Everything Old Is New Again: The Rise of Video Game Nostalgia

It seems ironic that the more video games improve and grow, the more gamers yearn for the simpler classics of their past. Sure, graphics might have advanced to the point of near-photorealism, but what’s more impressive? That, or being a low polygon Australian mammal with the ability to double jump? For many, it seems the answer is the latter, and it’s the strength of their collective nostalgia that has brought back Crash Bandicoot from his years-long exile. The soon to be released N. Sane Trilogy features the classic Crash trilogy remastered for both a new generation of gamers, and the reminiscing older generation, but is this nostalgia really such a good thing?

The N. Sane Trilogy, releasing in June this year, is slated to be a huge release, with several teasers of remastered footage emerging over the last few months. The most recent is a trip through classic Crash Bandicoot 2 jungle river level ‘Hang Eight’, which features Crash traversing a watery river, defeating killer plants and collecting boxes. The level is a near perfect remaster of the original game, merely giving it a graphical facelift while keeping true to the original mechanics and move set. Surprisingly, the level showcase was met with complaints from fans, who felt that the graphics were somehow ‘off’, or that it just ‘wasn’t the same’. The same gamers that gave rise to the remaster didn’t want anything new, they wanted a carbon copy of the same Crash Bandicoot they played as children. It seems that any innovation or deviation from the exact polygons and textures of the original game will be met with disdain and in many cases, anger. If you’ll pardon the pun, it all seems a bit N. Sane.

In many ways, the N. Sane Trilogy feels like a step back for the gaming industry, and a return to the simplicity of 3D platformers could have been achieved with much more panache than is currently being showcased by Activision with its remastered trilogy. One recent example would be Yooka-Laylee, from Playtonic Games, a charming 3D platformer that utilises the spirit of Banjo-Kazooie to create a whole new world with delightfully cute characters. While the game plays on the classic nostalgia of gamers, it offers something new and exciting, innovating a genre that has long since passed its peak popularity. Combining gorgeous new graphics and a vast open world with neat platformer gameplay, Yooka-Laylee is an original property that has gained much attention for its originality and fun, building on classic gameplay mechanics and adding in a whole lot of charm. The recent Ratchet and Clank reboot was another example of classic nostalgia done right, but one that used its classic characters and inherent charm to form an entirely new and original narrative. The N. Sane Trilogy offers something completely different – a tired re-tread through paths already taken, with only the barest lick of paint to differentiate it from the original.

If the game industry continues to be stuck in the past, with such a focus on remasters and reboots, the creativity of the industry will wane quickly, and with little aplomb. It’s rare that a new franchise will reach the heights of what came before, simply because gamers are so cautious and bidden to fall back on what they’re used to. It’s for this reason that many new and exciting franchises fail, because people aren’t willing to take a chance on something different. The success of the recently released Horizon: Zero Dawn is an exception to the rule, garnering much praise and hopefully launching a stellar franchise sometime in the future. But more often than not, new properties fail due to a lack of support or faith in the game. Developers are quick to be discouraged by lowered sales, and thus turn more towards guaranteed profits in the forms of reboots, sequels or remasters, beginning a vicious cycle. The games industry thrives on creativity, but there’s a worrying trend away from new and innovative gameplay, as the same tired tropes are wheeled out again and again to differing effects.

One possible reason for the rise of nostalgia gaming is that the video games of the modern age have become increasingly complicated, with almost unfathomably deep wells of content to explore. Games like Skyrim can be explored for hundreds of hours, keeping gamers immersed in their worlds through various quest and sidequests, as well as through collectibles and unlockables. The rising popularity of returns to classic, simplistic platformers could very well be a reaction to this growth, as gamers look to easy, more linear games to complete. Games of the past often seem simpler, and so gamers may turn away from the more complex games of the modern era. Another problem that is often brought up is a lack of challenge within modern games, with players looking to the infinitely more challenging levels of game like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon or even the Gex franchise to compare the state of games now to the state of games then.

Nostalgia can be a fickle friend, colouring memories and giving you entirely false impressions of the games you played as a child. Many forget that the reason Crash Bandicoot hasn’t been seen since 2010 is thanks to a slew of terrible and underwhelming games in the franchise, each of which sunk the series a little bit further. While the original trilogy stand as great games in their own right, they represent a triumphant series that has long since bit the dust. Not only that, but development of the game is being overseen by Vicarious Visions, a company that had no input into the original games. Being forced to re-create a series of games from nineties from the ground up is a daunting task for any developer, but the volume of staff needed for such a project means that a large portion of Vicarious Visions’ creative output was stifled by working on the Crash Bandicoot trilogy. Energy and resources had to be dedicated to building a game that technically already existed, minus several millions of polygons or so.

The unfortunate fact is that while there’s money to be made, the games industry will continue to be built off the backs of sequels, reboots and remasters. With falling profits, and an increasing need for microtransactions to keep games developers afloat, expect the industry to be flooded with more of the same in years to come. With classic video game nostalgia at an all-time high, it’s no wonder gamers keep coming back for more. The N. Sane Trilogy no doubt will do well, but it’s an unfortunate fact that it will only contribute to the death of creativity in the games industry.

The N. Sane Trilogy releases June 30th on Playstation 4. How do you feel about reboots, remasters and sequels? Tell us about it on Twitter or Facebook!