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Nostalgia Ain't What It Used To Be

The first words in this article were typed after I finished Wind Waker HD and made some progress in Golden Sun, which came to my Wii U via Nintendo's Virtual Console. That was not long after beating Final Fantasy V on the iPhone. In short, it's pretty clear that nostalgia is being sold to us by the bucket... although it typically costs more than a bucket (you can get a bucket for a quid at a large national DIY store - you don't want to know how much Final Fantasy IX costs for iOS).

For the purposes of this article I'm going to make a distinction between 'nostalgia' and 'retro'. To me, 'retro' means playing games on past systems using their original media - so, digging out the NES for a bit of Battletoads instead of the 'nostalgia' of playing it on Rare Replay. In short, 'nostalgia' means something old played on something new (though possibly updated or remastered in some way), and retro means something old played on something old. Glad we got that sorted out.

In its time Battletoads has caused more gamer rage than has ever been expressed over XBox Live.

In its time Battletoads has caused more gamer rage than has ever been expressed over XBox Live.

Nostalgia, by my flimsy definition, has been around for ages. I remember the thrill of finding a shop that had broken the release date of Super Mario All-Stars (£50!) over twenty years ago. Since those heady days nostalgia has exploded and is now on every machine in some form. Given this saturation, the shape of nostalgia has had to change. Here's where I reckon it's at right now.

1) Same As It Ever Was

The paragraph above has given the game away on this one: it's already all around us. There's nothing dreadfully wrong with this, particularly if you missed the game the first time around. I've had a whale of a time beating Punch-Out!! for the NES recently - thank goodness for save states is all I'll say - and am now catching up with the early Final Fantasy titles that I missed through iOS (II and V down, VII to go).

Bald Bull beaten by bitty black'n'blue boxer bloke.

Bald Bull beaten by bitty black'n'blue boxer bloke.

What's not so hot is the remastered version of The Last Of Us coming to PS4 not even fourteen months after the PS3 version. For nostalgia to work, a fair bit of time has to have passed to make you go "Oh, yeah, I'll play that again". The_Jaster - a well-respected member of the GNamer Forum (link above) - has said in the past that the gap should be about ten years, and that feels spot on. Some members of the forum are currently playing Twilight Princess HD, released after a wait just short of ten years. Compare that with GTA V on the PS4Bone - again, that fourteen month gap - and folk were not so overjoyed.

2) Newstalgia

Or, as TV Tropes would have it, 'Retraux'. This is a brand new game given a brand old polish, the best example of which is easily Shovel Knight. It's not the only one, though: before it we had Dark Void Zero, Mega Man 9 and 10, VVVVVV and since titles like Elliot Quest and Undertale. Initially you might think "Why make a bad-looking game?" but that's not what's happening here (particularly as Shovel Knight, at least, is actually gorgeous). Modern design sense is applied to something that merely looks old instead of actually being and playing like it.

Never mind dogs and cats living in harmony... dogs and dogs living in harmony will be bad enough, reckons Undertale.

Never mind dogs and cats living in harmony... dogs and dogs living in harmony will be bad enough, reckons Undertale.

Of course, it's easier to make something with a retro feel instead of wading into the world of shaders, bloom, textures and other graphical elements I know nothing about, and likewise with chiptunes. Again, that's no bad thing: if every game had to be at the bleeding edge of graphical know-how there would be far fewer games. All the titles listed above are worthy, in their own ways; some are even brilliant, and at least one was a strong and genuine contender for Game Of The Year.

Newstalgia also serves as a good entry point for small studios to get their ideas out there without massive expense, and that only helps the industry as a whole. You could make a case for the idea that we're returning to the 'bedroom coders' era of the 80's when anyone could make a Spectrum/C64/Amstrad game - newstalgia titles can be made by pretty much anyone with the creation tools now readily available, which benefits us all. There are lots of games in this mould now, though, so nostalgia might be changing again...

If you remember this game, you are longer in the tooth than a whole Mt. Moon worth of Zubats.

If you remember this game, you are longer in the tooth than a whole Mt. Moon worth of Zubats.

3) Super Mario Maker

My colleague Jim bob has already written about the game (very eloquently, I might add) so I won't cover old ground. In case you've not heard of it and don't fancy clicking the link, it's a Nintendo game that lets you create and play Mario levels in the styles of Super Mario Bros.Super Mario Bros. 3Super Mario World or New Super Mario Bros. U. Your creations can be uploaded and played by anyone with the game and vice versa, giving you access to millions of new Mario levels. The third phase of nostalgia is Nintendo are letting you create your own.

It would have been easy(ish) for The Big N to fire off a game with a selection of new levels in the styles of their classic Mario titles (heck, they have already: check the e-Reader levels on Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3) but by giving the power to the player they have tapped into a new vein of gaming goodness. The joy of the old wrapped up in the blanket of the new, and all made by you. Super Mario Maker has single-handedly opened up a new possibility for nostalgia in the world of video games and for that, we salute it.

Despite the fluffy clouds on-screen, this course is harder than a copy of Battletoads coated in adamantium.

Despite the fluffy clouds on-screen, this course is harder than a copy of Battletoads coated in adamantium.

Even better than that, it's not just Mario whose nostalgia you are experiencing. You can pepper levels with secret mushrooms that allow the player to turn into any character who has an amiibo (provided you play in Super Mario Bros. levels). You can be Link, Samus, Pit, Kirby... even Splatoon's Inklings are lovingly rendered in 8-bit form. Nintendo's Event Courses unlock further characters on completion, like Captain Toad, Wolf Link, Barbara the Bat... and now we're sounding like an ad for the game.

Even better than even better than that, few companies have characters whose longevity could make a similar game viable. Mega Sonic Creator? Ultimate Mega Man Construction Tool? Neither sound quite right. No, we're more interested in The Legend Of Zelda Maker...

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to get back to Pokémon Blue...