Gamers started out with different standards. Taste evolved as popular games established popular ideas. The context of the time period will always inform the gameplay.
The NES came out when arcade games were big, so Super Mario Bros. was made with that crowd in mind. Super Mario Bros. was designed to make players control Mario cautiously, as the game reset when your lives hit zero. When you memorized a level layout, you could beat the level faster, so that the entire game got shorter if you were both good and confident. In fact, confidence was rewarded, as going faster and hitting enemies together got you points, which gave you lives. There was a delicate balance between acting cautiously to not die and acting quickly for more lives.
By the time Super Mario Bros. DX came out for the Gameboy, saving games was an established feature, so they included it. Suddenly, there was no real danger in sprinting through an unknown level. The stakes had been thrown out and the only real goal of the game became to EVENTUALLY beat a level. The lives were pointless. The score was pointless. The entire game design became “go right”. The obstacles could do nothing more than set you back a minute or so. With no stakes, the game became a time-waster.
That being said, there’s nothing inherently wrong with time-wasters! My first introduction to Super Mario Bros. was the DX version and it was one of my favorite games at the time. Today, playing the DX version gives me no pleasure. I’ve beaten it already and seen all the levels. But playing the original still gives me excitement. Instead of separating each level from each other, Super Mario Bros. treats the entire game as one challenge. And I don’t know if I’ll be able to survive. That uncertainty is what makes the game still exciting.
Apparently you can’t fall in Prince of Persia anymore.
I don’t expect a modern gamer to have the patience to replay the same levels over and over. Explicit and lengthy repetition is not commonplace in today’s games and will be seen as overly-frustrating to today’s gamers. Old school games took a kind of dedication that’s not necessary anymore. We were willing to repeat challenges as a punishment, because the punishment made new levels into exciting privileges.
Old games had a sort of responsibility to them. New games, especially games with frequent checkpoints, remove much of the gratification of success. The only driving force against that right now is the sudden rise of Rogue-likes. Rogue-likes have all the consequences of old school games without feeling boring upon reset. It’s interesting to see this style of gameplay adapt to modern gamers. I’m glad that it hasn’t simply disappeared.
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, a Rogue-like with a surprisingly massive following.
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