Pains Of 90s Gaming You Will Never Experience With A Next-Gen System
A wide variety of retro video games are now available for free as simple browser emulations or smartphone apps. For anyone who grew up in the ’90s, these same games represented the cutting edge, requiring entire consoles, cartridges, special television adapters and wads of cash. So it’s somewhat mind-blowing that they’re now tossed-off mobile time-wasters requiring a bare minimum of computer power. Weeks of childhood allowances, squandered on something we could’ve just gotten for free if we had patiently waited a couple decades.
Video games could be a lot harder in the ’90s platforming era. And the graphics were crappy, which was only compounded by the fuzzy standard definition displays of the boxy televisions. Clearly, we didn’t play for the glory of XP points or achievements or multiplayer level-ups back then; we did it for the love of the game(s), and these nine hurdles prove it:
You had to sit dangerously close to the TV
Video game controllers had cords back then, severely limiting your ability to lounge all the way back on the couch/bean bag chair. Sometimes you had to pull the console out of the media stand just so it could reach your seat, but more often than not you were hunched over with your face a few feet from the TV screen. You had to do that to read your health meter anyway.
(Another downside of the wired controller: It really limits your ability to flail around the room in moments of rage and triumph.)
Oh, it’s taking a few extra seconds for the servers to find a “Halo” match? BIG DEAL. We ’90s gamers had a bug that could derail a whole game, leaving you with a glitched-out screen, and that bug was known as dust. Or dirt. Or literal bugs. We were convinced the only way to recalibrate this fragile hardware was by blowing on it, which actually didn’t help at all. This spottiness was just an accepted part of the experience.
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Saving meant pausing your game overnight, leaving the Nintendo running. If there was a thunderstorm and the power went out while you slept, you had to start over the next day. (“The Legend Of Zelda” allegedly saved your progress but I could never get it to work.)
When the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis came out and allowed you to save your progress, it was revolutionary. But the revolution was short-lived, and for the following generation of consoles, you had to pay actual money if you wanted to save, using expansion packs and memory cards.
Without saves, the only way to preserve your hard-fought gains was through lives. Games did not have unlimited continues back then. You had lives, and when you ran out of them, you had to start from the beginning. Not the beginning of the level, mind you. The beginning of the game. None of this “respawn” nonsense.
Cheating was a chore
Internet access was limited or nonexistent for ’90s kids, so you couldn’t just look up the codes. You had to swap them at the lunch table or find them in magazines like Nintendo Power. And for some cheats, you had to actually buy a device that attached to the game and modded it, called Game Genie.
It came with a booklet indexing all the codes for each game, which you then input on a screen before the game booted up. If the desired title didn’t have any good codes listed, oh well, you already bought the thing.
Want multiplayer? Find IRL friends
Oh, you wanna play four-way “Goldeneye”? That means you need to know three other people, and all three people had to be available to come over to your house right now. Sure, once the plan came together, it was a blast to have all your friends hunkered down with a case of Surge and a pounder of Twizzlers, subbing in and out based on who came in last place.
But even then, the experience was compromised, because each player could look at each other player’s quadrant of the screen to avoid attacks.
Rental store out of stock
Before Netflix, there were stores where you would go to rent movies. Wild, right? Well, even wilder, some of these places also let you rent video games. So you and your friends would plan out a big sleepover, head to the video store, pick up some cheesy action movie in the hopes it would show a boob, and grab a copy of the latest “NFL Blitz” or this “Twisted Metal” everyone was talking about. Unless the store was out of copies of the game because a different group of friends already beat you to it. Then, sleepover ruined. Unless that boob made an appearance.
Those original controllers were the opposite of ergonomic. The sharp-edged red buttons on the NES controller, the sturdy, unforgiving D-pad (back before it was called a D-pad), the corners … the controllers had freaking corners! This all meant button-mashing was bad for your health.
Primitive mobile gaming
Mobile gaming consisted of AA-battery-operated devices like Game Boy, Game Gear, or just handheld one-off games that employed pre-figured red blips on a screen. They were all bricks (not like the Nokia brick phones — these were literally the size of bricks) with tiny screens and chunky graphics.
But it was either that, read Sports Illustrated for Kids or talk to your family on that drive down to the beach.