Your take on old games being reviewed.

Heads up for anyone who is interested in purchasing Persona for PSP:
 
It's old. 
 
Do you smell that? Yeah, it does kinda smells like sulfur. No, don't be alarmed, I just dropped all my current thoughts on the floor. 
 

 Dumping my thoughts on your face.

In the grand spectrum of gaming history for the last, lets say thirty years, the concept of a proper re-releases and (especially) a proper remake is a semi relatively new concept. The opinions of what constitutes something worthwhile for our matured gaming tastes, is a convoluted concept that I've been recently trying to wrap my head around. Because by definition of a game being old, it immediately cannot stand toe to toe with our current expectations.
 
Or can it?
 
 

The Argument against.

 
  
Seriously.
 
Prior to Xbox Live Arcade becoming an interesting cornucopia of indie, emulated games, remakes and strange... things (It's coming to XBLA)... It was flooded by the likes of your standard, classic issued games. What's new to say for the likes of how a classic version of Tetris plays? Thankfully XBLA is not loaded with games akin to something that comes loaded in the goofy games tab on the Start Button you will never touch. (Unless you love minesweeper, that is exempt I still play the fuck out of that.)
 
 mmm...minesweeper...
But the argument for me at least still stuck. Played Sonic on the Genesis? Guess how it plays on the Xbox? Here's a hint: It's Sonic The Hedgehog. It's still a 2D sidescroller that has a high emphasis on speed. It's also can become quite punishing. It's difficulty and technically limited graphics can probably be associated with the fact it was made in 1991.   
 
It's also still fun as hell.  
 
The entertainment value of Sonic is still high. (at least in my opinion.) Games age at different rates and with varying degrees of quality. Old games can have core mechanics that can click with gamers over generations. It's a classic for a reason.  
 It's not going to be like Wiley Coyote cartoon, where sonic begins falling until he has realized he ran too fast.

Sadly the other side of that coin of being a classic is that it's old, and as stated Sonic can be a punishing experience for gamers who do not have a grasp on the games historical context. How do we rate that? Well, for some reason we usually do it by comparing the game by today's standards, and it's here where things get murky.
 
No matter how much certain aspects of a game "ages appropriately", which is already questionable to begin with, there will always be something that holds it back. It's in it's nature, it was made over a decade ago. 
 
Let's pick on Persona for PSP for a more recent example. It was made in 1996 for the playstation. There is a high emphasis on random encounters and random encounter rates. The graphics are ugly. Characters have limited frames of animation and the choices that you make in the story seem difficult to initially comprehend the outcome.
 
 
From Gamespot:

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Review


This decidedly old-school role-playing game got a fresh coat of paint but not the complete overhaul it needed.



The Good


  • Intriguing story with two distinct paths to follow  
  • New, more authentic localization.


The Bad


  • Tedious combat  
  • Boring, ugly environments  
  • Absurdly high random-encounter rate.
 

Score: 5.0 (out of 10)

 
Now before you write your angry tirade at the editor Mr. Lark Anderson, please take a moment to realize most of these points are pretty dead on. Although one might need to ask why the context of when it was made is being ignored, and why are we now complaining a port of game made in 1996 is being marked down for poor graphics?
 
Is that a legit question? 
 

The case for



Games are software. 
 
It's another fascinating aspect of this medium that separate's itself from film or books. Is there a problem with the game? Why not patch it? With our strive to keep our nostalgia in check, we often tinker more with our old re-releases in order to gain a wider audience before. We don't just have emulated ports. We can have ports with additional content. We can tweak the gameplay. We can have ports with HD graphics. And sometimes, we go crazy and remake the whole game with additional content, tweaked gameplay and update that sprite work into something that makes your monitor combust into flames!
Glorious, glorious 1080p HD flames.  
 
Wow.
There is a chance to make your old game better. Recently we have seen some pretty excellent examples of how this can work out, as well as some examples of many pitfalls a developer can come across. Making ports are never as easy as hitting a few buttons. Anyone who disagrees can pick up a copy of the original Sonic for GBA. Again, games are software, and reviews set standards. If your old game plays poorly that it did ten years before: Something is terribly wrong.
 
But more often than not, we see reviews that try to meet a series of modern expectations. Which is a good thing, old games are old games. Nostalgia sometimes distorts our view, and if we haven't played it before, why should we pick up a game that is so clearly flawed? Unless it was a game that could give you better perspective on how a franchise evolved. A game that perhaps had mechanics, that while dated had been tweaked in a ways that was perfectly acceptable and had never before seen content. A game that had a compelling and original story.
 
A game....Like Persona for PSP?!
 
