Games these days practically demand that you always stay in motion at all times, lest you get a knife in the eye. Back in the old days, retro games made no qualms about letting you just stand around and take in the world. If you just sit and take it all for a couple minutes, your character will do something like look at the camera (like in Spyro the Dragon) or a little dance. Just helps that character feel a little more real.
While this isn’t exclusive to retro games at all, demos nowadays just aren’t the same today as they are now. They still do their core job of providing players with a slice of an upcoming game, but there was a sense of accomplishment at fiddling around with the controls during a game’s intro credits.
Back in the old days, a main menu meant something in video games, dammit. These days, it’s more of just a thing you have to go through to get to the real part of the game, but again, waiting in the main menu in retro games led to its own reward. You got to see slices of gameplay, more often than not, and it would be like watching a trailer before seeing a movie. Just awesome.
Death doesn’t carry a lot of consequence these days when you play games, unless you’re playing Dark Souls, of course. Retro games made sure to have players go in with some sense of care with the lives system. Was it sometimes frustrating? You bet! But it sure made you pay attention during boss battles, didn’t it?
Even though you were playing as one person in retro games, you always had a sidekick. These folks usually served as the comic relief, someone who could break the tension or provide you a subtle (after a fashion) tutorial. For good measure, they were an animal or mystical object who spoke in gibberish that, if translated, would probably come off as rude. But they were reliable, yes they were.