I was sixteen years old at some point, believe it or not. It was a pretty long time ago, full disclosure. But when I turned sixteen years old, the year was 1996. That year, a couple of special things happened. In September of that year, Nintendo released the N64 in the United States. It was awesome, and I’m sure you already know that and have lost friends over GoldenEye.
The other life changing event for me in 1996 was the release of the Pantera record, The Great Southern Trendkill. I’ll get back to the N64 in a second. Let me try to relate the awesomeness for you here. Pre-1996, I was a grunge kid, I had the greasy hair and the flannel shirts and the Nirvana t-shirts and the whole thing. Life was pretty simple and yet angsty, very angsty – and then The Great Southern Trendkill came out.
Anyone who has heard that record knows that the first track is the heaviest thing ever recorded in the history of recorded heavy things, as good ol’ Uncle Phil starts you out with the most brutal metal scream ever. Well, maybe not ever; I haven’t listened to every brutal scream that has ever happened, so my sample set may be limited.
So we have Trendkill and N64 happening in 1996. I’m killing dudes in GoldenEye while listening to Drag The Waters, I’m smoking fools in Mario Kart while listening to War Nerve, and I’m owning cats in Mario Party to Suicide Note Part II. It was a simpler time. Ah, nostalgia – but wait a minute.
Nostalgia is only as good as your memories, right? I mean, everything in the past can’t possibly be as good as we remember it, right? I’m sitting here now, listening to Trendkill and absorbing Uncle Phil screaming “The trend is dead! The trend is over!” Why does this mean anything?
There are certain trends in gaming that are throwback to some antiquated, nostalgic ideas that we have, and you know what? Some of them are crap, and I wish they’d go away. The trend is dead. The one that bothers me most is this throwback, 8-bit graphic thing. I currently game mostly on an iPad, an iPhone, and an Xbox 360.
The latest gaming platforms have an unbelievable degree of processing power. Their graphical prowess is unbelievable to me, anyway. I grew up through the 8-bit, 16-bit, and the inevitable 3D boom of console gaming. Yeah, the N64 was like freaking Skynet when it came out. The Dreamcast (still my favorite console ever) blew away everything, and then Sony decided that making TVs and Walkmen wasn’t enough to control my life. Then Microsoft entered the game with the first Xbox.
Now with each console iteration, the limits of reality in gaming were pushed further and further, as well it should be. I enjoy a realistic gaming experience. I want someone to walk in the room while I’m playing NHL ’14 and say, ‘I didn’t know we played tonight.’
With all of that said, there seems to be a huge trend for developers to go back to the antiquated look of old consoles. Which, from an artistic point of view, I suppose is ok, but I think it’s getting out of hand. I want developers to push my console to the point where it’s smoking and making horrendous noises, confusing my cat and worrying the hell out of me.
I have had some good debates with friends about the merits of gaming, which I’ll probably write about in detail some other time, but my go to point is always the same: games are now art. Games are now full on experiences. Games are now alternate reality moments that can be fully enjoyed and manipulated. Sure, Donkey Kong was probably art when it first came out, but can you compare the artistic merit of Kong to something like The Last Of Us or Alan Wake?
This is why I am compelled to avoid this cute little trend of throwback, 8-bit nonsense. It’s like Porsche releasing a nostalgic 911 but governing the engine at 60mph. All the potential of modern technology just to personify something we have achieved past decades ago. Shouldn’t we always push forward in the hopes of progress?
That’s not to say there is no merit in nostalgia, that’s not what I’m saying here. A good example is the new resurgence of platform gaming, a seemingly antiquated form in a gaming generation that prides itself on three dimensions. Little Big Planet is a masterpiece, and the new generation of Rayman is also incredible. But in these examples, the developers have taken a familiar, halcyon gaming experience and utilized the extent of the current generation’s technology in order to make it a new thing.
Three dimensional renders in a 2D environment with the familiar jump-punch-swing-die a ton of times formula. Brilliant. These games could have easily crossed the nostalgia line by being needlessly obvious in there approach with the 8-bit graphics. But they didn’t. They maintain the throwback feel without abandoning the fervent balls of the most recent technology. That’s creative, that’s smart, and that’s the way to continue to create gaming art.
The trend is dead, or at least it ought to be. When I drop five c-notes on a new console, or even sixty bones on a game, I kind of want it to push the limits of what has already been released. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a sequel and remake hater, as some people tend to be. Some remakes are incredible. (See also; A Fist Full Of Dollars, remake of the masterpiece Yojimbo. Both fantastic films.) Some sequels are nearly as good as the original. (See also; Aliens, though Alien is a better movie.) But that’s a different topic, and I think I forgot to take my pills today.
Technology advances because it has to, and it has to because we (the artist or the consumer) demand it to. How can we demand more advanced tech when we are satisfied with recycled, antiquated ideas? Can we stop this throwback 8-bit thing? Please? Sure, Tiny Death Star was kind of awesome, but let’s try to demand more. We’re not jerks for demanding the value of our $400 iPads and $500 consoles and $60 games, are we? Maybe a little, but jerk is my natural, baseline state.
I suppose that there’s always a sacrifice, though, as games with less graphical design can have more content and be longer. So I suppose the question then becomes, am I as a gamer willing to sacrifice some length, or sacrifice more money, for a game that looks better? I think I am. Then again, hasn’t Fallout 3, and Skyrim, and Grand Theft Auto, and Castlevania Lords Of Shadow proved that it is possible to eat your cake and have it to (which is actually the proper way to say that often misquoted phrase)?
The trend is over. There are a lot of irritating trends in gaming, but this is one that really gets my goat. What it does with my goat afterwards is none of my business. There are some good trends, contrary to Uncle Phil’s position on the matter. Regenerative health as perfected by Halo, is one of them, while customizable everything is another good one. Yeah, that sombrero doesn’t do much for your character’s stats, but damnit it’s awesome and I will do seventy side missions to unlock it.
Maybe I’m a curmudgeon, except by maybe I mean definitely. Strangely, as a gamer raised in the 80’s, I should be the target demographic for this 8-bit throwback trend. For some reason, I’m not interested. It’s fun for a little while, I suppose – even Angry Birds goes full on. I had a full, enriching life of 8-bit games. I’m over it. I enjoyed every minute of it, to be sure, but I’m done with it. If I want to do a Duck Tails run through on my Nintendo, I’ll dust it off.
Or more accurately, if I want to pull my hair out in a frustrating attempt to beat Friday The 13th, I’ll fire up the old Nintendo. Full disclosure, I’ve never beaten Friday The 13th. A sad admission, I know. That’s better nostalgia to me than something new that tries to feel as if it’s not, but it kind of is, sort of.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of, and should not be attributed to, Niche Gamer as an organization.