I, like many people in their 30s (early not late!), have very fond memories of early video games. I recall playing Double Dragon with my brother, not in the least bit phased by the fact that the game opened with a woman being punched in the stomach, and carted off by nameless thugs. A rather horrifying prospect in hindsight. I was also bright eyed and bushy tailed enough to not be aware of just how unabashedly unfair the game was. Coin chompers is how I now refer to those old arcade games; the ones that were designed with the explicit purpose of hoovering money out of children’s pockets.
Yes, many retro games have the rose tinted spectacle magic. That is; the magic that allows you to remember games from your youth far more fondly than they deserve, which is not a difficult concept to understand. I have made the effort to go back and visit many old classic games, only to be flabbergasted by just how differently I remember them. Enemies can grab you from behind in Double Dragon, for the love of Pete, and render you defenceless while you’re pummelled to death. Insert another coin, please. And another, and another…
But retro games are very hot right now, if you haven’t already noticed, and I think it’s certainly something that deserves an inspection.
Not Just Nostalgia
Of course, Double Dragon was only one game, in one very specific genre. Once home consoles came out, a new breed of game was introduced. Namely; a genre of games that were designed to be fun, as opposed to coin chompers. And this, of course, gave as the classic games that defined an industry. Pac Man, Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong, they’re titles most gamers are familiar with, even if they haven’t specifically played them.
And if you do go back and play them, you’ll probably notice that retro games have two distinct features. The first is that they have horrendously poor graphics; the second is that they are pretty damn challenging. And this, I think, is one of the key reasons that retro games are making a comeback in a big way. Since old games could not get by on dazzling players with graphics and spectacle alone, they had to offer engagement in other ways. Namely; in requiring real skill, persistence, and dedication, in order to master.
Returning To The Roots
I mentioned this recently and will mention it again; modern video games are reaching a plateau point. That is to say; there is not much more advancement, in terms of technology, that can make games better than they already are. At least in terms of actual gameplay. Sure, graphics may get better still, but the games themselves are not going to benefit from more powerful consoles.
And gamers are starting to take note of this. From the PlayStation 3, to the PlayStation 4, the games may look slightly better, but are still pretty much the same games. And will a PlayStation 5 be the key that takes video games to a whole new level, revolutionising gameplay? I very much doubt it.
And so the logical thing occurs; games get stripped of their flashy graphics, and return to simply being games, designed to be fun, as opposed to eye candy. Online casino games come to mind, as a prime example.
Retro But Better
But, of course, even if retro games are making a comeback, the technology used to make games has advanced in leaps and bounds. A game with the functionality of a digital poker game could be knocked together in a few days, if not a single day, using modern game making software. Creating the actual graphics would take a bit more time, but to have the framework of a poker is something virtually anyone could get their hands on. And that, in my opinion, is a rather profound thing for the game industry as a whole.
Shovel Knight is a purposefully retro game I played recently, specifically designed to capture the nostalgia of old NES games. It was a pleasant experience, and yes a great deal more fun than I have had with mainstream AAA video games recently. Not one building exploded in Shovel Knight, not one sweaty, square jawed marine gunned down multiple faceless enemies, with a gun so hyper realistic you could see every scratch on it’s surface. And what a relief it was.
Just to be clear, though, I don’t think the game industry will return to being 2D side-scrolling Mario games, although I do think we will be seeing a great deal more of such games. What I do think is that the games industry will have to start paying a great deal more attention to games being fun and challenging, as they once were. And yes, it would certainly do them a great deal of good to start thinking about why casino games are still as popular as they are, and have remained unchanged for centuries.