Pocket Gamer

Pocket Gamer
The Pocket Gamer Report: How Mobile Gets it Backwards

Pocket Gamer | 25 Jul 2009 15:47
Pocket Gamer - RSS 2.0

To reconcile the two poles, we need to acknowledge two things: one, that in the evolution of any creative medium there's an initial period of formal weakness; and two, that therefore the term 'retro' describes anything that needs to be stripped out and replaced in order to make an old product competitive in a contemporary marketplace. Retro, in other words, is synonymous with formal weakness.

(Wait: don't attack just yet.)

To invoke film again, it's a rare enthusiast who would consider watching the earliest attempts at film-making for enjoyment, but leap forward to the middle of the twentieth century and you'll reach a point in film-making where the distinction between old and new becomes irrelevant.

There are many things I like about Billy Wilder's The Apartment, but its chronological setting isn't one of them. Nor is it a negative, or even a distraction. The fact the The Apartment was made in 1960 just doesn't matter, except as a novelty if you happen to like men in hats who talk slightly differently. By then, the language of film-making that we recognise today was established.

In the same way, the pixel-perfect conversion of Space Invaders that you can find on the App Store is interminably tedious. It was great in its time, but since then the language of video game has grown in sophistication to the point where the unadorned mechanics of Space Invaders are virtually incomprehensible. Playing the original Space Invaders now is like watching a very early silent film: interesting if you like that kind of thing, but entertaining only to a vanishingly small proportion of people.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition isn't a retro game. It's just a game. Everything that identified the original as retro - basically, the presentation; the rest more than stands up to any game of comparable price released now - has been stripped out and replaced with shinier parts. The same goes for Space Invaders Extreme, Pac-Man Championship Edition and Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix. Despite the longevity of their respective licences, they aren't retro games. Retro is the dust and crud that talented programmers have expunged from them.

This is something Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony all understand, and which mobile and to a lesser extent iPhone developers have failed to grasp: retro licenses may be good, but retro games never are.

(Now attack.)

Pocket Gamer is Europe's leading source of news, opinion and reviews on mobile and handheld gaming.

Comments on