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Weekly Musings #16 - Good things in old packages
Author: Michael Ahlf 
Date: September 27th 2004
After seeing Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow yesterday, I started thinking - in many ways, the movie was analogous to what many gamers who grew up on games are missing these days. They're missing the same sort of feel that made their games fun, that started them enjoying gaming, that made them go "ooh" at the screen.

It was added to when I sat down with a couple of friends, X-Arcade joysticks at the ready, and we started playing Street Fighter III: Third Strike. We were enjoying it. Our characters had four moves and one super move each, but that didn't matter. There weren't endless modes of play, but that didn't matter either. We were having fun, enjoying a game that had simple rules but was hard to master, and improving against each other as we learned the timing and abilities of the game and the characters better. I was reminded of times playing the original Street Fighter II (sort of skipped Street Fighter, as the series didn't get good until II), when "super" moves didn't exist, but still enjoying the heck out of it.

So I started looking back at my library - I've got a lot of titles like that, and a lot of titles that don't live up to the hype. Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike may be cool, but in terms of fun factor it can't hold a candle to the old arcade Star Wars, or its Atari 2600 port. Viewtiful Joe is nice, but suffers from the prototypical "tons of extras that you have to play through the game 500 times to open up" problem. Marvel VS Capcom 2 is good, but some days I wish there was a REAL port of X-Men VS Street Fighter available to me for posterity's sake. Games that grow off of their earlier incarnations, like the Legacy of Kain series, I love. Games that let me down, like Mortal Kombat 3, I hated. F-Zero GX is good but doesn't hold a candle to F-Zero X - and F-Zero X is different enough from the original F-Zero as to make comparisons impossible. I still have a copy of Einhander. I own Myst for the PSX because I got it cheap, and wanted to have a copy that I could guarantee would run if Microsoft ever broke the old DOS and Win98 compatibilities completely.

I loaded up DosBox and started playing One Must Fall:2097 (now available as freeware download here or at Liberated Games). What a rush. I'd forgotten how cool that game was, and with only two action buttons for a fighting game. I loaded up Crimson Skies for Xbox, which I've always felt - good though it is - is inferior in some ways to the first PC title, focused more on midair MechAssault style combat than true aerial maneuvering. Then I said screw it, and grabbed my joystick and reloaded the original Crimson Skies for some fun. Got to love that obstacle course through Hollywood. I enjoyed those games that were relatively simple, games that required one or two buttons to play but were still hard as heck, and good for hours of fun.

Sky Captain was like that. There was a simplicity in it - some movie reviewers panned it as a "dull" plot, but it wasn't dull at all, it was appropriate for the movie. The movie effects were well-done, visuals made to "feel" like old film, that warm glow of cellulose that you don't really have watching digitally recorded Star Wars but do have watching Episode IV: A New Hope.

I still have a working NES with the original Super Mario Bros cartridges. It's good to go back through old titles, good to enjoy old things. I own a DVD copy of The Court Jester (starring Danny Kaye, the only man ever to make Bing Crosby crack a smile on camera), and a copy of The Princess Bride, for the same reason. I have a neverending tendency to keep reading books, especially old books I can get from stores like Half-Price Books, for the same reason as well.

Every once in a while, it's important to look back. It's important to enjoy the old, not for any reason involving appreciating the new, but simply for the sake of what is old. And then you bring forward what's really, really good about them and make something new. When it fails to live up to the legacy, like Episode I, we mourn. When it manages to do so, as with Sky Captain, we are grateful.

Regular gaming talk will resume next week, I promise. :) Just had to get that off my chest.

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Weekly Musings #16: Good Things in Old Packages

Added:  Monday, September 27, 2004
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf


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