Smothered by Nostalgia

Tom Mc Shea explores how our insatiable desire to relive the past has undercut the creative freedoms that developers need.

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Nostalgia has a power over me that is is unlike any other compulsion. During my formative years, I was more likely to explore Hyrule than my own backyard, and my heart still thumps happily when that electric theme pricks my ears. Free from responsibilities, I spent untold hours with a controller in my hands, and I would love to rekindle the feelings that warmed my younger heart. But it's not possible. Everything was so new back then, so exciting, and developers cannot recapture that wonder by resurrecting the past. Even though I am still susceptible to the sounds and imagery of my childhood, I've realized just how underhanded the business of cashing in on nostalgia has become. I no longer relish the promise of recreated memories; I just shudder.

DuckTales Remastered is the most recent example of a game that relies on the goodwill its progenitor inspired to make it relevant today. From the moment the midi rendition of the iconic theme song started to play, visions of sitting in my friend's basement trying to overcome that treacherous Transylvania stage bounced in my head. I was hooked before I even picked up the controller. Sadly, my happy memories began to slip away once I set out on my treasure-hunting adventure. So boring is DuckTales Remastered that I began to doubt if the original was actually good, or if my childhood ignorance had clouded my judgment. Thankfully, we have a copy of the real DuckTales in our office, and it took no more than a couple of minutes for me to realize that I was right to heap such praise on these earlier pogo escapades.

I no longer embrace the hold recreated memories have over me; I shudder in disgust.

Wayforward Technologies fell into a trap like countless other development studios before them. Instead of focusing on the underlying appeal of the original game (in this case, the satisfying action), they highlighted secondary pleasures such as the soundtrack and characters. It's a misstep that does a massive disservice to the source material. DuckTales hasn't stood the test of time because of its catchy tunes alone; if that were the case, we'd cherish the music but nothing else. No, it was the spelunking action that was so incredible. WayForward messed with the physics, toned down the difficulty, and transformed the thrilling original into a hollow shell of its former self. It's a superficial remastering that tries to exploit the nostalgic feeling so many people hold rather than create its own place within this industry.

And yet, I do have sympathy for the position that WayForward put themselves in. By peddling nostalgia, WayForward had to walk the line between the old-school ideals the original exhibited and the modern sensibilities we've grown accustomed to. Whereas I celebrate my memories, they were handcuffed to them, forced to deliver an experience that was both a faithful reimagining as well as a new entry that could stand on its own. There's no question that they failed in their task, but our excessive demands put them in a position where it was nearly impossible to succeed. We remember DuckTales--or at least think that we do--and believe that any developer given the chance to work with such a property should be able to improve upon an experience that we deem a classic.

Talk about an unenviable situation.

It's because of our insatiable love of all things nostalgia that we receive such sad efforts. If WayForward had the gall to ignore the blueprint of our expectations, we would have lambasted them. How dare they deviate from the expected path? DuckTales Remastered follows the template created by the original, never offering a hint of genuine ingenuity. 2D platformer? Check. Cane hopping? Check! Globe trotting? Pattern-based bosses? Gem collecting? Check, check, and check. There's no room for deviation from the core foundation, and that's unfair. Because we're so feverishly drawn toward nostalgia, we limit the creative freedoms of developers. They build games around our memories rather than their own desires, and that means we're stuck with flat offerings that might contain the music and the characters we remember, but none of the formidable elements that can conjure lasting appeal.

Our excessive demands put WayForward Technologies in a position where it was nearly impossible to succeed.

The saddest part of this quixotic quest is that developers often succeed in blinding us through brazen manipulation. Problems that would be crushing in a typical game are overlooked when they're surrounded by the characters and music that we've grown to love. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword contains imaginative puzzles and devious dungeons, but does have its fair share of annoying problems as well. If the endless tutorials and forced backtracking weren't shielded by the fantasy world we're so enamored with, would so many people have been as forgiving? Would people have so eagerly shelled out money to play The Simpsons Arcade Game if they didn't have fond memories of jumping rope as Lisa in a dimly lit arcade? Is there any chance Sonic would even still exist if people couldn't look back fondly at his Genesis days?

Publishers have learned how susceptible we are to nostalgia and used that power against us. Stamping a franchise from our youth on the front of the box practically guarantees that a significant contingent of people will play (and enjoy) it no matter how many problems it contains. I've been outspoken about the dip in quality Zelda has suffered, but there are few games that I'm looking forward to more than whatever form Link takes on the Wii U. I'm so drawn to this franchise that, no matter how many times I've been beaten down, I still stand back up, ready to embrace whatever comes next. This is a terrible cycle of rising expectations and crushed hopes, and I'm helpless to break free from it. I'm trapped in a cage of nostalgia, and even though the door has been left wide open, I refuse to escape.

