Nostalgia is a peculiar thing. Reconnecting with old games from our childhood sounds refreshing, even more so with the promise of updated graphics. But what was once held in high regard can be soured when revisited even when it has a fresh coat of paint. And while there can be exceptions to the rule, more often than not, these classic games suffer from being a product of their time. It is best to keep the rose-tinted glasses on rather than witnessing the flaws of a beloved classic.
For me, quarter-guzzling arcade games are the hardest to replay. Shortly after purchasing an Xbox 360, I was ecstatic to hear about the release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game on XBLA. The game had a soft spot in my heart because during school field trips to our local skating rink, this was one of the two games I spent all of my money playing since I didn’t know how to skate. I was incapable of finishing the game before running out of cash, so the ability to experience it again was thrilling. And experience it I did, but with less than remarkable results.
These same results arose during my time with subsequent XBLA/PSN games such as The Simpsons, an arcade game I loved playing in Wal-Mart as my mother was in the checkout line, and X-Men; another game that swallowed my quarters at Skateland, respectively. I realized that, without that fear of running out of lives, these games were not the same. That threat of losing all progress because I no longer had funds to feed the machine drove me as a child to an unhealthy obsession with these games. I had no reason to love these games because I could never get past level two or three, even with friends. Such games were developed with the mindset to rob you of as much coins as they could. And they had me hook line and sinker. As terrible as they were, these games were mysteries to many people simply because we could never finish them. Yet here they were, in all of their glory, with unlimited lives. The challenge was gone, and so was the love for these once cherished arcade games.
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a rising trend of releasing old arcade and Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) games with a stunning HD remake. My first foray into these games began with TMNT Turtles in Time Reshelled. But the drawback wasn’t just in the gameplay itself, it was also the updated graphics. The “reshelling” of the game gave it a beautiful radiant look that really stood out, but it also removed the charm that the old style presented. And with no ability to switch between graphics, the nostalgic factor was slightly dampened and had to be reinforced with the simplistic controls and multiplayer, which unfortunately for the latter, wasn’t well received as players couldn’t jump in and play but instead have to start at the very beginning.
There have been instances where HD games included extra content aside from better graphics. While not an arcade or NES game, Earthworm Jim HD surprised players with new levels, a new boss fight, and a multiplayer mode. I note this because the rest of the game was poorly regarded due to the advancements made in platformers since the game was released. Instead, the positivity from this game came mainly out of the cooperative multiplayer and not the game itself that people remembered it being. But Earthworm Jim HD did something that most remakes should do, and that’s not just rely on nostalgia, but also give added incentive to pick it up with extra inclusions such as new levels and a multiplayer mode.
Ducktales Remastered is the most recent example where expectations may not always live up to the finished product. Despite it’s mediocre to positive reviews from a number of people and sites, there was a sense of being underwhelmed. Like other remake examples, the game looks amazing but struggles to capture those who don’t mind the difficulty and outdated mechanics. But what is interesting is the adoration this game received when it was originally announced. Since it’s reveal back in March, fans have been craving this game. The craze grew with every bit of news that emerged from new music, returning voice actors, and new areas. The game was being set up to be disappointing due to the expectation behind it. And while the scores aren’t horrible, they certainly don’t match the hype that the game received.
This begs the question: does anything hurt the scores and sentiments towards these remakes more than hype? Certainly. As mentioned, most of these games have the uphill battle of surviving time. What worked over 20 years ago has evolved into something better and gamers expect more. When a game is remastered, “HD-ified”, or remade, there is a sense that the game should play better than it did in its original version. Some games have went that route, most notably Bionic Commando Rearmed, which received some of the highest praise for an NES remake. Price also factors into the enjoyment as well. Spending $10-$15 can be a bit much to play a 20 year old game with minimal improvements. Worse if the game is only 45 minutes to an hour long.
There isn’t anything wrong with wanting to see old games. They have their problems, but they also serve as a benchmark of what video games were like back when they were first released. The dissonance comes when they try to update the graphics to appear more current while leaving the gameplay as a broken component of a lesser realized time. One of the best things about PS1 classics and Virtual Console is that the customer knows what they are buying. They aren’t buying the promise of a better game that fulfills the same nostalgia; they are buying the exact product that created the nostalgia. There’s an understanding in place that the game you buy is old. It’s going to play old. And in turn, you may feel old playing it.
With Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse set as the next remake, anticipation needs to be realistic. People can’t play it with the same high hopes that they have with every new iteration of an old game. Like other aged titles, it will look great and play poorly. It will satisfy nostalgia while also making them question the validity of it. At some point down the road, the same discussion can be had with Nintendo 64 and PlayStation remakes (if they can’t already in some cases). Let this article be a reminder that it’s hard to go back to these games, but only in the sense of them “trying” to be new.