More Classic than Classic

I had a thought dawn on me a little while ago, one that’s been poking at me more and more as of late. It started out as more of a inkling than a thought; a feeling that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. As I’ve played more “throwback”-style games though, the more defined this inkling has become, and it finally hit me while I was playing Signalis the other day.

See, it and other throwback games like it are marketed as a return to the sorts of games we enjoyed in the 90’s. They’re supposed to share the same structures, design philosophies, mechanics and graphical fidelity that we remember growing up, and they do…mostly. We can sit down with these games, enjoy them and think “this is just like I remember!” except that’s not true.

If games like Signalis, Dusk, or Sonic Mania truly were exactly like the old games and nothing more, then they wouldn’t evoke that feeling. Rather, they play like our nostalgia-enhanced memories of those games do. They’re smoother; they work in modern enhancements where they make sense, and (most importantly) they lack most of the frustrations we conveniently forget about our old favorites.

These games are not true returns to classic form, but are instead recreations of what we think those games were. So, in a sense, these “throwbacks” are superior than the legendary classics that inspired them. Realizing this, I’m kind of hoping some new sub-genres develop out this, one’s that’ll bring forward an preserve the aspects of those old games that we love most.

Let’s actually take a closer look for a sec’ here. The crux of Sonic Mania’s marketing was that it was a true return to the series’ original 2D platformer form. It absolutely looked the part and felt as good as so many of us remember the originals feeling, but that’s only because of the new stuff it brought to the experience. Simply making new stages using Sonic 3’s base wouldn’t have been enough for Sonic Mania to see the raving success that it did; far from it. In all likelihood it would have been called a middling attempt to cash-in on nostalgia, and both fans and critics would have put SEGA on blast for not doing anything new.

New is what we got though, and it came in the form of enhanced visuals, new power-ups, new level settings, gameplay options and loads of new special events and ways for Sonic and the gang to get around each stage. This was almost completely new Sonic experience simply made to look as though it was a true and full return to the old ways. It certainly used those old ideas that fans loved, but only as a base for all the new innovations the dev team had come up with. Sonic Mania wasn’t a return to form, but rather something even better, and you could make a very strong argument that it’s now the pinnacle game of the series.

Then there’s Dusk, which again is every bit as fast and acrobatic as older gamers remember Quake being, but again, it wouldn’t be all that novel had Quake (and other older games like it), actually been that crazy. Quake and Unreal Tournament were absolutely fantastic games, so it’s no wonder someone would want to bring them back in some way, but had Dusk been released (somehow) back in that era of gaming, I’m thinking that it, not Quake would be what fans’d remember today.

I might say the same for Signalis too, but I haven’t played enough of it yet. I’m seeing a lot similarities though. It’s got the basic setup as its inspiration (the original Resident Evil games), including the limited inventory system. But already I’m seeing some modern innovations. Will it carry through to be a better “classic” than the game that inspired it? We’ll see, but signs are already good.

I guess this is all to say that there are a lot of outdated gameplay mechanics, design philosophies and art styles that I wish hadn’t been abandoned in the years since the PS1/N64/Dreamcast era. I’m not saying that I don’t understand why they were or that I don’t like much of what’s come since. It’s just that I think there were many cases of throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, and now there’s room for the best of it to finally start coming back in new, enhanced forms.

How do you feel about these sorts of throwback games? Would you like to see this trend continue?

Image from the Signalis Steam store page

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