What is it about nostalgia that helps us to forget? On a casual pootle through Watford this weekend, my friend and I wandered into Game. We were just about done when I spied out of the corner of my eye a sign hanging from a display which read "Go Retro!" or something along those lines. Without thinking, I dashed towards the display and gasped in delight. Atari Lynx consoles, shrink-wrapped as new for £29.99, and Sega Game Gears with piles of games! And the coup de grace, Atari Jaguar consoles for £19.99 each and stacks of software available for about a tenner. In a whirlwind of flailing credit cards I had purchased a Jaguar along with copies of DOOM and Defender 2000.
The problem with nostalgia is that you only ever remember the good things. For instance, I had completely forgotten just how badly designed the Jaguar controller was. They look like telephones, with their stupid array of pointless buttons on a bulging blob of a base and the slide-in cards that label them. Then there are the horrible clicky red control buttons moving diagonally from the centre to the top-right labelled C, B, A, and the D-Pad of hideousness. And why are they so big? I had also quite forgotten how unfinished the Jaguar console was. The controller connectors are basically just serial ports, and the A/V cables on the rear are connected to golden-pinned circuit boards, no fancy connector like you get in a modern console. The cartridges require a bit of force to get in too, and weigh nothing. The whole setup looked and felt flimsy. And the interface! A garish Atari Jaguar logo splashes across the screen, followed by a picture of an actual Jaguar just in case we didn't have the brains to put two and two together. At this point you scrabble to fast-forward into the game. I'd picked DOOM; that was a bad move. One of the things I didn't remember about DOOM was that it ran at a native resolution of 32 pixels by 20. Or at least that's how it looks on the Jaguar. You struggle to win not just because the controls are dire (why have the 'run' key bound to A, which you can't even hold down while firing and/or strafing with the other keys?) but because objects ten feet from your face look like Kryten out of Red Dwarf. Meanwhile Defender 2000 looks like some sort of child's felt-tip pen scrawl. It's pretty good fun as it goes, but didn't I play Defender when I was an embryo or something? And why if this is a proper retro-gaming sale do absolutely none of Game's stores (and I called around, fellas) have copies of the only two good games I can remember on the system; Aliens Versus Predator and the now legendary Tempest 2000? Oh well, maybe I can make a mint on eBay...
The thing is, retro gaming is generally crap. You could argue that games like Chrono Trigger and the early Final Fantasy games are now available and selling like hotcakes on the PSOne in the States and this proves retro gaming is worthwhile, but these are exceptions, not the rule. Take your average game from the mid-90s and subject it to modern day standards and you end up with something like, ooh I don't know, Pitfall on the Game Boy Advance. So Game and Electronics Boutique bought out a company called Telegames, and they ended up with all this extra stock, which is fair enough. It's pretty cool to sell this kit to collectors and such, but why foist it onto Joe Public? How is Joe's kid going to feel on Christmas morning when he opens his presents expecting to find a gleaming PlayStation 2 only to be met with the scowl of the Atari Jaguar, or Joe's sister when she discovers her GameBoy Advance is actually a two ton paperweight whose best title is California Games from 1994. Nobody made any attempt to dissuade me from buying this kit on Saturday afternoon. Shame on you, lads. I spotted a parent eying up the stand as I left while her son tore around brandishing a PlayStation 2 magazine... The message is that retro gaming is for people who can't afford to buy stunners like GTA3 and don't have aspirations to play games like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, Devil May Cry and ICO. These people have no reason to stick with the present - apparently as you spend your whole adult life wishing to be 18 again, you also spend it wishing your car stereo was an eight-track and that you still had Duck Hunt on the NES, and the flimsy red light gun that didn't work half the time.
Retro gaming is fine if you never actually do it. Reminiscing about games like Mission Control on the Spectrum, and how gameplay was the most important aspect of systems like the Commodore 64, and how you used to own every single issue of Zap! before you were arrested for wearing tie-dye shirts in a public place, and how Future Publishing have really never bettered Super Play as a magazine .. these things are fine. But it's when you give in to temptation and spend money on reliving the good old days that retro gaming becomes a disease. You can't relive the past, and you shouldn't. And remember, Jaguars ruin lives.