There’s this copy of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection that’s been sitting on my desk for about a year (I actually wrote “three months” at first, but looked up the release date and found it came out in February of 2009). I remember being pretty excited about it; I owned a Genesis back in the day, and that system got me through many after-school and summer afternoon. The disc is probably the best Sega collection to date, has 40 classic titles plus nine more unlockable games, including a bunch of childhood favorites – Sonic 1 through 3, Streets of Rage, Ecco the Dolphin, Shinobi – the list goes on and on. These are the games that defined the 16-bit era for me as a gamer (I never had a SNES because I could only have one system as a time when I was a kid, and bought the Genesis because all my friends had it for the NHLPA series).

You’d think I’d be chomping at the bit to go back and relive the old magic, right? But here it sits, still in the shrink-wrap. Heck, I haven’t even gone to the trouble of actually taking it home yet. It’s the same way with all the classic stuff I see up on Xbox Live Arcade. I keep thinking I should go download some classics, and then I never seem to actually get around to it.

After watching the extremely entertaining Replay video feature the guys put together on Twisted Metal, I started to realize the reason old Sonic is still collecting dust and not in my 360: I just don’t care that much about old games anymore. That’s not to denigrate their quality or place in history. Those games got me through a lot of idle hours. They entertained the hell out of me back then. I just don’t want to play them anymore. For me, they’ve become the video game equivalent of running into someone in shopping mall who went to your junior high. It’s nice to see them and spend a few minutes reminiscing about the old days, but time has moved on and – after about 15 minutes – you start to realize that there’s not that much to say anymore. Even worse, and this is especially true of the early 3D games of the PlayStation and Saturn era; a lot of the old-school “classics” seem barely playable by today’s standards – and butt ugly to boot.

While it’s a little sad in some ways, the reality is that it’s a positive thing. As someone whose first system was the Atari 2600, I can say absolutely that, by and large, games are just plain better now. The controls are better. The graphics are better. The systems look better and their controllers are more comfortable. The characters and storylines have gotten deeper and more interesting. They are less annoying; you don’t have to worry about losing all your progress after dying or memorizing convoluted alphanumerical codes to save your progress. Just looking at 2009 alone, it’s amazing the amount of diversity we had in gaming. From big-budget epics like Uncharted 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylum to small, creative gems like Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, there were more great games to experience than most people even have time to play. It’s a real testament to how our industry has matured.

That’s not to say there’s not life left in some older styles of games. Nintendo’s New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Mario & Luigi: Bower’s Inside Story were two of my favorite games of last year, and are great examples of how to breath life into older gameplay styles. In a similar way, Shadow Complex brought the 2D Metroid formula into the modern era. And, all of these offer me something I can’t get from even the old-school games that influenced them: something new. At this point, I’d rather play something I haven’t seen than something I’ve experienced before. There’s only so much time, and I’d rather spend that time on the best today has to offer.

So, I guess this is goodbye, Sonic. But don’t worry buddy, we’ll always have 1992.