The nature of a Classic

This week I’ve been pondering the question: What makes a game “a classic”? Classics are, by definition, those that best represent their genre, style, etc. But how is it that of two games one is a classic and the other isn’t? When both do the same things? You could say the one that releases first is the classic, but that’s not always the case. One common trait I’ve noticed in “classics” is they’re all rage-throw-controller-ulcer-producing. Don’t believe me? I’ll give you three games, all considered classics and all are so frustratingly hard or annoying or confusing they make you want to torch the maker’s home:

  • Another World
  • Alone in the Dark
  • Battletoads

Are all classic games good? Maybe, maybe not; it’s very subjective. For example, Another World is a classic but I loathe it. On the other hand, a game with the same style, that being cinematic platformer (like the original Prince of Persia), called Flashback is to me a vastly superior game, with better level design, gameplay and even story; yet, Another World is the world renowned classic and only a handful of people know of Flashback.

Not all classics are rage-inducing, like the NES game DuckTales, based on the Disney cartoon, and Full Throttle, a LucasArts adventure game. The first, DuckTales, was amazing and quite easy, but maybe these two and others are the exceptions that make the rule. The rest, games such as Prince of Persia, Battletoads, Alone in the Dark, Double Dragon, Ninja Gaiden (sure all of them are excruciatingly hard, but the NES ones take the cake for sheer unfairness and ulcer-causing), Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, Gabriel Knight, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out! and even Super Mario Bros. (don’t believe me, ask anyone who’s played it and just mention levels 8-1 to 8-4), and many more are testaments of both human patience and wrath. Many controllers, keyboards and mice were ripped and chucked around rooms because of these games, and while to many people none of them were actually FUN (and instead may be responsible for hours of therapy) they are still considered classics. Duck Hunt is another classic, we may consider it the first Shooter game (oh god, just remembered Contra, all of them, *shudder*), how many of us had the sudden urge to throw the cartridge out the window when the damn dog laughed in our faces for the umpteenth time.

There’s another thing these games have in common. They’re old. Each is over ten years old. Is age a factor in deciding when a game becomes a classic? Personally I consider Assassin’s Creed 2 worthy of “classic-hood”, it took the concept and mechanics of AC1 and perfected them (which AC3 will probably do once again, but until then, it doesn’t count).

Then again, maybe age isn’t a factor. Resident Evil 4 is, by many, considered a classic, as it revolutionized the core gameplay while still keeping the horror aspect of the series. Was it frustrating? Not at all, it was quite enjoyable…except for Ashley, the useless NPC. Hmm, if we consider the frustration that comes from having that annoying blonde bimbo around for most of the game, then RE4 does fit into the “all classics are frustrating”. God of War can be considered a classic too (only the first one, the rest are pretty much the same game over and over again) for that matter.

If frustration alone defined a classic, then why are so many hard-core-drives-people-to-drinking games not classics? Take for example a very obscure game for the NES, A Boy and His Blob, for anyone who played that thing, I being one of them (and actually finished it after months of trying), it was the subject of many nightmares but many of you won’t even know that game and will probably look it up on “Weakipedia” and others will think “isn’t that a Wii game?”; yet the game is old as hell and if there’s a more unfair adventure game out there, I can’t think of it.

And back to the point of having two games doing the same but only one being considered a classic; let’s use Diablo 2 and Titan Quest as an example. Of those two, if you ask anyone which one is a classic, they’ll say Diablo 2 (while at the same time rant about how D3 screwed everything up, it’s inevitable), even though TQ is an amazing game, nearly without fault, that takes the concepts of D2 and brings them to another level and which still pretty much sports one of the HARDEST final bosses in any game, Typhon from the main campaign (only outdone by Torchlight’s Ordrak and TQ’s expansion’s Charon). Is it longevity? Both TQ and Diablo 2 are still being played all over the world, so it’s not longevity. Is it because the TQ’s creators, Iron Lore, closed? Maybe. Is it because D2 was made by Blizzard? Could be, but if this is the reason, it’s a very sad one.

