May 2, 2009

The flavor has left the building

I'm working on constructing a 3-disc ultimate video game music compilation. Since I'm so meticulous with making mixes, it's going to take me awhile, but I may post the results when I'm done.

1991-1998 was the true Golden Age of Gaming in my mind. I remember being such an avid gamer who got so excited to finally hold the shrink-wrapped box of a long-anticipated game in his paws for the first time. I would test myself to see how long I could go without tearing into it like a hungry pup lunges after a Beggin' strip. I pretty much flipped out when I held my brand new copy of Yoshi's Island one Christmas. I was also in the habit of reading monthly video game publications cover to cover. I was even a member of the Nintendo Power Super Power Club and collected all sorts of nifty trading cards and pogs.

I wish I could experience anywhere near the same passion for gaming today as I did then. It used to be so much fun. Now I have pretty much no interest in playing any console that isn't Nintendo, and even the Wii doesn't excite me that much. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy playing it and am still looking forward to being able to afford more games for it soon, but I just can't be nearly as passionate about the hobby as I was 15 years ago, when video games were such a humongous part of my weird, wild world. In the present, I find myself paying very little attention to modern games, instead spending my time digging up soundtracks, pictures, and whatever odd little virtual trinkets or material collectibles relating to games from the golden age. That seems to give me much more satisfaction than trying to enjoy myself (and failing) by playing grand theft auto or whatever all today's little kids consider the "best game evar." As far as gaming is concerned, I think I would like to remain stuck in the past. Linked to the past, if you will. At least there is the occasional 'niche' game that piques my interest. Like Okami, for instance. Not too many games out there let you play as a wolf god who can do everything ranging from urinating on demons to smiting townspeople with a bolt of lightning at will. I suppose Wii is a very niche system, too, which is probably why it appeals to such niche gamers like myself. (I rather enjoy saying the word "niche.") I know my heart will always remain with Nintendo, bless them and their continued success.

If I had to pick just one game that epitomizes the golden age of video gaming for me, it would have to be a Super Nintendo title, because the SNES will always stand in my mind as the best console ever. It's all gone downhill since then. Narrowing my selection down to just one game with so many wonderful titles to choose from is difficult, but I believe I'll go with Super Mario RPG. Everything about the game is perfect. Unlike so many typical serious RPG's that tend to play out like a soap opera with so many heavy-hearted tragical moments, it hardly takes itself seriously and is full of delightful humor. The characters, even aside from the sexy beast that is Bowser, are lovable and very original. Where else are you going to play as a talking marshmallow-like creature who makes it rain when he cries, or some kid's wooden doll who comes to life by the power of the stars? The entire game blends plenty of creativity and innovation with the lush, colorful worlds that typify Mario games, and tosses in all sorts of nostalgia-inducing throwback Mario moments. Listening to the soundtrack for the game the other night reminded me just how fabulous the musical score is... so many euphonious tunes that make the game even more beautiful. And best of all, it's FUN. This game is the epitome of fun. If you've never played it before, I'm going to sit you down, tie you to the chair, and make you. ...Play the game, I mean.

The closest honorable mentions are, perhaps unsurprisingly, Earthbound and Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. A could write a novel about how great those two games are as well, for many of the same reasons as mentioned above.

I know I've mentioned this a few times before, but once again I'm left wondering whether I've outgrown gaming or gaming outgrew me. I'm willing to bet it's more the latter, since I managed to enjoy the heck out of Super Mario Galaxy, as frustrating as the play control it could be at times (damn lack of gravity!). What I see most "adults" playing these days doesn't look appealing to me at all. I don't decline to play Call of Duty at work with "the boys" to be antisocial, but I tried it once and I knew I could never grow to like games like that one bit. Gaming is hardly the only thing that I can't enjoy nearly as much as I did as a cub. There used to be so many cool messy shows and great cartoons on Nickelodeon, and now almost all their programming is utter crap. Cartoons in general these days can't even come close to matching the splendor of those in the early to mid-90's. And another thing that seems to suck much more now compared to yesteryear is LEGO. Out of curiosity I browsed the toy section at Wal-Mart the other day, noting their LEGO collection mostly consisted of Star Wars and Indiana Jones-themed garbage. Even popular music seems tragically bad now compared to two decades ago.

What gives? Is it merely my childhood nostalgia making everything seem much worse than it used to be, or is everything really that much worse today? Once again, I do believe it's the latter, but I'm not quite sure. Maybe I would have had an even more enjoyable childhood if I was a kid in the 60's and 70's or even earlier than that... but I can say with certitude that I'm glad I didn't have to be a little squirt in this decade, because things that have gotten a whole hell of a lot crappier. But hey, if they don't know what they missed, it can't hurt them.

Oh, why didn't anyone tell me there was a Chocobo kart racing game released 10 years ago? I read the play mechanics are pretty terrible, but still, Chocobo... racing... aww.

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