In the 30+ year history of the games industry almost every generation of consoles has had their epic rivalries: Super Nintendo vs Mega Drive, Playstation vs Saturn, Dreamcast vs PS2. Every console had their own strengths and weaknesses, but despite this each console generation we have heard fans decree the same improbable phrase:-
“This is the greatest console ever!”
Personally I vividly recall spending my teen years religiously playing Phantasy Star Online and thinking to myself “things cannot get any better than this!”. And yet, so few others shared my views. I have lost count of the number of times in which casual conversation amongst friends, about our favourite consoles of all time, have descended into shouting matches as people tell me that the Dreamcast was crap, or that the Snes was waaay better than the Mega Drive.
Of course, as a cultured, well travelled man of the world, I am not too proud to admit when I am wrong. Looking back on it, Phantasy Star Online was a sluggish game that made you play through the same four environments over and over again, and the ‘revolutionary’ online lobbies were mostly populated by overly enthusiastic Germans. Certainly there was a lot of room for improvement.
Similar arguments exist to this day, with many hardcore gamers arguing about which is better, PS3 or 360 (sorry Wii!). However, there are still those out there that cling to their long standing views and refuse to acknowledge any advances made with this latest generation of console. Yes, the Super Nintendo was a great console in its day, and yes games were far simpler back then, but, quite frankly, there has never ever been a better time to be a gamer.
One of the most immediately obvious benefits of this day and age is the overwhelming mass appeal of games. When I was a youngster you could only get games from dedicated shops, like Electronics Boutique, or from overly expensive mail order catalogues. These days you can pretty much get your games from anywhere. Ten years ago who would have dreamt of a future in which you could wander over to your local 24 hour Supermarket and pick up a (usually heavily discounted) game at 4am?
Speaking of cheap games, games generally cost a lot less than they used to. Case in point, I have just ordered a new copy of DeBlob 2 on Xbox 360 for a mere £9. In contrast, I vividly remember my parents paying nearly £80 for a copy of Street Fighter 2 Turbo Edition on the Mega Drive. Last year I bought a new copy of Super Street Fighter 4 for just under £20 shortly after its release. I know that the average price of games may seem higher, especially when you consider that during the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube era games were about £10 cheaper, but these days games rarely stay at full price for very long.
Thanks to the digital distribution outlets, such as Steam, the Xbox Live Marketplace, and the Playstation Network, games are easily available at any time of the day or night and never go out of stock. The days of venturing in to town to purchase a specific game only to find that no store had any in stock are over. This also takes impulse buying to a new level, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your point of view. I have lost count of the number of times that I have downloaded a game off of Xbox Marketplace simply because it was there and at a reasonable price, and to me that is a great thing.
Of course, in the old days if you saw a game that you were partially interested in and wanted to give it a try before you bought it you had to buy magazines to get your hands on a demo disk. One of the biggest annoyances was the fact that most of the time there was only one demo you wanted on the entire disk. These days game demos are available to download for free on PSN or XBLA, and they are available indefinitely. Hooray!
One of the biggest issues I have with those that disregard this generation of consoles, and look back on days gone by, is the fact that they ignore just how diverse gaming is these days. Back in the old days the majority of games were platformers or fighting games. I know it may feel like almost every game released these days is a generic shooter about totally-not-gay burly space marines, but in reality games have never been so diverse. Now we get photography games, RPGs, shooters, platformers, music action games, motion controlled games, erotic horror titles, as well as the classic puzzlers, platformers, and fighting games. And that is before you even take in to account the esoteric downloadable titles, such as Limbo or Flower, which may never have reached the heights that they have in any other generation.
Finally, these days our games consoles are usually so much more than just games machines. Our home consoles now come with a variety of different media outlets such as the BBC iPlayer, 4OD, the Sky Player, Netflix, Love Film, and LastFM, as well as the Playstation and Xbox music and video stores, which allow us to purchase digital copies of the latest movies and songs. Our consoles have gone from simple devices that cluttered up boys’ bedrooms to the centrepiece of the front room.
Having said all this, I do not mean to suggest that the release of a new generation of consoles renders all previous consoles worthless. However nostalgia is a powerful force that has the potential to blind people to the passage of time. Yes, the consoles you played in your childhood were great in their day, but you would be a fool to ignore the significant advances in technology that have contributed towards making this the best generation of consoles the best yet. It may sound fickle, but as much as I love my 360, PS3, and Wii at the moment, I am more than open to the idea that the next generation of consoles will be better.
- Luke Mears