The Adventure

Live Your Story, Explore Your World

8-bit Glory Days

Once upon a time there was this magical place in history.  People called it “the Eighties.”  What made it magical you ask?  Colors were bright, hair was big, and games were 8-bit.

At the time, I didn’t know that I was living in what would become the golden age of videogames.  I don’t think any of us knew, it just sort of happened around us.  Here’s a trip back to that plaid couch in my basement; stomping on Goomba’s, drawing out maps, and eating pizza rolls all while listening to the wonderful bleeps and bloops of chiptune music.

It was a simpler time.

Controller Perfection.

I know I risk sounding like the old codger here who “gamed uphill both ways barefoot in 5 feet of snow,” but I still think simple, linear games on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) were superior.  You had a clear purpose (that generally involved running from left to right), and limited attempts to accomplish that purpose.  The message that the games were sending was clear.  Either adapt and improve, or die trying.  No fluff, just your skill, two buttons, and a D-pad.  Which brings me to my next point…

It was a harder time.

You couldn’t simply exist in the game and win by putting in enough hours.  You had to work.  No handholding, no regenerating health, no gimmicks for “casual players” (I still am completely against the whole everyone gets a trophy movement).  8-bit games would chew up mediocrity and laugh at you.  Don’t believe me?  Watch this:

Games were a competition between the developer and the player.  Sure, there were cheap ways to spike the difficulty – I’m looking at you, bats over every pit in Ninja Gaiden and Castlevania.  Why was it always bats? – but when you finally tasted victory it was oh, so sweet.  You earned victory through your courageous determination.  You defeated Bowser/Ganon/Dracula/Robotnik/(insert other big baddie here) and saved the day.  You became the hero of an 8-bit world.  Not bad for an 8 year old.  Not bad for a 30 year old re-visiting his childhood either.

It was a more adventurous time.

Games in the Eighties didn’t feature heavy-handed narratives that bottle-fed a story to you.  They presented a world with which your imagination created the story by filling it in.  It became your story, your adventure.  It was something you would talk about on the playground or at lunch tables.  It was a shared experience that meant something different to everyone.  I still remember sharing secrets, tips, and tales of battle.  Speaking of that…

One of my favorite things about the NES era was my game journal.  Now I understand that you may not know what this is, but after some digging, I found out that this was a worldwide phenomena!  I still smile when I read someone else’s tale of their game journal, it transports me back to drawing maps, scribbling down the locations of secrets, and devising boss battle strategies in my journal.  Even now I think that journal oozes with creativity and cunning of a time long gone.  With today’s elegant game displays and pop-up maps, there is no need to keep track of anything, nothing to engage you outside of the game.  Nothing to make you think.  

Not to say that games from my childhood are better…

Well, yeah, that is what I’m saying.  I’ve already decided that my son will start on the NES first, and work his way up to current day if he wants to game.  He has to appreciate the classics.

If this resonated with you, you’ll want to watch Go Right.  Thank me later.



About Cole Bradburn

I'm a writer and doctor in lifelong pursuit of health, happiness, and adventure. I currently live in Raleigh, NC with the love of my life and our amazing boys.

  • Oh man, this makes me nostalgic. Not necessarily for the 80s, as I only lived through four years of that decade 🙂 but for the beautiful simplicity of it all. When all you really needed to do was go right, and we didn’t need anything further to make games so epic.

    • I do enjoy some of today’s games, but I miss the simplicity. The tight framework they had to design in led to crazy creativeness within the limitations of the hardware. The mechanics of the game alone were fun, inviting, and challenging.

  • My boys started with The Ocarina of Time. I never had a NES. But we have some classics on the Wii. Just the other day, my oldest got upset because he couldn’t beat a Wii fit challenge. I’m constantly telling him that losing is okay, and that success takes practice and dedication.

    • That’s awesome Jason. My favorite part of the Wii was the Virtual Console service that allowed you to play old classics (and even some import titles that never made it to America). Practice pays off big with these classic forms of entertainment.

      Oh to have started with Ocarina of Time. Those poor kids, how does anything else live up to it?

      • I’m hesitant to get any other Zelda game made after for fear it won’t match up. Thoughts?

        • Oh man, for children and the best sense of exploration, I would say Wind Waker. The cel-shaded artwork in the game still looks like a phenomenal cartoon, and sailing around the ocean is a joy.

          For story/mythology, I would play Skyward Sword. It’s more complicated gameplay mechanics, but it ties all the Zeldas together.

  • There are a lot of retro style games still made today. Here is just a few that I think are really good: Braid, Super Meat Boy, Trails HD and Rayman Origins are just a few. They still are making new Mario games too which pretty fun.

    • Yes, I really liked Super Meat Boy and Rayman Origins. Haven’t played Braid, but would like to.

      Have you played Fez, Mark of the Ninja, or Shadow Complex? Those have all been great throwbacks.

      • I haven’t played them but I’m putting them on my list!