There’s been a trend in movies lately that has been a little troubling to me: Rehashes. It’s not a new trend by any means, but it seems that a number of popular franchises that have been around for 20, 30, or more years are being touted as the “next big thing”, when all I can do is scratch my head and wonder “Where is the new stuff?”

While some are good, others make you wonder why they are relaunching so much stuff we’ve already visited and revisited before. “How does this tie into a gaming blog”, you ask? It’s a common issue in the gaming industry as well, and I can’t help but wonder if perhaps the gaming industry is becoming more and more tapped for ideas.

Sure, we’ve gotten new types of games (I think the most original content is being found more on the digital download front), and even established genres get some new twists on a classic formula, but we as gamers seem to be stuck in a rut: First-person shooters, MMOS, music/rhythm games, and party/mini-games. How many games in these four genres alone do we see each year?

Then there is also the “remake” phase. style=”font-style:italic;”> Pac-Man and Space Invaders have seen impressive and relevant updates to their classic formulas, but are still at their core the same games we played nearly 30 years ago. Final Fantasy IV saw a nice graphics update on the DS. The mere prospect of downloading classic console and arcade games (such as Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, and TMNT: Turtles in Time) going crazy at the mere thought of playing 10-15 year old games again. not to mention the “old is new” philosophy that is bringing modern classics such as Retro Game Challenge, Bit.Trip.BEAT, Mega Man 9 and Geometry Wars as games that we could have realistically been playing back in the ’80’s. And personally, the formula works for me. Present a 2D game with twitchy arcade-style gameplay, and my ears invariably perk up.

With all the moving forward with higher end graphics and HDTVs, there’s a certain appeal for classic gameplay, score accumulation, pattern memorization and nostalgia-fueled simple graphics. After all, when the arcades were king, you could play games based on every subject matter imaginable: a lot cutter, a chef building hamburgers, a carpenter saving his girlfriend, a ladybug eating flowers, fighting Satan in a spaceship, a big-nosed creature hopping around a pyramid, a clown with a crystal ball that fights… I never did figure out exactly what the Hell those things were supposed to be in Mr. Do.

The point is, that despite the simple graphics, the limited memory space, and usually one button, there never seemed to be a lack of new ideas. I don’t see that anymore. It’s either sequels or remakes or updates. These days, we largely get a limited set of genres with the same ideas, minor tweaks, and new graphics.

While it’s trendy for the “expanded audience” to bash the “hardcore” (I hate that term) gamer for not liking the slews of popular selling “me too” titles that flood the market these days, it’s important to at least keep in mind that the new audience is familiar with these established genres simply because it’s all they know, it’s all that’s advertised, it’s all they’re given by publishers, and frankly, they simply weren’t there in a time when things WERE different.

The industry is more popular than ever and makes more money that it ever has before, and yet it’s also at a point where it’s the most stagnant creatively. And it shows in the weirdest of places. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Galaga have remained in the Top 20 on the Virtual Console for weeks on end, a testament to solid gameplay. the majority of classic gaming compilations have always sold well. And it’s interesting that “retro game that never were” and independent digital downloads seem to be where all the original ideas have migrated. Look at Braid or World of Goo for bringing something fresh to the table. The next Grand Theft Auto? It may be fun, but not so much.

So what do you think? Is the industry at large in a creative rut, and if you think so, what are your thoughts to get it out?

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Filed under: classic gamingindie gamesretro gaming