeping things simple but polished, Final Fantasy VI has remained timeless. Its narrative is told entirely through the game-engine, ensuring no jarring jumps between game and cinematics. Its gameplay is a deep but focused iteration of the core tenets of the series. Its script, visuals and soundtrack are as affecting as you could want, through their deft, underplayed combination and--crucially--because they strive for expression rather than realism. The more you strive for real-world fidelity, the further youll fall when you miss.
How old is it, really? The first, basic iteration of Geometry Wars appeared as an unlockable minigame in Project Gotham Racing 2. That was in 2003. The full, standalone version landed in 2005, making its birth-date a bit vague. As such, its probably early to mid-thirties in game-years.
So why is it still so damn perky? Ultra-stylised art and smooth, 2D gameplay. By being deliberately styled to emulate the basic vector shapes of early arcade graphics, Geometry Wars side-steps any potential ageing from the start, providing clean, clear, abstract looks that are never going to date, however realistic games with more representative graphics become. Similarly, the games resolutely 2D focus (even though its technically rendered in 3D) means that its never going to look creaky by way of either polygon count or spatial believability. If youre not convinced by any of this, click on to the next entry and Ill prove it.
Star Wars arcade
How old is it, really? Its 31 years old, having been released in 1983, alongside Return of the Jedi. In game-years, that makes it as old as the Queen Mother. Who is now dead.
So why is it still so damn perky? Same reasons as Geometry Wars, except that its graphical style came about by contemporary necessity rather than retro-cool design. But seriously, just look at it. Its the kind of decadent neon firework display that modern games like Super Stardust and Resogun are desperate to emulate. And being driven by vectors rather than sprites, it manages to do 3D in an entirely convincing fashion, while running smoother than an ice skate made of butter. And its much less likely to see you hospitalised. Win win!
How old is it, really? The original, home computer version was released in 1984. The better-known Game Boy debut happened in 1989. In game-years, its pretty much a grandparent.
So why is it still so damn perky? Because Tetris is one of those rare, perfectly formed game ideas that exists purely by and of its mechanics. There are blocks. They fit together. Thats it. Its a digital jigsaw puzzle, only simpler, because you dont need to spend an hour digging out all the corner pieces first. Anyone with any level of basic spatial awareness can comprehend it on sight, and as such it has never needed a single damn addition or upgrade in order to remain compulsive over the years. The original Tetris is undated because its impossible to date Tetris. Theres no way that modern technology or fashionable design trends can add to or improve it. If there are shapes, then there is Tetris. It was perfect, fully-formed and eternal the day it was conceived.
How old is it, really? It was released in 2003. In game-years its probably in its mid-30s, but is growing older disgracefully. Still wearing tight jeans and going to raves, etc. Pulling it off though.
So why is it still so damn perky? 60 frames per second and a level of sensory overload previously reserved for the brainwashing scene in A Clockwork Orange. By ensuring that F-Zero GX was so silky smooth at launch, Sega effectively future-proofed the game from decay, like a well-varnished grandma you can pull out for family photos for generations to come. GXs driving model is immediate, simple, but nuanced, with a total lack of realism ensuring that it will never be adversely compared to later racers. Thats how you cultivate an evergreen driving game. Ensure that your handling plays by its own rules, make sure that your game's technical performance is polished, and it will forever remain a self-contained wonder of a thing, free from the jeers of the more advanced young whippersnappers of the sim world.
Quake III Arena
How old is it, really? 15 years old, currently. In game-years, that has it coming up for middle age.
So why is it still so damn perky? An endlessly explorable, immaculately coded gameplay model, and a decade and a half of community input. Despite its age, Quake III is one of the most open-ended, experimentation-friendly competitive shooters around. The robust physics underpinning the lightning-fast, high-flying combat are malleable enough for endless invention, yet sturdy enough to accommodate anything players throw at them. That, coupled to iDs open design philosophy and John Carmacks warlock-level programming skills, has seen the game evolve ever since its release. Rocket jumps, grenade hops, plasma-fuelled wall runs, strafe-jumping, and vast, extravagant combinations of all of the above continue to make QIII an inventive, spectacular experience, both in normal gameplay and the thriving exhibition stunt scene. As for the visuals, eclectic fan mods have kept it looking fresh since 99.
Silent Hill 2
How old is it, really? 13 years old right now, having been released in 2001. In game-years, its easily pushing 40. Maybe even past that, but lying about its age due to a resulting existential crisis.
So why is it still so damn perky? Because atmosphere trumps fidelity every time. And whats more, the tricks that Silent Hill 2 uses to build its thick, suffocating, all-consuming vibe lend themselves particularly well to masking graphical indiscretions. Limited draw distance? Fog will sort that out. Dated textures and limited-polygon models? Fog has your back there too, and his best friend, Jimmy Filmgrain, cant wait to help out either. Shroud the whole thing in darkness and gloom, and give everything a deliberately grimy, broken-down vibe, and youll find that any remaining issues actually add to the atmosphere rather than detracting from it. Also, no amount of time can ever erode the mesmerising power of that soundtrack and story.
So, who else has been drinking the tears of orphans? Any other games stumbled upon the the secret elixir of life? Or have you recently been horrified by how badly a game has aged? Let me know in the comments.
And then have a look at some of our related features. If you're in the mood for some visually-inflicted LOLs, check out Old video games made politically correct (opens in new tab). Or if old folks busting skulls and adjusting their hearing aids to take names is more your thing, head to The Top 7... badass old folks (opens in new tab).