If you look at gaming publications over the last few years, there’s a certain amount of respect given to older titles. Though numerical scores applied to gaming is already a flawed idea, the appearance in ‘Top 100’ lists of things such as the original Sonic the Hedgehog and F-Zero is actually quite confusing. In this article, I’ll be posing some questions about nostalgia for old games, the place they have today and how scoring systems can be improved.
We all have a game from our childhood that we love. Whether it’s the chaotic button-bashing of Street Fighter, the platforming joy of Super Mario Bros or the comical adventures of Sam and Max, there’s usually one game we remember being enthralled with.
For many titles, this respect is fully deserved – point-and-click adventure games hold up especially well even today. For others, the gameplay mechanics and graphical innovations that once made them unique have become copied or improved upon to the point where the original loses its polish.
For this example I’ll be using The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo’s 1986 adventure for the Famicom/NES. A wonderfully epic quest at the time, it launched a series which is now celebrating its 25th year. The game regularly ranks on ‘Best Games Ever’ lists and is a firm NES favourite for many gamers.
From a modern perspective, Zelda might well be seen as a buggy, confusing top-down adventure with a poor story and awkward controls. However, even after players were given a whole decade to experience new titles, it holds a GameSpot (launched in 1996) User Score of 8.4.
Why? Certainly nostalgia plays a part. For an entire generation of Nintendo fans, this was the game that defined their childhood. They understandably credit Zelda with turning them into gamers and would therefore be unwilling to criticise it.
But we need to have a sense of perspective on how we view certain older games. Many games which seemed mind-blowing at the time are no longer quite as special as they once were.
Another example: in 1997, Nintendo Official Magazine gave Donkey Kong Country a score of 98%. For years, they regretted it, once better and better games were released, as they had essentially topped out the review scale.
One idea that journalists could use is a two-score system (Warning: This could get hard to follow). It’d be very hard to implement with print media, so to all intents and purposes assume it’s an idea for websites.
Each game is given one score at launch. This score remains on record as the official score from the launch of the game. With me so far?
A second score (representing what the game would receive if judged by modern standards) is added underneath the first and is reduced by a certain amount for each predetermined period (let’s say a month) after the game’s release.
We then run into a problem. Namely, how do we determine how quickly a game gets old? Although both games are pretty good, something like Spyro the Dragon probably has more lasting appeal than Wii Sports. You could go through month-by-month and alter the scores manually, but with a catalogue of hundreds, if not thousands, of games, that quickly becomes unmanageable.
What I’d suggest is some sort of system that adjusts scores. It does as I suggested, reducing the number automatically each month, but the amount the score decreases by is adjustable.
There would be a sliding scale which changes the rate of decline – I suppose you could call this a game’s ‘Appeal Score’. The higher this value, the slower the game declines in quality-by-modern-standards.
For instance, Super Mario World, having aged well, could be awarded a release score of 96/100 and an appeal score of 95/100. A quick bit of maths tells us that that leaves 5/100. Being generous and setting the highest rate of decline at 1 per month, we give Super Mario World a ‘Declining Rate’ of 0.05. After twenty years, its modern day score would therefore have been reduced by 12 to a very respectable 84.
Too much maths. Let’s just have a nice breather and think of a cute monkey riding a unicorn. Right, moving on.
Games which made a splash at launch (let’s use Wii Sports again) and got, say, a 90, but were back on the shelf within a few days, might get a low Appeal Score. Let’s give it a 40/100 for the sake of argument. Maths hats on? No? Well that means its score gets reduced by 0.6 every month. Five years from release, it loses 36 and receives a pretty average 54.
That’s it for trying to recall high school now, I promise.
Obviously, you could adjust Appeal Scores if the rate of decline changes – you could even make it negative if a game is becoming better to play now than it was before. This helps with keeping a balanced outlook on retro gaming and stops the obvious problem of Pac-Man dropping to a 0/100 out of age.
We shouldn’t any longer be giving games a free pass out of nostalgia. They should be subject to the same criticism as newer games so that we can help move forward and not cling to the past. Hands up who thinks they’d give Super Mario 64 a 97/100 if they’d only heard of it today? I thought not.
On a wider scale, online publications could even use user-specific scores, based on which games they already enjoy. Someone who plays FIFA and Call of Duty would probably enjoy EarthBound a lot less than someone who likes Chrono Trigger and Paper Mario, and posting your ‘Likes’ and ‘Dislikes’ could tailor results for their relevance to you.
I’d love to see in future a rating system that is fully intuitive to new players while remaining relevant to the old guard. I feel it’d be good for gaming, by encouraging original, appealing games and making examples of dull, outdated ones. The first website to use it wins a box of cookies!