Nostalgia is blinding. There is a wealth of really solid retro games, but for every one we remember fondly, there are a dozen more that aren’t quite as good as we remember. I find this to be especially true of games that came out during the PlayStation or PlayStation 2 era. Developers were still figuring out exactly what to do, and in the decades that games have been around, they’ve learned a lot about design. I’m not saying don’t play retro games by any means; retro games are some of my favorite things to play. What I am saying is, sometimes, it’s best to check your expectations. Still, there’s hope for those who remember the past fondly, but can’t seem to recapture the joy they used to experience by playing those games. The best way to recapture that joy might lie in new version of old games.
Sonic Mania is a perfect example, along with its Sonic Mania Plus update. Originally developed by fans and eventually supported by Sega, Sonic Mania was an attempt to bring the appeal of retro Sonic into the modern area, because all of the official releases were failing to do this. But the team didn’t merely mirror the design of the old games. Instead, they copied the spirit, extracting what they perceived to be the best parts of the originals, then adding on modern features and updated moves to create one of the best Sonic games to date. The drop dash and the ability to utilize Tails, even while playing as Sonic, is especially nice, and the mixture of old and new stages as well as a few surprises, like the boss fight inspired by Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, give the game life. Later, when the add-on appeared, it marked the return of long lost heroes like Mighty and Ray, changing up gameplay yet again. The update made it an even better tribute to games gone by.
Games like this are important, because it helps gamers of all ages enjoy the past without emulation or old systems. It also is familiar to younger gamers, without alienating fans of the originals. With Youtubers imbuing their younger viewers with interest in older titles, these games definitely have a place in the industry.
Square Enix’ Octopath Traveler seems to draw from the same philosophy, though it isn’t a resurrection of an old franchise. Instead, it is a resurrection of an older style. Playing the game draws to mind classic JRPGs like Final Fantasy VI aesthetically and in terms of gameplay. But the developers have stated that they wanted to mix in modern design. Based on the demo, it’s an amazing hybrid and might be a very convenient way for newer gamers to test the waters before delving into gaming’s past.
Bomberman is another franchise that has seen a lot of iterations over the year but, outside of the platformers, little changed with the franchise. For some, this is exactly what they wanted but, for most, there wasn’t enough growth to maintain interest. Matches were quickly monotonous. Super Bomberman R, however, is familiar with a twist. It has online, better graphics, frenetic 8-player matches, a good variety of stages, and even a plot. The boss fights also escalate the game’s appeal and characters with specific abilities who are sometimes guests from other franchises give players the kind of variety that they are used to in this era of games.
I’m hoping that these kinds of games continue to be released. They make me think of Metroid Fusion, which was an excellent variation on a classic that was more fun for me to play at its release than Super Metroid was. But that game didn’t start a trend. Now, there seem to be rumblings of a trend and, to my eye, this appears to be the best way of capturing the past without the disappointment of a past title not living up to your memories.