April 19, 2017 Leave a comment
Clarification on Back When it was Gooditus
The NES Classic, Virtual Console, Mario All-Stars, Modern Warfare Remastered, etc. are not examples of Back When it was Gooditus. While there are no doubt nostalgia-loving types who will swear that those represent “when games were good”, there’s no public perception that those franchises are on the decline. They’re quick cash-ins, not apologies for waning quality or whimpering reminders of a time where they were relevant.
A re-release of a game like Resident Evil 4, so soon after #5 or #6 hit, serves as sobering reminder that the series was once good and isn’t anymore, reinforcing the perception that the best days are behind them and thus future installments are likely to be mediocre as well. When that is the case, that’s Back When it was Gooditus.
Despite the fact that such a perception benefits nobody, some games actually market based around the concept of “gaming was better way back when.” Take Yooka-Laylee, a game that raised funds on Kickstarter and was marketed under the guise that gamers would believe that 3D platformers were better during the N64 era. And it worked! It set crowd-funding records and had the type of buzz most games could only dream of. Then it released and, while almost nobody is calling it a bad game, it seems to have underwhelmed most people. Of course it did. It’s based on recreating the feel of games from twenty-years-ago. Twenty! It’s okay to reminisce about the good ‘ole days, but actually going back to them almost always disappoints. Gaming has come a long ways.
Why do your Shovel Knights or your Steamworlds, games that try to invoke that bygone era, rise above that? Because it’s more about using nostalgia as a framework for something newer and fresher. Shovel Knight has no lives system, a darker tone, and works as an emotional narrative, something 2D platform games of the 80s or early 90s simply didn’t aim for. Yooka-Laylee seems to make the same mistake so many modern attempts at stoking that nostalgic fire do: copy the gameplay instead of paying tribute to the essence.
I Don’t Get Nostalgic
A few years ago, I got Shadow of the Colossus HD on PS3 for Christmas. Oh, and Ico was included. I never liked Ico to begin with. Baffling to me that gamers all agree that escort missions suck and NPCs with bad AI suck, but a game based around escorting an NPC with bad AI through a series of overly long and complex puzzles while fighting the spongiest busy-work enemies ever is somehow considered a masterpiece.
But hey, Shadow of the Colossus! One of my all-time favorites!
And then I played it.
“Christ, I remember being frustrated with the horse. I don’t remember wanting to kill and eat it.”
“Christ, did the bosses always shake this much when you were holding onto them?”
“What the fuck was the point of making the world so big when there’s almost nothing to do besides shoot lizards?”
I didn’t really enjoy any aspect of that play-through. Yet it was the exact same game I played six years earlier. Did it change? No. Had I? Not really. So what was the problem? The simple fact that I had already gotten everything I could out of it. The sense of wonder and discovery that drove me forward in 2005 could never hope to be re-created. I already knew what came next. There was nothing left to see. There was nothing new to explore. In 2005, upon entering the lair of every Colossus, I would be downright awestruck as the giants started to move, wondering how on Earth I would be expected to slay them. The second time around? I knew what they looked like, I knew how they moved, I knew what their weaknesses were.
Everything I hated about my 2011 play-through of Shadow of the Colossus was there in 2005. But, those faults were drowned out by the scope and scale and the sense of discovery. Without that freshness, the flaws stood out that much more and nothing could distract from them. I wish I had never replayed Shadow of the Colossus. It could never have hoped to be for me what it had been in 2005. Maybe it was unfair to expect it to be.
That was pretty much my last experience trying to recreate the magic with a game I had previously loved. I had done it in 2008 with Banjo-Kazooie’s Xbox 360 re-release, and then again in 2010 with Perfect Dark on XBLA. Even with HD upgrades and online play for Perfect Dark, the thrill was gone. Memories are a bitch to compete against. Memories of games are always a little brighter, always a little more happy, always a lot more refined and sharper, than reality is. I got Banjo-Kazooie on my 9th birthday, before experiencing work or relationships or anguish or pressure of any kind. Of course my memory of it is going to be as rosy as an alcoholic’s nose. My life was easier back then. I didn’t have other things on my mind. More important things. If you’re an adult playing games today with bills and drama hanging over you, of course you’ll be thinking “didn’t games used to make me happier?”
Actually, they didn’t. You were happier before you had to worry about stuff. It’s not the games that got bad. It’s you that got older. Games are better than ever. If you don’t believe me, the next time you’re completely stress-free, sit down with a quality game that you’ve never played before. I bet you anything it grabs a little of that old-timey game-induced happiness you used to feel and don’t anymore. It’s not the games. It’s you.
@mocliamtoh wants to know “Are there any genres you would describe as distinctly or inherently indie?”
Inherently? No. Distinctly? No. Crafting games are generally associated with indies, but I’m not so sure they define the community. If any genre does, I would say it’s the 2D platformer. It makes sense when you think about it. Most indie developers grew up in the NES/SNES/Genesis era, when platformers ruled the day. They probably began to dream of making their own game around that time, and logically that game would be based on what was the meal-ticket of that era. Indie 2D platformer might be over-saturated, but people need to realize that they’re not just games. They’re dreams being realized. That’s why they’re the surest bet for quality on the scene.