Sunday, January 4, 2009

Good Old Games

Nearly everyone reading this will most likely agree with this statement: the use of monochrome BROWN & BLOOM graphics is probably the most annoying popular trend of modern videogames. The SECOND most annoying one, however, doesn't get criticized nearly as much, even though the way things are heading right now, it might just become a massive hurdle for the constant improvement of gaming as a whole. In fact, the majority of the gaming public actively promotes it. By now, you probably know what I'm talking about: nostalgia.

In this case, nostalgia is the unique and near-orgasmic pleasure that some gamers get from being reminded of their childhoods. It's got nothing to do with the time they spent outside playing hopscotch, kicking puppies or whatever it is that normal, well adjusted children do at a very young age (I DON'T FUCKING KNOW EITHER, SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME WITH THIS ONE). HELL no. It's always related to the time they spent in front of their TVs (or PC monitors, assuming they were truly hardcore) jumping on koopas, blasting away robot masters or watching a sprite-based strip show.

The Wii is a perfect example of this. Most owners of Nintendo's latest "innovative" creation are either children, nostalgia-obsessed neckbeard-bearers or a mix of the two (children who try to come off as OLDSKOOL gamers - fake, glued-on neckbeards are optional, although they certainly help a great deal), and developers are visibly taking advantage of that. Most Wii games that aren't shovelware like WiiFit and the timeless classic Party Babyz seem to be based around, or at least partially fueled by, nostalgia. You have the Wii virtual console, one of the system's main selling points and basically a way to play old games after selling your old systems without feeling guilty. After all, you wouldn't steal a car. WOULD YOU?!

There's Super Paper Mario, a game where your invincibility sprite is a gigantic 8-bit Mario, ripped straight from the old NES game. This might seem like a cop-out to avoid animating something new, but to the average nostlagic gamer, it's all about the beautiful symbolism. It represents the long-gone days of true gaming when we, as children, and even our beloved video game protagonists felt truly *invincible*. Young, innocent and untouched by life's hardships. Nintendo fans don't view these decisions as mere laziness: they think of it as proof that *Nintendo loves them*.

It's not just SPM; Every Mario game since the original trilogy has been filled with pointless and irrelevant masturbatory tributes to its past successes. The "Mario turns into an 8-bit sprite" concept, for instance, was used in nearly every Mario RPG to date - only in those games (which, coincidentally, Nintendo had very little to do with), it was just a clever little easter egg and not an integral part of the gameplay. Even games that mix "old school" elements with actual creativity and attempt to bring old franchises to modern standards, like the superlative Bionic Commando: Rearmed and the Super Smash Bros. series, suffer from certain Nostalgia-related flaws.

Mario Galaxy, while certainly a very polished and well done game, still suffers from this. As soon as it was announced, I predicted it would turn out to be be "Mario 64 in space". Guess what? I was right. After boasting about Mario 128, the next step for the Mario series, nay, for GAMING ITSELF for years on end and attempting to start a pointless rivalry with Pokemon creator and co-worker Satoshi Tajiri, Shigeru Miyamoto released a game that, while admittedly fun and filled with clever level design ideas, is STILL just Mario 64 all over again. Despite the game's galaxy theme which might suggest an open-ended environment, you are still bound to a hub area which leads to a number of enclosed environments. You still have to collect 120 stars. You still get to play nostalgic bonus stages like in Super Mario Sunshine, complete with 8-bit Mario screenshots in the background and some remixes of old Mario songs which sound like something an Ocremix user crapped out while going through a particularly bad hangover. The original tracks in the game are nothing short of brilliant, so why didn't Nintendo's music team put a little bit more effort into their work instead of resorting to nostalgia-based filler?

Don't get me wrong - Super Mario Galaxy is a GREAT GAME. Though honestly, it could've been so much more if it weren't for Nintendo's tendency to latch on to nostalgia. Same goes for the latest major Zelda game, Twilight Princess, which is basically a fanservice game aimed at people who simply wanted to play yet another Ocarina of Time. While being a flawed game in the end, Wind Waker was a great addition to the Zelda series and certainly a step in a new and interesting direction. Sadly, most of the gaming public didn't think of it as a step in the *right* direction, so the only followup s to Wind Waker were minor and not particularly noteworthy portable releases.

Megaman 9 is nostalgia in game form and it was met with ridiculous amounts of praise. Capcom treated the entire project like a joke; nothing more than a parody of their older games, complete with badly drawn and painfully cheesy cover art and *an option to turn on NES-style graphical glitches*. Instead of being annoyed by the fact that the latest entry in their favorite series was turned into a parody of NES gaming as a whole, Megaman fans treated it like a labor of love aimed at hardcore gamers. Street Fighter 4 looks more like Street Fighter 2: 3D Mix than a real sequel to the incredibly awesome Street Fighter 3 - the only original characters are throwaways from some of Capcom's worst character designers. Most new franchises are mediocre, and whenever a competent developer tries to take an old series or genres to a new and interesting direction while taking advantage of current-gen systems, old fans bitch and whine. Every time someone buys a copy of a Bethesda RPG or The World Ends With You, Gary Gygax's corpse sheds a small tear of blood, for true role playing has finally been slaughtered by money-hungry developers and their urge to ruin the once-sacred role-playing genre with blasphemous, newfangled bullshit.

To this day, I still haven't managed to figure out how the mind of the average nostalgic gamer works. The original Super Mario Bros. was the second video game I ever played, and I loved the hell out of it. I still think it was a competent platformer for its time, but I don't really want to play it again. I certainly don't want to PAY for it again, and I don't want to see screenshots of it or hear its music in any of my recent Mario games. Commander Keen and the first two Duke Nukem games were some of my first PC games ever and I played them for hours back in the day. Looking back at them, they weren't even good for their time: they were clunky, the scrolling was painful to look at and the gameplay was extremely simplistic, even compared to some 80s NES games. Wanting to return to those times just because taking advantage of modern hardware originally led to a lot of generic brown & bloom FPS games is like if humanity stopped using fire altogether after finding out that touching it hurts. Every console generation so far has had its ups and downs, and there is really no reason to try and go back to the gaming stone age. I'm certainly looking forward to future game releases, and I really hope nostalgic hardcore wannabes aren't a large enough demographic to significantly stagnate the industry.

It's time for gaming to move on, so drop that NES controller, take off that diaper and try to support the tiny bit of creativity and innovation we're actually getting right now.

2 Comments:

At January 11, 2009 at 2:29 PM , Blogger Larry "Liontamer" Oji said...

"You still get to play nostalgic bonus stages like in Super Mario Sunshine, complete with 8-bit Mario screenshots in the background and some remixes of old Mario songs which sound like something an Ocremix user crapped out while going through a particularly bad hangover."

Some (not most) of our older material doesn't age well, but it's a part of our community's history, so we're proud of it just the same.

Nowadays, our music standards are pretty high:
http://www.ocremix.org/remix/OCR01517/
http://www.ocremix.org/remix/OCR01599/

Get with the program and stay up to date with our music:
http://www.ocremix.org/torrents/
http://twitter.com/ocremix

Larry "Liontamer" Oji
Assistant Soundtrack Director, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix
Head Submissions Evaluator, OverClocked ReMix - http://www.ocremix.org
Creator, VG Frequency - http://www.vgfrequency.com
Staff, VGMdb - http://www.vgmdb.net

 
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