From 1up.

Persona (PSP)

 "It may be old and ugly, but this RPG is still miles ahead of its peers."
 

Score: A

 
 
GAH! OPINIONS!
 
The truth of the matter is, Persona for PSP can streamline it's combat via something akin to Final Fantasy XII's gambit system. There are tweaks abound in this game, including full blown voiced FMV cutscenes and a completely re-worked soundtrack.  And sorry, the only touch up with the graphics seem to be that it's now at a letter box aspect ratio. It's old, but regardless of time holding it back, it's not difficult to make the assumption that it's certainly making an effort to stand out. 

Yup. It's still Persona.


 

My verdict

 
If you haven't guessed: Pretty damn conflicted. 
 
I think reviews on old games should focus on what the game is trying accomplish. 
 
Are you a fan of Persona? Would you like to play what is probably the most definitive version of the first game? You play JRPG's to begin with, your tastes are probably in line for what this game offers. Step right up.
 
Do you want to play Sonic with achievements? Have you ever played the original Sonic? We got a port for you.
 
Never played Monkey Island? Are you a huge fan of Monkey Island? Trick question: You will like this version regardless. 
 
It's the remakes, the ports, and the emulated versions that fail with their goals that should be criticized. Not necessarily their context.
 
For godsake, they're old games.
 
So what are your opinions? What do you look at when you come across a review for an old game? Do you even read reviews? Can you read? Please share.
18 Comments
19 Comments
Posted by vidiot

Heads up for anyone who is interested in purchasing Persona for PSP:
 
It's old. 
 
Do you smell that? Yeah, it does kinda smells like sulfur. No, don't be alarmed, I just dropped all my current thoughts on the floor. 
 

 Dumping my thoughts on your face.

In the grand spectrum of gaming history for the last, lets say thirty years, the concept of a proper re-releases and (especially) a proper remake is a semi relatively new concept. The opinions of what constitutes something worthwhile for our matured gaming tastes, is a convoluted concept that I've been recently trying to wrap my head around. Because by definition of a game being old, it immediately cannot stand toe to toe with our current expectations.
 
Or can it?
 
 

The Argument against.

 
  
Seriously.
 
Prior to Xbox Live Arcade becoming an interesting cornucopia of indie, emulated games, remakes and strange... things (It's coming to XBLA)... It was flooded by the likes of your standard, classic issued games. What's new to say for the likes of how a classic version of Tetris plays? Thankfully XBLA is not loaded with games akin to something that comes loaded in the goofy games tab on the Start Button you will never touch. (Unless you love minesweeper, that is exempt I still play the fuck out of that.)
 
 mmm...minesweeper...
But the argument for me at least still stuck. Played Sonic on the Genesis? Guess how it plays on the Xbox? Here's a hint: It's Sonic The Hedgehog. It's still a 2D sidescroller that has a high emphasis on speed. It's also can become quite punishing. It's difficulty and technically limited graphics can probably be associated with the fact it was made in 1991.   
 
It's also still fun as hell.  
 
The entertainment value of Sonic is still high. (at least in my opinion.) Games age at different rates and with varying degrees of quality. Old games can have core mechanics that can click with gamers over generations. It's a classic for a reason.  
 It's not going to be like Wiley Coyote cartoon, where sonic begins falling until he has realized he ran too fast.

Sadly the other side of that coin of being a classic is that it's old, and as stated Sonic can be a punishing experience for gamers who do not have a grasp on the games historical context. How do we rate that? Well, for some reason we usually do it by comparing the game by today's standards, and it's here where things get murky.
 
No matter how much certain aspects of a game "ages appropriately", which is already questionable to begin with, there will always be something that holds it back. It's in it's nature, it was made over a decade ago. 
 
Let's pick on Persona for PSP for a more recent example. It was made in 1996 for the playstation. There is a high emphasis on random encounters and random encounter rates. The graphics are ugly. Characters have limited frames of animation and the choices that you make in the story seem difficult to initially comprehend the outcome.
 
 
From Gamespot:

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Review


This decidedly old-school role-playing game got a fresh coat of paint but not the complete overhaul it needed.



The Good


  • Intriguing story with two distinct paths to follow  
  • New, more authentic localization.


The Bad


  • Tedious combat  
  • Boring, ugly environments  
  • Absurdly high random-encounter rate.
 

Score: 5.0 (out of 10)

 
Now before you write your angry tirade at the editor Mr. Lark Anderson, please take a moment to realize most of these points are pretty dead on. Although one might need to ask why the context of when it was made is being ignored, and why are we now complaining a port of game made in 1996 is being marked down for poor graphics?
 
