In the dictionary, the definition of nostalgia is “a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time”. From time to time I think whether I really miss the days when I was a child, what I got up to with friends, at school, with games, with reading. I think if I wish if I could go back to those days, when everything was much more black and white as they say. When I didn’t care what games I played, they were mostly all fun to me, when I collected Bakugans with my friends. When school was that thing that happened in my daily life that I refused to admit I liked, despite looking back we never really learned about the UK’s history. When I had the worst attention span that it was a challenge to read one (1) page of a book. Sometimes I will somewhat miss those days in my own way, but ultimately I don’t want those days back.
It is very common for games to want to capture that nostalgia people had for when they first booted up a game. Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy for example, wanted to recreate and recapture that feeling for players of the original trilogy on the PS1 for when they first played them. This time however, with an updated visual palette, to somewhat capture what people perhaps perceived the games to look like when they first played them. Not to build upon the past and create what I’d consider a more fun experience. Nostalgia, like many things, is a word used for marketing. It markets the idea that this is the very piece of media you had growing up, just as you remembered it. It’s a very interesting idea, that’s definitely gotten me to purchase something a handful of times. The idea of being able to relive better aspects of my early life is a very tempting one to explore. But with nostalgia, you can normally remember the past in a better light.
It’s common to remember a piece of media in a better light than to how you see it now. I’m really sure the swimming in Banjo-Kazooie was much better when I originally played it on the N64. It is a major reason why I tend to buy remasters of older games, that idea that I held onto as a child. That idea that I could never find flaws within a game that could turn me away, that I could enjoy them all within their own regard. Going through an old box filled with DS cartridges I discovered that my brother and I had a certain taste in games, as a way to put it. We had Flushed Away based on the hit movie, Flushed Away. I’ve already mentioned Bakugan, so of course I have it on the DS and Chicken Little to mention a few. The thing is whilst writing them out I still have those fond memories of them even though I’m sure if I booted them up I’d tear them apart. So I choose not to play them, I’d rather keep the memories than relive them. Why I choose not to go back to the “good ol’ days”, somethings are perhaps better to be remembered in a better light than to be lived again in disgust.
Quite often I will think my approach to games is boring and negative, whilst I enjoy to dig into content and think what I perceive as a dislike and a like. I feel it is an approach that can lead to a general dislike for a lot of games and makes me seem negative. Most of my articles here at the time aren’t all that positive. It is quite a short lived thought however whenever it occurs. I’d much rather look at what the medium does wrong and where it can improve than just acknowledge nothing. Not acknowledging the issues of racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism and xenophobia is a form of privilege that I don’t want to be apart of. How I played games when I was younger involved that privilege, not to say that my privilege is gone of course it isn’t, being white meant I never had to consider how a game would view my skin colour in a negative light. Having no knowledge of gender and sexuality meant I never had to think about the way games saw anything other than a character being cis or straight as disgusting. Growing us a boy I never had to consider what it was like to be viewed as a woman and the struggles they go through and how they’re depicted mainly as objects at the hands of men. That’s why I don’t think bringing a piece of media that is problematic and changing nothing about it is a good idea for the sake of nostalgia. Nostalgia is a poor excuse to keep a piece of content problematic.
For as much as I enjoy them, the Yakuza games suffer from the issues of transphobia. Whether it be Yakuza 0 boxing a trans woman that is part of a side story into a group of “kings” and calling her the “Pleasure King”. Yakuza Kiwami 2 whilst better with trans character, Mama; however, still putting her into the Majima Construction side story which is specifically full of men. Compared to the Cabaret Club side which is dedicated to women. Yakuza 3 received the remaster treatment being brought to the PS4 in more ways than just a resolution and framerate increase, the developers removed a transphobic side quest. This is how games should be brought into the present if they suffered from these issues in the past, it doesn’t right the wrongs, but it does show learning. Content should not be preserved if the content causes damage to a minority. This isn’t the same as removing a bug from an old game that caused the players to skip a level, this is acknowledging the wrongs of the past and aiming to show change.
I think the past shouldn’t remain unchanged in this regard and a lot of other, less severe, regards. It’ll always depend on who you’re talking to, for me, I can’t stand NES games and find them unenjoyable. Those games come from an era where games were designed to be at arcades, to make as much money as possible in a short amount of time. Not every game suffered from this design on the console, but it is prevalent if you play some of the games. I believe if a game is coming from that era it shouldn’t try to be those games and instead evolve the concepts and modernise them. Mega Man is a very well known game and is adored by its fans, Mighty №9 is also quite well known, but not adored. Mighty №9 was a very exciting game when it was announced for the reason it was from the original minds of Mega Man, at the time Capcom wasn’t making anything MM and fans wanted MM content. Mighty №9 promised them that content and if you’ve heard of it you know it didn’t deliver on that. Mighty №9 competed with people’s nostalgia of Mega Man and that is a dangerous direction to go in, especially if you don’t aim to improve on the past problems of Mega Man.
