News Article

Feature: Nintendo - Gaming in Black and White

Posted by Jacob Crites

The continuing appeal of retro

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.”

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User Comments (49)



naut said:

I haven't spent a cent on any 3DS games yet. I have spent $20 on the eShop VC though. Nostalgia is good.



AlphaNerd01 said:

I think this article makes an important point. The Virtual Console really started a renaissance for retro games, and solidified "retro" as a gaming genre. That said, after working in the retail video game industry for five+ years, partially during that renaissance, I think the majority of people downloading those games had never played them before. So I'd argue it is a lot less about nostalgia and a lot more about vying to learn more about the past. However, nostalgia can alter how gamers perceive games. For example, FFVII went from a great game to "the greatest game of all time" due in large, in my opinion, to nostalgia. But I digress.



AbuJaffer said:

Gaming is special because, even if the songs or video get outdated, the gameplay won't. You watch a 1980 movie and you'll probably feel like your eyes are bleeding. Play a 1980's game and if it was fun then, it's still fun now!

And I was around during the NES era, but I had a Genesis. Sadly I never finished Sonic and those classics (I was too young for that) so I need to finish both retro Nintendo and retro SEGA games.



daznsaz said:

(once in a while) been playing gargoyles quest & sml gonna get the kirby one and always pop on pacman gb.was playing back in 8bit days but was only on sega getting lots of new games to play



NESguy94 said:

@Nintendo-Naut You're missing out on some great games (OoT3D)

I love the classics and I don't mind them at all as long as Nintendo doesn't only make remakes and focuses on new games.



SteveW said:

I would have played it more but I didn't like the soft blurry look of Little King's Story, same thing with Monster Hunter....

The Gameboy graphics don't bother me but I'm not going to repurchase them to play in B&W when I can already play my Gameboy carts in color by choosing a color palette.



Bass_X0 said:

I quite like it when a game is given the Super Mario All Stars enhancements. Gameplay is barely touched from the original, the maps remain exactly as they originally were but the graphics look much better with more detail for the eyes to enjoy. The Mario/Wario Land games and Link's Awakening would be much more appealing if they were given a 16-bit or 32-bit makeover while keeping their original charm. I quite like Little King's Story. Best £5 I ever spent. Not beat it yet though.

While I do like modern graphics, I do feel more attachment to the gameplay from the nineties than I do with modern games. Its very rare that I like a new game as much as I liked games from back then. I quite disliked Super Paper Mario for being slow, empty and boring. Took me around twenty minutes to be able to start controlling Mario at the beginning because of the unskippable intro. Not a good sign.



squirrelguys said:

I just love retro games more than newer games. Their just great. They don't need to have VOs or color to be fun.



Bass_X0 said:

They don't need to have VOs or color to be fun.

Thats true. But wouldn't VOs and color make them even more fun than they are without?



Monkeh said:

I guess we didn't support Little King's Story enough, since the sequel will be releasing on the PSVita..



Linux_Man said:

The reason why retro gaming is catching on is because rather than the current generation which only has a handful of gems, we can look back at years upon years of games and pick out the great examples, for every Super Mario World there was at least 15 half-baked platformers. The nice thing about retro titles is most of them didn't use the "latest and greatest" and compete on graphics but tried to be the most fun. If I pick up a used PS1/N64/DreamCast racing game, chances are it's going to feel really outdated, the cars will look ancient, the handling won't feel right, and the graphics generally will look like crap. On the other hand, I can pick up Super Mario Kart or Mario Kart 64 and have just as much fun playing that as I did back in the day. That is the difference between the Nintendo way of doing things and the Sony way of doing things. Yes, the PS3 has an "awe factor" but are the games really that much fun?



Vehemont said:

I think Nintendo needs to release more quality and quantity Virtual Console games on the 3DS, the only reason why I bought a Wii was for the Virtual Console so I did not have to dig in my basement if I wanted to play Donkey Kong Country or Sonic 2. I just wish Nintendo would pick up the pace a little bit with the 3DS VC... Release Pokemon Red and Blue, and Super Mario Land 2 already.... Also where is the Game Gear games....?



Vehemont said:

I also believe after the holiday season, is when a lot more games will be announced. I think developers are waiting to see how the 3DS does during Christmas.



Hokori said:

I still wish for a GBC option for GB games on VC but I like the monocrome as well



Yosher said:

Still sad about ExciteBots not even releasing over here. As well as Mario Super Sluggers, at that. D:



Vehemont said:

On the topic of OoT3D, that was the reason of my purchase of the 3DS in May and not waiting to buy it.... It is funny Nintendo has a way of getting me to buy multiple copies of games. I own OoT on my N64, Wii VC, GC LoZ Collection, and now on the 3DS. I just could not pass up on owning one of the best games EVER on a PORTABLE system!



