Why We Love Retro Gaming: The Fun Never Dies

As technology progresses and more powerful hardware makes it way to market, gaming has grown more and more popular with each new generation. But what of the older games and consoles? So often when the shiny new ones come along, the old games and consoles get thrown away or traded in. That doesn’t mean they’re forgotten by everyone. I want to take a minute to explore why so many of us continue to enjoy games that most would consider dated and many others not worth playing.

Things were better in the old days

The first and most obvious reason is nostalgia. Many of us who enjoy gaming today have been enjoying it for years. I personally have fond memories of hours spent playing games in my room, back when I didn’t have to worry about paying bills or the crushing anxiety of the modern world. Playing games from our childhood, especially if we manage to get the old hardware can bring us right back to those years. For a couple of hours it can seem like all your worries are gone and all you need to worry about is beating that one boss you never could get past.

It’s not all about nostalgia though. Looking back on the past with fresh eyes can be an interesting in its own right. There’s a historical value in retro games, especially when those games are part of a now popular series. For passionate fans it can be so interesting to see where your favorite game series came from, how it started and how it’s changed over the years.

The Legend of Zelda is one I find intriguing. Its first game was an open world exploration focused game that let you go wherever you wanted, when you wanted. Then Zelda 2 became a side scrolling RPG. The series changed a lot over the years. It then became formulaic as each game had you going through mostly linear dungeons with blocked paths only passable with the item found in said dungeon. Then they revolutionised the series with Breath of the Wild, an open world exploration focused game that let you go wherever you wanted and when you wanted.

Things were different in the old days

So we’ve looked at how old games are interesting from a historical perspective and how they bring you back to your youth, but what about the main reason we actually play games? I’d wager we do it for fun and enjoyment. And there’s a certain kind of fun that retro games excel at that’s maybe missing from modern videogames.

It would be ridiculous to say that today’s games aren’t fun. Of course they are. I love them and so do many others. But they’re not fun in the same way older games are. Games are often a way to escape the world and though I enjoy some multiplayer games I’m mostly a single player gamer. Even then, it’s hard to find that escape when most games have some form of online connectivity.

Dark Souls and Death Stranding don’t even have other players (mostly) but you can see the results of their action in your world. Innovative and fantastic ideas, for sure but they serve to remind you are connected, that you are not still part of the world at large and not immersed in a fantasy universe. Things like trophy pop ups or global rankings at the end of a level are the same. I’m not saying these are bad, just that they take you out of the game a little bit.

Just a gentle reminder that buying the game at full price isn’t enough.

What is awful about the modern AAA game scene is the way publishers can push DLC and microtransaction sales in your face. Look at Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. As soon as you open the main menu you’re greeted with eye catching advertisements. Older games didn’t have this issue, mainly because they couldn’t, but it did mean that most of the time you were playing a game, you were just playing that game and not being reminded that the publishers just want all of your money.

Triple A games these days are all often quite similar. Most of them follow trends and formulas to make sure they’re popular and sell well. That’s why so many big budget blockbusters tend to have open worlds with a lot of side quests and some kind of RPG leveling system that’s just enough to be entertaining but not so deep as a full on RPG. Though there is variety in settings and stories, there’s a homogeny in the game mechanics and that is another thing that’s different about retro games.

Things were smaller in the old days

It wasn’t until the 7th generation of consoles (Xbox 360/PS3/Wii) that game development budgets really ballooned. Before that, games were a lot cheaper to make. Older hardware couldn’t render anything close to realistic graphics so most developers didn’t even try. Limitations and smaller budgets ultimately lead to a lot more creative freedom for a lot of developers. They could take more risks because they didn’t need to sell a million copies.

Look at something like Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. It’s one of my all time favorite games but it’s hard to see any company releasing it today. (Indeed Square Enix refuses to do anything with the IP.) Soul Reaver is a small game about a rebirthed vampire seeking revenge on his former master in a dystopian future where vampires took over Earth. The dialogue is prosaic and wordy, while the gameplay is focused on exploration and puzzle solving with only basic combat that barely changes much as the game goes on.

Yet the writing, world building and gameplay are enough to keep you interested because they’re all focused and unbloated. There are no sidequests or skill trees that take hours to level up. The team knew what story they wanted to tell, what game they wanted to make and made just that without any extra fluff to make sure you check in daily or in game checklists to keep you playing for hundreds of hours.

For the most part, older games were smaller. Even Crash Bandicoot 3, which does have a checklist of optional objectives can still be completed 100% in around 20 hours. A lot of people wouldn’t pay full price for a game that short these days.

Ahh, Seaman. No developer today would have the balls to let you talk to a Leonard Nimoy fish man through a controller mic.

The hardware limitations and lack of development costs also lead to some of the weirdest and best games to exist. Can you imagine Nintendo or Sony releasing something like Seaman today? It’d never happen. Silent Hill probably also wouldn’t happen. Don’t forget its trademark fog only exists because the PS1 couldn’t render all the high detail geometry of its world. Limitations breed creativity and those limitations lead to some really unique games being made that just wouldn’t be made today.

There are too many games, please eliminate three.

I can hear the complaints already. “But those games do get made today! The indie scene is rife with innovative and creative experiences.” Indeed that is true. In fact, many developers will also try and work within limitations to inspire creativity, or do their best to recreate the feeling of older games. A fan made demake of Bloodborne just released that takes it back to the PS1 era.

Even though it just came out, it is very popular but for every Bloodborne PSX, Celeste or Shovel Knight there are hundreds or thousands of indie games that most will never even know existed. They’re more accessible than ever but so much harder to find.

Approximately 10730 games released on Steam in 2021. To put that in perspective, if we add up the entire libraries of the PS1, PS2, NES, SNES, Mega Drive an Dreamcast we would get 15,715 games released between 1983 and 2013, from the NES’ launch to the last game published on PS2.

With so many games released every day it’s no surprise that most go unseen. Older consoles had far fewer games being released on a yearly basis so it was much easier to find the unique, weird or quirky ones.

It’s even easier today if you’re looking to get into retro gaming. There are countless reviews and lists of the top 100 games for any console you want. You don’t need to waste time finding what you want or waiting for reviews to see if it’s good because those reviews have been out there for decades.

Retro gaming will live on forever, but this article is coming to a close

So there you have it. There are plenty of reasons the modern gamer would want to go back and play games from 20 or 30 years ago. Older games can let you relive your past or open your eyes to mechanics and stories you never imagined.

They’re just different, they’re often simpler and they’re much easier to get into. All you gotta do is pop in the disc or cartridge and you’re on your way.

I hope this has been enlightening and enjoyable. I’d love to hear your thoughts about retro games. What are your favourites? Are you a real hardware only kinda person or do you emulate your classics?

Finally, I would like to thank the folks on the Retrogaming subreddit. They were very helpful in giving me a multiple of perspectives on retro gaming and gave me a lot to think about.

Follow me on Twitter @Kevlooks or on Twitch where I stream every Tuesday 7:30p.m. GMT.


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