Why, with visually superior releases, are so many gamers dropping cash on and playing retro games? Are classic games making a magnificent return, or have they been there, epically pixilated and accumulating worth in a vintage games store, all along?
The modern video game scene is, from an industry perspective, plump and healthy (let’s just ignore recent micro-blemishes). There’s a game out there for everyone. You want to be a goat and lay waste to suburbia? Take it by the horns. Want to sit back, relax, and duel your buddies in an online CCG? It’s a few shiny card packs away. Maybe you just want to plant bombs and cap those pesky counter-terrorists. I could write a bible’s-worth listing different genres and deviant games, but the point is we are spoilt for choice, whether you are a twelve-year-old with an oscillating voice or Jabba the Hutt seething B.O. in your parents’ basement.
So why this indomitable wave of classic games? (I will be using “retro games”, “classic games”, and “vintage games” fairly interchangeably.)
Retro Games Are Simpler
Complexity isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes having forty-nine quests billowing out of your journal is a hindrance. Sometimes being able to pick up a controller, jump up and down and bust open crates and consume questionably psychedelic mushrooms is all you need.
People game for different reasons, many of which are influenced by the amount of time one can sink into gaming. Classic games are the working-human’s (see what I did there?) dream. Rather than coming home from eight-hours of brown-nosing and having to negotiate a treacherous mountain pass while managing your inventory and contemplating the socio-political disrupt in an entirely fictitious but heinously in-depth world, the working-human may want to simply chew ghosts as a gliding yellow maw.
Classic games are easy to pick up and play. There doesn’t need to be an epic, evolving lore. There doesn’t need to be seventeen different buttons, each with an alternate version if held in combination with another. Nor does there need to be an online update that always happens to coincide with those precious few hours your partner is off exercising or socialising (both an absolute waste of time, I can assure you). Like in the world of literature, less is more. And retro games are definitely less.
Retro Games Are Harder
Just because a vintage game is simple, doesn’t mean it’s inherently easy. Often a classic game is easy to pick up and play and gain enjoyment from, but difficult to master. This appeals to modern gamers, who feel that nowaday’s games do a little too much hand-holding. Having to go through tutorials can be tedious and boring. Following a waypoint and letting your monitor blur into the foreground causes you to miss the intricate details a developer has suffered to include. It’s sometimes better to let the player make mistakes as they learn the controls and navigate the world.
Many vintage games have an entirely different style to modern as well, in that they are all about setting new high-scores, rather than “cheesing” your way to each checkpoint, and building, sluggishly, toward one final and emotionally-detached cutscene. High-scores and endless waves of enemies add to that perceived difficulty. You are always under the thumb, floundering faster until you perish in a hail of shame and fury-infused perspiration. And that’s fun.
Retro Games Are Everywhere
Accessibility has something to do with the retro trend. There will always be hardcore vintage game collectors who will shed the blood of a nation to acquire a sacred (original) cartridge, although this needn’t be the toil of the common gamer. Technology brings vintage games into the modern age, and it does so through a variety of mediums, relatively cheaply.
Retro Games Emulation
Emulating a game from an older platform to a newer platform is no revolutionary thing. But it is important to address just how accessible it is for anyone with a computer or phone. You can jump online, find a console (platform) and a game (as a ROM) on a ROM website, and then install it on your PC or smartphone or whatever via an appropriate emulation program. It’s easy, it’s free, but is by no means “plug and play”.
Retro Games Platform In Your Pocket
Aside from the games you may emulate on your smartphone (yourself), there are official versions of many classic games available for both iPhone and Android. They don’t always feature the smoothest controls but I have had a whole bunch of fun playing games like Secret of Mana and the original DOOM on my phone while overseas and what not. You have to take it for what it’s worth, and realise that this isn’t the ideal way to play the game, however.
Plug And Play Classic Games
Now, this is kind of what inspired me to write this article. I recently got my grubby little hands on a SNES Classic Mini (unwilling to share what I paid to get it, nor the vile undertakings I undertook to get that money), and so far I have had so much fun with the thing, particularly battling aliens side-by-side with my GF in Contra 3: The Alien Wars.
The SNES Classic Mini is a “plug and play” console with twenty-one classic SNES games built into it. You can’t insert cartridges into the slot or anything, so it is limited in that aspect, but having twenty-one games bundled in, ready to go is an easy way to secure that much-needed nostalgic hit. It’s great to see Nintendo thinking about its retro fans while they’re busy with their modern consoles like the Switch.
Of course, there are other “plug and play”, revisioned, remastered, miniature consoles like this, and many more to come. They, to me, are the perfect way to experience retro gaming. No hassle or stress, aside from getting your desperate, craving claws on one.
Vintage Games At Every Turn
Maybe I just didn’t notice them as a kid, but I seem to stumble into a vintage games store everywhere I go. It’s like an antique shop for nerds. Obviously the more vintage games stores around, the greater the chance you have of picking up vintage games, assuming you want to sell your house and live in a box with a CRT TV running off a push-bike generator.
Age Of Gaming And Gamers And Non-Gamers Views Of Gamers
When does a video game become retro? Well, that depends, but it’s probably something around twenty years. This golden number (that I have in no way estimated or fabricated — trust in my infallible wisdom) provides enough time for a game to sink beneath the surface of the antique realm. What I am working towards is video gaming is now old enough to have classics, which is certainly a factor contributing toward the current retro boom.
As well as gaming itself ageing, so too have gamers. The dudes and dudettes that played the original consoles are now relapsing. They crave button-mashing with junky-like intensity. And they now have money to spend.
On top of this, the video game industry is — slowly and torturously — becoming recognised as a real industry in which there is actual professional skill and money involved. People were so quick to shun gamers when they themselves sit brainwashed by the idiot-box for hours, days. Now video games are (almost) right up there films and other mediums of entertainment. Being a nerd is finally cool!
Good business recognises trends and capitalizes on them. There is no shame in doing so. Many modern game developers reimagine that old-school style in their games. There are so many games nowadays intentionally pixelated or stylised to appear like vintage games. Like being a nerd — and crocs and bucket-hats — this is cool.
A fantastic example of a modern take on a classic style is Studio MDHR’s Cuphead. It’s also nothing short of impossible to complete. Bite your nails and tear your hair out over this one, retro gamers.
The TV show ushers in the old-school upon a contemporary carpet, and so too does BonusXP Inc.’s Stranger Things: The Game. On top of being a fantastic little compliment to and promotion for the series, it is also free-to-play on mobile devices, making it available to pretty much every kid handed a smartphone at nine-years-old, or earlier.
Falling vertically rather than traversing left to right is enough to provide Moppin’s Downwell a competitive edge. This platformer is available on most platforms, employing classic pixel graphics to produce a challenging yet enjoyable experience. It really nails that fusion of retro and modern. Like Hannah Montana, you get the best of both worlds.
I Think They Have Been There All Alone
I think we understand now why gamers are callousing their thumbs playing retro games, but how about the question of classic games being “there all along”?
It is really hard to properly “kill” a game. Someone’s always got a copy laying around, a developer’s build stashed on a drive somewhere. So, of course, classic games have been there the whole time. They are now just resurfacing and even dictating the future of the gaming industry.
The ideal circumstance — taking the above three games as evidence of existing success — is developers taking the best features of classic games and melding them with modern technology to produce the games our grandkids will call timeless and retro while they’re whipping over solar-streets on hoverboards and uploading their innocent minds passively and unwillingly to the cloud.