Editorial / Why nostalgia is so important to me

For the past four years or so, one of my favourite pastimes has been booting up the latest iteration of the Gears of War, going online and entering the fray backed by a squad of friends. The games of today all seem to incorporate a similar theme, murky, muddy realism with high end, sometimes almost photo-realistic graphics that involve a lot of shooting. Now, I certainly do not have a problem with this. If I did, I couldn’t really justify owning an Xbox 360, as a considerable bulk of the catalogue of games consist of shooters.

However, as of late I find myself straying away from the modern titles in favour of something, well, older and to be quite honest, more familiar. Back then the platformers ruled the roost, Sony delivered to us rabid gamers a plethora of instantly memorable mascots such as Rayman, Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot, while Nintendo provided 3D incarnations of their much-loved franchises like Mario and Donkey Kong. Recently, playing up to date releases to me, feels dull and just a little bit shallow and lifeless. While I do thoroughly enjoy these new games and the addition of well implemented online play shall probably never grow old, there is something about the old generation of games, apparently long lost, that makes me want to play them more, but what is it?

First of all, the games offered an assortment of things rarely found in most modern releases. The first of these is longevity. Today, games will usually follow the trend of having a short but fast paced, high action ‘campaign’, catapulting the gamer through a sense elating series of quick time events, well structured and cinematic set pieces all in about five or six hours. They then offer you the chance to repeat the entire thing again on differing difficulty levels. No, the majority of longevity in today’s games stems from the multiplayer aspects and, while it is possible to waste hundreds of hours on multiplayer, it is not the same as following a quest to the very end and feeling a true sense of satisfaction at the end of it.

Full scale platformers such as Spyro the Dragon were games in which collecting was everything. They followed a template of sorts that involved tricky platform level design, amassing millions of collectables and defeating clever and interesting bosses. This amounted to very lengthy games and it is the common consensus today that games are certainly becoming shorter.

The next thing I feel games of today are missing that has made me delve back into nostalgia is the truly memorable characters. Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Rayman and Croc…even later platformers such as Sly Cooper have made an impact on the gamers. Having said this, some games today have brought with them characters that have become well known. On the side of Microsoft we have the likes of Master Chief and Marcus Fenix, whilst Sony has Kratos and Solid Snake (though even his game series is now entering the multiplatform format). With the exception of Solid Snake, forgive me for putting forth my opinion that none of these characters have really enticed me like the ones of old.

When I downloaded the original Sly Cooper game from the PlayStation Store a few weeks ago, I did so relive the characters I so fondly remembered. The same goes for the original Crash Bandicoot. After booting up the game, it found it so much more rewarding, even though I was playing a game I had completed six, seven if not more years ago. I remembered the heroes, the villains and the colourful and complex character designs that complimented them.

One other aspect of these old games that caused me to hark back to the days of succumbing to them and playing them for hours on end was the story and how the games themselves played, in essence, their style. Platformers are dwindling, which is extremely unfortunate. Why are these games disappearing? Is it that, as gaming as become a more mainstream and recognised event, the idea of a cartoon character wandering through a fantasy world has become somewhat taboo, as they are quickly replaced with the numerous CODs and FIFAs to appeal to the masses of today. It’s deemed ‘uncool’ then to run around as a moustachioed plumber trying to save a princess and yet, when released, the sales for these games speak for themselves. The style of these games has never left that of their predecessors and yet they sell, especially the Mario games, like hotcakes.

Expanding on the idea of style, the actual gameplay itself I found more satisfying. Things were simply harder to do, to accomplish and when you did accomplish something you truly felt you had earned it, rather than getting an ‘achievement’ or a ‘trophy’ simply for opening the start menu on some games. Games were harder back in the day and I believe that is why so many ‘achievements’ and ‘trophies’ in today’s games are awarded for easy tasks: there simply are not as many difficult tasks to complete. Going through Spyro the Dragon and collecting every gem, every orb or every talisman made for a far more rewarding experience. Not only this, but back when these games had characters with personality and individuality, it made for more memorable milestones. For example, the boss characters in the original Sly Cooper were all extremely unique and complete characters in their own ways and each battle was something I would remember to this day.

I would love to see all of these games return to their former glories simply because I think, a lot of the time, they are better games. Whereas companies these days churn out releases yearly with a few upgrades, games back then, such as the original trios of Crash and Spyro, also released yearly but as completely new games, with new stories to unfold and new worlds to explore. There is just something about Assassin’s Creed that, after now playing the fourth game in what feels like a very short time, is beginning to bore me, which I feel is a shame as I originally hugely enjoyed the series. I find it strange that after all this time as an avid gamer I have found myself reverting back to playing older games. It is for more than simple nostalgia, though that comes in waves anyway.

No, after revisiting these favourites of mine I truly think that in a lot of ways they are superior games. There is nothing that will ever match finally confronting that final boss after hours of collecting and slugging your way through levels and their cronies. There is nothing that will ever match the immense satisfaction of collecting the final talisman and really feeling a sense of achievement. This is why the nostalgia is so important to me. I grew up with a lot of these games during the late 90s and they truly represent some of the best of what gaming has to offer and by replaying them, I can ensure they don’t die. For me, anyway.