Retro never got resurrected

According to an interview of sorts, Nintendo won’t be releasing a new Mario game this year. It’s not like the recent Mario titles have sold all too well, so this is nothing new.

However, the main thing here is the retro revival thing. The Ultimate NES Remix is essentially a minigame collection based on existing franchises. The game itself isn’t anything notable, but it has a popularity for a reason. It does indeed carry loads of games that we’ve seen having an impact.

Retro gaming never went anywhere. These simple games with enough depth may have become overshadowed by the large scale computer games with the mixed pollution of the platforms, but even then you always had the exact kinds of games people usually consider retro on our machines. The non-linear adventure games you saw in Metroid and Space Hunter still exist from major developers and publishers, one of the latest being TMNT: Danger of the Ooze, which according to a friend is a worthwhile game. Then you had the 2D Mario games, though we can agree that the term ‘new’ is not more or less expired at this point. The New Mario Bros. series was pretty successful with its first two iterations on the DS and Wii, but even then we all can agree that the Wii game sold mostly because they brought back the Koolapings. That revelation alone sold a thousand copies or so.

This is tooting the same horn again, with the exact same song to boot, but looking at the success of the Mario franchise we see a division between the Modern Mario, ie. 3D games and the retro style Mario titles or he 2D games. It’s no secret that the developers at Nintendo prefer the 3D Mario. This is even reflected in the interview, where it is said that the devs have fun experimenting with them. While I have nothing against experimentation and fun, but it tells a lot how projects they themselves found fun are getting greenlit. Work is not always fun, and games like New Super Mario Bros. for the DS, or Super Mario Bros. in itself, were results of a need to create a successful product. Miyamoto himself stated few years back how 2D Mario takes more work to develop, and that reflects well on the mindset at Nintendo; these projects needs to be fun to work with, to hell with the end quality.

The comparison between release gaps of different franchises is nothing new. While Smash Bros. could use more frequent releases, the fact that Sakurai himself doesn’t want to work with the franchise keeps them being made. That, and comparing release gaps between Mario and Pikmin 3 is easy to notice; Pikmin games have never been all that popular. It’s worrisome that the teams focus on recreating gameplay experience rather than concentrating on how to beat the previous ones, or how to trump the existing ideas rather than inject new ones. Adding content and making previous instalments obsolete are two different things, and the latter of the two is what would serve the industry, and the customer, far better. Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2, or the Lost Levels, is a prime example of rehash in that everything was recycled from last game with some new ideas introduced. It’s far from a good sequel, and Super Mario Bros. 2 the West got is far superior game. It didn’t just recreate the gameplay, it made it something more and new ideas were not just introduced, but made better and built so that the whole thing would house a game that would made the previous game look like a chump. And it did!

Retro and old-school gaming never died, despite the powers that may be want you to believe otherwise. Indie developers had very little hand in any sort of revival, because there was no revival. Retro gaming, as the overall population usually understand it, is about playing the old consoles and the old games. Their revival would mean these would be resurrected, but it’s hard to resurrect anything alive. Mega Man franchise had those 2D games going on well into the 2000s, albeit with low quality titles.

If we call a game like Donkey Kong Country Returns a retro game, then where is the imaginary line between modern and retro? Is it the 3D revolution? If so, then Donkey Kong Country was released after the eve of Virtua Fighter. Some could argue that the PlayStation is the signal line, but the release dates between DKC and PSOne is less than a month.

If we tie retro to describe the overall most common type of game during the NES and SNES era, then what does it make the older eras? Or the next ones? Currently the cinematic gameplay is taking over, or has taken over depending from who you ask. Before that we had the overabundance of 3D environments, and before that FMV games. Or do we simply put all pre-1995 games into one category without even understanding their significance? You don’t see people commenting on Atari era, or how it was claimed that Nintendo has been doomed since around 1988. There is much to learn from the past, and I’m afraid simply recreation of gameplay with new ideas will not cut it.

