In the midst of lively, colourful menu tiles that spin with a blow into the microphone and play charming tunes when selected, many 3DS's are littered with other tiles that are glaringly less interesting. They don't play charming animations on the top screen, and when selected, the greeting is nothing more than a little “ping” sound and a grainy monochromatic display. So why is it that some find themselves visiting these tiles more than any of the system's retail games; titles that have been custom made to take advantage of the device's unique abilities?
We're all sitting on the most powerful handheld on the market at the moment, one that's capable of producing visuals that literally pop out of the screen, and yet some spend the majority of their time with the system playing two-dimensional, monochromatic Game Boy games. Continuing the retro theme, what’s the top selling 3DS retail game? The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D. The system's latest big release? Star Fox 64 3D. When the 3DS was unveiled two years ago at E3 2010, it felt like a glimpse of the future. Now it’s here and many are clearly already looking backwards. Gazing longingly, nostalgically at the past. In figurative and literal terms, a large group of us, as gamers, are obsessed with gaming in black and white.
Nintendo these days is sometimes portrayed as an out-of-touch, salivating, money-hungry corporation that would rather repackage its old games than deliver long-time gamers new and exciting experiences. But Nintendo isn't shoving these games down our throats. Ocarina of Time 3D has sold well around the globe, and the introduction of the Virtual Console on Wii in 2006 was so well-embraced that it, arguably, helped prompt a retro movement whose effects transcended to every gaming platform on the market. Nintendo tried to give us new experiences: Wii Sports Resort, Wii Music and Steel Diver, for example. By and large, it seems that many gamers couldn't look past their simplistic presentations long enough to appreciate the depth and creativity they offered, so they were often maligned as being “too casual” or “too boring.”
And yet, at the same time some of us embrace the simplistic presentations of retro titles from the Game Boy, like Gargoyle's Quest, and laud the slower pacing of games like ExciteBike as ahead of their time. Nintendo fans often beg for new experiences, but ignore games like Steel Diver and send Ocarina of Time 3D to the top of the charts, while downloading every half-decent Game Boy game to grace the 3DS Virtual Console.
It's not necessarily because of a lack of great new experiences at retail; Nintendo is currently just as obsessed with their past as many of their fans, and not because the present is uninteresting or the future isn't exciting. Even the latest confirmed Nintendo retail games for the coming year show a desire to move forward with modernised versions of classic franchises. Nintendo, quite simply, has a heritage that they're proud of, and they want to share that with us. These games are worth remembering.
The fact that some spend most of their time on these shiny new handhelds playing monochromatic Game Boy games is evidence of this. Maybe they’re downloaded for nostalgia's sake, because they’ve been played before; maybe some download them because they haven't played them before and wish to gain an understanding/appreciation for an era missed out on. But mostly, these games are just great. Not every title, obviously, but examples such as Super Mario Land, Kirby’s Dream Land, Donkey Kong - in many eyes these games are brilliantly crafted, and they showcase everything we still love about the Big N. Created for a technically underpowered console, these titles couldn't rely on visuals or complexity to be successful. “Charm” could not be faked with bright colours and catchy tunes; it had to be genuinely and tightly executed with gameplay that felt charming and that could be easily accessible to even non-gamers. These games were arguably a success because of their restrictions, not in spite of them. Link’s Awakening might have been bigger and prettier on a more powerful console, but in turn it would lose the child-like simplicity that makes its world so compelling.
If that all sounds familiar, that’s because it is. These titles may be downloaded for a kick of nostalgia, and Nintendo may have released them because they know that they'll sell, but we at Nintendo Life like to think that they released them for another reason: because these games are reminders that their current strategy, despite its criticisms from gamers and critics alike, works. The Wii is technically an underpowered console, and its games are often written off as overly simplistic or visually outdated. But 20 years from now we'll be downloading Wii games from the online stores of our new, mind-controlled Nintendo console and wondering how we ever let games like Little King’s Story and Excitebots pass us by. Gamers with a love for retro gaming will always be looking back just as much as they look forward; always obsessed with gaming in black and white.
There's nothing wrong with looking back; it's just that we Nintendo fans have a nasty habit of ignoring the great things that happen in the present. If we genuinely want new experiences from our favourite developer, we have to actually support those games when they come around and get past the idea that any game that has a metascore of less than 80 isn't worth our time. Gaming has progressed faster, arguably, than any entertainment medium in history. And as the great prophet Ferris Beuler once said, “life can move pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around every once and a while, you might miss it.”