Another case, and proof that a later game is considered a classic while a previous one, in the same series isn’t, is the Legacy of Kain case. Soul Reaver is a classic, I know it, you know it, we all know it. It had its faults, but it had a compelling storyline, cool gameplay and of course, its measure of soul-crushing frustration. But, the original Legacy of Kain, Blood Omen, is pretty much a perfect game, especially considering the gripping storyline you see in SR is a sequel to BO, the voice actors being those that worked on BO, and of course, it features some of that heart-attack-inducing moments that all classics seem to have. And yet, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain is hardly known, not as widely as Soul Reaver, when it should be acclaimed as a classic, at least by “mainstream standards”.

Another perfect example comes with The Legend of Zelda. Ocarina of Time is held as the classic alongside the original, and while to some of us, A Link to The Past is the one true Zelda, it is sometimes overlooked if not ignored altogether, even though everything Ocarina does, ALttP had already done in the past. Two Worlds? Yep. Master Sword? It invented it. Massive sandbox-y map? You bet. Freedom to go wherever you want whenever you want? Sure. A crapton of side-stuff? Hell yea, digging games, better boomerangs, bombs, even upgrading the freaking Master Sword was possible. So why is this game standing in Ocarina’s shadow instead of the other way around? I’d like to think it’s something more than “Ocarina is 3D”, but I believe that is actually the case. Hell, ALttP bosses were hard, actually hard, the 3rd boss on Death Mountain, the WORM, you know which one I’m talking about was frustrating enough to merit an automatic entry into the classics list. Ocarina of time is easy, too easy in fact, but Navi makes sure there’s that edge of frustration with her reviled “Hey, Listen!”

On the Zelda front, The Wind Waker is another classic. It took from the other games and turned the main premise of “you’re in Hyrule” and flipped it on its head, while giving us enjoyable characters, but it’s one of those easy classics that seem to be in the minority.

The latest Zelda, Skyward Sword is fantastic, and it sports one of the best storytelling in any Legend of Zelda game to date. Is it considered a classic? No, not yet anyway, but then again, it’s only a year old. Maybe someday it will, probably when the next Zelda comes around.

I mentioned Blizzard, right? World of Warcraft has hacked its way through the bodies of all its competitors to hall of fame place for MMOs, and is a classic of the genre, and while there are other MMO classics, like Everquest or the granddaddy Ultima Online, WoW is much more widely known, though maybe it’s just because it gobbles up the competition and spits out their bones and keeps doing so to this day.

A game being good is subjective, I’ve already said so, but before you start thinking I’m repeating myself, I’ve got a point here. StarCraft, WarCraft III and Age of Empires are all RTS classics, but personally, I’d throw SC and AoE into a fire, to keep me warm while I play WCIII. I hate those two games with all my heart. I found AoE boring and slow, and slow and boring too, and I hate playing a game that tells me our world’s history, it takes me back to high-school and no thanks; and SC is mind-numbingly monotonous, all missions being search & destroy and there being little to no story. Yet all three are classics. So, a game being good or not, especially considering how subjective that is, may not be the best way to say “this game is an instant classic”.

So far, being berserker-state inducing seems to be the only thing that all classics have in common, and if so, then we’ll probably see Demon’s Souls and/or Dark Souls join the list of classic games, because let’s face it, there haven’t been other games in the past few years more responsible for broken TVs than those two.

As usual, hit up the comments and let me know what you think. Do you have any clue why some are considered classics and some are not, some even fading into obscurity?

Thanks for your time, and hope you’re back for more. I’ll be talking about a few genres next time and rant a bit about the notion that graphics define if a game is good or not. On that note, it is my believe Crisis will never be considered a classic. It’s not a game, it’s a tech demo (though still more enjoyable than the “realistic” FPS out there like Call of Duty and whatever the others are called). And yeah, Doom and its sequel Doom 2 are both classics, a rare example of two games in the same series attaining classic-hood. Another example of this rarity are Monkey Island 1 & 2, with 2 being the more frustrating of them.

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I love everything readable, writeable, playable and of course, edible! I search for happiness, or Pizza, because it's pretty much the same thing! I write and ramble on The Mental Attic and broadcast on my Twitch channel, TheLawfulGeek

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