Is that a legit question? 
 

The case for



Games are software. 
 
It's another fascinating aspect of this medium that separate's itself from film or books. Is there a problem with the game? Why not patch it? With our strive to keep our nostalgia in check, we often tinker more with our old re-releases in order to gain a wider audience before. We don't just have emulated ports. We can have ports with additional content. We can tweak the gameplay. We can have ports with HD graphics. And sometimes, we go crazy and remake the whole game with additional content, tweaked gameplay and update that sprite work into something that makes your monitor combust into flames!
Glorious, glorious 1080p HD flames.  
 
Wow.
There is a chance to make your old game better. Recently we have seen some pretty excellent examples of how this can work out, as well as some examples of many pitfalls a developer can come across. Making ports are never as easy as hitting a few buttons. Anyone who disagrees can pick up a copy of the original Sonic for GBA. Again, games are software, and reviews set standards. If your old game plays poorly that it did ten years before: Something is terribly wrong.
 
But more often than not, we see reviews that try to meet a series of modern expectations. Which is a good thing, old games are old games. Nostalgia sometimes distorts our view, and if we haven't played it before, why should we pick up a game that is so clearly flawed? Unless it was a game that could give you better perspective on how a franchise evolved. A game that perhaps had mechanics, that while dated had been tweaked in a ways that was perfectly acceptable and had never before seen content. A game that had a compelling and original story.
 
A game....Like Persona for PSP?!
 
From 1up.

Persona (PSP)

 "It may be old and ugly, but this RPG is still miles ahead of its peers."
 

Score: A

 
 
GAH! OPINIONS!
 
The truth of the matter is, Persona for PSP can streamline it's combat via something akin to Final Fantasy XII's gambit system. There are tweaks abound in this game, including full blown voiced FMV cutscenes and a completely re-worked soundtrack.  And sorry, the only touch up with the graphics seem to be that it's now at a letter box aspect ratio. It's old, but regardless of time holding it back, it's not difficult to make the assumption that it's certainly making an effort to stand out. 

Yup. It's still Persona.


 

My verdict

 
If you haven't guessed: Pretty damn conflicted. 
 
I think reviews on old games should focus on what the game is trying accomplish. 
 
Are you a fan of Persona? Would you like to play what is probably the most definitive version of the first game? You play JRPG's to begin with, your tastes are probably in line for what this game offers. Step right up.
 
Do you want to play Sonic with achievements? Have you ever played the original Sonic? We got a port for you.
 
Never played Monkey Island? Are you a huge fan of Monkey Island? Trick question: You will like this version regardless. 
 
It's the remakes, the ports, and the emulated versions that fail with their goals that should be criticized. Not necessarily their context.
 
For godsake, they're old games.
 
So what are your opinions? What do you look at when you come across a review for an old game? Do you even read reviews? Can you read? Please share.
Posted by AgentJ

Certain people are able to review old games fairly, but not everyone. I think that people who place a higher importance on graphics than other people IN GENERAL grade classic games lower than those who don't. Since Gamespot is well known for that sort of attitude, I'm not suprised by the review score given. 

Posted by TheGreatGuero

I don't mind. It can be done right.

Posted by nukesniper

I don't really mind remakes or re-releases of old games. Personally, I enjoy flipping through the Wii Virtual Console for such a reason. I like being able to get my hands on a game that I missed out on as a kid. Or hell, I would buy fifteen copies of Earthbound on virtual console just to tell Nintendo that Mother 1 and 3 are worth the localization. 
 
I really think that judging graphics in older games is also complete crap. To look back on Metroid for the NES and say that it is an ugly game is true, but compare it to games at THAT time, not OUR time. I don't expect a game from 1995 to look as good as a game from 2005. And I shouldn't. That is completely unreasonable. 
 
I also feel that nostalgia helps pad our tolerance for some real crap from back then. I've tried showing my girlfriend games that I absolutely LOVE from my childhood, and I have had to explain that yes, that is how you have to do it when working with some odd control choices etc. 
 
Graphically speaking, if I were to review an old game, the only way graphics would come up at all would be if the graphics being rough or poor caused the game to have some control issues or to run badly. So yeah, I might mention sprite flicker on NES games like Mega Man and Metroid. That doesn't make the game unplayable, but hey, that's how it was and is in that game, but it might concern someone new to the game.  
 
