Every one of us has a couple of cherished games from our youth that we remember fondly through the blindingly bright lens of nostalgia. These games filled our summer days and weekend-long play sessions at a time when little else mattered or warranted worrying about. Who can forget the LAN parties, the unbeatable platformers and the hidden gems of a Blockbuster weekend rental?
Unfortunately, for a lot of these golden-era games, the reality of our nostalgia-fuelled adoration isn’t quite as pretty. Were you to go back to these once-loved games, you might be disappointed to find that time has been cruel, indeed. The controls are impossibly frustrating, the graphics are even worse than your idyllic memory recalls and the gameplay feels unbelievably slow. How did you ever enjoy these games in the first place?
Trust me; try the original Goldeneye again (not the source remake but the impossible-to-control original) or the PS2 versions of Grand Theft Auto. Hell, even Grand Theft Auto IV feels like a dull grey world with driving that is akin to moving with 18 cinder blocks on the tail end of your car. Some games are better left to memory.
However, every so often, our longstanding love of an old title is entirely affirmed when we revisit it. Some timeless classics are so brilliant that no matter how far we get from their original release, they still hold up and will be eternally fun no matter what. So, let’s take a look at some of these unwavering classic games that will forever stand the testament of time.
Of course, we have to start with everyone’s favourite lil’ ol’ moustachioed Italian plumber! The Mario franchise is timeless, even back to its first perfectly crafted platformers. Albeit, when it comes to timelessness, platformers tend to have a distinct advantage due to their simplicity. The first Super Mario Bros. is still an unbelievable lesson in level design and game mechanics that have seen it be remade time and again, making it one of the greatest video games ever created.
However, more specifically it is Mario’s first 3D foray in Mario 64 that is worth highlighting here. Released in 1996 on the Nintendo 64, Mario 64 was a majorly ambitious undertaking for its time. It was a bold new direction for the Italian plumber, and he stuck the landing perfectly.
Mario 64 still holds up as a hugely enjoyable adventure title, and its colourful 64-bit design is still relatively pleasing to the eye. Mario 64 has been the subject of many emulators over the years with a huge community still popularizing the game. Mario 64 can often be found on gaming live streams with “speedrunning” (a practice in which players attempt to beat the game as quickly as possible) being a huge part of its continued popularity.
In September 2020, Mario 64 was rereleased for the Nintendo Switch as part of the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection.
Since 2001, Halo and its faceless protagonist, Master Chief, have shepherded us through every major console generation. The ground-breaking sci-fi shooter has long been one of the biggest franchises in the industry, and its playability and fun has not wavered since its initial release. Later instalments may have been a tad disappointing, but the early Halo games are still hugely enjoyable.
Some of us might remember fondly the merry nights of LAN play with a group of friends. Fortunately, with every Halo game being readily available on the Master Chief Collection remasters, that nostalgia can be reexperienced. With glossy remasters for both Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 Anniversary, the games might be far removed from the blockier textures of the originals, but the experience remains exactly the same ridiculous-physics fun. Plus, if you’re feeling particularly nostalgic, you can always turn on the original graphics setting!
The campaigns for the early Halo games are still a masterpiece, and the strength of its multiplayer fun is still alive and well all these years later. So, grab a few friends, and have at it again.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Another staple of Nintendo’s systems, The Legend of Zelda series continues to thrive with its latest mainline iteration, Breath of the Wild, proving to be a killer app for the Nintendo Switch at over 20 million copies sold. But it is the 1998 Ocarina of Time, the fifth instalment to the franchise, that is still regularly heralded as one of the series’ best.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the ultimate in action-adventure titles with playability that is a blast and which still influences many other games of its ilk today. Ocarina of Time deserves a second look every so often, and players will find that it still holds up magnificently well. The contemporary popularity and playability of Ocarina of Time is so strong, in fact, that over the last few years the growth of a “randomizer” version of the game has risen immeasurably amongst gamers and online streamers. This randomizer version takes the core elements of the game, such as quest items and rewards, and randomizes the order in which they appear, creating an entirely novel experience as players must find new ways to play.
This kind of innovation is a testament to the game’s timelessness.
If we’re talking timeless classics, then we’d be remiss to ignore Doom. The hell-fighting first-person shooter has been granted new life with a series revival, but the incredible spirit of its original versions is still unbeatable in terms of quality. It is easy to return to the original Doom titles since their simplicity grants them easy portability to every available platform.
The advantage of the original Doom titles lies in their easy controls. Unlike Goldeneye, for example, aiming is a fairly automatic process, meaning the controls boil down to strafing and shooting. This allows the action to remain fast paced and fun even by today’s standards.
Its blocky graphics are janky, but there is a classic and wonderful quality to its artistic style that keeps it from feeling ugly and dated. You might not get the same gore-ific demon executions as you’ll find in the series’ reboot, but classic Doom is still an incredibly fun afternoon’s play for anyone.
I’ll restrain myself from any “Half-Life 3 confirmed” jokes here, but it is impossible not to return to Half-Life 2 in a conversation about timeless gaming classics. Valve’s influential physics-based fps is one of those titles that you simply must have played at least once. Its voiceless protagonist, Gordon Freeman, is a gaming icon akin to the likes of Mario and Sonic.
Half-Life 2 is timeless because of its innovative game engine and advanced physics-based mechanics. The “Source” engine has become the framework for many games since due to its versatility and strength. For the industry at large, Half-Life 2 was a ground-breaking title, and it remains one of the best-reviewed games of all time. Even today, Half-Life 2 still feels fresh and innovative despite being nearly 17 years old.
Such is the clamour for Half-Life 2—which ends on a cliff-hanger—that the wait for Half-Life 3 has become a longstanding and agonizing in-joke on the Internet. For whatever reason, Valve and Internet hero/villain Gabe Newall continue to hold us all in thrall for the next episode in their series.
Damn you, Gabe Newall! *shakes fist*
Street Fighter II
Hadouken! Capcom’s elite fighting game, Street Fighter II, is up next! As far as fighters went back in the 1990s, you were either in the corner for Ryu and the crew of Street Fighter or relished Sub Zero’s bone-crunching fatalities in Mortal Kombat. The two titans of the genre both hold up well, but for my money, Street Fighter II—and its many, many sub-iterations—wins this match for being the earlier title and the one that revolutionized fighters for the next decade.
Street Fighter II was far more popular than its predecessor (which mostly fell by the wayside). The game brought in a host of new and colourful characters made iconic by their brilliant design and unique abilities. Street Fighter II was also the first fighter to bring in the combo system, a mechanic that is now synonymous with fighter games and which has also exerted an influence on many other genres too.
No matter how much time passes, to go into the 1-on-1 arena of Street Fighter II with a friend and assert your dominance is still one of gaming’s greatest experiences.
Is it cheating to call Tetris timeless? The Russian-made block puzzler is recognized the world over by gamers and non-gamers alike. At one point or another, everyone has had a shot at Tetris. The game’s core mechanics are beautifully simple yet complex enough to make it a puzzler that transcends generations and defies time.
Of all the games mentioned here, it is Tetris that will forever remain a classic of gaming. Through the years since its conception in 1984, all manner of remakes have offered varying twists on the tried-and-true formula, but no matter how many times ambitiously naive developers try to reimagine the game, the core process of the original will always win out.
Tetris is one of a few games that go well beyond its industry, with its popularity bleeding into many other instances of cultural fascination outside of gaming. Even long after Earth is scorched of all life, I guarantee that the brain-cycling tones of Tetris’s theme and its falling-block imagery will persist in perpetuity.