In 2023, my favorite video games are old
I am an old man. 41 years old to be precise.
But I try to preserve a youthful vibe, stay connected to the new, fighting hard against the death of light – the brain death of interacting only with the cultural pillars of your ill-spent youth.
Instead, I became an embarrassment in the opposite direction. I went “hello kids”. I am no ordinary father, I am a cool dad. Inside-out baseball cap, desperately keeping up with today’s trends. Join TikTok, avoid use of cringe emoji, fight the good fight against cheug.
When it comes to video games, it’s easy to stay trendy. Since art is tied to advanced technology, video games are much more likely to get updates in the form of sequels and spin-offs. While it’s easy to imagine dads in their forties tuning into classic rock radio to hear the hits of yesteryear, it’s impossible to imagine just playing Pong, Pac-Man or other games from the same era.
I grew up in the 90s, with Oasis, Blur and Pulp as my musical references – and I still look them up on Spotify – but I don’t regularly fire up the Super Nintendo to play Super Mario World.
No – I usually play anything new like a normal person, whether it’s Elden Ring or Signalis or whatever. Because, thanks to technology, new video games are almost always more engaging than old video games.
Well, sort of.
Because let’s face it: 2023 has been a weird year for video games. Over the past 3 months, the best video games have been… old.
We had the Dead Space Remake, a brilliantly executed reworking of the classic sci-fi horror title, first released in 2008. Capcom recently dropped Resident Evil 4 – a remake of one of the most popular video games. influencers of the past 20 years. This got perfect scores across the board. People are losing their minds.
But personally, after Nintendo released a remastered edition in mid-February this year, I played Metroid Prime.
Metroid Prime is old. Metroid Prime can legally drink in bars.
It’s a game that felt jettisoned from the future when it was released on the GameCube in 2002. As if someone had ripped through the space-time continuum and handed us this shiny otherworldly artifact before closing the gate.
But somehow, in 2023, Metroid Prime feels even stranger. The controls, the aesthetics of the game’s complex universe, the way the game changes shape by constantly reinterpreting its own spaces with confusing and impressive mechanics – Metroid Prime looked like an anomaly 20 years ago, but time only made it more special. In the years since its release, nothing has come close to reproducing it.
If anything, Metroid Prime is a reminder of how stagnant big-budget video games have become in its wake. Of course, we’ve seen some big swings – Breath of the Wild has successfully reinvented open-world play. From Software, through games like Dark Souls and Elden Ring, practically invented a new genre. But, outside of the indie space, most big-budget titles have played it extremely safe over the past decade.
In a world where most AAA games let you collect loot to craft new gear and cycle through meaningless skill trees, playing Metroid Prime feels like stepping into a different universe. It turns out that video games with a unique identity are a GOOD thing. Replaying Metroid Prime in 2023 was like an electric shock, reminding me that games aren’t meant to tick boxes or sit in a comfort zone. They’re supposed to make your synapses shoot in directions you couldn’t even imagine beforehand.
I thought about it while playing God of War: Ragnarok right after. As a multi award-winning and critically acclaimed video game, I was shaken by how quickly Ragnarok put me on autopilot. This beautiful game – created by hundreds of talented developers at the peak of their collective powers – had me asleep within hours. It felt so familiar, not just because it was a sequel, but because it moved and played like a polished version of games I’d played endlessly for the past four or five years.
In some ways, that’s an unfair comparison. Metroid Prime wasn’t remastered by accident. It was remastered because it was a vintage video game that we fondly remember decades after its release. Even a game like Ragnarok, loved by millions of gamers, probably won’t have the same long-term impact as Metroid Prime. Although it won a few Game of the Year awards, it’s hard to imagine audiences clamoring for a Ragnarok remake 20 years later.
But what struck me about Metroid Prime was how little it had changed and – conversely – how had to change to make it acceptable to people who weren’t even born when this game first came out. There were visual improvements, sure, but for the most part Metroid Prime Remastered was the same video game I played on the GameCube in my early 20s. Not once does Metroid Prime betray its age, on the contrary, it always feels cutting edge.
Why is that?
Maybe because Metroid Prime was so unique in the first place? Perhaps because nothing – not a single game – attempted to pull off the same magic trick. Maybe. But it’s also a stark reminder that – for a number of factors – big video games are much more risk averse than they were a decade ago. The stakes (and budgets) are too high. It’s hard to imagine a big-budget title taking that kind of risk.
They don’t make them like they used to.
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