Next-gen systems are amazing. You can quibble all you want, but the PS4 and Xbox One are barely a year old, and already make your last-gen system look like trash.
If you're under the age of about 18, however, advanced graphics and crazy powerful systems are all you know. For you youngins, here are things you missed out on with your fancy "game-boxes" and "wee-stations."
Blowing on a cartridge
The fundamental fix for any video game problem is to blow in the cartridge (even if it doesn't actually do anything). It's hardly revolutionary, and if you grew up with a portable gaming system, it's likely you've done it too.
But back in the day, this was literally the only option. This cannot be stressed enough; if something went wrong on your "Zelda" NES game, there were no internet message boards to check for answers, no automatic live chat on Nintendo's website. There was a number for Nintendo on the box, but if you tried to send out your system for repairs, that meant months with no Link, no "Tetris," nothing.
So you'd blow on your cartridge in the hopes that it would somehow magically make it work. A delicate puff of air at first, then birthday candle style. Then, if "Contra" still wouldn't work, you'd move on to a desperate, red-in-the-face, Big-Bad-Wolf style of blowing that would leave you gasping on the floor. Then, crying.
With all games on discs, there's no blowing -- just wiping them on your Cheetos-dusted shirt and then ordering a new copy on Amazon.
When "Sonic & Knuckles" debuted in 1994, it literally changed the game. That's because the cartridge physically opened up, which allowed you to plug your old copy of "Sonic the Hedgehog" into the new game.
It was one of the first expansion packs, and it actually expanded your game by making it roughly four inches taller. (It would be pretty tough to stack two PS4 games and then shove them into the disc slot, but if you feel like destroying your $400+ system, go right ahead.)
But every kid who got the weird expandable cartridge had the same exact thought: "What if I plug in a different game?" If you tried a non-Sonic adventure with "Sonic & Knuckles," the characters would show up on screen and tell you "NO WAY!" That is...unless you pressed the right button combo, which took you to a crazy blue sphere Sonic level. For the middle schoolers of the world, this was the ultimate hack, until the ultimate hacking tool came about...
GameShark and Game Genie
Once it became clear that you could plug cartridges into one another, it was only a matter of time until a third-party company found a use for it. Enter GameShark and Game Genie, pass-through cartridges that would hack your regular game with all kinds of crazy mods and cheat codes.
That may seem boring to PC gamers, who use suped-up computers to mess with a new game's DNA and create all kinds of weird stuff. But for older consoles, this was the ultimate workaround. Infinite lives, new costumes, secret levels... all were possible if you just plugged a GameShark into your N64, and then carefully shoved your copy of "GoldenEye" on top. As long as you didn't use cheats with your friends, since they were most likely sitting right next to you. Speaking of which...
A relatively new facet of next-gen systems is the idea of playing against strangers or friends online. With the oldest systems, you could barely play two-person games, and even then you had to have your buddy over at the house.
Four-player games on the tiny TVs of the 1990s and early 2000s devolved into sheer madness, and once Xbox and Playstation allowed you to link multiple consoles in different rooms of the house, LAN parties were all the rage for the discerning geek.
Nowadays, the damn kids hardly see each other in person with the texting and the Snapchats. But really, there's something to be said for actually sitting next to someone focused on the same screen. Sure, you can scream at a stranger over your headset, but you can't physically shove your best friend to the side as he's trying to aim a Green Shell at you in "Mario Kart." Unless you have a Wii, of course -- but even then...
Yeah, Wii and Wii U are super fun and come the closest to emulating that old-school video game feel. But if you were going against your friends in, say, "Perfect Dark" multiplayer, you all had to sit right in front of the screen because the controllers were physically attached to the console.
With Wii and other next-gens, you have the freedom to move around. With your N64 or Genesis, you could unplug your buddy's controller to cheat, or just sit there and probably get eye damage from being forced so close to a glowing screen.
There was never any issue with controllers losing power, because they were battery-free and stripped of any cool features, unless you bought some attachments...
The Rumble Pak
Once upon a time, if you got hit in a video game, your controller did nothing. Then came the Rumble Pak, a massive controller dongle that was released around the same time as "Star Fox 64" and made your humble N64 controller shake like a miniature gray earthquake.
There are still some games that cling to the side-scrolling style, but they are the exception to the rule of open-world, massive sandbox games that provide unlimited freedom and a lot of...walking around being bored.
Before systems were powerful enough to render these crazy worlds, you went from left to right, forever, until you fought the final boss. There was less freedom, sure, but there was no avoiding what was coming toward you, be it bad guy or flames or the left side of the screen crushing you up against a wall. Side-scrollin' is what made "Mario" great, and it's what made AMERICA great, dangit! /EndOldManRant
Most games these days allow you to save at any point, or at least provide copious checkpoints so you can pick up where you left off. But when the memory only got stored on a tiny card or the cartridge itself, there often wasn't enough room for saving.
So if you wanted to play "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers" on your SNES, you'd have to start from the first level. Every. Single. Time. It was a challenge for sure, but it was also like building a house of cards -- each level brought you closer to the end, but also closer to watching it all tumble down in front of you.
That's "Street Fighter: The Movie (The Game)," one of the earliest examples of putting real-life actors in video games, inspired by "Mortal Kombat," except terrible.
Of course, "Mortal Kombat" was a massive game when it debuted for many reasons -- mostly for the controversial levels of blood and gore -- but the funkiest part of the game was the fact that all the characters looked real. Well, like photographs of real people. Or like photographs of real people if you sent them through five fax machines (a thing that used to exist).
Early '90s games were awash in weird "realistic" graphics that looked anything but. Still, they were REVOLUTIONARY.
Nintendo Power magazine
There are more video game websites than you can possibly visit in a lifetime, but in the '80s and '90s there was one source for all your (Nintendo) news: Nintendo Power magazine. You'd sit for a whole month not knowing anything about what was on the horizon, and then BOOM, NP mag shows up, and there's a whole game about *Diddy* Kong now?!
It's impossible to overstate how important Nintendo Power was to gamers of a certain age, and it's a shame that the magazine shut down in 2012. The print media industry was truly dead once we lost our beloved source for "Banjo-Kazooie" tips and tricks.
Fake pro athletes
Before "Madden" and the like had exclusive contracts with pro leagues, famous athletes refused to allow their likenesses to be used in sports games. That meant when "Cal Ripken Jr. Baseball" dropped in 1992, you could play as your favorite MLB stars like...Bob Stocks, who invests differently than Barry Bonds. Or the hard-throwing Ryan Noles, who has no relation to Nolan Ryan. Or Ryan Sands, definitely not the laziest alternate for Ryne Sandberg ever.
Again: Next-gen systems are amazing. They are miraculous, and if you showed any gamer in 1995 what he would have by 2015, his tiny Surge-addled brain would explode.
But with all the bells and whistles on your system, it's actually kind of a hassle to just play a game. Internet connections, menu scrolling, updates and friend requests and Twitch and all that stuff distract from the fact you pressed the power button so you can start playing "Halo" NOW. On your SNES, you'd slide a physical switch to turn it on, and once you saw the logo for Midway, it was time to play some "NBA Jam."
Maybe there's too much nostalgia in our old systems. Boot up your old PS3 or Xbox 360 and see how it compares to the next-gens a year later. What a piece of crap, right?