It’s time for the “Well, actually” brigade to lay off our gaming nostalgia.
When the Shenmue 1 & 2 collection launches on August 21st, three things are likely to happen.
Firstly, there’ll be a few glowingly positive, 9 or 10 out 10 review’s that’ll contain phrases like “Just as good as I remember” and “Still a classic game despite its age”. Secondly, there’ll be a number of less positive reviews that will contain sections that say “Shenmue is showing its age but it’s still worthwhile for fans of the franchise”. Lastly, There’ll be a handful of reviews that are entirely negative about the remastered collection that read something along the lines of “Shenmue was never good and I can’t understand the need for this re-release”.
Let me be clear, I’ve not played the Shenmue 1 & 2 collection. I’m not working on any inside information to make this prediction. I’m simply basing this on the fact that it has happened every single time that a game such as this has launched. Take the Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Collection for example – While it has spent quite a few weeks atop the UK charts, initially for the PS4 release and now the Switch and Xbox One version, and received a Metacritic score of 80, it still has a number of detractors. Some think it’s dated and others go as far as to say “Crash Bandicoot was shit 20 years ago and is still shit today”. The same happened for Burnout Paradise Remastered and WipeOut Omega Collection and Kingdom Hearts and Baja: Edge of Control. The list goes on. The same will happen for the Spyro Re-ignited collection and the MediEvil remaster. Of course, no game is made to please everyone but Remakes and Remasters receive more criticism than usual titles because the hype for them is driven by something that you either have or you don’t. That thing is nostalgia.
Nostalgia in gaming is a weird beast. While it’s not so dissimilar to other types of nostalgia, when you’re wistfully yearning to return to a happier time or place, nostalgia in games is a desire to feel the same feelings we did when playing a specific game. What’s more, gaming nostalgia often lacks specifics – almost no one is harping on about the ‘good ol’ days’ when third person adventures lacked an auto-hang ability when walking off a platform or for tank controls to make a big come back. No one’s reminiscing about the time when character models had 1,500 polygon vertices rather than the 550,000 and more we have now. No. Gaming nostalgia is more to do with a feeling of accomplishment, happiness or something else entirely that we felt while playing something.
Gaming nostalgia is often deep rooted in our first experiences with a type of game, despite the fact that it probably wasn’t and certainly isn’t compared to modern day standard, the best of its kind. Final Fantasy VII, for example, was the first JRPG I’d ever played (and was the first game I’d ever played that carried any emotional weight) as was it for a lot of Playstation gamers of my age. It’s still a game I hold dear to my heart (and a remaster I am incredibly excited for) despite the fact that I’ll agree wholeheartedly that Chrono Trigger is a “better” game but holds almost no nostalgic to me personally and I’d probably pass on the opportunity to play again.
Alternatively, like traditional nostalgia, some gaming nostalgia can be pinpointed to where someone was in their life time. Much like Ross’ affinity to Shenmue because of how it connected him to his Dad, I’ve got a soft spot for Abe’s Odyssey. Oddworld’s first foray into video games was the first and only game my family played together, despite the fact that it was single player. We’d gather around the TV, taking turns to try to solve the screen before us, handing over the controller each time we died (or until my brother wasted enough time making Abe fart and fall over giggling). Even my Mum, a woman who will say “I don’t understand the appeal of these things” at the mere mention of gaming, was in on the action and I swear she even enjoyed it a little bit. It was a really happy time in my childhood and that game sticks in my mind because of it.
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’ll have your own childhood favourites. Maybe it’s Sonic. Maybe it’s Mario. Maybe it’s James Pond, Chaos Engine or D/Generation. Perhaps it’s later – Jak & Daxter or Blinx, Resident Evil 4 or something else entirely. Everyone’s gaming nostalgia is different. It benefits no one then, for people to shit all over other people’s pleasant gaming memories. After sharing around Ross’s heart felt piece about Shenmue, I received two comments on Facebook. The first read “Shenmue was just a garbage collection of quick time events”. The second was “Shenmue is terrible”. It’s pretty obvious that neither of these people had read Ross’ article but they decided that, because it’s the internet, they should brain fart out how a game that someone has a strong nostalgic connection to is actually terrible.
Yesterday, having shared my excitement that Second Sight might be getting a reboot/remaster on Twitter, an internet rando decided to “Well, actually” me to inform me that “Psi-Ops was better and Second Sight is bad”. Upon asking “Why do you believe that?”, a genuine question, I was called a few choice profanities before being blocked. Coooool. Similarly, once the news dropped that the Timesplitters IP had been bought by Koch Media, among the excited fans were the “But Timesplitters was always crap” and “Timesplitters wasn’t as good as Halo” crowd, right on cue. Go to any article about the Spyro Reignited collection on any major gaming news outlet and just scroll through the comments. “Spyro was never actually good” lurkers are there. I can assure you.
I’m not saying that people should stop sharing their opinions on remakes and remasters. Far from it. I think most people who enjoy video games would be up for a constructive discussion about criticism of their nostalgia filled favourites as long as it’s not just a drive-by “This thing you liked as a kid is terrible” comment. That’s just wankery of the highest order and isn’t criticising the game but the pleasant memories that people have of it instead. Instead, I’d hope people start to realise that most people who are nostalgic for a game are hyper aware of its flaws. We know Shenmue has a lot of QTE’s and is likely to feel a tad dated when the remaster launches. We know the plot of Final Fantasy VII loses its way and the third act is a bit of a slog. We know Spyro probably wasn’t the best 3rd person adventure of its time. We know Crash Bandicoot has limited design scope and frustrating camera angles. We know game design and the craft that has gone into them has progressed in unimaginable ways since our childhood favourites were released.
We. Simply. Don’t. Care. You’re wasting your time going out of your way to shit all over other people’s nostalgia because it’s the feeling of playing them, not the games themselves, that we really yearn for.