Older gamers tend to look back on the old 8-, 16-, and 64-bit days through rose-colored glasses, remembering how much fun they had with those great retro titles and wishing modern gaming could be more like the glory days of Mario, Sonic, and the elf from Zelda. But the truth is that playing games has never been easier or smoother than it is right now, because the industry has had decades to iron out all the catastrophic bullshit. Back in the day, there were a hundred different things that could make a game you just bought virtually unplayable, with absolutely no way to fix it. In most cases, fans of retro gaming have repressed all the memories of what a pain in the ass retro gaming truly was. For instance ...
7Bad Translation Was Common, And Could Royally Screw you Over
We've all been in that situation where you needed to ask directions in a foreign country and discovered how important prepositions are, because "turn right at the library" and "turn right in the library" can mean the difference between a great road trip and vehicular homicide. Communication can quickly fall apart if you don't have the right language -- and the same can happen in video games.
As games became more and more global, game companies (which in the early days were predominantly Japanese) were forced to spend time and resources translating their local content for the international market. Especially in the early, cheapskate days of video games, this led to some pretty bad translations. And while "All Your Base Are Belong To Us" and "A Winner is You" may look like funny memes to us modern folks, those little mistakes could get your character killed.
Often, these translations were annoying yet harmless mistakes. Take Level 6 of The Legend Of Zelda, where you're given the hint to "Aim At the Eyes of Gohma." Since Gohma is a giant spider with only one eye, this might cause some initial confusion, but gamers are foremost a "when in doubt, stab" kind of folk, so that didn't cause many problems.
Link has no magical rolled-up newspaper, so his options are limited anyway.
This was not the case for some of the other words of advice the crusty old man in Zelda was doling out. Thirty years later, people are still debating on the exact meaning of "Eastmost penninsula is the secret" or "Secret is in the tree at the dead-end." Maybe Legend Of Zelda was ahead of its time, using a clearly demented sage to serve as an unreliable narrator. How avant-garde.
The real secret is how he keeps convincing Link to not throw his ass in a home and forget about him.
But none were as deviously deceptive as "10th enemy has the bomb," the translation of which is supposed to be "Look for the Lion Key." How can you translate that badly? That's straight-up sabotage.
"13TH ENEMY HAS TACOS ..."
"Have-- have you been high this entire time?"
Similarly, the bad hints in Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest get quite ... esoteric. At one point in the game, in order to advance any further, you must decipher the meaning behind this clue: "Wait for a soul with a red crystal on Deborah Cliff." And we assure you, that clue is exactly as meaningful to longtime Castlevania players as it is to people who have never heard of the game before in their lives. Are we supposed to bring the red crystal to Deborah Cliff? Is Deborah Cliff a person? Does the soul have a red crystal? What does a soul even look like?
"IT'S TOO DANGEROUS TO GO ALONE! TAKE THIS COLLECTED WORKS OF PABLO NERUDA!"
Besides giving the player a full-on existential crisis, what the hint is supposed to communicate is: "Go to Deborah Cliff, present the red crystal, kneel down, and wait for a gust of wind to take you away." Whoever translated it decided to skip every third word to add a fun extra challenge.
6Many Games Were Unplayable Without The Instruction Manual
Designers have gotten good at making their game's mechanics easy to understand. Say what you will about tutorials, on-screen tips, or even glowing items, but without them, many of us would start a game repeatedly getting murdered by the first stick-wielding goblin we encounter. Back in the day, however, games didn't have any kind of tutorials or in-game help menus. And this was before the internet, so unless you had a knowledgeable older sibling or the game's paper instruction manual, you were basically screwed.
Though in some cases, just buying the game meant you were screwed.
A big part of old games' intelligibility were their graphics. Admit it, the only reason the original 8-bit Mario resembles anything close to a human being is that Nintendo told us so on the box. These blocky images were especially problematic in games which relied on you using the right item in the right situation. In such cases, manuals were also invaluable, informing you that what you picked up was a power bracelet and not a jumbo shrimp.
The old man was too busy blathering about peninsulas and pudding to clue you in.
Then there were games with obtuse mechanics, like Ghouls 'N Ghosts and Demon's Crest. These required you to replay several times and collect specific items before you'd be able to take on the final boss. Good luck figuring that out without the manual, though, as the barely present and often badly translated in-game instructions could leave you battling a godlike villain armed with the game's equivalent of a melon baller.
This dependence on manuals was especially problematic in the booming rental and secondhand markets. Kids would lose, tear up, and wipe giant boogers on manuals all the time, which put a real dent in their resell value. Understanding their customer's frustration, video rental juggernaut (and entertainment dodo) Blockbuster tried to combat this by stocking photocopies of all their games' manuals. So when a game would be returned without a usable guide, they'd slide in a fresh copy. In recognition of this fair and reasonable solution, Nintendo rewarded the retailer by suing them for copyright infringement. If only they'd stuck to making copies of game manuals, Blockbuster would probably still be in business today.