After letting us wheeze through an agonisingly dry summer, Nintendo recently decided to suddenly offer up a veritable smorgasbord of treats. This included the new 3DS instalment of the iconic Super Smash Bros series, the surprisingly expansive handheld RPG Fantasy Life, and a new New Nintendo 3DS that’s totally new, guys.
It was almost too much new for my pixel-addled mind to handle – let alone my Steam-taxed wallet. After a minor blackout, I woke up scrabbling through piles of my physical game copies with the single-minded determination of taking all of my older versions of games down to my local trade-in store in order to raise some cash.
I made it halfway out of the door before I looked down at the now utterly outdated pile of DS and PS2 games with a sudden clarity. I was long past bored of the newer versions of some of these games – I didn’t want to trade the old ones in, I wanted to rediscover why I’d loved them in the first place.
Why do we always go back to older versions of games? The graphics are always a downgrade, the gameplay is often more laborious and less honed, and some of the antecedents in certain series’ handle like a bag of dicks (looking at you, Resident Evil 4). Nonetheless, the cries of the fanboys echo through voxelated ravines as they clamour for the days of vanilla Minecraft or World of Warcraft.
Clearly, nostalgia is one of the main factors. There’s nothing quite like booting up Ye Olde Mortale Kombat or Animal Crossinge and getting punched right in the childhood. The screen looks like something created by a Parkinson’s sufferer using MS Paint and the high-frequency theme is perforating your eardrums, but just to be back in this technically inferior version of the series is a pleasure.
I say technically inferior because, in the case of the video game series, sometimes less truly is more. The nature of video game series evolution is to find the next step up from a predecessor, offering players a richer experience whilst retaining the magic of what made the series so successful to begin with. Unfortunately for endeavouring devs, what often makes a game enjoyable is the rage-inducing challenge that it offers – a quality which sometimes mysteriously disappears during the evolution of a game series.
Instead of magnifying the same level and joy of difficulty under a new and relevant lens, the next game in any given series often hands you a pair of novelty glasses with drinking straws and fans attached, claiming revolutionary mechanics and endless replay value. Yes, shiny gimmicks are interesting for a good twenty minutes of gameplay, but after a few hours they start to obstruct your view of the game.
Personally, I’d much rather that devs didn’t add in any new mechanics at all if they’re simply tacked on for the sake of plugging that “NEW!” tagline. A fan of the series is often just looking for more of the same gameplay, and extensions on an existing game have to be legitimate, believable and convincing rather than just new. These are culture-making game series – the obsessive focus on overhauling them for a new market is watering down the good vintage.
Super Metroid is about the best chance you’ve got of getting that scotchy scotch scotch down into your belly. It’s a rare example of how a game series was left to properly mature, bringing relevant revelations to the series and delighting Metroid fans looking for more complex gameplay. Fast-forward 16 years to Metroid: Other M, however, and connoisseurs were made to immediately regret their decision. Made to swallow a commercially watered-down Samus Aran, us spluttering fans returned to the discs of old in droves.
The unforgivable butchering of Samus’ character aside, it’s admittedly understandable why younger siblings of game series are geared more towards a wider and perhaps less knowledgeable consumer base. Whilst the original Legend of Zelda’s main draw was all about working the game’s secrets out on your own (or your nerdy friend’s) merit, Ocarina of Time thrust Navi upon us, supposedly in an effort to help
cretins children put one bloody foot in front of the other. Hand-holding is certainly useful for younger players who might need direction in some of the trickier parts of the game, but the extremity of it is mind-boggling at some points.
Even a child will be able to play a game without a tutorial as long as it is well-designed – us older gamers know this from our days on the SNES. Gone are the golden days of conveyance in Zelda: the glowing blue ball of adorable fascism reigns supreme.
Paradoxically, less really seems to be more when it comes to developing a video game series, and devs are slowly realising it. A Link Between Worlds made a marked return to the Zelda series’ 2D roots whilst offering new and convincing game mechanics. The preservation of a game’s past triumphs, and making them applicable to a new market, could be the crux of a non-gimmicky newness that everyone could get excited about.
Until then, I won’t be trading in my copies of Animal Crossing: Wild World and Mortal Kombat: Deception for cash towards new games. If the game devs won’t preserve their essence, maybe I should. In the face of so much new, maybe we should hang on to the old.