I am an old man. 41 years to be exact.
But I’m trying to stay youthful, to stay connected to the new, fighting hard against the dying of the light—the brain death of interacting only with the cultural pillars of your misspent youth.
Instead, I became an embarrassment in the opposite direction. I went “hello friends kids”. I’m not an ordinary father, I am cool father. A backwards baseball cap desperately on trend. Joining TikTok, avoiding the use of shrink emojis, fighting the good fight against the hood.
When it comes to video games, it’s easy to stay on top of the trend. Since art is associated with cutting-edge technology, video games are much more likely to receive updates in the form of sequels and spin-offs. While it’s easy to imagine 40-year-old dads listening to classic rock radio to hear the hits of yesteryear, it’s impossible to imagine just playing Pong, Pac-Man, or other games from the same era.
I grew up in the 90s, with Oasis, Blur and Pulp as musical reference points – and I still search for them on Spotify – but I don’t regularly fire up the Super Nintendo to play Super Mario World.
No – I usually play whatever’s new as a normal person, whether it’s Elden Ring or Signalis or whatever. Because thanks to technology, new video games are almost always more appealing than old video games.
Well, sort of.
Because let’s face it: 2023 was a weird year for video games. In the last 3 months, the best video games are… old.
We had Dead Space Remake, a brilliantly executed from-the-ground remake of the classic sci-fi horror title first released in 2008. Capcom recently dropped Resident Evil 4, a remake of one of the most influential video games of the last 20 years . This gets perfect results all around. People are losing their minds.
But personally, after Nintendo released a remastered edition in mid-February of this year, I played Metroid Prime.
Metroid Prime is old. Metroid Prime can legally drink in bars.
It’s a game that has felt thrown out of the future since its release on the GameCube way back in 2002. It’s like someone opened a gap in the space-time continuum and gave us this glowing, unearthly artifact before the portal closed.
But somehow, in 2023, Metroid Prime feels even stranger. The controls, the aesthetics of the game’s intricately designed universe, the shape-shifting way the game constantly reinterprets its own spaces with confusing, awe-inspiring mechanics – Metroid Prime felt like an anomaly 20 years ago, but time has only made it more special. In the years since its release, nothing has come close to replicating it.
If nothing else, Metroid Prime is a reminder of how stagnant big-budget video games have become since then. Of course, we’ve seen big changes – Breath of the Wild successfully reinvented open-world gaming. From Software, through games like Dark Souls and Elden Ring, practically invented a new genre. But outside of the indie space, most big-budget titles have played it extremely safe over the past decade.
In a world where most AAA games have you collecting loot to craft new gear and meandering through pointless skill trees, playing Metroid Prime feels like stepping into a different universe. It turns out that video games with a unique identity are good something. Replaying Metroid Prime in 2023 was like an electric shock, reminding me that games don’t have to tick boxes or stay in a comfort zone. They should make your synapses fire in directions you can’t even imagine in advance.
I thought about this when I played God of War: Ragnarok right after. As a multi-award winning, critically acclaimed video game, I was shocked at how quickly Ragnarok put me on autopilot. This beautiful game – created by hundreds of talented developers at the peak of their collective powers – put me to sleep for hours. It felt so familiar, not just because it was a sequel, but because it moved and played like an enhanced version of games I’d been endlessly playing for the past four or five years.
In some ways, it’s an unfair comparison. Metroid Prime wasn’t remade by accident. It was remastered because it was an era-defining video game that is fondly remembered decades after its release. Even a game like Ragnarok, loved by millions of players, is unlikely to have the same long-term impact as Metroid Prime. Despite winning several Game of the Year awards, it’s hard to imagine audiences clamoring for a remake of Ragnarok 20 years later.
But what struck me about Metroid Prime was how little it had changed, and – conversely – how little there was to change to make it palatable to people who weren’t even born when this game was first released. There were visual upgrades, sure, but for the most part, Metroid Prime Remastered was the same video game I played on the GameCube in my early 20s. Metroid Prime never once betrays its age, on the contrary, it still feels cutting edge.
Maybe because Metroid Prime was so unique in the first place? Maybe it’s because nothing—no game—has tried to pull the same magic trick. Possibly. But it is also a stark reminder that – due to a number of factors – big video games feel much more risk-averse than even a decade ago. The stakes (and budgets) are too high. It’s hard to imagine a big-budget title taking such risks.
They don’t make them like they used to.