But we do have a choice. We have the freedom to turn up our nose at subpar efforts. Instead of forcing developers to continually try to remake our youth, we should urge them to try something new. After all, neither The Legend of Zelda nor DuckTales were trying to appeal to any of our prior memories. They were great on their own merits, and have been celebrated for more than two decades because of what they accomplished. If we stop demanding that developers must continually release sequels and that said games must adhere to a strict formula, we empower these creators to make something they're passionate about. We need to break free from the hold nostalgia has on us. Only then will we be able to see games for what they truly are, and maybe open ourselves up to entirely new experiences.

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Discussion

649 comments
johnnyauau
johnnyauau

You guys finally run out of steam? That's good. We can't ever dwell on this forever like a long lasting conversation with no end to this.

figotech
figotech

"WayForward messed with the physics, toned down the difficulty, and transformed the thrilling original into a hollow shell of its former self" Did we even play the same game?????? I don't feel any difference in the physics, Duck Tales was ALWAYS an easy game, if anything this remake is waaaaay harder because of the final climb, you have to realize that Extreme difficulty is "Nintendo classic mode" They created the previous difficulties because a lot of people these days don't know what a real Game Over is. I have yet to finish Extreme because I get my ass handed down after recovering Number One Dime, you die, game over and its starting again from the start, like the original.

joshphillips
joshphillips

I agree with Tom in that a lot of developers these days when remaking or remastering a classic game from the past don't add enough new changes to the game to make it stand on it's own merit.  However DuckTales Remastered while not deviating from the gameplay mechanics of the original much did add more material to the game for both fans of the cartoon and original game.  If I can prefer it over the original unlike TMNT Re-Shelled or Double Dragon Neon then I believe the developer did something righ and they are on the right patht.  Wayforward knew who it was trying to please and unfortunately it seems Tom doesn't understand that. 

raziel2kain
raziel2kain

ok, Tom, whatever you say, that 4.5 was WRONG.

raziel2kain
raziel2kain

 "or if my childhood ignorance had clouded my judgment" 

hey Tom, you might be right.

me as a child played many games without paying attention to details. me and my friends think that ok this is the game and we're enjoying it, that's all. WE WERE A LOT MORE HAPPIER WITH GAMES.

me, myself never read a review of a 8-16 bit game! now, when i look back i wonder how i spend many hours on  shit titles like Contra Force and Rush and Attack!

nodoubtnyc
nodoubtnyc

it's a great game, and wayforward accomplished some pretty amazing things. reviewers who played the original in the 80s have just become old and embittered. and the game's freakin 15 bucks, it's not exactly a giant cash grab. sorry they made a game that reminds u that ur old, but stop hatin!

peateyl8
peateyl8

I agree with this article. I play every mario game hoping that it will bring back magic of Super mario 64 or the snes day's, although some are good games upon their own merit, they are ultimately living off a name. It would be interesting to see what games could be made instead of worn out franchises.

Paul_Phoenicks
Paul_Phoenicks

Everybody is all "they went and recreated DuckTales, so that's what makes it awesome", but is ignoring the fact that it isn't the DuckTales they remembered. Scrooge controls differently and has a completely different inertia to his movements.

I stand by what I said on the review page for the game: DuckTales Remastered exists in a world with Bionic Commando Rearmed and Super Street Fighter HD Remix, games that not only remade older titles, but did so while improving the original and keeping the fan service. DuckTales futzed with the original in the one place where you couldn't futz with it- the gameplay. I rated the game a 5. Did I play the original? Yes - bought it and beat it in a day when I was 9. Did I play Remastered? Yes - was annoyed that they changed the feel of Scrooge, found the levels dull for 2013, and found the basic enemy attack patterns of "move left and right" and "respawn when you move to a certain point and move back" dull and antiquated gameplay mechanics that shouldn't exist in 2013.