HandheldGuru97 said:

I have more Virtual handheld games (including the NES) games on my 3DS than retail, but that's fine by new because I have never played them before .



grumblegrumble said:

I raised this same exact point a day or two ago on the 3DS Forums... I am a HUGE retro gaming fan so I am currently LOVING all the VC downloadable titles (yes, I've downloaded them all, so far, and love them all in their own unique ways, even Urban Champion ) The newer flashier $50-60 games on retail just don't catch my attention like the retro titles do. I would rather pay $3 or $5 here and there on the VC titles and embrace the past than spend $50 on a retail cart I'm not sure about. Anyways, just my 2 cents. The only retail games I'm really interested in at the moment are Super Mario 3-D World and other handheld Zelda titles, some puzzles, and thats about it!



grumblegrumble said:

P.S. Maybe what Nintendo needs is to create new franchises/characters? I mean, while we would love to see Banjo Kazooie back. Kid Icarus, another Metroid title, or even a brand new character/franchise? What is Nintendo waiting for? Btw, I totally understand I am playing retro titles on a near $300 handheld, but I don't care, I love it.



Ryno said:

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.

Hmm... I dont think I will be downloading/rebuying Wii games 20 years from now. There is something inherently special to me about 8 and 16 bit games that other games cannot match. Maybe it will be the same thing for those people who "grew up" with the Wii though.



MetalMario said:

I love both classic and new games. I know I'm getting as many 3DS games as Game Boy games on the eShop.



bezerker99 said:

The best thing about retro games is when you hit start, most of the time, u actually start playing the game (vs. 20 min FMV intro and then lame tutorial level to get you "familiar" with what u are doing).



timp29 said:

Gameplay and/or an engrossing story can trump graphics. Geometry wars anyone?



Azikira said:

Nostalgia is wonderful, and something that I will never grow out of. But on the same note, I pretty much buy any game from franchises that have roots in the past, like Pokemon and Mario. :3



TKOWL said:

" If we genuinely want new experiences from our favourite developer, we have to actually support those games when they come around"

Good luck with that, you might as well be talking into a black hole.



Raptor78 said:

I hear ya, im still waiting to get my hands on an eShop card, but as an Ambassador I have really been having a blast with the past. That doesnt mean that I dont want brand new made for the 3DS titles as well, its all down to the mood im in.
I think Nintendo is doing a good job with remastering some of the classics though (StarFox & Zelda) because if you have a history with a game you dont mind dated graphics and sound etc. but "youngsters" who have never played these titles may not be willing to give them a chance if it hadnt been for the facelifts they have been given.



odd69 said:

I have actually spent more on downloadable games than retail games. Im not sure if this is a good thing, but it is cheaper for those who want games 'Now" than waiting for price drops on retail games. Thats the main reason for myself, missing out on good retail games



Sondheimist said:


While you're right that great gameplay is timeless, you had to go and completely undermine your argument with this line:

"You watch a 1980 movie and you'll probably feel like your eyes are bleeding."

I love games, but I love films (of all eras and countries) even more, and you just got me into my lecture mode:

So your eyes bleed while watching, say, "The Empire Strikes Back" or "Raging Bull" or "Kagemusha" or "The Shining?" Heck, what you said about the timelessness of games is at least as true about the other art forms like film (and literature and music) - while special effects may improve, the important things like storytelling and filmmaking (cinematography, acting, writing, directing) stay pretty constant (even if certain styles go in and out of fashion.) Besides some different clothing fashions and decor, a lot of films made in 1980 look and feel a lot like films made today (especially if they're not oriented around special effects.) (For the record: in the past week I've watched two films from the 1940s, one from the 1950s, and three from the 1960s, and not a one of them made my eyes bleed. In fact, all but one of them was as incredibly entertaining as just about anything made today.)

Sorry about the tangent: I realize this is a video game site. I just think that the idea that "old" is equivalent to "inferior" or "inapplicable to our modern times," no matter what it's being said about, is very misguided (of course, the notion that just because something is old it must also be good is also misguided, but I don't see that as often.) My favorite films range from being made in 1916 to 2010, while my two favorite systems are the Super NES and the PlayStation 2 (simply because more of my favorite games were on those two consoles than any others.) What matters is those central aspects: In video gaming, it's the game play, and there are good and bad examples of that in every era.



Wheels2050 said:

The only reason I've let Excitebots pass me by is that it never got a PAL release...

Anyway, I honestly think we look back with rose-tinted glasses at a lot of these old games. We've only recently arrived in an era where a large number of people grew up playing video games - they really only became a mainstream success in the 80s, and today's 20-30 year old grew up playing games from that era onwards.

These are the people who look back fondly at the games they played in their formative years. Speak to someone who hasn't played their favourite childhood game for a decade or more - I bet they'll say something like, "Oh, yeah! Game X! I LOVED that game as a kid. It's awesome!". I also bet that you'll get something like that regardless of the quality of the game in question.

As children, you are generally less discriminating about quality in the first place, and the industry was young with a lot to learn. Many of those favourite game experiences, when you try them again, turn out to be remembered a lot better than they are. I go back and play some of my old DOS games, that I absolutely loved, and quite a few of them are terrible.

I'm not saying that games are better or worse now than then, although they've certainly changed. I just think that someone looking objectively at these retro games - without the influence of nostalgia - would probably find a lot of fondly-remembered games that don't really deserve the credit they get.

What I'm trying to say is that there probably isn't anything, objectively, special about the era of games discussed here. There are defining characteristics of the era, sure, but the same could be said now. I think that in another 20 years, the kids of today will remember the PS3, Wii or Xbox 360 the way my generation remembers the NES, SNES, Mega Drive etc.

As Linux_Man said, when we look back we also have the benefit of being able to cherry-pick the best titles. The same thing happens with music - many people look back and think of the 60s as the 'Golden Age' of music, with classics being pumped out one after the other. However, there was just as much crap being put out then as there is now. It's just that, 50 years on, it's easy to remember the best music and forget the rest, giving a very biased view of the era. (I love a lot of 60s music, by the way).

Anyway, long story short - Nintendo leans too heavily on old games for my liking. There are definitely a lot of classics that stand the test of time and are fantastic gaming experiences, and it makes good business sense to allow people to pay for them again. However, this relies on a perception, influenced by nostalgia, that gaming was better 'back in the old days' belonging to my generation. I don't necessarily think that's the case - there are brilliant games coming out right now - and I'd like to see Nintendo being a bit more adventurous with their franchises.

Sure, release older games for people to try out/play again. However, do it in addition to, not instead of, releasing brand new gaming experiences. I fear that, looking back 20 years from now, we won't see the plethora of brand-new gaming experiences that we see looking back 20 years from today - we'll look back and see a few high-profile releases, and a bunch of 40 year old games that for some reason we were paying money for to play again.



FluttershyGuy said:

I don't care how fancy or realistic graphics become, or how crisp the sound becomes, or how many extra buttons are placed on the controller, or how closely my bodily movements can be replicated, or how many things I can also multitask while playing. I'll always, no matter what advances are made, prefer the simpler, purer joys of retro gaming. I can't put my finger on it, but today's games just aren't as magical. Maybe when a game becomes so lifelike it ceases to be a game? Or greater complexity takes half the fun away? I dunno. To quote Shinra in Final Fantasy X-2, "I'm just a kid"... oh yeah... I'm an adult. Nevermind. So... I'm just an adult.

Yeah, what you said.



ecco6t9 said:

There's a timeless quality to these games, same with great Atari 2600 games.

If a game can remain timeless it can be played forever, sometimes these days(and going back to 2000) it's more about flash than substance.



moosa said:

"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"



TheAmazingRaccoon said:

on the subject of B&W Vs. Colour, I finally got the Metroid II cart and have been playing it on my GBASP. When comparing it to the emulator rom in b&w it became apparent that the colour enhancement adds a lot to the look of the game. I hope when they bring Metroid II to the VC that they do what they did with Links Awakening (which was not a proper gameboy colour game, but was presented in it's gameboy colour format).



JimLad said:

The term 'retro gamer' only exists because hardware is constantly updated, and people are forced to abandon their favourite games each generation.
This doesn't happen with films, millions still watch Star Wars, or Die Hard, or Back to the Future every day. More so than a lot of modern movies.

Download services are fixing this, but they need to be carried over to the next generation for it to work. I'm not sure how Nintendo's system will allow this since the games are not tied to an account like they are on Xbox Live or Playstation Network. Also at some point, they will be re-re-releasing these games in HD with online leaderboards perhaps, so what happens then? Do we get free upgrades?

As for nostalgia, I try not to think of it as 'looking back'. A game is a game is a game to me, it doesn't matter how old it is, if the gameplay's there and it's playable that's enough for me to enjoy it. In the same way movies are constantly being updated visually, at the end of the day story is all that really counts.
I still have all my old consoles because I don't see the point in throwing away good games.



StarDust4Ever said:

I still find it amazing that the Monochromatic Game Boy completely beat out the competition from its rivals the Sega Game Gear and the Atari Lynx. Those two bloated consoles with their active matrix displays could eat AA batteries faster than PacMan chomps down power pellets. Not Game Boy. You could play games all day long on that sucker...

