Sunday, March 25, 2012

Raiders of the Lost Art

I'm back from a one-week hiatus, which I'm going to call a mid-season finale in lieu of actually explaining where I went (that information is classified). All that matters is that I'm back now and I'm ready to chat some more with you fine people.

The other day, a close friend of mine lent me a videogame called Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the videogame world...good luck reading this article. At least let me give you a quick little intro into Castlevania 101 so that you know what you're getting into here.

In a grossly condensed nutshell, Castlevania is a videogame franchise published by a popular game development company called Konami. The first game -simply titled Castlevania -came out on the Nintendo Entertainment System way back in May of 1987 (one month before I was born, in fact, and years before anyone in the world had the slightest idea what the fuck a "@" was supposed to be). The franchise centers on a group of interchangeable protagonists who all share a common trait of really, really disliking that Dracula fellow, to such an extent that they all take up arms and cut their way through hordes of monsters cobbled together from nearly every mythological pantheon ever created in the hopes that they'll get to stab Count Dracula right between the eyes at the end of it all. In fact, one of the aforementioned interchangeable protagonists hates Dracula so much that even after the vampire has been killed & chopped into numerous pieces, this hero takes it upon himself to travel the world, collect all of the pieces, assemble them, and resurrect the bastard...just so he can have the pleasure of killing him all over again. These are some sick fucking people, no question there, and it often leads one to wonder who the real blood-thirsty monster is in all of this. But I digress.

Since the Castlevania series began back when 8-bit graphics were a huge deal, most of the games have remained comfortably entrenched in their two-dimensional visual style. And it works. The games are great. But in the mid-nineties, everyone started to make the jump to3-D, and Castlevania felt that it better hop on that bandwagon, too. The result left fans of the franchise feeling as if a wooden stake had been driven through their own hearts. The most probable explanation for this is that the games are built around two primary mechanics: jumping, and killing things with a whip. Literally, that's it. If you want to sum up Castlevania in as few words as possible, it'd be: Jump. Whip monsters. Repeat. And neither jumping nor whipping translates well into blocky 3-D gaming. Hence, stakes through the heart.

I'm happy to say, though, that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is definitely the best three-dimensional game in the entire series. It's done well, even if it is a huge departure from what the series used to be. It has its faults, and its definitely more its own animal than any kind of continuation of what came before. Naturally, this got me reminiscing about the older games and wishing I could take a crack at them again. Unfortunately, doing so is a lot easier said than done.

You see, videogames are not like movies or TV shows: you can't just walk into a Best Buy and find old ones lying around on DVD. The only games that sell are the brand-spanking new ones. Everything else is swept off the shelves as soon as it stops generating revenue. Finding copies of a game that was released more than three years ago can prove to be a more daunting and challenging task than actually beating the game itself. And if you're like me, who grew up playing them in the pre-digital age when everything came inside those charming little plastic cartridges, then finding old games from your youth is probably going to require you to enlist aid from someone who actually stands a chance of finding Robert freaking Langdon for starters.

Cartridges aren't like digital media: they don't last forever, nor do the machines capable of running them. So games that were only ever in circulation in cartridge form run the risk of actually vanishing from existence if all copies of that game wear out over time before anyone has a chance to digitally back them up.

There are some old games that can be downloaded online via a Nintendo Wii or and Xbox 360, but those games are pre-selected by corporate stuffwads and are few and far between. Not everybody's favourite games are going to be there, and downloading these things is going to cost you almost as much money as you'd spend buying a brand-new game, especially if you're looking for a lot of older titles (which most folks are).

So what's the point of this ramble? To be frank, I think that there should be more of a concentrated effort to preserve classic videogames. After all, look at how much dedication goes into preserving art. Why can't we do the same for games? Why should these cherished pieces of electronic entertainment go the way of the dodo, especially in today's era where the amount of technology available at the fingertips of average Joes like us is enough to make even George Jetson blush? Everything and its mother is backed up now: every book or movie or piece of music or video clip or grocery list exists in some Apple-approved form. More videogames need this kind of love, too!

Whenever I ask my parents what they used to do for fun as kids, they'd tell me about all of these long-past wonders that seem like vague legend now. Every one of my parents' stories begins with, "Well, they don't make these anymore, but we used to have [BLANK]", or "Oh, man, there were these great things called [BLANK], you kids don't know what you missed out on!" One day, our kids will inevitably ask us, "Hey mom, hey dad, what did you guys do for fun when you were little?" Thanks to modern tech, we will be the first generation in history to be able to answer that question first-hand, by pulling up a digital copy of the first season of Thundercats and saying, "Well, they don't make these anymore, but we used to have hand-drawn cartoons. Here, see for yourself." (Oh, and don't get me started on cartoons, that's a rant for another time).

Why can't we get our kids to try their hands at Space Invaders or Altered Beast or Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine? It's so easy to back these old games up. We not only have the technology, we've reached the point where we're wallowing waist-deep in it. Let's not let these gems of the past become just another series of [BLANKS].


  1. Another great entry! Looking forward to the next one:)

  2. Dude, nearly EVERY classic NES game has been backed up. Every Atari, NES, Master System, Genesis, Gameboy, GBA, SNES, MAME (The big arcade machines) game... hell, even Sega CD has been all backed up. You can find ANY one of them.

    I know it's not the same as the cartridge... but you are asking for a digital backup. Plus, I can get you pretty much ANY one of them, and an emulator to play them. Possibly an old school controller that's been retrofitted to go into your computer so you can really feel like you're playing it.

    (@ used to mean "at rate" it was used for accountants and grocers for generations before it meant "at location")