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Retrograde: How Looking Back Can Help the Gaming Industry Move Forward

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Hey, remember when almost every game was trying to jump into 3D? Now that trend has been reversed. Seriously, look at New Mario Bros Wii, Kirby's Return to Dreamland, and Donkey Kong Country Returns, among others. What have all of them done? They went back to their original formats that made them famous. Mario didn't have a full 2D sidescrolling adventure on consoles since Super Mario World on the SNES (not counting All-Stars, which is a remake/compilation), which was released in 1991. New Mario Bros. Wii, wasn't released until 2009. That's a good 18 years everyone! Mario's eternal rival Sonic, did the same thing. Sonic 3, and Sonic & Knuckles were both released in 1994. Sonic 4 came out in 2010. That's 16 years before the blue blur went back to pure 2D on the consoles. Those are just platformer examples too. There are many games that have been revived, or brought back to their roots not only for the businesses to make money, but to the delight of fans as well.


As a business model, this has worked well for everyone that has done it. It's a whole new marketing plan. Create an entirely new game in the format that made the game famous in the first place. The developers tons of money, and the fans get a new game. Everyone wins. What did CAPCOM do with Street Fighter IV? It went back to using the cast that made the game famous in the first place (I will admit, I think it's a lot harder for battle games to grow). Little Mac returned to the ring in the new Punch-Out!! and Donkey Kong came back with Donkey Kong Country Returns. Both of those games did very well. Nintendo has been doing this for a while, and we've been soaking up every game that decides to go back in time (gameplay wise of course).


One great side of this is variety and nostalgia. Mario has been having grand adventure after grand adventure ever since he went 3D on the consoles (N64). A trip back to the old days with revamped graphics is a nice way to change things up, especially on the console market. Older fans go crazy over the nostalgia factor and get to tell the new generation of gamers that this is how things started. Developers like to make nods to older gamers, or ones that have played the earlier games with easter eggs or secrets. The new generation of gamers get to experience what they could not have unless they managed to get their hands on remakes or originals from friends or relatives. Some of these new gamers may not be used to pure 2D movement, but it should be a heck of a lot easier to adjust to that from a 3D game.







Mario and friends, 18 years apart.



Another great way to look at going backwards is that the developers not only please fans and themselves, but they actually manage to integrate the new with the old. The best examples of this is the new Mortal Kombat, and Sonic Colors. Both series have had games that seemed like they could have been much more if the developers had more time, or could integrate things better. Sonic's 3D and 2D sections in Unleashed were great for the daytime levels, and they were made even better for Colors.


But all is not good on the horizon. Going back to their roots is a great thing, but the games that started it all only have so much substance. Is it that gamers are just that much better nowadays? Due to online capabilities, it's certainly easier to find people who are better, worse, or on the same level as you. Is that it, or is it that because of the power of the current systems we just expect that much more from our developers? The fact that we are getting such games could also be a sign that developers are low on ideas. Granted, it's been such a long time since we've had a “classic†style game for our favorite gaming heroes, (keep in mind we also need to note the definition of the word “classicâ€), so it's fine if we get a new game every once in a while in the classic format, but that could be a sign that developers are unsure of where to take the series next, even if the characters and formats work well together. If developers, by extension, keep re-hashing classic games, then they aren't so classic anymore, right? If we keep asking for more of the same thing, then doesn't nostalgia kind of defeat itself?





A few bumps in the road can lead to success!


As much as I love the old school, they have their place. Those games have been cemented in history already. As we grow as people, the developers grow in the way they integrate new elements into the games we know. Sometimes they have to put the series out of its comfort zone, or step away from what has made the game so successful in order to integrate the successful formula with something completely new. Sonic never had all of those powers he used during Sonic Colors. The wisps were the new gameplay element that allowed for a lot of puzzle solving and exploration that Sonic could never do before. Would SEGA have been able to come up with such an idea if they didn't have Sonic in the storybook games, and Unleashed? Without Unleashed, would Sonic have the boost ability implemented the way he does now? Without going through the bumps that he did, Sonic Colors wouldn't be such a critically acclaimed game. If it was released soon after Sonic Adventure 2, then it would be seen as a game that is very much in that same veil.


Sometimes moving forward requires that you take a step back, or even actually moving back. That way we can find ways to bring the old and the new together.

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