I’ve been on a massive retro gaming kick since we moved into our new house. Modern games simply haven’t had as much appeal for me recently! I’m finding so much to love about older titles. And I keep being delighted that classic games I play for the first time (like Rocket Knight Adventures on the Genesis) hold up astonishingly well. Which got me thinking: why is retro gaming so popular to this day?
Of course, “childhood nostalgia” is a huge factor-recapturing the memories and sentiments of games we loved when we were younger. But I think the appeal of retro gaming goes beyond just nostalgia. As a gamer of more than 30 years, these are my thoughts and opinions on why I believe retro gaming will forever be popular. Please keep in mind that I’m *mostly* referring to cartridge-based retro games in this post!
The ritual of starting a game
I understand that digital games are easier to access and play, and in general a far more practical option. There’s certainly a case to be made for playing and preserving games that way! But with physical retro games, there’s so much “ritual” involved that’s really enjoyable. Opening the box (either the original or a repro from Custom Game Cases) and taking out the cart. Hearing the satisfying “pop” when you place the cartridge in the console. Clicking that power button on to immediately be taken to the game without a lot of fanfare or load screens. And playing it with an authentic (and often superior) controller!
Just seeing the logo screen and chime come up (such as the “Capcom” logo when I boot up Mega Man X) gives me an instant rush of endorphins. So much joy over so small a thing!
I also like to display the box close by when playing a game (a ritual I stole from my good friend Kamal). I’m a huge fan of box art (especially from classic consoles like the N64) and it really adds to the experience. If it’s a game I haven’t played in some time (or at all!) I’ll flip through the manual as well. Manuals are often brilliant works of art, full of extra sketches and witty references relevant to their time. I really miss their inclusion in game boxes.
As a bonus, the random inserts that often came with older games are a lot of fun to rediscover too!
Short and sweet
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that being an adult can be pretty rough. So many additional stresses, so little precious free time, and only a fraction of that to spend on gaming. So why is retro gaming especially popular with older gamers who have families? Because we can get a high quality gaming experience in a short period of time! I can pop in a game like Streets of Rage 2 or Super Mario World and tear through most of it in less than an hour, enjoying every second of it. All while experiencing those sweet old school graphics and soundtrack!
There’s a hard-to-fully-describe charm to retro game graphics. Maybe it’s the simplicity. The colors. The care that went into them. They’re just lovely! I mean, the 16-bit era might be the most graphically beautiful era of gaming. Yeah, I said it! Just try playing the Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis using high quality component cables (such as HD Retrovision-use coupon code “THECHOZOPROJECT” and save 10%!) and tell me it’s not a religious experience.
Sometimes I think older sprite graphics are only appealing to “grown up gamers”. But then I see the massive success of games like Stardew Valley and Hollow Knight across all age groups and think about how universal they really are!
Even early 3D games have their charm, crude and pointy as they are. I recently played through Parasite Eve on the PS1 for the first time and was blown away by the (concisely told) storyline, characters, and innovative battle system. The CGI cutscenes were still genuinely impressive-and horrifying.
No updates or downloads
Getting a modern game on launch day is much more tedious experience. You’ll often need to set aside several extra hours to allow day one patches to download to fix the multitude of bugs. I understand that’s often necessary with the insane complexity of big AAA titles, but it dampens the experience of first playing a bit. Games are sometimes even released in a fairly broken state with the promise of “fixes” to come. What the hell is this? With retro games, you bring a game home from the store, pop it in, turn on the power, and start your epic, well-crafted adventure!
The simplicity of play with retro games is both very nostalgic and very soothing in the complexity of today’s world. I miss it.
Right to the action
One could argue that some old school games were punishingly difficult and didn’t bother to teach you mechanics. I completely understand that, and it holds true for many titles. But now a lot of game design has overcorrected. Too many games have bloated and tedious tutorials that often take hours (and hours!) to complete before getting to “the good stuff”. Not the case with the best retro games! Stellar game design teaches you the mechanics using the gameplay itself, like the early parts of Mega Man X and Link to the Past.
Some of the best indie titles today take the same approach, and it’s a big reason they have such acclaim. Hopefully we’ll see the scene continue to thrive and keep the retro vibe alive!
It’s not all retro
It might sound like I loathe all modern games. I truly don’t. I love my Nintendo Switch and quite a few series on both Playstation and XBox. But modern games just aren’t quite the same, and probably never will be. Why is retro gaming so popular? Because it offers a unique, nostalgic, comforting, simple, and most importantly, joyous experience that’s tough to replicate.
In your opinion, why is retro gaming so popular? Or do you disagree and think it’s just a matter of time before this bubble “bursts”? Let me know in the comments below!