Some classic games are timeless masterpieces that feel every bit as good to play now as they did when they came out, even decades later. Games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Contra fall into this category, thanks to their super tight controls, fun gameplay mechanics, and smart level designs. Other games that were popular when they launched (even ones that are usually fondly remembered) don’t hold up nearly as well.
We’re going to look at those games below. These games may play a crucial role in the history of video games, but that doesn’t mean they’re still fun to play.
Like all of the games on this list, Metroid is important not only to its place in the game franchise, but also to the history of video games in general. That’s why it’s a classic, after all, and that’s why it kicked off a series of excellent, atmospheric, masterful games. But that doesn’t mean it’s fun to play today.
On a basic level, Metroid works well. It’s pretty easy to move the main character Samus around the game world, and to fight the enemies the game throws at you. But from a design perspective, and from a basic playability standpoint, it’s rough. The levels are sprawling caverns that branch out in all directions, with very few landmarks to give players a sense of where they are. Worse, there’s no in-game map, so keeping track of your position is hard to do without busting out the graph paper. Beyond that, the game is simply repetitive.
Super Metroid would solve all of these problems when it launched in 1994, but developers at Nintendo had a lot to learn in the meantime.
2. Resident Evil
It’s not the voice acting that lands Resident Evil on this list, or the amazing “Jill sandwich” line. The fundamental problem with Resident Evil can be summed up with two words: tank controls.
Tank controls basically means that pressing left on the control stick doesn’t make your character move left, like in a modern game. Instead, no matter which way your character is facing, you press up to move forward. As you can imagine, this becomes confusing, especially when you’re being hounded by brain-hungry zombies.
While some diehard fans argue that the clunky movement adds to the game’s menacing atmosphere, the fact is that the controls almost ruin an otherwise fine zombie game. If you want to play this game today, you’d be much better off playing Resident Evil HD Remaster, a new version that gives you the option to play the game with modern controls.
3. Tomb Raider
Another game from the same year that’s replay value was ruined by tank controls is Tomb Raider, a title that relies even more heavily on your ability to move through complex environments. Just the thought of trying to line up one of the many important jumps is enough to send a shiver of dread down the spine. The shoddy controls led to all kinds of frustrations and untimely deaths.
But, as with many of the titles on this list, Tomb Raider was released in the early days of three-dimensional video games. It was a pioneer in an uncharted world. The developers tried their best with the tools they had, and managed to produce a game that worked for the time.
In the nearly two decades since, every three-dimensional game has benefitted from what developers learned from early attempts like Tomb Raider. Game makers borrowed what worked and tweaked what didn’t in order to make games that functioned better. Tomb Raider is not very fun to play now, but laid the groundwork for the functional 3-D games we have today.
4. GoldenEye 007
First-person shooters rose to popularity on PCs in the ’90s, particularly once developers figured out they were a cinch to control with a keyboard and mouse. You look around by moving the mouse, and walk using keys on the keyboard.
Bringing FPS games to consoles was a tough nut to crack, because console games used controllers, which at the time weren’t well suited for moving through 3-D environments. In fact, no major console’s controller even had two analog sticks until Sony released the DualShock for the original PlayStation in 1998.
And even then it took a while for developers to crack FPS controls on a controller. It wasn’t until 2001 when developer Bungie cemented a modern control scheme with Halo: Combat Evolved, the first FPS game that really felt at home on a console.
I’m picking on GoldenEye 007 for this selection because it was the most popular pre-Halo FPS on consoles. While the game attracted loads of fans, people liked it in spite of its awful control scheme. If you go back and play it now, you’ll find it to be one of the most painful FPS experiences imaginable, and you’ll wonder how it ever became popular in the first place.
The reasons it was popular is because it was the best we had at the time.
5. Grand Theft Auto III
This game laid the groundwork for so much about the future of video games that it’s hard to overstate its importance. From its mature content to its incredible open world design, Grand Theft Auto III was a revelation when it came out in 2001.
But if you go back and play it today, you’ll probably be surprised by how simple and clunky it is. Compared to nearly every open world game released these days, its environment is a boring, lifeless place. And the gunplay is a nightmare. With no cover mechanic and only a rudimentary lock-on ability, it leaves a whole lot to be desired. Rockstar would fix these problems in later installments, but they make GTA III a rough ride from a modern standpoint.
The most recent title on this list, Uncharted was a game whose ambitions outreached its ability.
Although the second and third Uncharted games are some of the best titles ever to land on the PlayStation 3, the first one feels lacking by comparison. The series’s signature climbing mechanics hadn’t had the kinks worked out yet, and the gunplay is relatively atrocious.
Developer Naughty Dog made huge strides in the following years, with Uncharted 2 and 3, as well as the masterpiece The Last of Us rounding out its work on PS3. But the original Uncharted falls a little flat in terms of gameplay mechanics. But that’s OK. Naughty Dog has learned a lot in just a few years.
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