Classic Games Are Great, but is Nostalgia Stifling Innovation in Gaming?

By | 11 months ago 

Recent events like The Game Awards and PSX 2015 have been filled with exciting gaming news, but very little on new properties. Is nostalgia damaging the industry?

Last week, there were a pair of huge gaming events in the form of The Game Awards and this year’s PlayStation Experience – and with those events came some massive announcements. Perhaps the most intriguing were the further details surrounding the long-awaited Final Fantasy 7 remake. Square Enix showcased a brand new trailer for the title, which was met by widespread praise, although the follow-up news that the game will be episodic in nature was not quite as well-received.

The Final Fantasy 7 news was not alone, either. Psychonauts, the beloved Tim Schafer-helmed adventure title, was announced for a crowdfunded sequel during The Game Awards. Meanwhile, at PSX 2015, platforming veterans Ratchet and Clank received a release date of April 12, 2016 for their out-of-retirement fourth adventure.

Lots of the news was very exciting, particularly regarding the much-anticipated Final Fantasy 7 remake. However, there was something a little concerning about both events, and the recent output of publishers in general over recent months. Why is there such a high quota of games in the works that seem to play on the gaming community’s nostalgia?

Cloud Final Fantasy 7

Although more details were finally revealed about big-budget new intellectual properties such as Quantum Break, which received new cinematic footage during The Game Awards, the Xbox One exclusive may have felt isolated amongst its peers. There was very little by way of new IPs on show, and those that did make either event had plenty of remakes, reboots, and sequels to compete with.

Even new technology showcased the old alongside the new. Although PlayStation VR is going to have some interesting new worlds to explore, with the recently-announced Golem holding a strong pedigree of former Bungie staff, its PlayStation VR bedfellow looked familiar. Once more, the universe of Psychonauts is going to be explored, this time through Psychonauts: In the Rhombus of Ruin.

It’s easy to understand why revivals of classics or cult franchises are on the cards for publishers. The industry of video games has become incredibly high-stakes over recent years, with ever-increasing development and marketing budgets as gaming becomes more and more widespread. Continuing a new IP, or rebooting it to tie in to other media, which is the case with Ratchet and Clank, maximises the chances of a publisher or developer getting its money back on any investment made.

For other games, it’s a matter of unfinished business. Psychonauts proved to be a critical darling when it released in 2005, but the game was a commercial failure, stopping any plans for continuation that Double Fine may have had. Fans have been left in the dark over Psychonauts for a decade since the original, and at the very least a sequel gives those fans a chance of closure – or even the possibility of a full-on franchise.

Psychonauts Screenshot

What is unfortunate is the immediate jump to crowdfunding. Although it makes sense from a developer’s point of view, seeing how many fans would be interested in a sequel of a previous game, it takes away from some of the potential that crowd investment has. Crowdfunding has proved essential for studios working on entirely new IPs where publisher backing may not be possible – even with the likes of fan love-letters such as Shovel Knight.

That’s not to say that Psychonauts 2 doesn’t deserve success; after all, the game reached $1 million in backing in less than 24 hours. However, some of its fellow newcomers last week were even stranger choices. Shaq: A Legend Reborn proved to be a shock inclusion at The Game Awards, with the former NBA star delivering a brand new trailer for the reboot-cross-sequel to the infamous Shaq Fu.

Shaq: A Legend Reborn is a surprise in more than one way. The game is another with a crowdfunded legacy, but without the same strong history in the industry as the likes of Psychonauts or Shenmue. In fact, Shaq’s first entry into gaming was once seen as one of the worst titles of all time. Whether this crowdfunding was born out of rose-tinted nostalgia, or out of the community having a bit of fun, it has proved to be a very expensive laugh.

Yooka Laylee Ghost Writers Reveal

Even Yooka-Laylee is building off of the popularity of Banjo-Kazooie.

Meanwhile, Sony has revealed that a number of classic PS2 titles, including the first three 3D Grand Theft Auto games and Dark Cloud, are going to be available to play on PS4. They have been joined by Final Fantasy 7, where the PC port of the game has been released for PS4 in advance of the remake’s launch. Whether these re-releases prove to be commercially successful remains to be seen – as does their effect to hold up to modern day expectations.

The heritage of important gaming franchises and the history of video games as a whole are important to keep close by. As someone with cabinets full of retro consoles, it’s easy to understand how important the classics are. However, there has to be a point where the industry keeps persevering with new ideas instead of staying with the comfort of old successes. Otherwise, there is every chance that major studios will grow stale – regardless of how many versions of beloved games see release.