Final Fantasy 7 is a great game by all regards, however I have never completed even half of that game because I never owned it back in 1995, and now that I have a PS copy of the game, I find it extremely difficult to put up with the graphics in that game. Some of the 3D environments are hard to navigate and it is honestly frustrating at times for me. I am unfamiliar with the layout of that game and it has been an issue for me.  I don't have that nostalgia factor to help propel me through that game. And I have mentioned my issues to it with friends who did play FFVII back in the day, and they act like I am completely crazy for not being able to easily see what I am supposed to do where. This issue probably mainly stems from the fact that FFVII was a very early 3D game. Technology has come a long way since then, and seriously, if they ever remade that game with Advent Children quality graphics, I would most definitely be beating it. =)
 
I am still thinking about getting Persona for PSP, only because I bought Persona 3 and 4 thanks to the endurance run here on giant bomb, and I will never find Persona 1 for PSOne, so this is my way to get it. 
 
Crap, long reply and I totally didn't reread that. It is 2:30am. I am far too lazy.

Posted by AgentJ
@nukesniper: You sure that we shouldn't be comparing Metroid to Shadow Complex or Muramasa? because everyone seems to be saying that we should :P
Posted by vidiot
@nukesniper: That's actually quite coherent for 2:30, I've posted some stuff during that time frame that...Never mind.
 
Final Fantasy VII is a great example of an excellent game that has aged pretty inconsistently. A lot of games during that time have the same problem of very jarring visual styles due to the time period of that game's release. There is a pretty awesome mod community. ( shameless blog plug.)
 
BTW: The game was also released in 1997.
 
Also liked the comment of going after sprite flicker.
Posted by Willin

I think when reviewing re-releases of older games that graphics and sound should not be as influential to the review as something like gameplay or performance. I'm not saying the graphics and sound need to be completely ignored as art design and music composition do not age quite fast as the technical aspects of it but it should be in the back half of the reviewer's mind when playing it.
 
Then again what would you say to something like Mega Man 9? It's not an old game but it's built like an old game so that nostalgia is a main focus and I believe if Mega Man 9 had HD graphics and modern sound that it would of been reviewed lower. Mega Man 9 was really my first Mega Man and I loved it. Is that because I'm part of an older generation which games were 2D and had midi soundtracks? Would I like Mega Man 9 as much if I were 9 and never touched an NES? 
 
We may never know.

Posted by Video_Game_King

....What do you think? *notices GameSpot opinion* Between that review and his Devil Survivor rave, I've found one more reason never to trust most video game critics.

Posted by Demo

I think there should be two halves of a criticism of an old game. One judging it as a game for the system at the time, and one explaining if this game holds up and is playable today. Graphics and sound should only be considered in the context of the console on which it was originated.

Posted by raddevon

Old games should be reviewed. Their featuresets should be evaluated against current gaming conventions. If I'm going to buy a remade RPG that has random encounters out the wazoo, I want to know that. That's an important thing because many games have evolved since that was the prevalent convention. It sucks to have to fight every five steps, and, as a prospective consumer reading a review of the product, I want to know that. The argument against is that this is a product of the time. That's certainly true, but, reading the review, I know if I can get over that. Some retro conventions I can tolerate because I was there when that was the only way and I understand it. Usually, there are also some other qualities of the game that help me forgive those things. I always want to know though. It does me no good for someone to say, "This is the same game it was 20 years ago," or, worse still, say nothing at all. If I already know I want a re-release of a game, I will buy it without reading a review. If I'm not sure maybe because I don't remember the game or didn't play it, I want to hear about how it holds up against today's standards unless I can somehow go back to the time of it's original release and play it then. Otherwise, I am going to play it now so I want to hear how it plays now.
 
@vidiot: Great topic!

Posted by SathingtonWaltz

I enjoy reviews of old games, as long as the reviewer treats the games obvious age with fairness. It's very interesting to have a 2009 perspective on a video game developed back in say... 1986. The history of video games has always intrigued me, and classic game reviews provide a new perspective that didn't exist back when the game first came out. I don't like reviews bashing a classic game for the sake of attention, unless the game was actually bad.
Posted by raddevon

An interesting point I didn't consider in my previous post: Most journalists have probably been around games for some time. It would be impossible for them to extricate themselves from their own feelings of nostalgia for a game or series. They might not be able to objectively view the game's "problem areas" which they themselves are able to forgive for one reason or another. Sometimes, it's easy to forget that the people writing our reviews are people too.

Posted by vidiot
@Lights_Up_The_Shaft: You see, this enforces my opinion: It's what MegaMan 9 is trying to accomplish that has appealed to you, and why you have played it. It accomplishes what it sets out to do, to be an new oldschool NES game, and the reviews for that (for the most part) reflect it. 
 
@Video_Game_King: Yeah I noticed that. I can't make heads or tails what that reviewers expectations are.
  
