Retro Gaming – When Old is New and Cool
Not everything is high-rez in the gaming world. Sometimes you just have to get back to basics.
When better-known characters such as Mario and Sonic moved on to 3D titles, a sizable portion of the gaming audience did not move with them. These retro gamers instead focused on a dwindling number of new releases that appealed to their tastes. Now, the 16-bit stylings of yesteryear are back and they’re big.
Retro gaming has made quite the splash in film this year. Disney’s winter hit, Wreck-It Ralph has been filling seats with gamers of all generations. The film follows a Donkey Kong-like bad-guy-who-wants-to-be-a-good-guy who leaves his arcade machine in search of a way to fulfill his dreams. Throughout the film younger viewers are introduced to gaming legends like Q*bert and Tapper alongside better known characters like Pac Man and Street Fighter’s Zangief. Wreck-It Ralph manages to cram more pop-culture gaming references and cameos into an hour and 40 minutes than most gaming conventions can over a weekend.
With retro gaming on the rise, we’re seeing more developers jumping on the nostalgia bandwagon. Old games are coming back on new platforms like never before. Sure, you’d see the occasional collection or reprint of an older title, usually labeled “Best Of” or “Greatest Hits”, but with digital distribution via Steam, Xbox Live, the PlayStation Network, and Nintendo’s Wii Shop classic games are now available cheaply and easily with little distribution cost on behalf of the developers. Now gamers who grew up on console classics like Toe-Jam and Earl no longer have to trawl Ebay or visit skeevy emulation sites, they can hop online to pick up their dosage of nostalgia.
Nintendo in particular caught on early to the desire for classic games, selling popular titles from the Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Mario franchises over and over again on a number of console and handheld systems. These well-known franchises, Final Fantasy in particular, have seen a number of console title spin-offs developed with scaled back, retro-style graphics for handheld devices.
Whether studios and publishers are simply catering to demand or cashing in on old, already-owned titles depends on how cynical your outlook may be. However, an interesting side effect of the resurrection of these older titles is that we’re also seeing more new games created in retro-style.
A good example would be Zeboyd Games best known for Breath of Death VII, Cthulhu Saves the World, and most recently the 3rd and latest installment of Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. By creating their games with the 8 and 16-bit sprite imagery of NES and SNES role-playing games Zeboyd was able to tap into a niche market that was starving for new content. Their success could also be chalked up to clever gameplay and a willingness to poke fun at the genre.
Indie developers are using the rise of retro gaming as a way to step away from traditional publishers and larger studios. Breaking away to create new independent studios and games is a risky business even for the most experienced developer. Luckily, crowd funding sites such as Kickstarter and Indigogo have become a way for consumers to support independent titles and new studios.
Pier Solar and the Great Architects by Watermelon Corp is one such success story. Pier Solar is a homebrew role-playing game for the Sega Genesis that started life when a couple of guys decided they wanted to create an RPG as an homage to the genre. When it finally released in 2006 (far after the decline of the Sega Genesis) Pier Solar sold out of the limited runs as fast as they were made available. A successful Kickstarter campaign has allowed the creators of this title to take Pier Solar and update it for a new generation of consoles and computers. Come late 2013, we’ll be seeing this title for Xbox Live Arcade, PC, Mac, Linux, Ouya, Android and Wii U.
We’re also seeing old franchises given new life. Shadowrun Returns is a spiritual sequel to the two Shadowrun games released on the SNES and Sega Genesis which were in turn based on the popular cyberpunk pen and paper RPG of the same name. Now crowd funding has developers Harebrained Schemes creating a 2D turn-based RPG for tablets & PC that’s due out early 2013.
Another crowd sourcing success story to come out of Kickstarter is the OUYA. This inexpensive, yet to be released console is targeting the retro gaming community, homebrew developers, independent studios and free-to-play gamers. This indie console already has AAA publishers Square Enix and NAMCO Bandai ready to provide content and is likely to be home to all sorts of retro games from other established publishers and retro-styled games from indie studios. So far the OUYA has a number of titles scheduled including Pier Solar, Final Fantasy III and Shadowrun Online, a massively multiplayer online game that exists in the same universe as Shadowrun Returns. Expect to see the Ouya hit the shelves late spring with a $99 price tag.
No matter the flavour of nostalgia you’re partial to, the retro gaming market has you covered. 2013 is going to be an excellent year for something new, something old and a combination of the two.
This article was original published in the GottaCon 2013 guide. Thanks to the GottaCon team for allowing a republish.