Nostalgia is, no doubt, one of the driving forces of modern gaming. Quite a lot of the most noteworthy games in recent years have drawn from this in some way. Classic characters star in new adventures, and spiritual successors can carry a legacy forward into a new age. Dated titles are revamped with polygons aplenty, and released alongside all-new games lovingly made using SNES-era graphic styles. It’s clear that the history of gaming is very much its present.
There’s a pretty good chance of getting to play a given classic game right now, even if you weren’t around when it first came out. Something gets ported to a new system, gets a virtual console release, or something like the NES Classic comes out. 2011’s The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim has been released countless times across platforms, even getting a Nintendo Switch release during the latest console generation. Remasters can also be something of a hot topic. Sometimes only the graphics and sound get an update, but gameplay might be tweaked or expanded upon as well. Gamers, of course, tend to have mixed feelings about this. There’s always an argument that the original was better, in some way. Maybe the overall aesthetic was somehow lost in translation. Maybe the remaster added too much filler that distracts from the overall experience, or some new gameplay mechanic just feels disruptive. Some even argue that such-and-such game belonged in the past after all, and nostalgia is the only reason it was remembered so fondly. Despite all this, remasters have become something of a mainstay. They bring an old game to a new audience and bring back fond memories for those who were, once upon a time, that new audience.
On the flip side, the retro aesthetic is an extremely common trope in new games, as well. This is especially prevalent in the plethora of indie games out there right now. Sometimes, this stylistic decision is a very deliberate one. Shovel Knight, for example, sought to authentically recreate the charm of SNES platformers, and met incredible commercial success. It’s more accessible than ever to create a game, but indie developers don’t have the same resources AAA studios do. Pixel art style graphics are easier to create than detailed 3d models, and the aesthetic is actually something of a comfort zone to gamers, who are more than used to it.
Older games are constantly brought forward in much more subtle ways, though. Of course, many staple franchises are expected to regularly receive new entries. Mario and Pikachu are even household names. New entries contain plenty of references dating back through the series, and re-releases and remakes are common here as well. On top of this, spiritual successors sometimes seek to form something fresh from classic concepts, to varying degrees of success. Sometimes, these are meant to be revivals, as Yooka-Laylee is to Banjo-Kazooie. Other times, they’re more like love letters, like Sonic Mania is to Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
Overall, the climate of gaming is ever-changing, yet firmly rooted. Ancient games like to jump right back into gamers’ hands as if they never left, and gamers like to hold on tight. New gamers can create new memories. Older folks have fond childhood memories of these games, and playing them evokes a simpler time, in a cooler world where a green guy has a sword.