2016 Successfully Used Familiar Faces to Introduce New Ideas

2016 Successfully Used Familiar Faces to Introduce New Ideas

This past year taught us that it's possible to appeal to people's sense of nostalgia while teaching them new ways to play.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 assures us there's "nothing new under the sun," and if you're a thirty-something fan of video games and pop culture, you probably don't have a hard time believing that. What's old is new again; what's past is destined to come back around. I just hope new Slap Bracelets fix that manufacturing flaw that let my ten-year-old friends and I remove the steel "blade" from its cheap cloth covering and wield them against each other like knives.

Nostalgia is big in the games industry. In fact, nostalgia arguably fuels the industry in varied and interesting ways. The NES Classic caters to retro enthusiasts and part-time gamers alike because, depending on who you are, it either "features a collection of stellar games that are champions in their genre," or "it's packed with a whole bunch of games I loved playing as a kid." That's why the adorable unit sold out in no time, and arguably could have sold way more if Nintendo had met demand.

Nostalgia for the Pokémon series fueled the Pokémon GO phenomenon of summer 2016, and that rekindled enthusiasm seemingly spilled over to propel Pokémon Sun and Moon's sales into the stratosphere. Super Mario Run's record-breaking launch can also arguably be attributed at least in part to buyers who were curious about the game despite maybe not touching a Mario title since childhood.

Is it unhealthy for an industry to be so nostalgia-driven, though? Are developers and publishers leaning a little too hard on the past in lieu of innovating for the future?

Opinions will differ, but I personally don't think catering to people's bottomless appetites for nostalgia results in stagnation. New ideas are important, but so is delivering enjoyable game experiences that large audiences can enjoy – thus keeping the lights on at the developer's studio.

That said, a game developer's decision to cater to old memories doesn't give them a pass to phone in their work, nor does it excuse them from trying to innovate whenever appropriate. The Super Smash Bros series heaps on the fan service like nothing else, but it also introduced a new sub-genre to fighting games. Super Mario Galaxy features tons of familiar faces and oldschool gameplay concepts, but it also re-invents platforming. In fact, Nintendo is pretty much the king of offering new experiences through old properties, and presumably we'll see more of the same with whatever it develops for the Switch.

With any luck, the Switch will deliver new ideas via old friends.

Interestingly, nostalgia can also help people glom onto weird new ideas. AR (augmented reality) games aren't new, but they weren't a household term until Niantic slapped a Pokémon shell onto Ingress. That's not to suggest Ingress lacks a fanbase, but Pokémon GO's phenomenal popularity can be attributed in large part to the sheer appeal of catching Pokémon in the "real world."

This compromise between "new" and "familiar" is something fanfic writers know well. People are far likelier to familiarize themselves with your writing if you first offer them a shred of familiarity, e.g. a story featuring a loved character from an established property.

I'm just one person with one big fat opinion, but I feel privileged to be working at this very interesting juncture of gaming history. People who grew up with Super Mario Bros are now introducing their kids to the plumber via consoles, handhelds, and smartphones, but at the same time there are fresh new ideas out there. People embraced Splatoon (one of several new ideas we may see out of Nintendo's younger staff in the next few years), and Overwatch continues to rule fandom.

And people are getting really excited about indie games, even simple-looking fare like Undertale and Stardew Valley. Incidentally, both games were engineered thanks to nostalgia for established series, specifically Earthbound / Mother and Harvest Moon. But no-one is going to argue that either game is stagnant, a rip-off, or otherwise cheap clones meant to cash in on gullible gamers looking to re-capture the joy of their childhoods.

(Well, hopefully not. Nobody wants to get riled up so close to the holidays.)

The gaming landscape is a much different place than it was ten years ago, and the industry is only going to get more unpredictable from here on out. One thing's for sure, though: Nostalgia will continue to be a draw. Hopefully developers will continue to use its power for good things.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

Read this next

Blizzard's Overwatch Team Says the Nintendo Switch Port Has Been "Eye-Opening"

Bringing the hero shooter to Switch took more than just a visual overhaul.

Blizzard Cancels Overwatch Switch Launch Event Amid Ongoing Public Backlash

The Nintendo New York event has been abruptly cancelled.

Starting Screen | Blizzard's Troubled 2019 Finds the Once Invincible Studio at a Crossroads

This past year has found Blizzard embroiled in one controversy after another. What does it say about its future?

Pokemon Go’s Upcoming Halloween Event Does Even More to Taunt Poor Mimikyu

Niantic heard you like Pikachu, so here's a Pikachu dressed as Mimikyu who's dressed as Pikachu.

Pokemon Go Players Will Soon Be Able to Nominate and Evaluate Their Local Stops With a New Tool

Niantic's Wayfarer looks to curate your local PokeStop offerings.

Overwatch's Mei Becomes Symbol of Protest Following Hearthstone Player's Suspension

Supporters are making fan art of Mei supporting the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.

New Team Rocket Admins are Preparing to Make Trouble in Pokemon Go

Cliff is evil, but his goatee game is on point.

More Articles

What's The Scariest Video Game Setting?

COMMUNITY QUESTION | To continue with Halloween tradition, let's talk about the creepiest environments in games.

What's Your Favorite Horror Game?

COMMUNITY QUESTION | 'Tis the season to be frightened.

WoW Classic "Bug" List Has Fans Fighting With Blizzard and Their Memories

Blizzard's "Not a Bug" list is oddly contentious within the community.

What Gaming Experience Has Positively Impacted Your Mental Health?

COMMUNITY QUESTION | Let's share a little positivity heading into the weekend.