For many, retro games aren’t just “something I used to play”. We used to play with and enjoy other things too as children, but things like theme park rides and watching favourite childhood TV shows certainly do not incite the passion and thrill that playing a treasured retro game does. For those of us lucky enough to grow up in the NES/SNES/SEGA era, we got to witness the birth of console gaming. It was almost magical and the games functioned as interactive story books.
As we played we learned about the various protagonists, their enemies and how to deal with various obstacles. The gaming industry was new, it was raw, and at the time so were many of us. As we grew and developed, became more complexed and advanced, the consoles followed along-side us. I suspect that a lot of my morals were in fact ingrained into me by some of the games I played as a child. The Donkey Kong Country series taught me about friendship and Super Mario Kart showed me that victory is never guaranteed, one sly banana skin can change everything.
The internet impacted gaming consoles and gamers alike, allowing for quick dissemination of news, insight into games consoles and how they are made, and online gameplay. Perhaps the fact that there is so much information about games today has deducted some of that magical feeling games give us, there isn’t much mystery behind them anymore. No longer is it necessary to invite a friend over to play games with you, in fact you don’t even need friends at all, because you can connect with random people all over the globe and game with them.
Online gameplay has both pros and cons but in this context. When we think back to fantastic multiplayer experiences, it’s likely a memory of playing a game with a friend in the same room as you, rather than one of the billion random people you gamed with while sitting alone. It is great being able to connect with people from all walks of life, but I for one always prefered co-operative play with a friend, it offered a more personal experience with the game and allowed me to see it from someone else’s point of view .
Retro games are known for their relentlessness, in that you could only ever complete them with determination and skill (I never completed Battletoads, but still hail it as a favourite!). Each level would teach you something new, throw something near-impossible at you, forcing you to better yourself, to prepare for the worst. You couldn’t just Google the latest puzzle that was preventing you from moving on, nor pay real money to advance. There is something about paying money to gain an advantage in games that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I understand that the games industry is highly competitive today and money needs to be generated from multiple avenues, however I think “paying-to-win” can cheapen the legitimacy of a game. I want the outcome of the game to depend on my determination, not the thickness of my wallet.
That’s not to say modern games are easy, nor is it an elitist jab at the new generation of gamers, just an observation of what may have left us feeling a little underwhelmed by the modern gaming world.
With the generation of NES/SNES/SEGA children growing older we are seeing Indie companies springing up everywhere and offering us a glimpse into their pasts with games that are very heavily influenced by the retro games they played and loved. A member of Team Meat, the developers of Super Meat Boy, once said that his aim was to create a game his 10 year old self would enjoy. An obvious nod to the past if we have ever seen one. The games industry is changing. Over the years the main focus of inspiration for developers has seemed to be technological improvements, however if you look closely and delve into the Indie world, you will see plenty of games that attempt to recapture the magic of the past.
So what exactly is it that keeps us completely in love with retro games? Why can we play through Donkey Kong Country countless times without getting bored, but put most modern games on the shelf after completing it just once? The answer to this question is no doubt one that has tortured retro gamers for many years, a difficult subject to place your controller-hardened thumb upon.
For me, it’s the innocence of a game you cannot pay to win, its the relentlessness of a game that won’t forgive your mistakes easily, the originality of the beautiful soundtracks that would fill your head with vivid imagery, the pleasure of playing alongside a dear real friend and the magic of experiencing something that had only just began to be born. Think of games as snow with a few footprints through it left by the dear SNES and SEGA. That same patch of snow now has hundreds of footprints all over it and no longer looks quite as beautiful and new as it once did.
For many of us, retro games are simply just a part of who we are. However, each gamer will have a unique view on what makes Retro games so special to them. What was it about older games that has a grip on your soul?