After decades of rapid improvement from pixelated side-scrollers to the technological marvels of today, gaming would always come to a point when players looked back and wanted to return to a simpler time. This time appears to be now as fatigue from today’s blockbuster experiences has settled in, with decades-old classics like Spyro popular once more while the trend of re-released “mini-consoles” continues.
Even throughout the years of advancements for games as an emerging medium, frequent remasters and loving homages like Yooka-Laylee have been obvious evidence of the demand for a return to form. The inevitable result is the current “retro revival” in which classic platformers such as Crash Bandicoot have been resurrected and given a modern makeover for the next generation of consoles. However, these remakes do more than simply make classic games prettier.
In the case of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, for example, the game has been brought to various new audiences who otherwise would not have access to it; what once was a PlayStation exclusive is now also playable on the Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and even PC in high definition, giving old, new, and potential fans the opportunity to play the game without restrictions. The remake also revealed consumers’ desire for older games and began the successful trend of redone classics seen now with Spyro Reignited and MediEvil — a trend that will surely continue to the benefit of fans and developers alike.
Similarly, Nintendo’s line of “mini-consoles” — smaller, cheaper versions of their iconic NES and SNES re-released with a selection of pre-installed games — has had the same positive effects. By modernising these systems, Nintendo is appealing to the adults who grew up with the originals and kids for whom Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda are timeless. Within weeks, both products quickly sold out and appeared later online for ludicrous prices, and naturally, Sony, Sega, and even Atari were soon to follow with their own iterations. This trend clearly indicates the present cultural phenomenon in which retro games are making a (profitable) return for the best.
As is with everything, however, these trends have downsides. Until now, companies have largely neglected fans of older games, which has forced them to port them to modern systems themselves through emulation. A community has therefore formed around sharing otherwise unplayable or restricted classics, but as remasters, remakes, and re-released systems become increasingly popular, the future of emulation is uncertain.
Often free, emulation software now treads more dangerous legal ground than ever before when emulators had a legitimate reason for existing. Though still illegal, “ROMs” (the software used to emulate games) preserve old game data, protecting it from physical degradation and allowing people to play classic games that, until now, were no longer being sold. Now, as those games are being legally distributed by their rightful trademark holders, emulation itself could be strictly defined as piracy — in fact, Nintendo has only recently shut down ROM distributors LoveROM.com and LoveRETRO.co with a harsh lawsuit resulting in a $12 million settlement. Such threats have already forced similar sites to stop all emulation activity, and one may not find it difficult to see emulation soon ending altogether.
Still, perhaps renewed interest in retro games will make emulation unnecessary anyway as developers continue to re-release those classic games and systems that fans love — a trend that can only be good for an industry always looking to the future.