Gaming is always moving forward. When Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, all release their latest and greatest systems there’s an emphasis on enhanced performance, better graphics, and the technology of the future.
The Nintendo Entertainment System, which is credited with reviving the home gaming market in the early 1980’s, was released 34 years ago. Since then, we’ve gone from simplistic games like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda to games like Grand Theft Auto V and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. No matter how you look at it, the technological jump of video game consoles has been huge over the last three decades, but nowadays retro is in once again.
Porting older games to newer systems isn’t a new concept by any stretch. Today when people think of HD ports of games, it’s because companies like Sony enjoy putting out HD versions of PS3 games on the PS4 to get a few extra bucks. The process of making such collections can actually be traced all the way back to the Super Nintendo, when Nintendo put out Super Mario All Stars which featured 16-bit remakes of Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros 2., Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, and Super Mario Bros. 3.
In more recent years, Sega hasn’t shied away from taking some of their best Sega Genesis and arcade games and putting them into collections on modern systems. Still, there hasn’t been a retro revival in the last thirty years like the one we’re in now. The current retro revival that we’re all lucky enough to be a part of has been two pronged.
On the side of independent game developers, a lot of games are being made that call back to the games of yesteryear in terms of gameplay, graphics, music, and story. Games like Shovel Knight take the classic NES and SNES platformer formula and give it an HD skin, creating something magical. Looking at new releases from these indie developers yielded a whole assortment of games done up in 8-bit style with chiptune soundtracks that, aside from some of their system requirements, would be right at home on an old MS-DOS computer or NES cartridge.
The second prong of this revival is from the developers themselves. Over the last few years, major game companies have realized that their older games still have value and people want to be able to play them again. As for why gamers would want to revisit older titles, it can be for any number of reasons. Some gamers, like myself, enjoy the nostalgia of playing games from a simpler time and reliving some of the games that I played growing up. For others, it has to do with video game preservation. Depending on how successful some older games were, a large number have become hard to find, difficult to play, or prohibitively expensive. For those reasons, it’s great when developers like Capcom and Atari pull together their retro libraries and get them ready for a new generation of gamers. But with this newfound movement of retro game revivals, the question that must be asked is “What makes a great retro revival collection?”
Near Perfect Emulation
With retro gaming being as popular as it is and video game preservation being a topic on people’s minds, developers are immediately faced with a difficult decision: do we clean these games up for modern audiences to get them to run perfectly or do we get them to run the way they did when they were first released? Every collection is a bit different. Regarding the recently released Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, gamers noticed that the difficulty on the game had been tweaked by way of physics adjustments. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s how a developer wants to preserve their game for the modern-day gamer, but there’s something slightly less genuine about it. Retro revival collections aren’t about perfection, they’re about nostalgia.
For my money, one of the best retro revival collections I’ve seen in the last few years has been the Mega Man Legacy Collection which was handled by Digital Eclipse who also ported games for this year’s The Disney Afternoon Collection. Both games are based on the Eclipse Engine, which essentially takes the original ROM images, decompiles them, and then re-executes the code inside of a virtual machine that was designed to run on modern systems. The result is near perfect emulation to the point of slowdown in the Mega Man games when too many sprites are on the screen at a time.
Some gamers have voiced their frustration over this but in a way, it’s a good thing that Digital Eclipse chose to handle this port the way they did. Instead of creating a cold and unfeeling recreation of the classic Mega Man titles, they instead created a warm and genuine experience of what playing these games is like. It’s also important to think of the speedrunning community. Due to the accurate representation of these games, a runner could easily switch from NES running to Legacy Collection runs with minimal change in strategy.
Who did it best? Mega Man Legacy Collection
Have a Wide Selection of Games
Depending on who’s making the particular collection, game variety is going to vary from game to game. Something like The Disney Afternoon Collection or Mega Man Legacy Collections 1 & 2 are each going to pack less than ten games, but the games they do have are meaty. On the other end of the spectrum, games like the Atari Flashback Classics series are going to pack almost 50 games each, but for the most part, the games are shallow. Atari games weren’t designed for marathon gaming sessions like some players have today and as such, there’s only so much you can get out of them.
