Despite all the advances in graphics, sound, processor speed and storytelling over the last 20 years, people are still going back to the retro video games of the eighties and nineties. Why is that? Nostalgia certainly plays a part, but that’s far from the whole story. The retro gaming community includes players too young to have experienced the likes of Pac-Man, Super Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog and Donkey Kong the first time around.
The average Sega Mega Drive cartridge had a maximum capacity of just 4MB, compared to the 40GB behind the typical game of today. But just as The Beatles made Sergeant Pepper on a 4-track tape recorder and NASA sent men to the moon with the equivalent processing power of a pocket calculator, so the game designers of the last century made up for their primitive technology with ingenuity and imagination.
The classic games of yore were extremely well designed. Because the technology they were using and designing for was relatively basic, they had to find ways to grab players straight away and keep them hooked other than flashy special effects and cinematic scene-setting.
The hedgehog and the dolphin
Sonic the hedgehog was a nineties superstar, featuring in a wide range of media as well as the best-selling Sega Mega Drive franchise. The key to the original game’s popularity was its simplicity: running, jumping and collecting ‘chaos emeralds’ in a hypnotic side-scrolling environment of bright blocky colours. By today’s standards it was far from sophisticated, but it was a lot of fun.
Ecco the Dolphin did have state of the art graphics (by nineties standards) and the game had a wide appeal, particularly bringing a lot more girls into the gaming sphere. Although relatively slow-moving it was actually pretty challenging, and had a strange beauty that has never quite been recaptured elsewhere.
Recapturing the feel
Today, gaming fans are digging out their old Mega Drives and Nintendo Game Cubes or are playing relaunched versions of the old favourites on today’s consoles and PCs. Some are even capturing the retro look of their favourite old games with a Facebook animated cover photo in blocky, old school style. Hipsters are flocking to retro gaming cafes that hark back to the video game arcades of the past.
Fun for all the family
Parents too are digging out their old gaming cartridges from when they were kids to share the gaming experience with their children. The simplicity of nineties games, with their bright colours and repetitive animation, appeals to the very young who can pick up on the gameplay easily. This doesn’t mean they’re easy however, and many young gamers have found to their dismay that the likes of Donkey Kong are actually far more difficult to complete than they might appear.
Bringing out your old games is also a cost-effective alternative for cash-strapped parents, as opposed to the expense of buying the latest console and games.
Gaming now has a comparable history to films or pop music, and just like in those mediums the old classics never really go away. They’ll continue to be reassessed, relaunched and rediscovered by new generations who see exactly what made them classics in the first place.