Why would you want to release games that are sometimes on lesser level than their predecessors?

No developer will put their effort in giving past successes proper treatments. For Nintendo it is because they simply refuse to do so. You will not see a new 2D Metroid on Wii U or its successor. They never gave it to Mario either, you only got budget looking titles with that wah wah sounds instead of proper music. If a new 2D Metroid would come, it’ll be an title on a handheld with tight budget going against a 3D iteration on a home console, much like how Fusion and Prime tackled each other, and in the end Prime won. After that we got Other M, which showed how Nintendo doesn’t even get their own franchises. Kirby games have been doomed to be easy pieces of yarn and mediocrity, but then again that’s what Kirby games have been most of the time. F-Zero wasn’t successful either in 3D or in 2D, and even Miyamoto asks why people would want a new game that doesn’t sell. Same with Mario Kart. It seems we’ve all forgotten about 2D Mario Kart.

Some would argue that for Zelda too. Aonuma’s 3D puzzle Zelda took over, despite the classical Action RPG having more audience.

Steam developers follow in same suit, where their games are stuck to faux-pixel graphics and repeating certain gameplay cycles over and over. These game may have passion, but what does passion do for the game if the developer lacks ambition? It’s nothing but pretension to see a game being released that chooses to replicate gameplay that the developer is fan of, rather than to see the developer pushing forwards. Looking back to learn from mistakes and successes is the right thing to do, but after that your gaze should be turned to the future. Then, realize whatever visions you see in there.

3 thoughts on “Retro never got resurrected

  1. Do you think that the wide array of 3rd party “retro” style games available (often for cheap or free) on PC have an effect on dampening the sales bigger brand games from companies like Nintendo?

  2. I wouldn’t say so. Whenever a game advertises that it is inspired by something or is developed in lieu of more famous game, it just turns out to be a hollow product that often makes the people turning for the ‘real’ game, if you will. Sometimes a third party developer may manage to hit a niche market and is able to create a cult following. For example, La-Mulana, niche as it is, has a cult following, but that really can’t diminish any sales from Metroid as Nintendo isn’t making any Metroid titles. This applies even more to F-Zero, as any third party title can’t steal sales from a non-existing product.

    It’s also a sad fact that certain franchises have essentially killed their competition to a large extent. Metal Gear games are almost the only sneaking game produced anymore, for example. Smaller third party companies simply can’t compete with the amount of money and time large companies can put into their products and their ad campaigns.
    The Steam sales don’t help in this. While the customer may think it’s awesome he can get dozens of games with few bucks, in reality this leaves the developer with little to no gain. Just like the rising price of games doesn’t bode well, these sales have made any game a common commodity with no value.

    However, one thing we need to remember; these third party “retro” games have to compete with the games that have been released on the online stores otherwise, Wii U’s VC having the likes of Super Mario Bros. games, Mega Man titles, Castlevanias and the Legend of Zelda.

    It’s more likely that these titles have no effect on consoles. An avid Steam user, who refuses to purchase products outside Steam itself, would not be purchasing a Nintendo product anyway, so that’s not a loss of sale. However, games have a freedom to be unique to a large extent.

    Would a third party “retro” game detract or dampen the sales of a new 3D Mario game? It wouldn’t, unless the game would aim for the same market audience and have similar quality within similar release time frame. Still, much like how smartphone games do not siphon handheld market or vice versa, the PC market doesn’t usually cross with the console market. There are those who own all and any systems under the sun and simply purchase everything and anything.

    But what dampens more these brand sales is Nintendo itself, by producing more games like Kirby Epic Yarn or Majora’s Mask and less like Kirby’s Adventure or The Legend of Zelda.

  3. I don’t mind 3D puzzle Zelda but damned if I despise too simple a combat system, which is part of the reason Skyward Sword annoyed me. Yes yes fancy sword controls but the combat is the same damn thing for 40 hours and it has a skill ceiling of 3 feet.

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