There once was a time when my ninja gaming skills were unmatched. Not a single Genesis cartridge was left untouched, and there wasn’t a game I wasn’t able to brutally dominate. I could tear through platformers, run-‘n-guns, and shmups like nobody’s business, and quickly cast a mixed aura of both fear and awe. No one in three schools ever came close to matching my prowess, and whispers echoed throughout the local arcade of how “bewitched” I was, and how my abilities were bestowed upon me by Satan himself, in exchange for my immortal soul.
Ok, maybe I wasn’t that good, but I was a heck of a lot better than I am today. I remember taking on Ghouls ‘N Ghosts with a single credit, being the first in my school to complete Dark Wizard, and guiding Genesis noobs through Double Dragon with stylish skill. Stick close to me and remember to use your elbow move! Ah yes, there was something about me back then that made playing through the latest games almost second nature.
Make no mistake, my Genesis was thoroughly whipped on a regular basis, to the point that it practically bowed its head in my presence and booted up on command. Revenge of Shinobi‘s final dungeon fell before me in little time, due to relentless determination and an unwillingness to admit defeat. An entire day of school was missed (and a girlfriend left bitter and angry) in my single-minded quest for victory. This digital blitzkrieg was applied to all genres equally, especially RPGs. For example, I beat Phantasy Star II without the guide or even an instructional manual…in less than five days. Yeah, I was a badass. Wassup?
So could someone please tell me what the hell happened? Where did my powers go? Why have they forsaken me?
Over the last decade or so, I’ve watched with increasing impotence as my once-enviable abilities have slowly ebbed away like so much runny oatmeal poured into the sink. No longer am I a god among gamers, and I won’t even think to show my face around an arcade anymore. Things there aren’t like they used to be, and the sheer amount of fighting, racing, and light gun games are unholy territory for an old school gamer like myself. I love those genres, that’s for sure, but it’s more of a casual thing compared to what used to be my bread and butter. Competition is unthinkable in that setting, and I flee from challenge like a vampire from sunlight.
What then, could have caused this reversal of fortune? At first, I just thought that it had something do with the change in gaming styles over the last few hardware generations. We’ve gone from a platform/mascot-centered industry to one more focused on gritty, realistic games. They put their emphasis on the cinematic and sensory-orientated more often than not, and twitch gameplay is not a factor. This trend is gaining more momentum with each passing year, and now the so-called “serious game” segment is growing exponentially, meaning the 16-bit world we knew and loved is being left ever farther behind. Don’t believe me? Check out this article from GameSpot and you’ll see what I mean. This, along with the move to darker and more adult-themed games like Grand Theft Auto and Resident Evil had me thinking that my Sonic skills were no longer needed, and this sudden change caused an unstoppable atrophy that has left me weak and vulnerable. Not even my beloved Game Boy Advance and its hefty stable of 2D goodness has been able to stem the tide, so surely this had to be the case.
Then I got to thinking. Could it be that I just suck now? When I go back and play some of the Genesis titles I used to dominate, it’s just a mess. I can barely get halfway through Decap Attack, and Lightening Force owns my ass in every conceivable way. It’s been almost a complete 180 degree turn. Take the recently released Gunstar Super Heroes, for instance. I used to rock the original, so how hard could its sequel be? Well, I popped it in for the first time the other day and was promptly crushed on the first level.
Yes, the very first level. Game Over. You suck. Continue?
There does seem to be a logical answer, however, when you give it some thought. Not only have gaming tastes changed, but so have I. Way back in the day, I was able to one-credit Ghouls ‘N Ghosts because I dedicated most of my waking hours at the time to mastering it; it was my religion for months. The same can be said for just about any other game I dominated back then. Remember what I said about Revenge of Shinobi? I took an entire day off from school just to beat it, in addition to all the time put into getting to that damn labyrinth to begin with. With that kind of dedication and devotion, who wouldn’t become an expert?
This, I think, is what’s basically occurred. When I was sixteen, I had little else to do but go to school and play games. No job, no bills, no responsibilities; it was the perfect environment for achieving gaming mastery. As time passed, and my life took on new obligations, less and less time remained for gaming. Along with the changes in game tastes mentioned above, my skills waned until they were all but lost. I notice this now when I try to play through Contra: Hard Corps or Adventures of Batman & Robin. My god, am I ever bad. Honestly, I think that my two year-old daughter could give me a run for my money if we ever met head-on; it’s really gotten to that point.
The thing was, the change was almost too slow to even notice. There were few signs, most of which I simply attributed to lack of practice. To my dismay, it goes far deeper than that. My suckage has been growing over the years, feeding off of maturity and reality like some digital tumor. That’s more or less the problem with suckage: you never see or hear it, and never even know it’s there until it’s too late – a “silent killer” in the truest sense.
It doesn’t seem like things will change any time soon, either. My time is increasingly fleeting, and running this site (as well as writing for GotNext and Hardcore Gamer Magazine) takes plenty of effort. Then there are the little details…like a job and family. I will still give it my best, of course, to try and not become a complete scrub, getting in as much 16-bit game time as I can, whenever the chance arises. Who knows? Maybe someday my daughter will be the one teaching me.
Wait, now that would really be depressing…