The Retro Gaming Trend and the Industry

Retro gaming has been a major trend for quite awhile now. It has brought back many thought extinct franchises and genres and is a major push for online and mobile services. Whether it is Mario (New Super Mario Bros.), Mega Man (Mega Man 9), or Final Fantasy (Final Fantasy: Four Warriors of Light), many classic franchises have been able to make it big with retro gaming. Retro gaming makes sense for many franchises as many were far too hasty jumping to the 3D plane, and there is a lot to learn from the successes of the past. However, is retro gaming actually a good thing? What has retro gaming brought to the industry, and what has it taken away from it? Is retro gaming a waste of time or is it a great way of reinventing the wheel?

I’m sorry. I can’t look at Plug Man without laughing, and don’t get me started on Jewel Man.

To start with, I think an overview of what retro gaming actually is would be nice. Retro gaming is a trend in which games become a throwback of some older style of game. The New Super Mario Bros. is an example of retro gaming as it brings back the old style of the 2D Mario games from the NES and SNES. A more direct example of retro gaming comes from the relaunched Mega Man series and its 9th and 10th instalments. These games were even made in the same graphical style as the old NES Mega Man games. Of course, not every game has to base its entire self around retro gaming to have retro gaming elements. Even shooters nowadays are adding back in score counters and arcade modes, which emphasize an older more score-grabby style of play. In this way retro gaming has been seeping into many genres.

Is anyone else’s guns causing numbers to appear? Bill! What did you put in those brownies!?

Where has this trend come from? Did we suddenly realize that we like our Donkey Kongs flat and our Final Fantasys story-less? Like many things, there are many reasons why this generation of consoles saw an increase of retro-styled games, but the one I would point at as the biggest cause would be the rise of online services (PSN/Xbox Live Arcade/Virtual Shop). Because of these services, developers have been able to make cheaper, smaller-scale games. It is no secret that making a retail game this generation is a major risk. While games like Call of Duty are guaranteed hits, lesser known games, experimental games, and retro games have a hard time turning a profit. Cost is a reason why many retro games are released for handhelds as well. Many indie developers develop for these services and many of them tailor their games around the great games of the past. Online services are much safer to develop for and they are often the breeding ground for neat new ideas and revisited old ones.

Above: Awesomeness 

Of course the most basic question is the ever popular “if it’s not broken why fix it”? Retro gaming has been able to capture the imaginations of millions because of nostalgia and quality. When you base your Mega Man title almost entirely around the most popular Mega Man game ever made, you are likely to inspire some fans. Quality is easy to reproduce. Even if every game you make is almost identical, it isn’t hard to keep your quality high. Just look at Mario Galaxy 2. The Mario series made four main games before jumping to 3D with Mario 64. Many argue that each Mario game just kept getting better, so why throw away something that was clearly working so well for pesky innovations?

What are you talking about? Tons of innovation in Ice Flowers… right?

The major problem with most retro games is that they lack any real sense of identity, or charm that would cause it to be favoured over its predecessors. I don’t think that anyone in their right mind would ever prefer the New Super Mario Bros. over Super Mario 3 or Super Mario World. The game is excellent and captures the feeling and quality of a 2D Mario perfectly, but it is too derivative. A game that is an homage will rarely outstrip the original, and many retro games attempt nothing more than this. This isn’t always the case and older games are not impervious to improvement. For example Pac Man DX Championship Edition is superior in every way to the original Pac Man. It adds a ton of new and exciting elements and forges its own unique identity.

Get out of the box, Clyde!

The greatest boon that the retro gaming boom has given the gaming industry, however, is the retro elements. It is now not uncommon for games to have score counters, side scrolling areas and other retro staples. By fusing the nostalgic elements of the past with new modern ways of presenting them, some games can really provide a unique experience that would not have been possible if they simply followed the standard of the time. For example, what is more unique: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and its regenerating health, or Resistance 3 and its health packs? Retro elements like these make games standout of the crowd.

You see this, developers? Fill your games with these. Make FPSs hard again!

I am willing to say that the retro gaming trend has been a great influence on the industry. Not every game is going to be fantastic and unique and it can stop developers from working on the next big thing, but, overall, retro gaming surprisingly pushes innovation in the industry more than you would think. It is easy to make a cookie cutter RPG in the style of Final Fantasy VII or Dragon Quest. It is much more innovative to fill that RPG will shoot ’em up, text adventure,  and 2D platforming elements (Shameless Nier plug). More importantly, the retro gaming trend is still small enough that it is not taking a huge bite out of the market and preventing real growth. Influence of the past is good as long as it doesn’t take over.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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