Retro games are one of the biggest and perhaps most unexpected trends of the last few years. About £126m was spent on pre-owned games last year, a sharp rise, and Atari have just announced their first console in decades while Nintendo’s 2D Super Mario Maker was one of the best-selling games of 2015. Old consoles like the Mega Drive and the Nintendo NES sell quickly on eBay when you can find them and collectors say prices are rising faster than their budgets.
So what is fuelling this underground movement, pushing it into the mainstream? When modern consoles and PCs can achieve graphics at near-photographic quality, and virtual reality is actually reality, why are gamers looking for 8-bit quality and rogue-like mayhem?
Retro games aren’t made in easy mode
Modern games are made with huge budgets. These cinematic marvels with cut-scenes voiced by increasingly famous actors are all about the story. Whether they are theme park rides on rails like the Call of Duty series or “open world” RPGs like GTA V and Elder Scrolls, there is very little jeopardy for players. Moving from checkpoint to checkpoint means that a player might have a temporary setback but there’s very little at stake.
Retro games are hard. Three lives and that’s it – you’re back to the beginning. Advancing to the latter stages of a retro game is an achievement that gamers work hard to accomplish, trying to remember each hazard so that they can finally make it to the next, new part of the game. The nostalgia of doing this day after day as a kid is driving the retro revolution.
Sometimes longer isn’t necessarily better
Gameplay time is a thing. Every modern game title will have an estimated playthrough time, at least 20 hours but often much longer. Players are invited to work through the game, exploring side quests or gaining experience to make their character tougher, better equipped… it’s all a bit too much like work.
Sometimes it’s much more satisfying to have a quick pixel fix. Turn on the game, jump over things, get a power-up, try to get to the end of the level. Simplicity in a hand-held device. There’s no skills tree that needs to be googled, no guild politics to fret about, no array of weaponry to decipher.
Offline means escape
For anyone who does their work at a desk, everything is online. The quest for inbox zero, the advertisers tracking each movement online and the constant and growing threats of cyber attack make the online world a complicated and sometimes dangerous place to be. Going offline with a vintage hand-held Gameboy or a Sega Mega Drive means being in a place where online doesn’t exist. No viruses to worry about, no complaints in the chat box about other players hacking, no twitch-kiddie snipers with £10,000 rigs, no pay-to-win, no endless stream of DLC – the attractions of offline are obvious.
Mobile is king
The growth of smartphones means the growth of opportunities to play for a few minutes. And while the Clash of Clans and Farmvilles of mobile gaming have captured the public’s thumbs, if not their imaginations, there are countless copies of isometric time-sink games which have little more challenge than watching someone uncoil a spring.
Retro games, ported onto mobile devices or websites, are perfect for those 15-minute bus rides or time in the waiting room – and when you can get a little taste of being 15 years younger, so much the better.
There’s no doubt that retro games are here to stay – the retro market is growing and there are more and more ways of accessing that little nostalgia kick without becoming a collector or hobbyist. Websites like Dice, a new retro gaming site, offer a great way to experience the fun that you had when you were younger.