From The Armchair: Old Skool Gaming

ArmchairWhat ho, chums.

Last week I found myself in the unusual position of having nothing to play on my Nintendo 3DS. Considering the tottering (although diminishing) pile of unplayed games on The Mantelpiece, this was an almost unprecedented situation. But yet there I was, Saturday morning stretching ahead of me like a great shoe with its lights on, nothing but a lazy morning in bed planned, and no games to play on my 3DS.

Some of you may at this point be suggesting that I should have instead gotten up and gone out for a walk. Or perhaps learned a foreign language. Indeed, I could have simply read an edifying book. But fie! I wanted to play a VIDEO GAME, goddamn you, and I went about exercising my rights as a free Englishman in pursuit of my chosen pastime.

So, to the eShop. Ever since Sir Gaulian’s excellently nostalgic post about the ludicrously audacious advertising for Capcom’s Gargoyle’s Quest – “Graphics so real you’ll forget it’s only a game” – I’ve been meaning to play said game to put this bold claim to the test. I remember when Gargoyle’s Quest came out, back in 1891, when I was but a wee nipper and Nintendo’s Game Boy had only just found its way to Albion’s fair shores. I recall it received excellent reviews, and the game remained on my ‘To Buy’ list for years, but I never did save up enough pocket money. Now that I am comfortably in my 30s, my pocket money has been upped considerably, and I’ll admit it was eminently satisfying to make my childhood aspiration a reality. Following a virtual swipe of the credit card, Gargoyle’s Quest was mine at last, after a wait of only 23 years.

Gargoyle's Quest, mine at long last.
Gargoyle’s Quest, mine at long last.

Emboldened by my purchase, I quickly snapped up 1888’s Castlevania too. Back in the early 90s, I had a rude introduction to the Castlevania series in the form of Castlevania: The Adventure for the Game Boy, which is widely regarded to be the worst Castlevania game ever made. I wasn’t to know that at the time, however, and this sluggish shambles of a game put me off the series for the next decade. Thankfully, I finally warmed to Castlevania through, of all things, the stripped-down mobile version of Aria of Sorrow that I bought for my crumbly old Sony Ericsson phone several years ago, and since then I’ve hankered to play through the series from the very beginning.

Purchases made, I settled back to enjoy a relaxed morning of warm gaming nostalgia. Which was soon interrupted by the sound of prodigious and increasingly amplified swearing.

“What the f**k? Dead again?”

“Motherf**king bat spider!!!”

“You must be f**king kidding me, I have to restart all the way back there?!?”


And so on, and so forth. Dear me, games used to be hard in the old days, didn’t they? I stopped counting after my fifteenth failed attempt to get through the first level of Gargoyle’s Quest. Yes, THE FIRST LEVEL. I’ll admit that my reflexes may have withered somewhat over the years, but they certainly haven’t withered that much – it’s an undeniable fact that games were rock hard back in the early days.

The complaint that modern games are too easy is an oft-repeated one. But I for one am grateful that we no longer have to put up with restart points that are spaced so far apart you’d need a telescope to see the next one. Or one-hit-kill lava. Or enemies that knock you down bottomless pits for an instant death. Or bosses that absorb absurd amounts of damage and then kill you with one hit. Or HAVING TO GO BACK TO THE START OF THE GAME WHEN YOU DIE. Perhaps modern games are too easy in some cases, and there’s an argument that greater challenge provides greater reward, but there’s challenge and then there’s wanting to claw your own eyes out in frustration.

Thankfully, the Virtual Console has an ace up its sleeve in the form of Restore Points – at any time you can create a save point, meaning that virtually impossible levels become just about doable with a reasonable level of patience. Without the Restore Point function, I would never have been able to proceed to the second level of Gargoyle’s Quest; but I’m glad I did, because it turns out to be a rather fun game (and oddly, it actually gets easier as it goes along, thanks to the abilities you continue to unlock). Some might say Restore Points are cheating. I say they’re the only thing that makes ancient games playable now that I no longer possess the limitless patience and dexterity of an 11 year old.

And as for Castlevania… well, thanks to Restore Points I’m enjoying that too, but if anything it’s even harder than Gargoyle’s Quest. I’ve started to rethink my plan of playing through the series from the very beginning… Maybe I’ll pick up with the series at the point when the developers finally discovered save points.

Welcome to the house of pain: the first boss in Castlevania.
Welcome to the house of pain: the first boss in Castlevania.