Shovel Knight is a title people know in a much better light. The visual style resembles that of an NES game, but that is really where the similarities end. It does come with all the charm those games had too in the writing and presentation. It however evolves on the gameplay and design to create a much better experience. SK doesn’t try to compete with an exact game and the memories people who played it have, it mixes a lot of elements from games such as Mega Man, Ninja Gaiden, Duck Tales, Castlevania, Super Mario 3 and Zelda II. It’s almost a homage to that era and takes the best aspects and blends them all together to create an entirely new experience. It takes from the past and uses it as inspiration rather than merely taking from the past and not rectifying its problems. No insane difficulty spikes. the inclusion of check-pointing, saves. It’s a much better game and didn’t suffer the same fate as Mighty №9 because of it.
I’ve always found games that take inspiration from the past and improve on them completely to be much more appealing than a 1:1 remake. It’s created some of my favourite games, Hyper Light Drifter for example.
Hyper Light Drifter is an outstanding game about risking your life in the hopes of saving it. Pushing yourself against impossible odds for a result that even you know might not save you. It’s a very personal project for Alex Preston specifically who suffers from serious health issues. Playing it you will see the inspiration from SNES era games, specifically The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It plays quite similarly but not identically, you can move in any direction compared to only being able to move in eight (8) directions in the SNES original. There is more detail in the environments and music has more layers to it. Hyper Light Drifter isn’t a game that had the same restrictions ALttP had so it makes full use of what it could to be a game that can remind you of those days but changes itself enough to be a completely new type of experience. Speaking of games inspired by ALttP is CrossCode. I’d describe CrossCode as imagine if they took ALttP, made the combat good and turned it into an Action RPG. I’d be repeating the same points if I talked about it further than that, it’s an amazingly well crafted game that rivals even more recent ARPGs of today. And that I’d consider among the best as well, compared to new and old, it’s an amazing game that reminded me of the era of SNES games whilst playing like a completely modern one.
Playing CrossCode again on the Switch makes me remember why I fell in love with this game when I originally started it last year. It reminds me of the times when I didn’t have to worry about whether a game was going to include transphobia, homophobia, sexism, racism. I can’t speak for all of them since it isn’t my place to say whether it has issues or not, but from word of mouth and discussion CrossCode doesn’t suffer from these issues. It just allows me to enjoy a well made game and that makes me happy.
An extremely well made game that takes it inspiration from NES era beat em up games is Treachery in Beatdown City.
TiBC is a blend of genres, as I’ve mentioned already it is heavily inspired by beat em ups and mixes that with semi turn-based combat. It has the presentation something akin to Ninja Gaiden with its cutscenes that give a chance to showcase the amazing writing. It’s a very unique experience, one that caught me off guard multiple times, even knowing what to expect going in it was hard to imagine how well it’d blend. You have to approach each combat scenario and analyse it, it’s a very different change of pace to how you’d normally play a beat em up. Or at least how I would. You chain moves together to create a wide arrange of combos, the game is constantly giving you more options to play with and never became dull in the five (5) hours it took me to complete it. Its visuals are incredibly charming, the writing engaging, smart and funny, characters interesting, pacing superb. One of the best games 2020 has had to offer so far.
A game that reminds me of the past in an unintentional way, I think, is Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. TSA is an odd game in many rights, but I enjoy it deeply. It’s a hack and slash that can be considered basic when compared to others, I could continue to look at it critically but I find that particularly boring for this game. It might seem like I’m saying the game has no meaning in saying that it’s just fun and nothing else, but there’s nothing wrong in being just that. TSA is just plain simple and doesn’t have to be anything more, it’s insane, it’s dumb and it’s very straightforward. Whilst playing it reminded me very specifically of Power Rangers SPD on the Game Boy Advanced. My brother and I played the hell out of it, it’s just a dumb as hell beat em up that was made to go alongside the show. You can go through levels just by spamming a single button, it never really required all that much thought. It was just fun and because of that we both had a lot of fun playing it. That same fun reminded me of it when playing Travis Strikes Again and maybe if it didn’t do I wouldn’t like the game as much as I did.
I still get that feeling of playing games as a kid, that pure fun, it comes from games that do not suffer from the issues of the past and don’t aim to make the same mistakes today. It comes from people in the indie scene who create amazing experiences, from different backgrounds that all have unique perspectives. These people create experiences that I still think about, Outer Wilds reminds me of the days of when anything was possible, that interested in exploring every corner because anything could be there. That game is almost constantly on my mind. I don’t think games should always aim to remake past experiences by simply updating the graphics, maybe I’m just being stupid, but to me the best games that can recreate those experiences are the ones that recreate games from the past. I can’t go back to those days of replaying Banjo-Kazooie for the first time and being sucked in by its charm, but I can play a game that evolves that experience to make me relive it in a completely different way.