Where would we be if it weren’t for the 8-bit era? It paved the way for modern gaming as we know it today; Link’s grand adventures started out simply with brown and green pixels and became stunningly-detailed valleys and highly-textured mountains. Back then, you needed an imagination to be taken into the game’s universe, but what it lacked in capability it made up for in giving unique grand experiences. Since then we’ve come a long way with technology that blows all those old graphics out of the water. There are a bunch of titles that have suffered from the technological advances, titles like Super Mario 64, Goldeneye and Deus Ex have become unplayable for a lot of gamers because they are graphically unplayable by today’s standards. But back then they were mind-bogglingly advanced. So why would we ever need to return to the 8-bit? We have advanced so far graphically that it competes with top box office blockbuster films. Back then 8-bits, 16-bits, 32-bits, 3D rendering, they were huge advancements, so there was no intention of going back… right?
A huge market for vintage games has surfaced through mediums like Kijiji and Ebay, making even Gameboy titles that barely hit the vintage mark into big ticket items. There will always be those who crave nostalgia, it’s the reason old titles resurface into the digital download market such as the Nintendo E-Shop. It’s only natural to recapture that nostalgia by featuring old style graphics using new generation technologies. It’s a tried and true method that definitely has its niche market, and nearly anyone can make their own indie retro title these days with the proper funding.
Titles like Shovel Knight have been funded by its target audience and are successfully being released to not only its backers, but for the public as well. With such a large audience ready to dip their feet into the nostalgia pool, it’s only natural for small game developers to make their own original games featuring the 8-bit style. It’s not only cost effective, but is a wise investment as it can deliver large numbers in return for the small investment spent on development. With the resurgence of retro titles on new systems, combined with the amount of indie game developers, it is only natural for retro to come back into style. The old gamers want it, and the new gamers want it.
But that must not be the whole story, there is something to retro gaming that is unique, something that can’t be captured with high end graphics. What is it about retro-style games that makes them so popular yet so divided from new generation titles? Perhaps it could do with its simplistic style, that although it left something to be desired graphically, it offered a lot for the imagination. Going back as far as the Atari 2600, most manuals had very detailed descriptions just to let the player know what a particular jumble of pixels was supposed to be. It was simple back then, but it was also a lot of fun to imagine huge and complex stories. The games were ambitious yes, but that didn’t hinder the experience.
So, what feeling could compare to that of childhood wonder? Not many, and that’s why some people are willing to pay top dollar for their retro childhood favorites. But how can someone revisit that childhood wonder without knowing all the spoilers? There’s a bit of nostalgia, and a bit of a new experience when playing new titles that feature old style graphics. Their simplistic nature allows for big imaginations, and playing these new games poses no challenge for those ready to use their imagination a little. Games like Fez have perfected this idea perfectly, offering a huge open world that uses simple graphics, but boasts a large imaginative world to explore. Simple graphics can offer more by appearing to offer less. And that can be a winning combination.
The old titles have perfected a tried and true method that relied on masterful mechanics. Even new updates to old titles like Capcom’s recent Mega Man 9 & 10 took their old formula and made it fresh for their old fans. Nintendo’s upcoming release, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds returns to Link’s old stomping ground on the SNES with an updated 3DS twist. There’s copious collection titles that feature old classics like Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection which continues to sell, even after 3 years, on the PS3 and Xbox 360. Whether you’re old or young, we can never forget video game’s roots. There is a market for the retro, but also for the updated retro that pays homage to the past while taking advantage of the present technology. But whether it’s current or vintage, what made these games memorable is their awesome gameplay.
You’d be hard-pressed to find an addicting title like Mega Man with its steep learning curve yet punchy soundtrack. And few games satisfy that role-playing grind like Final Fantasy VI; it’s been re-released on copious systems to show for its perfected JRPG quality. It makes sense for the big name developers to cash in on their great titles, and it opens up the retro market to newcomers on the current gen consoles. Their great gameplay rivals that of the current generation, warranting sequels and remakes of the old classics. Despite fancy graphics, and complicated gun load outs, what makes a game sell is its ability to play wonderfully and become a classic title for its generation. It is hard to mimic these titles, but it is understandable for new developers to make an attempt, so the resurgence from both new and old developers has flooded the market with these retro style games. Pier Solar has received its own cult classic status by being one of the last Genesis games, produced 20 years after the system’s release. Its popularity is bringing it to the Nintendo E-Shop, making it a recent retro classic on new and old consoles with updated HD graphics. Classic status is gold in the video game industry and everyone developer big or small wants their piece.
So to answer my initial question, why bother returning to retro style visuals and gameplay? Because they’re nostalgic, they’re profitable and they’re timeless. That’s enough to pick up the great oldies, and welcome the indie newbies so that retro will never die. And who needs a fragile disc anyway? Cartridges will probably survive a nuclear world war: they’re that indestructible. Long live retro!
Images via zeldadungeon.net, kickstarter.com/projects/yachtclubgames/shovel-knight, and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mega_Man