Remember: WayForward are the guys that made mostly mediocre cartoon ports for Nintendo handhelds and got lucky with Shantae and Contra 4. DuckTales is their attempt to say "Hey, we did DuckTales! Remember that awesome Moon music? Well, it's here, so buy this game!", while hiding the fact that they messed up just about everything else about the game.

johnnyauau
johnnyauau

@starwind3437 Look, it's just my word against yours. I agree with Tom's article. You don't. Let's just leave it at that. In the near future, you should take a hard look at yourself and try not to take it personally. I don't take rhetoric or any personal attacks at all. Your entitled to your opinion but you can not force others to agree in your view. And when people make their opinion, countering their argument again and again only makes it worse. You're going to continue contradicting Tom's article on nostalgia until you are too paranoid to accept your mistake.

joshphillips
joshphillips

So many times in reviews I've read that if it's not broke don't fix it..  Then I read reviews saying why didn't they change the gameplay?  When it comes to remakes and remasters I believe reviewers should stick with if it's not broke don't fix it.  It's a freaking Remaster not a stand alone title if it were it would have been called DuckTales 3.  Kinda like Mario 2, 3 etc

nigelholden
nigelholden

@Paul_Phoenicks I think part of the messaging problem with this argument is in it's tone. Take for example your assertion that WayForward got "lucky" with Contra for and Shantae. As if these games were flukes and the the hard work of the programmers designers didn't matter, it all just boiled down to sheer dumb luck. Sorry but sounds on the far left side of ridiculous. it also dismisses laudable efforts like Boy and his Blob and Blood Rayne.  

I've been playing DT:Remastered for a couple days now. I have no problem with the controls except for the slight pogo problem that pops up rarely on the hard setting. But you evidently have. In no way am I trying to change your opinion of the game. It's the internet, that won't happen. And you are welcome to it. Just as Mr. McShea is welcome to his. I think he has fine journalist skills. His strong command of the language and the readability of his articles are testament to that. 

What I take issue with is this idea that myself and many, many other gamers are taken in only by the force of nostalgia. That we are really just rubes, suckered into thinking we genuinely have been playing and loving a game that sucks. It all comes down to this attitude that seems to infer that this particular game sucks. That Wayforward is somehow, deviously hiding all these HUGE flaws in a game behind an invisible wall of nostalgia. It's a poor game. And that is a universal truth. If you say otherwise, it's because of nostalgia. Companies aren't creating the games I want to play because you suckers are begging for nostalgic fixes. There is just too much that seems so out of reality to me. Not every game is for everyone. But for my tastes, I'm just not seeing the train wreck of a game that certain people keep insisting is there. 

starwind3437
starwind3437

@johnnyauau What gets me is that you are only going by the word of a SINGLE REVIEWER when there are many others out there. That clearly shows you are a fanboy. You do know there are other  reviewers out there right?

Paul_Phoenicks
Paul_Phoenicks

@nigelholden @Paul_Phoenicks For every Boy and His Blob that WayForward put out, there's 2 Sabrina the Teenage Witch games and Thor game that's clogging shelves of local Toys R Us' around America. 

But anyway, my point is that, yes, people did get suckered by nostalgia. If you removed Scrooge McDuck and the DuckTales setting and replaced it with a generic character in a techno-futuristic setting, for example, you'd be left with a game that we'd all be saying is a generic kiddie game with mechanics stuck in the 1980's and not worth the $15 asking price for download. As soon as you say "DuckTales", you grab people's attention. Shoot, even the developers' own Duckumentary series on YouTube played up the fact that they were making art that looked like the cartoon and music that was as great as the original game's music. The original trailer for the game was, essentially, a music video with a sing along of the cartoon theme. Message boards turned into "how many pages down before someone recited the theme song?" or "who's gonna be the guy to mention Darkwing Duck?".

Let's be honest. The game was marketed towards the 30-somethings and 40-somethings that played the original, and it's also fair to say that those audiences were also the only audiences that were actually checking for the game. DuckTales means nothing to my daughters, even though they're of the age that I was when this game first hit for the NES - they're checking for Disney Infinity. Our audience is the one that's going to look at this game through rose-colored glasses and ignore the fact that there are several remakes (like my previously-mentioned Bionic Commando) that did what this game did far better, and there are games that are on the market in the same genre that are also superior games (including what Mario and Donkey Kong have been doing lately). We cannot look at DuckTales in a vacuum - it has to be compared to its contemporaries, and that's where the game starts to come out looking very mediocre and primitive. Just like in cinema, some things just don't age well.

johnnyauau
johnnyauau

@starwind3437 Last of all. I will never give in. Not to you. Not to anyone else. No one tells me what to do.

johnnyauau
johnnyauau

@starwind3437 Have a hard think. What questions didn't you ask me about? You assume too much about me that I have magical things to prove your point.

johnnyauau
johnnyauau

@starwind3437 You do know you are taking this far too personally. Your mistake is picking up arguments with counter arguments. That you are contradicting Tom's article and nostalgia. And the biggest mistake by you is your inability to accept what I say. If you can't shut up, the moderator will step in. Last of all, you don't know me. Call me a fan boy all you want but your rhetoric is an example of a person hell bent on getting a message across.

starwind3437
starwind3437

@xXJayeDuBXx Are you just going to say I'm an idiot without any reason backing it up? That's real mature. How AM I an idiot?

