I remember the first time I played a Super Nintendo. The game was Super Mario World (was there any other?), and it was a demo machine set up in the local Kmart. During that time, I always relished shopping trips, as I knew that if I was lucky nobody else would be playing and I could spend a few minutes with my favorite plumber.

Imagine then, going back home, and trying to enjoy Super Mario Bros on the original NES. It wasn’t bad by any means – it just wasn’t “special” anymore. Mario World boasted multi-tiered backgrounds and sprites bigger than anything I’d seen before – remember the giant Bullet Bills? It had amazing new environments! It had Yoshi!

What’s interesting, then, is that no 2D platformer came along after Super Mario World that really made it look outdated and stale. The next huge Mario game was Super Mario 64 – and while it’s notable for the fact that it brought a third dimension to the Mushroom Kingdom, comparing it to any Mario game that came before it is basically apples and oranges.

An eternal plus for Mario is that the game was never meant to be photorealistic; so even today the NES and SNES titles manage to keep some freshness. The original SMB is a little flat, sure; but Mario 3 will always be an exceptional game. While the graphics in this day and age could easily be surpassed by my phone, it doesn’t matter, because they were what they were. They were, and always will be, classics.

Where am I going with this?

I just finally got around to playing Indigo Prophecy. It’s not a new title, having seen release on the PS2 and Xbox a few years ago. My curiosity was piqued during a discussion about it last year, and recently reinvigorated by the news on the developer’s follow-up title Heavy Rain.

My point here doesn’t require me to go into too much depth regarding the plot of Indigo Prophecy, so suffice it to say that it was in their best interest to make things look as realistic as they could. That is an admirable and common goal among a good portion of games nowadays. And I suspect had I played the game 3 or 4 years ago when it came out, I would’ve found it perfectly acceptable.

However, I have been playing games almost exclusively on the Xbox 360 for nearly three years now; games that have truly raised the bar in terms of what video games should be. It’s not really a stretch to say that these games have spoiled me with their bright colors and slick graphics – that’s kind of the point.

So from the minute I put in Indigo Prophecy, the deck was stacked against it. It probably didn’t help that I had just finished Prince of Persia, one of the most beautiful games available on the current crop of consoles, the night before. Everything about Indigo Prophecy was blocky, muted, flat… stale.

The thing is, I’m not convinced that these modern 3D games can ever be enjoyed the same way classic 2D games can. Why would I want to play the original Gran Turismo when I know that Gran Turismo 5 is even closer to the game Polyphony Digital really wants to make? I think that when the paradigm of game design shifted away from traditional 2D, sprite-based platforming games towards 3D polygonal mishmash, all of the 2D games that were great at that time (Mario, Metroid, Zelda) were immortalized.

I don’t think we’ll see that sort of phenomenon again for awhile, what with the massive leaps in technology happening so frequently. Look at Grand Theft Auto IV, versus Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, versus Grand Theft Auto III. You’d expect the differences between this and the previous generation to be pronounced, but even the two games on the same console are worlds apart after only 4 years.

This is going to end in one of two scenarios:

  1. Games will continue to develop and advance, graphically, until they can’t go any further. We will have games that are truly photorealistic to the point where the only way to improve is to increase the scope of the game and continue to expand the player’s environment.
  2. Console games as we know them will phase out due to some dramatic shift in technology. True, immersive 3D, I suppose. A sort of holodeck type of thing? Once this happens, it will basically render the current types of games moot, leaving the last of their kind to become legendary like some of the great SNES games have become.

So basically what I’m saying is that I like new games, and I like old games. It’s the in-between area that fails to light my fire.