Six Old Video Game Genres that Deserve a Comeback
They don't make 'em like they used to, an old refrain that couldn't be more true for video games. Our favorite hobby is also one of the fastest evolving forms of entertainment in history, with new features and new ways of playing added constantly. What was cool two years - or even six months - ago suddenly becomes stale as soon as the next round of innovative titles are announced. Heck, we can't even look at a first-person shooter that doesn't have a cover system these days (and even those are starting to show their age). In our eagerness to adopt the latest technologies and gameplay innovations, however, we run the risk of forgetting great ideas from the not-so-distant past. Here are six genres that used to bring joy to our gamer hearts but sadly, aren't made in large numbers anymore.
2D Platformers (Super Mario Brothers 3, Adventure Island, Bonk's Adventure)
Many will argue that platformers haven't gone anywhere, they've simply grown up. Mario Galaxy and LittleBigPlanet are recent examples of platformers, although they are light-years removed from the simple 2D games that spawned them. The recent surprise success of Mega Man 9 on Xbox Live, and the strong hype surrounding Prinny on the PSP show that we are actually starved from some proper 2D platforming on the current crop of systems. We don't really care about fancy, polygonal graphics. We don't want a music-rhythm component, we don't want touch or motion controls; we just want our little pixilated guy to jump when we press the button. The fact that Super Mario Brothers 3 still holds up after all these years is proof that the hardware does not make the game. Unfortunately, what it takes to make a competent 2D platformer is increasingly rare in the games industry: a creative idea, a willingness to take a risk, and total dedication to unique level design.
Geopolitical Strategy Games (Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Nobunaga's Ambition)
In the 1980s, pretty much all video gamers were geeks, but some were far geekier than others. The really nerdy kids (like yours truly) spent their Saturday afternoons sitting too close to the TV playing at uniting ancient China in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This timeless classic paved the way for much more complex strategy games, but somewhere during the march of progress, the original magic has been lost. Players would manage an empire in China circa 200 A.D., when feudal city-states and petty generals vied with one another for supremacy. These games were always turn-based, with a kingdom-management phase, a diplomacy phase, and a battle phase where one could conquer neighboring fiefdoms by force.
We're not saying we want to go all the way back to the old-school simplicity of the original NES games - there are lots of cool things that could be added with modern hardware. For example, we'd like to be able to send our spies out over Xbox Live and PSN to kill our friends' leaders while they sleep.
Roguelikes (Nethack, Shiren the Wanderer)
The player wanders through level after level of a non-descript dungeon, battling waves of progressively more dangerous enemies and gathering loot along the way. A recent Shiren remake on DS made us remember just how addictive and awesome this genre is. There are, of course, reasons for its inglorious decline in popularity: the games are notoriously hard, giving players only one life and the inability to save. What makes roguelikes seem so fresh nowadays is precisely this insane conceit; with only one life to live, random battles suddenly become important, and skill points a matter of life and death. These games also force players to adopt a new perspective on stat-building, that is less about a monotonous grind and more about meeting immediate, small-scale goals. Japanese RPGs have made us soft, and it's time for some discipline. Luckily, there is a Wii update of Shiren on the way, but we would like to see more of these games on the Xbox 360 and PS3.
Space Trading Simulators (Elite, Wing Commander Privateer)
Apparently there was a story to Wing Commander: Privateer, but we forgot what it was because we were too busy trading with Pirates and running contraband to New Detroit. The concept of these games is simple, but incredibly compelling: The player is given a ship with guns on the front and storage bays in the back. Sent out into the vastness of space, the player interacts with alien races both friendly and not, while trading commodities between systems to improve their ship and equipment. Outside of MMOs like Earth and Beyond, there really haven't been any good single-player entries in the genre since pre-2000, and yet the definitive example has certainly yet to be made. Here's an example where current-gen hardware could really be put to work. Imagine if Mass Effect gave players total freedom to travel between planets, trade with them, and pilot their own fighter, in addition to the detailed RPG elements. Sure, the final product would probably need to ship on 4 separate disks, but it would be worth it.
Cold War Arcade Shooters (Jackal, Metal Slug, Ikari Warriors)
Sadly for gamers, the fall of the Berlin wall came just as arcade games were starting to get good. In 1989, there was no shortage of titles that let us go hog wild on waves of soviet Hind helicopters over Afghanistan, or obliterate ground-based villages in fictional "Jungle" stages.
Unfortunately for fans of military arcade shooters, the current geopolitical climate has shifted away from America trying to force-feed democracy to Communists from the barrel of an M16. Instead of building gigantic desert fortresses, America's current enemies tend to do a lot of hiding in caves and sending videotapes to CNN, not the most fertile ground on which to base a videogame. Despite the absence of any real worthwhile fictional enemy, the hoary workhorse Metal Slug series continues to trundle on with release after uninspired release. But SNK can't carry the torch alone: what we really need is some new blood, and lots of it, to rejuvenate the genre. In order to do that, game developers have to get creative and look for some new geopolitical scapegoats for inspiration. Watch out Argentina, your cyber-Llamas are no match for Captain Commando and his army of drone UAVs. North Korea, you so much as step out of line, and our G-Force fighter will be carpet bombing a path toward the final boss in Pyonyang before you can say "Insert Coin".
Thoughtful Adventure Games (Myst, King's Quest, Manhunter)
If the Obama administration won't let us bring down the entire North Korean People's Army in a video game, maybe the careful, reflective qualities of the current political leadership will help resuscitate another dying genre: games that make you go "hmm." Last year's Spore was a step in the right direction, but it took $50 million and six years to make. Most of the classics didn't even cost a fraction of that, and they were arguably better.
Because thinking games were aimed at adults, they could take on themes and concepts that are rarely dealt with in games nowadays. Another great quality of these titles was that they were hard - not because there was an unreasonably amount of bullets on screen at one time, but because players were challenged to figure out solutions to problems themselves. There was no minimap with an arrow pointing to the next destination on a connect-the-dots trip from start to finish. Part of the fun of these games was exploring the game world, learning the logic that governed it, and then creatively finding the solution. Some stalwart developer have refused to cater to the lowest common denominator and continue to make challenging, intelligent games. Recent indie project Braid was a good example, as was Hotel Dusk for the Nintendo DS.
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