@raddevon: Personally, I would want someone who has knowledge of the game being re-released reviewing the game. It's the same reason I don't want a reviewer who only does reviews for sports games, having to now do a review for an RPG. It might have a bias, but at least the review should have understanding of it's historical context.
Posted by Video_Game_King
@vidiot: 
 
Me neither. I agreed with him on Brawl in every way, but I can't fathom why people love Devil Survivor so damn much. I'd name other games he's reviewed, but that's about it.
Posted by raddevon
@vidiot: I have no problem with a reviewer understanding and acknowledging context, but I don't think it should impact the result of the review in any way. The original release was reviewed in the context of its time and currently re-releases deserve to be evaluated in the context of their current competition. When reading a review, I would like to know the game is a re-release. Then I can understand why things may not work as well as I would like. That doesn't mean I am going to give the game a pass, but that context is certainly valuable.
Posted by Hailinel

Protip:  Lark Anderson is one of the worst reviewers working at GameSpot or any other website.  After reading his hilariously off-base review of Fire Emblem:  Radiant Dawn, I am scarcely able to believe that he actually played through the entire game and didn't just ragequit before typing out his diatribe.

Edited by OwnlyUzinWonHan

As someone who recently reviewed a pretty old game, I think graphics are definitely worth mentioning, but that depends on how far back it goes.
Sure there it shouldn't be talked about as much in a Super Mario game, but close enough games like PS2 and PS1 games surely deserve to be talked about.
 
Edit: After reading that, that sounded kinda prick-ish, sorry about that. Basically sure, they should be mentioned at the very least.

Posted by Mithlas
@vidiot said:

Because by definition of a game being old, it immediately cannot stand toe to toe with our current expectations. Or can it?

Its difficulty and technically limited graphics can probably be associated with the fact it was made in 1991.

It's also still fun as hell. The entertainment value of Sonic is still high (at least in my opinion). Games age at different rates and with varying degrees of quality. Old games can have core mechanics that can click with gamers over generations. It's a classic for a reason .

I think reviews on old games should focus on what the game is trying accomplish.
I think the issue you're referring to is more that the specific goals of games over the years have changed: the target gameplay is not the same in some games as now. However, quite a bit of this argument could be boiled down to this interpretation: I liked the game before, so I must like it now regardless of what it is in the context of what games I play today and what competition it has to face. That's just not always the case, and sometimes games weren't good the first time (that can change in re-releases, but I doubt it will ever happen).

@nukesniper

said:

...yes, that is how you have to do it when working with some odd control choices etc. That doesn't make the game unplayable, but hey, that's how it was and is in that game, but it might concern someone new to the game.

I'll grant that the limitations of its origin have to be kept in mind, but games have developed over the years and there have been ports/re-releases that have improved the controls, clipping issues, jags and flicker, etc. If a game had textures winking out in 1995, some people may have simply accepted it then. If a game in 2005 tried that, it wouldn't have an excuse, regardless of if it was developed in 2004 or a remake of one in 1994.

@Demo

said:

One judging it as a game for the system at the time, and one explaining if this game holds up and is playable today. Graphics and sound should only be considered in the context of the console on which it was originated.

Although I understand your position, I have to disagree at least somewhat. I think graphics should take a backseat to gameplay any day, so I'm willing to play Sub Rebellion (2002) even though very similar games with more refined gameplay and graphics (Warship Gunner 2, 2006) exist. However, the limitations of not just its graphics but also gameplay can not be ignored: if another game does it better, then that's the way things are and people who don't own either game will probably want to know that if they want to jump straight into the 'superior' one.

@raddevon said:

Their featuresets should be evaluated against current gaming conventions. If I'm going to buy a remade RPG that has random encounters out the wazoo, I want to know that. That's an important thing because many games have evolved since that was the prevalent convention.

My point in a nutshell. If I may point to a different genre: I used to be a big fan of the Command & Conquer series, Tiberian Dawn was the game that got me started on strategy games, but I would probably tell a modern gamer that its pros no longer outweigh its cons: the sprite graphics can be hard to make out, but more importantly it's missing a lot of the refinements that later games have like waypoints, unit veterancy, randomly-generated multiplayer maps or skirmish mode in Tiberian Sun - of course, the AI in Tiberian Dawn doesn't cheat. Why would it no longer be recommended? It's not because it wasn't fun then, it's because it can be done better by later games. Tiberian Dawn was great back in the day, but to fairly judge any game - old or new - means taking that game's elements and examining it in the context of today.
Posted by kahi

Find someone who you agree with a lot and who's opinion you trust. Go with their reviews of older games they review. BOOM problem solved. Next question.