With the current generation finally starting to wind down (there is no way Sony and Microsoft’s next-gen consoles won’t be here by next Christmas), it feels like a reasonable time to reflect on what has, and will surely continue to be, the greatest console generation of all time…..yeah, I said it!
Obviously, any such claim is little more than a matter of opinion, but the more I look at the facts, the more I’m convinced that gamers have never had it better. The Mega Drive vs. Super Nintendo battle royale of the early 90’s was a fantastic time for gaming, one that still holds a special place in my heart, while the Dreamcast/PS2/Gamecube/Xbox era represented a period of great quality and massive growth for the industry (the Dreamcast still stands as my favourite console of all time), but in terms of sheer quality, choice and innovation, I honestly believe that the last seven years or so stand as a genuine golden age for this fledgling art form.
Gamers are a dismissive bunch though, a group for which rose tinted nostalgia often wins out against cold hard facts. The thing is, for this generation of consoles, such obscuring nostalgia has become all but irrelevant thanks to the fact that most of the games you remember so well (or think that you do), are available on at least one of the three major platforms thanks to the wonder that is downloadable gaming services.
I’ll fly the flag for physical media until the cows come home (I simply enjoy ownership), but for classic gaming kicks and clever twists on archetypal gaming concepts, XBLA, PSN and Nintendo’s Virtual Console stand as genuinely indispensable pillars of modern day gaming commerce. Triple-A, retail releases still rule the roost, but in a time in which major releases are playing it safer and safer in light of the ever rising costs of videogame development, these platforms continue to deliver the kind of imagination and variety that simply could not be afforded in a time of retail only releases.
Beyond the simple fact that these platforms now allow for a truly unprecedented level of choice, they also offer a chance for players to pick up some genuine gaming bargains while allowing them to experience yesteryears classics without the need for older consoles or expensive imports. Remember when Radiant Silvergun would have set you back in advance of £100 (if you were already lucky enough to own a Japanese Sega Saturn)? Well, now you can pick it up for under £8…..and in HD to boot. Classic arcade games, Nintendo’s wondrous back catalogue and an array of fantastic new releases are all available at the click of a button. In such a fast moving industry, it’s sometimes easy to take these platforms for granted, but take a moment to think about what we have available to us as gamers today – if you had told me that I would be able to download games easily comparable to full retail release for under £10 ten years ago, I think my head might have exploded.
Before I get carried away on the joys of today’s truly exceptional download distribution services though, let’s not forget the arguably incomparable quality of this generations’ exceptionally long list of truly triple-A titles. From Gears of War to Red Dead Redemption, Super Mario Galaxy 2 (one of the greatest games ever created) to BioShock and Mass Effect to Uncharted, one could argue this as the greatest generation of all times based on its boxed products alone. Yes, certain genres have not been as well represented this time around, with JRPGs in particular taking a bit of a nosedive in quality since the heady days of the PS2, but even here, Xenoblade Chronicles, Lost Odyssey and Final Fantasy XIII still represent extremely enjoyable, technically outstanding examples of the genre (I don’t care what you think, Final Fantasy XIII was great). That’s not to mention the upcoming Studio Ghibli/Level-5 collaboration, Ni no Kuni, which, let’s be honest, is bound to be utterly awesome.
Yes, it has been a generation defined by shooters, but when they are as good as the top-tier examples that crowd out so much of today’s shelf space, I find it incredibly hard to get all that upset about it. Call of Duty might split opinion on online message boards, but there is a reason that half the people on the planet are playing it. Halo is going from strength to strength and Battlefield and Killzone continue to deliver their own unique, but no less outstanding takes on online warfare. Of course, that’s not to say that other genres have been ignored – far from it. Racers, action adventure, western RPGs, strategy games, they have all been well represented this generation.
You could argue that the advent of motion control gaming has been more of a curse than a blessing, but let’s not forget those initially astonishing days of Wii Sports. Ok, so, thing haven’t exactly panned out as we would have hoped since then, but it’s more choice and just another way that the industry is ingratiating itself into everyday culture in a way that would have been all but unthinkable just a few years ago. Mothers buying Balance Boards might not mean much to you, but if it means more money and recognition for the industry, its existence can only be considered a positive thing……even if a lot of the games are utter pish.
I have no doubt that equally strong arguments could be made for a number of other console generations, but as far as I’m concerned; this one stands as the finest to date. But enough of me – what do you think? Does this generation rule the roost or was it the 16 bit era that really floated your virtual boat? How about the seemingly never ending 8 bit era? Does its lasting impression on modern game design prove its quality or are the NES, C64 and Master System et al better left in the past? Let us know your thoughts.