In the last several years, retro gaming has resurfaced as a new movement in the industry. Starting with services like the Wii's Virtual Console, and furthered by new games like Mega Man 9
and New Super Mario Bros.
and its Wii counterpart which, by choice, go against their successor's innovation to create experiences similar to the games of years passed.
But now games are growing up, and we have to decide if retrogames have a place in these modern times. But are gamers ready to do that? Or more importantly, is doing that the right thing? Or is there a way that we can justify our retro biases and understand how to move forward?
It's clear that retrogames aren't going anywhere fast. As proof of this, look at Nintendo's upcoming lineup. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
marks a return to more colorful, cartoony visuals that breath a sense of youthfulness. Metroid: Other M
, while bringing in the size and scope of the more modern Metroid titles, has a control scheme and basic gameplay that was clearly based off of previous titles. Donkey Kong Country Returns
and Kirby Epic Yarn
both utilize tried and true 2D platforming that are based off of each franchises roots. Activision hopes to mark a return to the old days of social gatherings to play first person shooters with its Goldeneye 007
remake. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
is the newest entry in a franchise acclaimed for its old school JRPG goodness. Heck, they're even pulling Pit out for the newest Kid Icarus
game in almost two decades.
I don't think it's unreasonable to say that part of the appeal of retrogaming is the nostalgia factor. Mega Man 9
had 8-bit pixel art and New Super Mario Bros. Wii
included the Koopa Kids, first intruduced in Super Mario Bros. 3, a game that is heralded by many as the greatest platformer ever made, if not the best game ever made period.
Both of these features are tied to the olden days of the NES, the system that many older gamers remember as their first. They were the days of plastic cartriges and storylines that you could fit on one page of an instruction manual.
These were simpler times not only for the games, but for the gamers as well. They were in their youth, where their only responsibilities were getting to school, and getting to dinner on time. They had innocence, and their lives were good. Now real life has showed up to bite them in the rear end. Retrogames allow them to return to a simpler time, when they had none of these problems. The nostalgia not only allows them to remember all the enjoyment out of classic games, but it also causes them to recall those days.
I myself recently pulled Sonic Advance
out of my stash a few months ago, and after I started playing it I was immediately returned to my days of elementary school, relaxing in day care. I remembered playing the levels over and over again, looking for those elusive Special Springs. I recalled watching in awe of running up Egg Rocket Zone while the lower parts of it fell to the ground and the remaining parts continued soaring upwards; while awesome music blasted through my ears. It's one of the most epic levels I've ever played in a 2D platformer, and as a 12 year old, I was struck dumb. It also returned me to the old days when I could sit around and go fooling around in the playgrounds, when my grandfather could still give me piggyback rides, and when children's programming was still good.
But while games like Sonic Advance
or The Legend of Zelda: A Link To the Past
may have aged beautifully, other games haven't been so lucky. Super Mario 64, while still a good game, has not been on the good side of time. The graphics, the game design, even the control scheme have all been done better (often times by other Mario games). Sure, there might be some memories still attached to them, but the games themselves might not be as fun as they used to be.
This brings up the opposition to the retro movement. People argue that in creating new games to appeal to those emotions and nostalgia, they're holding gaming back. That they don't allow evolution in games to continue. These games do nothing to push the medium forward and they are counter productive. Not only that, but the gamers playing them are just as responsible. All they want to do is play the same old game all the time.
To an extent, the naysayers have a point. It's foolish to say that New Super Mario Bros. Wii
didn't become the fastest selling single system game of all time without having the appeal of being familiar. It had simple 2D platforming where the only real objective is to keep moving right until you hit a flagpole. The controller was meant to be played like an NES controller, and many of the enemies were based off of classic characters from games past. Even the Super Guide's ideals, a feature that had never been used in a Nintendo game before, could be traced back to the days you'd have buddies over and you'd have your super awesome friend beat the levels you couldn't even lay a scratch on. Retrogames are treasured not only on their lack of innovation, but on their desire to go against innovation altogether.
And perhaps it is true that retrogames don't push the medium forward, but they wouldn't be popular if they weren't good. New Super Mario Bros. Wii
and Mega Man 9
didn't become popular soley because they were familiar. They became popular because they represent a dying breed of games. Games that were good then, and good now. They carry design philosophies that modern games don't, and while some of them died out for a reason like lives systems or passwords, many of them are still just as good now as they were 20 years ago. Sonic the Hedgehog 4
may be utilizing an art style, soundtrack, and gameplay based on the classic Genesis games, but when you consider that the last great Sonic game was Sonic Advance
, a game that stood up to the test of time because it was a continuation of the Genesis design philosophy, Sonic 4
has the potential to be the best, and most focused Sonic game in years. Most importantly, at the end of the day, SEGA's still willing to push the franchise forward and make Sonic work in 3D. Just look at Sonic Colors
I'm not against progression in games in any way. There is a reason why games that try new and innovative ideas get critically acclaimed. But there is still room for a few retro games here and there as well. Just because New Super Mario Bros. Wii
sold fourteen million copies worldwide doesn't mean that the entire industry will cease focus on new and exciting games. No one can play the same game forever, retrogamers included, and I think our biases can still leave room for the newest franchise to make its way into our systems.