Looking back: Nostalgia in the world of gaming

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When I was a kid, one Christmas my siblings and I received a can of beans. It was in a larger box, and to any child, a larger box means a better present — right? Well, besides the can of beans, there was also a note: the real present is in the upstairs closet. The can of beans was a decoy so we couldn’t figure out what was in the box (though I am a big fan of a good can of beans). Our Christmas gift was actually a Nintendo Wii. The Wii and the Nintendo DS are the two things that defined my childhood, as it was for many born in the early 2000s.

The Wii and DS had some of the best games I’ve ever played, but there’s no denying that nostalgia has something to do with that. For instance, I remember a game that I thought was a hidden gem in racing games: “Myth Makers: Super Kart GP.” It’s one of three games in the “Myth Makers” series, but the only one I ever played. I remember the game having some clunky controls, but still being so much fun.

As a kid, I spent hours playing this game with my siblings. After returning to it years later, I now know the game is actually kind of terrible. IGN (when they had quality reviews) gave it a 3.5/10, and I agree with all their criticisms. But I still can’t stop thinking about the good times I had with the game when I was younger.

Nostalgia undoubtedly plays a role in my taste in games today. “Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story” was one of the first role-playing games (RPGs) I played, and I have very fond memories of it despite getting stuck on one of the boss fights and never finishing the game. I didn’t play many RPGs beyond that and various “Pokémon” games, but my fond memories led to my love of the game today.

While nostalgia has been nothing but a good force for me, I feel like it hinders a lot of games for others. One of my favorite series, “Shin Megami Tensei” (SMT), received criticism for changes made after the third entry in the series. I didn’t play “SMT III: Nocturne,” until recently, but many people used their love for the game to criticize the next two entries in the series. While “SMT IV” and “SMT V” took the series into new directions (I loved both games, but for different reasons), people continued to compare them to their predecessor even though they are completely different experiences.

I think when people fuel themselves on nostalgia when playing a series they love, they’re almost always going to be disappointed. Studios should be innovative and I believe changing the formula from game to game in a series keeps things fresh; I don’t want games I remember loving to become stale because a developer is using stale ideas.

“Pokémon” is another series that is a victim of chronic nostalgia. My first experience with the franchise was “Pokémon SoulSilver,” which I still maintain is my favorite title in the franchise. Unlike many other series, “Pokémon” has touched generations of players, since its release in 1996 in Japan. There are countless flaws with the original games, yet many love them anyways. Even the newer games are influenced by this. I remember a lot of players disliking “Pokémon X/Y” in the years after it came out, and even though I enjoyed it, the game did have some flaws. Now, as we approach the 10th anniversary of Gen VI next year (I know, hard to believe), I see much more positive content for X and Y than ever before.

Many franchises take advantage of players’ nostalgia, especially shooter and sports series. For instance, game developer Infinity Ward announced the title of the next Call of Duty: “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.” Yes, this is the same name as the 2009 release but is instead the sequel to the Modern Warfare reboot from 2019. They seriously couldn’t come up with a better name to differentiate it? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed “Call of Duty” games when I was younger, but to me, this feels like the company is just feeding off the youth of its player base by recycling the same content from game to game, hoping to go unnoticed and charge $60 (and sometimes more).

This isn’t to say nostalgia is a bad thing within gaming. I remember great times with games that are pretty bad in hindsight. It’s similar to how you grow out of some things, like reading a book you loved as a child. The book was made for children, so it’s completely understandable if you don’t enjoy it when you’re older. As technology advances, players refine their tastes and continuously want better from developers. Though some games may have been revolutionary for their time, they simply can’t be held to the same standards as games produced today.