Joseph Heller once said that the difficult thing with students on literature courses is that they never read anything that isn't a classic. It's an odd kind of problem, but I think I know what Heller was on about. I don't know if you've seen or read anything by John Webster, a Jacobean playwright who overlapped with Shakespeare a bit. I read Webster's The Duchess of Malfi at school, and it made me appreciate Shakespeare all the more. Stuff Shakespeare seems to do without any effort Webster really struggles with. And then Webster is so gloriously weird, too, so sadistic and over-the-top. Is The Duchess of Malfi a classic? It's survived long enough to suggest it is, but encountering the text still felt like going off-road a little, and leaving the major part of the canon behind. I think Heller would have just about approved.
All of which is a really long-winded way of saying: I really want to play that Die Hard they made for the NES. I have a memory of this game as something strange and complex, a film tie-in that focused on the architectural fixations of Die Hard. You had to think about what floor you were on, I think. You had to worry about broken glass. You had to worry about where everyone else was. It wasn't a straightforward film-to-side-scroller adaptation - it was an adaptation based on a bit of serious thinking about the film.
And it wasn't a classic. I'm pretty sure of that anyway. And because it's not a classic, it shines a little brighter in my imagination - a game that got away at the time, that was weird and difficult, and which would be a major pain to track down and render playable today.
I'm not sure about the classics anymore. I mean, I get that they're still classics, but I'm not sure about the way they're endlessly served up to us again, digitally remastered, arranged on virtual consoles and download collections. Those mini consoles that have come out over the last few years have all struck me the same way: lovely stuff, but I don't really want any of that any more. I know the classics. I know the canon. What keeps me excited is all the odd stuff that never made it to the point where people thought about bringing it back.
Basically, I would love a NES Mini that didn't have Mario and Zelda and Tetris, but that maybe had Die Hard, Hudson Hawk, Bayou Billy and a bunch of other games that time has struggled to remember. Wouldn't that be amazing? A collection of games from the past that would genuinely surprise you, that would take you places you hadn't been in a while, shown you things that you had forgotten.
And as with Webster and Shakespeare, I don't think Mario and Zelda and Tetris would be completely absent. I think they would be invoked in their breezy excellence, in the way they didn't struggle with the kinds of things many of these non-classic games did. Playing through a NES RPG that isn't Zelda, I think you often get a sense of the clarity of Zelda's thinking. Playing through a NES platformer that isn't Mario you often get a sense of the imaginative reach of Nintendo, of its commitment to landing the crucial basics, like weight and control.
That's it, really. These classics collections often feel like a trip to the museum. I want a trip back in time to somewhere a bit tackier, a bit more grimly commercial - back to some Blockbuster Video of the soul, I guess, where Bruce Willis is waiting and everything is a bit wonky. Video game design was forged in the classics, but it was also forged in all the other games, which tried things, which failed with things, which clung to bad ideas longer than they should have and which never quite got their act together. Sounds pretty good to me.