I love video games. I play them frequently (and sometimes write about them, as you may have noticed). I always get excited with every new Mario and Zelda game, or anything that seems to interest me beyond a simple, “Oh, that looks like a fun game to rent.” But when I get down to it I always inevitably say to myself, “Yeah, this is good, but it’s no Mario Bros 3/Ocarina of Time/Final Fantasy 6.” Why is that? I know I’m not the only one to think this way. We’ve got to a point where we’re demanding games replicate our favorites from the past, but when they can’t we throw a fit. Can we ever make a new “Perfect Game?” Let’s Think Deep.
The Problem With Perfection
A good recent game to use as a jumping point here is New Super Mario Bros Wii, a game that borrows heavily from the classic Mario games, specifically Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World. It seems almost like a “greatest hits” from the 2-D Mario platformers. I loved it. I wrote about this on more than one occasion. I stand by my statements. But I didn’t like it as much as Mario Bros 3. Why? Because it wasn’t Mario Bros 3. That’s not a very fair thing to say, but it just didn’t wow me like Mario Bros 3 did when I was a wee child. Perhaps the nostalgic aspect got in the way and forced me to find a qualifier somewhere, so that when I said, “This game is amazing!” it didn’t somehow, in some way, obliterate the memories of my childhood past. I simply can’t allow myself to like a Mario game more than 3, purely because I remember childhood as something wonderful and the world today as something bleak. How can something from a place that’s bleak outshine something from a world that was wonderful?
The same problem presented itself when I played through Twilight Princess. I thought Twilight Princess was one of the best Zelda games, let alone best games, I’d ever played. I’d rank it somewhere within my top 15 games of all time. But I couldn’t bring myself to like it more than Ocarina of Time. “Oh wow, this is so cool! Uh, but, Ocarina was better.” Was it really? It’s impossible to tell since at the time of its release, Ocarina of Time was the absolute peak of adventure-style video gaming. It was, to me (and many others), the perfect game. If you’ve never played it before and try playing it now, you might not really agree with that statement. In fact, you may think I’m crazy for ever liking the game in the first place. It just holds so much of my childhood in it that it becomes hard to separate it from what it is and how I remember it.
Retro Is In
There has been a big push from major developers as of late to search back through their “classic” games and find some gold to resell, either in a remake of the classic or in a straight port to one of the online networks. Nintendo hit on a great concept with the Virtual Console, an online marketplace devoted almost entirely to selling us out treasured memories back for a reasonable price. Both the Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network have gotten into this, even offering games from more recent past. One of my best friends is playing Final Fantasy VII for the first time now that he’s downloaded it from the Playstation Network. He’s so devoted to playing it that he’s selling me his other new purchase, Fable II, for $15. Is he liking it? Well, he’s found numerous gripes, of which I can agree with, but he’s still playing it for some reason. It just isn’t as amazing for him as it was for me.
Why is that? Final Fantasy VII is regarded as one of the greats, so how can anyone dislike it now? It all has to do with timing. I played it first when I was still relatively new to RPG’s. It was also the first game I played on my Playstation. I fell in love with the characters and really cared about what would happen in the story. The only commitments I had while playing it were to school (which was unimportant to me), and nothing else. I didn’t need sleep so long as I had a mission to do and a Sephiroth to defeat. I was able to look past all the flaws and see nothing but a fantastic game. When I try and play it now I can’t even get myself past the first disc, let alone finish the game.
So back to New Super Mario Bros Wii: People have a gripe with it for failing to be as good as its predecessors. I don’t think that’s quite fair. I especially hate hearing that it’s just a rehash of previous games since it’s a new freaking game with new levels and new power-ups and all that jazz. It’s a new game, just with references back to other games in the franchise. It knows where it’s coming from, but it’s willing to at least try to do something new within the established old. Why? Because fans love this sort of thing. That game has sold millions of copies –MILLIONS- and I have a feeling it wasn’t because people were just settling for whatever they could get their hands on. No, fans snatched it up by the mustache-loads because it was a good game that reminded them of something they loved from their past.
Capcom has been perfecting this for a while now, what with their final definitive release of Street Fighter II, a game that pretty much everyone who wanted to buy it already had. Still, it was a big success. They did the same thing with Marvel Vs. Capcom 2. They also tried bringing Bionic Commando into the new age with a big-budget new entry in the series, which ultimately flopped. However, their HD remake of said game was a huge success. A while ago they released a new Mega Man game with 8-bit graphics and an 8-bit soundtrack. And people downloaded it like…well I’ll tell you what that analogy is when you’re older, kids. It did so well that Mega Man 10 has just been announced and will follow suit with the same style and everything. Retro is in. But why?
You Can’t Change The Past
As I said, people can’t let go of their childhoods. A lot of really good games have come out in the past year (Arkham Asylum, Uncharted 2, Mario & Luigi 3, just to name a few), yet none of those will be on any “Best Games Ever” lists. The most recent “new” game to start appearing on those lists is Resident Evil 4, a game that Capcom ported from the GameCube to the PS2 and then the Wii since it had done so well. Final Fantasy XIII comes out in mere days, but will fans place it above all the others? Very doubtful. They’ll find something to gripe about, purely because it isn’t the game they first played and it isn’t the game they first loved. I want to say that Super Smash Bros Brawl is better than Melee, because it is, but I can’t force myself to say it. Something about admitting that the game I spent so much time and energy loving is now inferior is just something I can’t do.
And there may lie the problem of creating the perfect game. Companies will never be able to top their most successful games. Mario Bros 3 will still be Mario’s best side-scrolling adventure whereas Mario 64 will be the best 3D platformer period. Ocarina of Time trumps just about every adventure game out there. Final Fantasy 6 or 7 will always be favored over the new titles coming out. Even games that are similar to games in other series will always seem inferior. Shadow of the Colossus was and is one of the best game experiences I’ve ever had. Oops, someone at one point called it the “Zelda Killer.” Silly them, now no Zelda fan will ever love it more than their favorite Zelda title. I went out of my way to hate the game even before it was released on the grounds that it was blaspheming my beloved series. First Person Shooters keep getting touted as “Halo Killers” and so far there have been few to even come close to the mighty throne, with only Modern Warfare being the apparent rightful heir. It seems a surefire way to prevent your game from ever being considered one of the greats is to proudly proclaim that it already is. No one will allow that.
So can we create the perfect game? No, no such game exists. Even the mighty Ocarina of Time has major flaws. No matter what someone makes, someone else will always find a reason to dislike it. It seems to me that the best way to make something near a “perfect game” is to make something unlike anything that’s come before it. Sure, borrow attributes if you need to, but don’t do it so much that people are forced to compare it straight-paralleled to another game. If you can make something without any constraints then it might just excel to new heights. The task of doing that, though, is nigh impossible. You have better luck just staying with what works. Why is it you think Nintendo is so reluctant to create new IP’s in favor of new Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon games? Because people will buy the new games in the franchise no matter what, even if they don’t think it’ll be better than the games they remember. But they’ll always hope.
What do you consider the perfect game? I think Super Mario Bros 3 is as close as one can come to perfection. Ocarina of Time is clearly a favorite of mine as well, but I understand when someone isn’t interested there. But what are your favorites? Do you have a game that you’re certain is perfect? Do you feel that Mega Man 2 got it right and all the games afterward just couldn’t live up to it? Do you think that Modern Warfare 2 perfected the multiplayer standard in a game? Do you believe that World of Warcraft is the end-all for MMORPG’s from now until forever? I bet you know what comes next: Leave a comment. I can’t find out any insight if you don’t give me some. The button’s right there, so use it to enlighten me further. I implore you.