Does Retro Mean Anything in Gaming Anymore?

As many times as a TV show or comic book breaks our thinking about how time flows: that it may just be circular instead of linear, is exactly how I feel about gaming these days. What we used to consider out of date, flawed, boring, and old-school has simply become “in”. It’s not an “old Nintendo” anymore, it’s a NES. It’s no longer a Mario T-shirt left over from my childhood, it’s the cool one I got from Hot Topic, or some clever pun shirt from Woot! In any event, I think it’s time we seriously considered if all of these interest groups tied to this concept of ‘retro gaming’, really still serve their original purpose.


So what am I blabbering on about? Retro is now mainstream. If you go to your local bookstore or corner store, you’re more than likely to find more than one ‘Retro Gaming Mag’. If you jump on your Wii, you can download all he original games via virtual console. GoG.com supplies all of those fantastic PC games from back in the day, and T-shirts, music, and hats of video games long gone are all the rage now – so I ask: Does Retro simply equal now?

This may sound crazy, but even look at a game like Sword and Sorcery: LP. It’s designed in an older almost bitmap looking style. The combat is simplified, and the play style feels like a nice simple RPG/Adventure that could have translated well to the NES. Or look how we keep doing anniversary additions and collections of games: Halo just came out, and Sega always has a bundle for Xbox.

So what I think, is that we’ve come around again. The past is cool. The catchphrase of the day is to say, “how games were so much better back in the day”. No longer is it odd to just be a retro gamer. It’s no longer unique. Now, of course, I’m not saying that we’ve been hipsters over here and now ‘the scene’ is outed, but in some ways, I don’t think there’s a necessary divide or designation to be made with blogs, mags, etc.

We’re just gamers again. Weren’t we always? Sure, and just as technology pushed the two groups away with advances, it’s brought them back together by developing further and enabling simple emulation for the cell phone on the go, the hacked psp, or the virtual console on your wii. In short, the cycle is complete.

Why shouldn’t it be? We’ve done it. What is it? Games are now sometimes better quality than the ol’ analog TV. Think of a football game from back in the day, and then plug in Heavy Rain on a nice TV. Not bad eh? I think it was only inevitable that we returned to some of the most original games, given that the conquest of virtual reality meeting reality seems to be at one of it’s most close peaks.

Even music, yes I’ll mention it, has come back around again. How do you get that unique sound, that awesome edge? Why not throw in a string line as 8-bit? 3D-Dot Game Heroes does it very nicely. Not to mention, chiptunes as a style of music have become more and more progressive and popular. Look at Anamanaguchi’s fabulous work on the Scott Pilgrim game for Xbox360 Arcade.

Did I just write this entire article to justify why none of our writers have been producing anything? Of course….not! But really folks, this trend has gone beyond something more than nostalgia. Whether we choose to accept it or not, I think Retro has become Present, and with a vengeance. I can certainly see this continuing as a merchandising trend – because it’s just too easy to prey on nostalgia, but I think this may mean something for game development too.

I definitely think that re-releasing game packs will become an even more common tradition, for more and more series. How about one for Mother so we can get the third one officially translated? But maybe not just that, it’s so simple to design games in the older or more past styles, that I think developers may push towards this trend. Look how simple and yet beautiful Sword and Sorcery is, the same goes for Limbo, and even Super Meat Boy. All of these games don’t push the limits of a PC or Console, but they have a certain power in their simplicity.

So are we really retro anymore? I don’t know. But hopefully we’ll Continue? anyway.

~Dan

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