Categories: Lifestyle

Old-school gaming

Game City's general manager Terry Duncan gets in a round of Super Mario Cart on the Super NES console by Nintendo.

Every year, there are hundreds of video-game conventions around the world where people flock to see the cutting-edge technology.

While the brand-new video games are a tremendous draw, which is no surprise since it’s a $10-billion industry, many gamers feel the classic video-game systems are still the better choice.

Terry Duncan, general manager of Game City in St. Albert, explained there are several reasons people come to his store to pick up 20-year-old titles instead of choosing something that was just released.

First and foremost for a lot of people is the nostalgia factor.

“We want our childhood back,” he said. “Everybody wants to be younger or feel younger, so that nostalgia that comes with some of these older classic games is fantastic.”

The combination of nostalgia plus an increased disposable income can easily prompt someone to spend a bit of their hard-earned money on reliving a small part – or not-so-small part – their youth.

But it’s not just a matter of nostalgia. For many classic game enthusiasts, there’s a quality component that can’t be ignored. In the absence of power computers to run photorealistic graphics, gaming systems like Nintendo and Super Nintendo relied much more heavily on in-depth storytelling.

This is something Duncan sees as being lost in a lot of the most popular titles coming out these days, such as the best-selling Call of Duty franchise.

“What story is there to Call of Duty, really, that they can make seven different kinds and push two out per year? How good can it really be?” he said.

For Jackson Cramp, a former Morinville resident and current classic game enthusiast, this argument rings true. Yet it’s also a matter of the atmosphere the games themselves create. Modern games tend to focus on more serious subject matter, while classic games are typically a little more light-hearted.

“For the most part, I think they’re not as serious,” he said. “When you put on the old Super Mario World, you’re just playing for fun. It’s not complex, but at the same time there’s a lot of challenge in it still.”

Furthermore, he said there’s a big difference in the difficulty level of classic games compared to modern games. Many modern titles are full of save points and tutorials, and they basically hold your hand throughout.

Classic games are notoriously more difficult, so there’s a greater feeling of satisfaction when you can win or beat the game.

“Some of them are so hard,” Cramp said. “It’s a serious life accomplishment to complete those old games.”

But he also echoed the sentiment that solid storytelling in the classic games is what keeps him coming back, even to titles he’s played and beaten time and time again like the Legend of Zelda series.

“The one for Super Nintendo was just fantastic, and of course the two on the Nintendo 64, are just such fantastic games with such high-end storytelling,” he said.

But it’s not just a matter of the nostalgia-seekers trying to relive their youth. There are also many younger gamers who see the appeal of the systems that were popular in the days before they were born.

“You would be surprised at the range of gamers,” Duncan said. “We get kids who are six to 10 who are coming in and they want those classic games. They’re collecting those classic games.”

In fact, the nostalgia-seekers are in many cases reluctant parents who follow their children into the store, only to realize their kids are looking at the titles they themselves loved in their childhood.

It doesn’t necessarily come cheap and pay the relatively high prices – nearly $200 for systems released in the ’80s or ’90s. But that’s just a matter of supply and demand, considering many of these titles are rare and hard-to-get.

“I’ll admit we’re a bit higher than what you find online in a lot of places, but you get that whole retail experience,” Duncan said. “The supply is low for us and the demand is high.”

He acknowledged there are many people who choose to use emulators – computer programs that let you download all the games you want and play them – and so the store also sells USB controllers for the old Nintendo systems.

“We’re not oblivious to it. We know it’s a much cheaper way – not legal – but a much cheaper way to do things,” he said.

For Cramp, emulation does provide a cheaper alternative, but there’s something lost in the process – it’s much better to have a physical copy of the game.

“I like the old controllers and the old screens; it’s more nostalgic,” he said. “You can play anything on the computer and find any title that was hard to find, but it lacks that same charm.”

Nonetheless he’s not surprised to see the high prices that some people charge for classic games, as the retail markup is to be expected.

Cramp, however, prefers to do his classic-game shopping on the Internet.

“If you do enough research and shopping around online, you can find all that stuff way cheaper,” he said.

He got around what he sees are too-high prices for North American releases by doing his research and ordering the Japanese versions of the systems and games from overseas.

For most of the games Cramp is looking for – the classic side-scrolling or platformer games in the classic Super-Mario-Bros. style, the fact all the text is in Japanese isn’t a drawback. With just a few buttons, one usually being jump and another being shoot, it doesn’t take a lot of figuring out.

“It’s self-evident,” he said.

Doug Neuman: