There’s an old joke about nostalgia not being as good as it used to be, but the truth is that, certainly within gaming circles, there’s never been a better time to revel in days gone by.
Whether its going full retro and digging out those old 8-bit classics, reliving a rather more recent favourite getting remastered or perhaps picking up a long-awaited sequel such as with this summer’s fabulous Psychonauts 2, a blast from the past can serve up a lot more than reliving a few good memories.
On one hand, there’s an air of familiarity with playing a game that you already have some experience of. Even though the original Psychonauts was launched way back in 2005, those who played it will remember the core gameplay and feel an affinity with the characters and the world they inhabit. This means that jumping into Psychonauts 2 – a brilliant game that addresses mental health issues in an overt manner but with a beautifully light touch – needn’t feel complicated or intimidating. Instead, you can carry a degree of confidence or control into those early hours, rather than any uncertainty that might come from starting something completely new.
Another benefit of the nostalgia effect, is that it can transport you back to the time of the original. Much like a song or a film can instantly trigger memories of your school days, a holiday or some other distant era, certain games will tie themselves to aspects of your past. It’s not always a specific pin you can stick into a calendar, but just thinking back to where you were when the original Psychonauts came out some 16 years ago is bound to throw up a few memories from that era in general, whether that’s standout events or just questionable haircuts and fashion choices!
This can extend even further, with the likes of Stubbs the Zombie and Destroy All Humans – both launched in the same year as Psychonauts – getting re-released in the past year or so. Not only is there the trip back to 2005 at play with these games, but each of them is also set against a 1950s American B-movie backdrop which can take you back even further – albeit into a largely imagined or fictional interpretation of years gone by for all but the most seasoned gamer. However, this does echo the way in which games can lift your mind out of the real world and into another place entirely, and having a sense that you’ve been there before can make it feel all the more welcoming.
Playing those older games, even dating back to those 8-bit classics, can also seem that much simpler. Not because they’re any easier, as many of those now-retro games were notoriously difficult, but for the most part you only have to worry about a few buttons and maybe a couple of special moves. Compared to more recent games that demand multiple inputs in varying combinations, with skill trees, loadouts and many more gameplay layers to contend with, simply running and jumping sideways on a 2D platform can seem like much less of a hassle.
The combined familiarity with both a game and the time it harks back to can offer up a warmth and reassurance, like a virtual comfort blanket that we can feel that little bit safer in. It’s a reason why people love a sequel – even if takes a decade and a half to roll around – because you’ve already invested energy and emotion into that world, and so going back for more can feel like a return on that investment and a reward in itself. It’s interesting to note that with the recent launch of Far Cry 6, while some gamers were complaining that not much has changed since the previous titles, others were revelling in how much it reminded them of their glory days in Far Cry 3 back in 2012.
This same sentiment can be applied to any long-running franchise, from FIFA to Call of Duty to the latest Legend of Zelda. Obviously, being a fan of the core gaming experience each series delivers is the major motivation for picking up the newest release, but there’s also a comfort in almost knowing what to expect and, in turn, what will be expected of you when you pick up the controller. Looking back on those vast back catalogues, certain titles will stick in your mind for various reasons, whether that’s just because the game itself was great, or perhaps it reminds you of where you were, or even who you were, when you played it. Of course, it is worth noting that not all trips down memory lane will lead us back to a happy place, and so it could be that some games are best left in the past.
Nostalgia needn’t be the only reason to pick up an old favourite or pre-order that long-awaited reboot or sequel. We’d happily recommend you check out Psychonauts 2 simply because it’s a brilliant game. The fact that it openly embraces mental health concepts and, if you played the original, can act as a teleportation device back to 2005 are just further reasons to enjoy it. And there are plenty of other upcoming opportunities to enjoy new games laced with old memories, from the imminent Halo Infinite to the Saints Row reboot early next year and beyond. Right now, nostalgia isn’t just as good as it used to be; it’s much, much better.
Ian Collen is a writer and editor with more than 20 years experience – with well over half of that spent working in videogames. He’s worked on the likes of XBM, 360 Gamer (later known as One Gamer), and the innovative digital publication, Gamer Interactive. He also learned more about drones than he thought possible as editor of the self-explanatory Drone Magazine and is currently working as a freelancer.