About ten years ago my PS3 kicked the bucket, offering me the yellow light of death like a miniature middle finger. I couldn’t afford a new one, so I reluctantly took out my PS2 and went to the local thrift store to see what games I could buy with ten. It only took a quick look around the store to realize there was an ocean of titles I had never heard of. He had many options to choose from. Since the PS2 is backwards compatible, there were two generations to explore.
I started with Silent Bomber, an arcade action title from 1999. The punchy soundtrack, the cheesy dialogue, the challenge all aged like the best wine. Taking control of the mercenary and war criminal Jutah Fate, players infiltrate a spaceship to save the world by blowing things up. It’s a hackneyed story, but the gameplay is special. It is played as Bomber Man crossed over with Metal Gear Rising. Jutah, the titular bomber, can plant bombs where he is or drop them at distant targets, either by aiming freely or by locking on. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t think of a game like this before or after.
What scares me is how coincidental my discovery of this game was. If my PS3 hadn’t packed, or if I had more money in my wallet, I would have continued with the latest releases. It was only because I had no choice (other than to stop playing completely) that I found this hidden gem. If I’m hosting a game party, Silent Bomber is the game that dusts the guests off, like a music fan’s favorite vinyl. It has a special place in my heart. That I only discovered it by chance is a sobering thought.
Silent Bomber is the antithesis of ‘trends’. It’s not on the PlayStation Store outside of Japan, and it doesn’t have the immortality of other games from that era; Silent Hills, Final Fantasies, Metal Gears. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that I’m among a handful of people on the planet who still play it.
It’s not always bad to play the same game as the rest of the world. It’s good to talk about shared experiences and learn about current trends in gaming. But if we only play the biggest games of the year, even if they are critically adored, then we won’t find something that is unique to us. Sometimes we must look to the past, and bookworms know that better than anyone.
Carl Sagan described a book as “a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which many funny dark doodles are printed. But one look and you’re inside someone else’s mind, maybe someone dead thousands of years ago.”
While they’re pixels on a screen rather than flexible parts of the tree, and haven’t been around for thousands of years, the games are the same. When we play an old game, we are inside the minds of the developers, writers, and composers of yesteryear. If you just follow what’s new and trending, you’ll miss the absolute bloody reverence of this. Literature is consumed differently than games, sure, but it’s strange that games have a separate culture for those who love the classics. We don’t call Austin and Dickens readers “retro readers.”
There’s a subreddit specifically for gamers who aren’t trend followers called r/patientgamers. Heading “for late gamers”, it describes itself as “a secondary game free from the news, hype, and drama that surrounds current releases.” If you browse these forums, you’ll find discussions of games released, often more than twelve months ago. This is clearly different from retro gaming, because the discussions aren’t just about old hardware, and nostalgia isn’t a point of focus. From discussions of 1997’s Fallout to the recent Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes, it’s a space for people to chat about games that no longer make headlines.
Following trends can be rewarding, but it’s also exhausting (ask any gaming journalist) and, perhaps most dangerous of all, it can narrow your vision. Fantastic titles lie on the road ahead, but equally great games are yours to discover if you go back and rewind a few years, or just look to the side of the road.
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