If the success of Netflix’s Stranger Things (2016 – present) whose season 2 premiere drew in 15 million eager fans, has taught us anything, it’s that people love the 1980s. From the crimped hair and shoulder pads to the acid wash, jean jackets, and parachute pants that adorned people’s bodies to the classic slate of films and album of music that gives the decade such an iconic tone. And it’s no surprise that we’re seeing a revolution of all things 1980s, one of such is the boom of video games that the decade brought on. With Donkey Kong, Pacman, and the Super Mario Bros. all debuting, video games have gone from strength to strength ever since. But why do we love retro so much, and how is the modernity of the smartphone helping us indulge in the nostalgia of the past?
Retro Smartphone Gaming
Arcade Gaming and Touchscreen Benefits
Android and iOS have both seen the release of a series of apps that hark back to the original 1980s arcade games. From Space Invaders to Pacman, the original games that had many flocking to arcades have been remastered in order to appeal both to a new audience of smartphone fans and of the original audience, who will likely use their smartphones differently. Reissuing games has a greater likelihood of success for the developers, as gamers are more likely to trust a brand that is familiar to them. Immediately when people think of old-school gaming, Space Invaders comes to mind, so the move for the retro renaissance is definitely a strong one.
Updating classic games for the smartphone means that the touchscreen plays a vital role in the new version of gameplay. Originally either a controller or a joystick, the touchscreen gameplay can completely transform a game. For example, LucasArts’ Grim Fandango Remastered updates the 1998 classic to feature primary usage of the touchscreen for a more textured version of gameplay as a conspiracy-laden travel agent who also happens to be dead. The exciting prospect should be of how a game people revere can be given an added twist of the controls, which will inspire people to play it to see how exactly it has been mastered. By keeping the game dynamics exactly the same, but changing how exactly people play, the game’s legacy is maintained, while the modern effects are taken into account.
Classic Titles Remixed
Let’s go back to before retro arcade games and classic franchises were the original way of gaming, to board, card and dice games. Older, original games, such as chess, blackjack and mahjong have been given the digital upgrade to allow players to connect with the gameplay through their smartphone. New developers and providers have modernized these classic titles to appeal to the smartphone generation, often updating the gameplay. Sometimes such updates are drastic, as is the case with Really Bad Chess, an app available for iOS and Android that keeps the chessboard and the rules of the classic but changes the pieces available, providing chess puzzles to players. In other cases, the updates are subtler but equally welcome – for instance iGaming site Betway Casino provides mobile blackjack, baccarat and other card games on both mobiles and desktops but allows players to use the same account on both, having their victories and losses synchronize with the same server. It is through mobile that such cross-platform capabilities have truly been realised. The mobility of play and the updated touchscreen aspects compound with the classic gameplay to show a modernised version of indulging in the classics. Mahjong is available on smartphones through the Mahjong!! app, which uses the touchscreen to show newer players the art of the classic Chinese puzzle game. Backgammon has also been revitalised through smartphones, such as through the Backgammon Gold app, which also connects modern audiences with the classic game, including information on how to play the game, which may have been a barrier to playing in the past.
2016’s gaming phenomenon Pokémon Go featured the crop of Pokémon from the Kanto region, which formed Generation 1 of the series back in 1996 (in Japan) and 1998 (North America and the UK). The 20 million daily average users averaged in ages far higher than the standard audience Pokémon experiences – mainly due to the nostalgia of being able to connect with something from the past in such a modern way through new, augmented reality gameplay. Grown men were seen running through cities attempting to capture the elusive Pokémon that once adorned their walls. Although, for true fans of the franchise, the mobile updates have been met with scepticism.
Retro Console Gaming – PlayStation and Sega
The Sega Forever campaign by Sega aims to re-release heritage products and older games on newer platforms, allowing older fans to reconnect and providing a way for those who missed them the first time around to play in a way that suits their modern lives. Streets of Rage, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Gunstar Heroes are but some of the titles Sega has brought back out.
The PlayStation Network also provides a means for players to turn their old games into HD-ready, remastered versions and enjoy the core gameplay that made the originals so fun with a facelift. Lemmings, Rally Cross, Tekken 2, and Spyro the Dragon have all been re-released on the network, allowing fans to embrace the nostalgia factor. Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy is one example of updating the retro game -packaging up Crash Bandicoot, beloved fan favourite Crash 2: Cortex Strikes Back, and Crash 3: Warped for newer audiences. The gameplay remains the same, but the trio of games have been fully remade. The fresh look coupled with the reliable gameplay will appeal to all fans of gaming.
Overall, the retro gaming renaissance is one that was always welcome, and one that will likely recur throughout gaming history. Every new generation of games looks back to its predecessors, and all games are connected. Through trial and error of heroes and flops of the gaming world have all contributed to every frame of gameplay today, so honouring the old favourites is only fair.