It’s not too common for game publishers to pull together huge collections of the games they’ve made over the years but it does happen from time to time. Even in the case of the Atari Flashback Classics, you can’t deny that the games look great, the added online capabilities are a welcomed addition, and the large quantity of games was entirely necessary towards the success of the collection. But there’s one collection that’s been released in the last five years that has stood out above the rest: Rare Replay.
Published by Microsoft in 2015, the collection included 30 games released over the years by Rare Ltd., who have worked on everything from Donkey Kong Country to GoldenEye 007, to the upcoming pirate MMO Sea of Thieves. While the games that Nintendo has a large stake of ownership in were not included with the collection, having thirty games published over the last three decades makes for a great package.
Older games like JetPac, R.C. Pro-Am, and Atic Atac make for a great pick up and play experience, while newer titles like the Banjo-Kazooie franchise, Perfect Dark, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day all make for longer and more story driven adventures. The spread of games in Rare Replay is fantastic and paints a great picture of how the company developed over the years, even without the Nintendo games included.
Who did it best? Rare Replay
Have a Treasure Trove of Goodies for Gamers
When you’re putting together a retro revival collection, it’s almost as important to have a great collection of extras with your games as it is to have great games. Gamers love knowledge about the games that they love so putting together a great all-around package, including things like documentaries and concept art can make for a great selling point.
Over the years, this has been tackled a variety of ways, both in multi-game collections and with standalone titles as well. The most recent release of Duke Nukem 3D, for example, featured an audio commentary throughout the game, featuring key people responsible for the game’s development. Rare Replay, which I spoke about earlier in this piece, featured over an hour of documentary footage that talked about games in the collection as well as unreleased games the company had worked on over the years. One of my favorite pieces of bonus content that’s been added into a game in recent years was the inclusion of about 1400 images from an out of print art book that was included with Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers on the Nintendo Switch.
That being said, when looking at the big picture, you need to look at the entire package. While no single retro game collection that I’ve seen yet has included copious amounts of everything that I consider necessary towards making a great retro revival collection, there’s two collections that came close: Mega Man Legacy Collection and The Disney Afternoon Collection. I went back and forth on these two for a while and I decided that Disney put together a slightly better package which showcased that these were once premium priced triple A titles.
Who Did It Best? The Disney Afternoon Collection
Capture the Spirit of Your Retro Game in Something New
This final point isn’t one that is geared nearly as much towards collections as it is standalone titles but it still fits in with the spirit of retro revivals above all else. That point is to take the elements that made your game or franchise stand out above the rest and give it a unique twist.
I’ve seen this handled many ways over the years, even before what I would consider to be the start of the retro revival movement. Nintendo released two collections on the Wii U and 3DS entitled NES Remix that took classic games from the Nintendo Entertainment System and turned each one into a series of challenges. More recent collections that Capcom has put out have featured new challenge modes and boss rushes. Even Sega found a way to breathe life into an old title when they took the classic game Puyo Puyo and mixed it with Tetris to create a great puzzle game experience.
The game I’ve been most obsessed with, though, has been Sonic Mania. Sonic Mania doesn’t mark the first time Sega tried to take Sonic the Hedgehog back to his 2D roots, but it does mark the best time they’ve done so. The development of Sonic Mania featured several key people, including Christian Whitehead, the man responsible for getting several classic Sonic games released on the iPhone, and featured contributions from several other well-known names in the Sonic fangame community. You can read more about Sonic Mania in our review of the game, but the statement that the game was made “By the mania, for the mania” is truer than ever and the game serves as a love letter to the Genesis-era Sonic games.
Who did it best? Sonic Mania
It’s clear to me that the retro revival movement in gaming is far from over. As each collection comes out and sells, more will likely come in their place. I can only hope that in the years to come, some classic game franchises get the love letters they deserve. I personally would love to see Spyro the Dragon, Mortal Kombat, and Castlevania all get proper collections that pull the classic games of those series onto modern platforms.
What do you think makes a great retro revival collection? Join in the discussion in the comments below and let us know!