Looking around at the gaming industry right now, it seems we’re living in a great time. Most video games on the three major modern-gen platforms – Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch – have games with presentations that easily rival the biggest Hollywood blockbusters. We’re seeing new technology drive forward, with hardware like Sony VR and Oculus Rift further immersing players into their science-fiction-style fantasies. Yet, despite all this, a subsection of the industry is also thriving: retro gaming.
Given we’re surrounded by games that utilise so much of today’s latest and greatest technology, why are gamers heading back to the past to get a good dose of their entertainment? Why are we looking back to the simpler, less-evolved ancestors of gaming when we have the overwhelming complexity of modern-day gaming all around us?
Perhaps it’s because of what modern-day gaming can’t seem to provide. For example, the primitive nature of technology back in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of gaming meant none of the big Hollywood-esque production values we see in today’s games but it did mean more emphasis on gameplay. When one switched on their Sega MegaDrive/Genesis to play Sonic the Hedgehog, there were no lengthy opening CG cut-scenes or tedious tutorial sections. Players were transported straight to the first level and worked out the basic controls by themselves or through the game’s instruction manual (*sigh* remember when games had instruction manuals?).
Although no doubt a bugger to program, retro games were simple in the objectives they presented to players. Run through the level, collect rings, jump on bad guys and reach the goal. Shoot the invading aliens without being shot yourself. Create a line of coloured blocks. The games were simple in what they asked of the player, and any player can receive enjoyment out of playing them because of that, kids included. Nowadays, the complex nature of game design and the layers of elements in these games can make them a turn-off for more casual players.
Mobile Gaming: Bringing Back The Past
But where casual gaming is concerned, it’s no secret that the mobile gaming section of the industry is a real moneymaker. This is because the majority of their games are targeted towards casual gamers who like to play on their mobiles and tablets. In a Newzoo article posted in April 2017, it was calculated that $46.1 billion will be generated from mobile gaming for the whole of 2017 – which is 42% of the global market. While there has been plenty of original retro-inspired content such as Candy Crush and Clash of Clans, we’re seeing more and more retro games from past consoles being ported to mobile devices.
Ubisoft released a tablet version of side-scrolling PS1 classic, Rayman in 2016. Remastered ports of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 were released on iOS and Android devices in May 2013 and were programmed by Sonic Mania director, Christian Whitehead. What’s more, you’re sure to find a host of other retro games from Space Invaders to Tetris amongst the extensive mobile gaming library. Mobile gaming is bringing back the past – and in the palm of our hands no less.
Retro Gaming: The NES Classic Mini
But the most recent example of how retro gaming’s popularity is still alive and well is in the sales of the ‘mini-consoles’. The NES Classic Mini was released in November 2016 and sold out on pre-orders while the remaining few that made it to the shelves were quickly swiped. Only until recently has Nintendo declared it will resume NES mini-consoles next year. If that wasn’t enough, the SNES Mini also experienced a similar fate – high demand for the 16-bit classic console has convinced Nintendo to continue to ship more in 2018.
If Nintendo’s efforts to retrieve the past weren’t enough, then there’s the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive Classic Console which boasts an impressive library of 80 built-in games. This is joined by Atari’s upcoming Ataribox, which will be a console optimised for both retro and modern forms of gaming. It’s as though past and present are existing side-by-side.
Procrastination Vortex – YouTube
And if the real world wasn’t evidence of retro gaming’s popularity, then the world of the internet definitely is. The fanbase is particularly thriving in the inescapable procrastination vortex we call YouTube. Among YouTube’s most popular gaming stars is the Angry Video Game Nerd, written by and played by filmmaker James Rolfe. His show revolves around comedically reviewing retro games and hardware from the Atari to Nintendo and beyond. Not only is it a goldmine for older gamers who want to reflect nostalgically on their childhood days, but it also exposes millions of younger gamers to gaming’s past through its humorous presentation.
Through his videos, the Nerd has cast a spotlight on lesser-known commercial failures of the 90’s such as the Atari Jaguar and the Nintendo Virtual Boy. The Nerd is not alone in his reviewing of the past because there are a large number of thriving YouTube channels that revere retro gaming and even capitalise on the nostalgia-loving hearts of today’s gamers. Whether that be through Let’s Plays or similar game-themed shows and reviews, retro gaming is alive and well on the interwebs.
So, one thing is for sure here. Retro games may be old, but they are not past their heyday. In fact, retro games seem to be timeless as opposed to a thing of the past. They remain an eternal presence and don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. And given that these games are still highly playable and enjoyable to this very day, who can complain about that?
What are your favourite retro games? Are you happy about the popularity of retro gaming? Let us know in the comments below…