My first Game Boy was the Game Boy Color, which came out when I was a Senior in High School. But I'd gone on to discover a variety of gems from the Game Boy Classic era as well, all of them fully playable on the entire Game Boy /Color /Advance lineup, and Game Cube as well.



Raptor78 said:

Awww, unfair. I really loved my Game Gear and the games on the system. It really did eat batteries though. lol
Never really bothered by the Gameboy till it went to the GBA and then it was a day one purchase for me with that.

In all fairness thought I was one of those in the SEGA camp during the Sega vs Nintendo days, when it was friendly competition rather than the bloodshed of todays gaming wars.



StarDust4Ever said:

I had an Atari Lynx. That sucker took 6 AA batteries and lasted a little under 2 hours. And that's with "good" Energizer alkaline batts, not some cheap crappy "Heavy Duty" carbon cells. When the Lynx finally failed, I would take the batteries out and they were so hot it burned my hands; I used to put the hot batteries into a ziplock bag and dunk it in the ice chest. I'd put the cold batteries back into the system and it would give me another 10 minutes of playtime before my Lynx died again. There's no telling how much money my parents spent on batteries for my Lynx, probably to just to keep me quiet on those long family vacation road trips. There was no such animal as car chargers back then. The redesigned Game Boy Pocket and subsequent Game Boy Color lasted literally forever on 2 AAs instead of 4.

You can also get fairly good mileage out of a 3DS system with a brightness setting of 1 (which is still around twice as bright as the original DS phat - I wish they'd add a "zero" setting for playing in the dark), battery saving mode ON, and 3D off.



alLabouTandroiD said:

A good and hopefully quite thought provoking article, Jacob.
Personally I’m only downloading VC games which I don’t own the original of.
I’ve bought Steel Diver when it released and can understand everybody who’s waiting for a price drop. Ninty themselves admitted it was planned to be a DSiWare first and it shows. While it’s been fun and I guess I’ll some day aim for 100 % completion in it it neither provides enough content nor is it good enough to pay full price for it. If they really wanted people to play Steel Diver on the 3DS they should have released it as an eShop game imo.
Wii Sports Resort sold very well including it with some Wii consoles didn’t hurt either. With these numbers you just don’t care about people complaining imo. And in some way it’s only a sequel to the Wii’s best “selling” game, so maybe it’s not the best example for a fresh experience.
I’d say Wii Music’s sales weren’t bad for a new IP without a new peripheral included.
I’ve bought Little King’s Story and would gladly get Excitebots if a PAL version were released.
Maybe the best comparison would be WiiWare games like World Of Goo, Jett Rocket, Lost Winds and Fluidity / Hydroventure or retail games like A Boy And His Blob, De Blob, Zack & Wiki, Muramasa or The Munchables because they don’t stray too far from the classic gameplay formula while still providing twists that make them feel fresh.

When you compare VC games with the WiiWare titles there are a few differences that spring to mind. First of all the great VC games are proven classics. There’s a pretty low risk you’re just buying into hype when you’re getting them. Second is that most of them are a bit cheaper. So if you don’t like the game you’ve wasted less money. Of course nostalgia plays a big role too.
People may also aditionally buy the VC versions for one-system-convenience, because of the ability to suspend your game whenever you like or because their save states got lost because of a bad battery.

@Bass_X0 (11.): I like the not-that-sugar-coated graphics of SMB 1-3 more than in the All Stars versions. I just want to experience my VC games as close to the original as possible. There may be exceptions like suspend and restore points as well as me really missing color in GB’s Golf but that’s about it.



Expa0 said:

In my opinion Nintendo has definetly fallen from grace just like many other gaming companies, like Square and Capcom. Currently the only company who I still can put my trust on is Atlus, they're the only company that can still consistently release magnificent games with great soundtracks. Of course Nintendo being the a-holes they are doesn't want me or any other Europeans to enjoy these great games, so they decided to region lock the 3ds. Oh well, at least there are still many SMT games on PS2 which I haven't gotten the chance to play.



TromaDogg said:

I wish Excitebots was available to download now, Nintendo Europe didn't release it here. I wouldn't let it pass me by if I was actually able to buy a PAL version! Nintendo's already made the descision for me Shame, because I loved Excite Truck, and still do.



MetroidMasher17 said:

I, too, have 5 Game Boy VC games but only 3 3DS retail games. That's kind of sad, but it can't be denied that Nintendo is not putting out enough AAA titles. Right now, the only game I have my eyes on is SM3DL, and that comes out in November! Nintendo really has to step up their game, is my point.



pocket_arsenal said:

Retro games are just awesome. I must own more Virtual Console games on my Wii than I do retail Wii games and gamecube games combined. ( and im not the type to trade in a game just because I beat it once either )

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