I think of the era of the NES and SNES as the Golden Age of Gaming. Also, I was then at my most impressionable. Coincidence!
Bias aside, I do believe that gaming these days sucks: games are just too complicated. I appreciate an anti-aliased breast responding in real-time to its environment as much as the next guy, but I think developers are spending way too much energy on looks. The burgeoning processing power of consoles forces developers to compete in an arms race of dazzle, requiring huge amounts of art and coding to make pretty things appear on the screen.
Back in the day, one dude in a basement could make a game, and often did. Now, it takes a team and budget similar to a Hollywood blockbuster with all the same implications. A game can no longer take a chance. I recently heard a British filmmaker on NPR celebrate the British film industry for its low budgets. He was allowed to explore more niche concepts and take more creative opportunities because of a smaller investment.
Gone are the puzzle games, the detective games, the sim games, the Japanese games. Now we have sports, racing games, Square Enix RPGs, movie spinoffs, and shooters. Game production costs too much to risk a road less traveled. Since games are rarely one person’s brainchild anymore, they also tend to lack a certain flair. Games created by committee are a bit bland.
I really like Nintendo’s stance on this: growth can be found in providing a better experience, not a better FPS count. Coincidentally, their Game Boy system is the best counter to the trend I cite above. Games can still be created with a nominal staff and don’t have nearly so many expectations. I see more risks being taken and more creativity in the Game Boy market than the consoles’. Especially with the DS’s wireless and touch screen. Kirby: Canvas Curse sounds fantastic. Wario Ware was innovative but simple. Take a simple concept, make it intuitive, and base a cool game around it. The lower the barrier to development, the more and quirkier games we see.
One of the problems is the push to make everything 3D. So many sequels to old classics have been redone in 3D to modernize them. Side scrollers are great! Sprites also good! Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was amazing because the developers didn’t stray from its side-scrolling roots. If you really must make something 3D, look to Viewtiful Joe and do a 3D side scroller. Don’t give us all the accompanying control and camera headaches that plague most 3D games but rarely offer gameplay benefits. Not to mention how much more complicated it is to code a 3D game versus a 2D one. I’d buy a pixelated, 1D game for the GameCube if it had good gameplay.