starwind3437
starwind3437

@Paul_Phoenicks Have your daughters even PLAYED the game? In my opinion, I think it could appeal to a younger audience as well.

nigelholden
nigelholden

@Paul_Phoenicks @nigelholden Ignoring the fact that you are moving the goal posts on your Wayforward library comment, I never said that nostalgia doesn't play apart in marketing something. But let's looks at the original market... 1990. It was a hot license that they used to make a really good NES game. And here's where your argument starts to unravel. There were tons of games that had licenses back in the day. Friday the 13th. Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, Terminator, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, X-Men, Silver Surfer... All games with licenses. Each of those licenses have fan bases and can induce feelings of nostalgia. But most of them sucked. The gaming population at large would tend to agree. Sure, some may like them, but there wouldn't be nearly as much love for them as with Ducktales.

Ducktales was popular, not just on license, but because many gamers genuinely found it fun and enjoyed it. It was a solid game for a lot of people. So when the remaster was announced, people got excited. Let's be really honest. Would people really start going all crazy about a NES X-Men remake? Of course not, despite the fact that X-Men are quite popular at the moment, nobody is really is waiting for that remaster. And if a few are, not enough to drive the market to produce one.

Sure, anecdotally, you don't like it. You didn't have fun with it. It's just not your type of game. And that's fine. But to say that the people who have been enjoying it are suckers for nostalgia is nothing more than an elitist, subjective claim. What gets stranger is treating nostalgia as some sort of boogey man snake oil salesman. Like licenses, nostalgia is just another layer that can be added onto a game. If it's added to a bad game, most players will reject that game. Not a lot of Superman 64 defenders out there, despite the strong license. 

We can toss anecdotes around until the space cows beam up, but that doesn't get us anywhere. Sure, Ducktales means nothing to your kid, but my daughter was having a blast with it. My wife likes it and she never played the original. It's an old style of game, but one that a lot of people love. That style along with it's nuances haven't been around for a bit, so people are enjoying revisiting it. And the 30-40 year olds. who happen to be a completely legitimate gaming demographic, appreciate the nostalgic layer, the polish of this game. The fact that they brought in the original voice actors, including Alan Young. That, right there, should show that this wasn't a cheap cash in. 

At the end of the day, there seems to be a problem with people accepting the fact that others, many, legitimately like this game. They like the gameplay, the stages, the graphics, and yes, even the layer of nostalgia it can bring. Arguing that it universally sucks, is a low grade platformer, is no more a sophisticated argument than saying Battlefield 3 is a superior game to to Megaman X. Instead, we're left with this odd paranoia and finger pointing at nostalgia to justify an elitist stance on a game is currently quite enjoyable to a large portion of gamers. To say that the only reason they, we, enjoy it is purely because of nostalgia is just insulting and nonsense. When we start getting into the "some things just don't age well.." bit, what we are really talking about is sensibilities attributed to a time of reference. It says little about the intrinsic quality of the content of an item. The same applies to cinema.  

johnnyauau
johnnyauau

@starwind3437 It's 3:25am in Canberra Australia and I'm going to sleep now. I'm going to take my mind off now. Thanks for the chat. Private Message me if you want to continue on.

johnnyauau
johnnyauau

@starwind3437 Games like this could start at $100. It takes a while until it's cheap enough to buy it.

johnnyauau
johnnyauau

@starwind3437 No. Well because I own a laptop and out of all the countries, Australia can be the most expensive.

johnnyauau
johnnyauau

@starwind3437 Simple. You failed to ask me what consoles I owned and what games I owned. It's been entertaining so thanks for the conversation. I'm going to take a breather now.

johnnyauau
johnnyauau

@starwind3437 Last chance. You still don't know me. It should be obvious right? There's your clue. All you asking is whether I played the game or not. But I still can't answer it still. Because when I'm anonymous, I can be anything.

starwind3437
starwind3437

@johnnyauau How is your name an advantage? Also, it isn't that you couldn't answer my questions it's because you didn't want to. Again, have you played the game?

johnnyauau
johnnyauau

@starwind3437 Think harder than that. You still don't know me. You're just assume too much. My advantage is just my username and that's all. And that's why I couldn't answer your questions. I'm too anonymous to care about your crusade against Tom McShea.

starwind3437
starwind3437

@johnnyauau I will be expecting answers. Also what is experience with nostalgia? I will be expecting answers to all questions.

starwind3437
starwind3437

Let me clear that up. Do you listen to reviewers THAT DON'T work for Gamespot?

starwind3437
starwind3437

Do yo listen to other reviewers OTHER THAN Tom?