The Paradox of a “Retro Gamer” Who Is Uninterested in Retro-Inspired Games

I have said a lot on this blog in recent months about my growing disenchantment with “modern gaming” as a whole, and how I’m increasingly returning to older titles to occupy my game time. While a lot of that has to do with being sick of just complaining about my “pile of shame” and not actually doing something about it, there is also an element to it of just not particularly liking a lot of newer games. I try to be positive and avoid Scott Pilgrimcynicism as much as possible, so I tend to chalk up my disenchantment with new games as a conflict with my own personal tastes rather than a condemnation of their actual quality. This theory seems to be supported by my current obsession with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which I’ve already sunk 15 hours into (which is a lot for me to put into a single game in the span of a few weeks) so I’m clearly enjoying one of the newest games currently available. And there are a lot of games that were released for the last generation (PS3, X360, Wii) that I can honestly say I loved, so I’m definitely not someone who is stuck in the game era of my youth, which would be the 8-bit era through the early PS1/N64/Saturn years. However, when I begin to list my all-time favorite games, they definitely skew older, with most of them being released in the 90’s with just a trickle on either side of that decade. I clearly have a preference for the “style” of game released during that era. So when someone makes a new game that harkens back to that time, that should be right up my alley, right? As it turns out…not so much.

I don’t know exactly what it is about new but retro-style games – I like to call them “new-retro” – that don’t interest me. It has almost gotten to the point where, when I see screenshots for a game that looks like it would’ve been on the SNES or some other old-school console, I sigh and roll my eyes. They borderline annoy me. I definitely think that the annoyance part comes from the fact that there is an over-saturation of deliberately retro-styled games. When Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game came out, looking like an SNES game and playing like River City Ransom, I loved it. When Shadow Complex came out, playing like Super Metroid with modern 3D backgrounds, I loved it. I was definitely on board with that type of thing at first, when it was still somethingShovel Knight of a novelty and a unique thing that a couple of games were doing. But then more companies did it, and more, and more, until it almost just became “a thing.” Especially among indie games, where it can be more cost-effective and less resource-intensive to build a game in 2D with sprites and pixels rather than being forced to craft huge open 3D worlds, this over-proliferation of new-old-school games really kicked into high gear. After awhile, it started to feel too much like a crutch that smaller developers were using so they could “get away with” not having to do as much visually. And then that started to bleed over into the mechanics of the games, too. Shovel Knight is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s basically Duck Tales with some extra RPG elements thrown in. It would be one thing if developers were just utilizing retro-style visuals but then building completely unique and original gameplay systems and mechanics on top of it, and some do that, but most just end up building a game that really could have been done on an NES or SNES, and moreover, they play exactly like games that already exist on those platforms.

Again, none of this should bother me. In fact, I should be quite please that there are essentially new 8- and 16-bit games being made. What retro game fan wouldn’t want more of what they love? For some reason, I’m just not interested. When I get the bug to play a game like those old games, I’ll just play those old games. Or, more specifically, I’ll play the games
Axiom Vergefrom that era that I missed out on and have been wanting to revisit. Call me snobby, but I’d just rather play an actual retro game that I didn’t play rather than a new-retro game. They just feel more “essential” to me. The ironic thing is, I am not at all like this with other forms of media. I would much rather watch Quentin Tarantino’s take on 70’s kung-fu and grindhouse movies than actual 70’s kung-fu and grindhouse movies. I find myself preferring a lot of newer music that calls back older music over that older music (not always, but sometimes). Yet with games, I would much rather play the originals than the tributes to the originals. And on the other side of that coin, when I play a new game, I want it to feel new. I turn to new games for modern gaming experiences, and when I want a classic gaming experience, I’ll play an actual classic game. I don’t like the blurring of the two. To be honest, I’m not really entirely sure why that is. Anybody else with me on this and want to share why you think you are that way? I’d also love to hear from the retro gamers who are loving this trend of new-retro games and have you tell me why I’m so wrong for being that way that I am. To be clear, I am definitely not inferring that any of the games are bad. I’m sure Axiom Verge is a wonderful as everyone says it is, for example. I do not claim to speak to the quality of new-retro games. But that still doesn’t change my apathy-bordering-on-annoyance at their existence, even if I can’t exactly put my finger on the reason.

As a parting shot, I usually try to go easy on memes here, but this one summed up my feelings so well that I couldn’t resist:

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6 thoughts on “The Paradox of a “Retro Gamer” Who Is Uninterested in Retro-Inspired Games

  1. When I first saw Axiom Verge, I also really disliked the visual style. I don’t know why I bought it, but once I played it for a while, I noticed that the visual style is just a perfect match for the game. It includes many glitch mechanics that are based on that area of games. That just would not work with modern graphics.

    I agree that for many games it’s just a lazy excuse to use such outdated graphics. But Axiom Verge really is not one of those!

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  2. I mostly agree, though I do not really game much anymore; from a programming perspective, older games are still often much more impressive as they did so much with far more limited systems from a computational perspective (take the PCエンジン for example, a 6502 derived CPU running at 1-7Mhz with a psaltry amount of RAM). “Retro” games benefit not just from decades of improved processors and memory, but more robust free tools like compilers, operating systems in more. Sword and Sworcery is probably the only “retro”-ish game in recent years I enjoyed, but more for its story and playing on the tropes of other games than the pixel art, which is far inferior to many actual vintage games.

    That said, I have to critique this piece mostly for not captioning the images. What game is the second one from? Nice sprite and pixel art, but it doesn’t look like the mentioned Shovel Knight or Shadow Complex when I looked them up; and I played Scott Pilgrim, definitely not from that (the game itself, I considered insanely tiresome, while aping River City Ransom and Double Dragon/Final Fight type games, it is exhaustingly long and boring. Guardian Heroes, by Treasure featured similar gameplay, non-linear progressions, but was far more fun and over far faster on an average run through, enabling better replay value with different endings and paths to take and less grinding character leveling. Scott Pilgrim felt like a waste of Paul Robertson’s artistic talents.)

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  3. A game is a game. Which year it was created should be irrelevant. The only thing that should matter is how the game plays and its design decisions. Your personal feelings are… well personal and therefore irrelevant to anyone but yourself.

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