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How Modern Times Adapt a Retro Approach to '80s Video Game Experiences

Just because the '80s have ended, it doesn't mean we can't still capture the spirit of the decade. The modern day has an enormous library of media creations that aim to recapture the spirit of our most fluorescent decade. Yet, despite having so many modern releases that rely on the retro 80's aesthetic, there are still a significant number of smaller ways which contemporary products set themselves apart. Taking a look at a few examples of these, we want to explore why these changes have been made and why the relationship to original media is a positive if complicated thing.

"Nintendo NES Controll" (CC BY 2.0) by wwarby

Guidance Through Limitations

Interactive entertainment is in an interesting place now because of how much it relies on the technology of the era. Of course, the sociocultural environment always serves as a lens to focus on technology, but the limitations of tech always seem to act as an unscalable wall. In the '80s, interactive entertainment was dependent on the hardware and software that gave form to the systems of the time. However, even though the limits of the '80s were extreme by today's standards, they also served as a guiding light.

Making design decisions in the video game world used to be a constant challenge, and this challenge raised the need for ingenuity. Complex ideas became filtered through all of these hurdles, which resulted in games reflecting the imagination and genius of their creators. Without these limitations, modern games need to essentially pretend to be retro, meaning the line into "too modern to be retro" is nebulous at best.

Adopting a Modern Retro Style

When looking at which level of retro style needs to be adopted for a new title, the specifics vary enormously by game. One of the most pronounced examples of this could be found in online casinos like Fruit Kings. Despite offering new games like Cluster Side and Lighting Roulette, the basis of these games is extremely relatable back to retro systems. In these cases, the backing ideas behind the games are the same as they were in the 1980s, but the visual style and user interface is completely modern.

On the other side of this equation are games like Dwarf Fortress. Designed as an ASCII game, Dwarf Fortress is a dead ringer for '80s tile-based games, at least on a graphical level. The systems within the game, however, are far too complex for an era-appropriate machine to handle. Again, it's a retro-style at its base, but it takes a very different approach to that taken by online casino games.


Straddling the mid-line are games like Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. Released in 2018, this 2D side-scrolling platformer mimics titles like the original Metroid and Castlevania games, released in the mid to late '80s. It does this by offering retro NES style graphics, but these graphics go beyond what the NES was capable of in terms of simultaneous color palettes, on-screen sprite numbers, and animation complexity. On the systems side of things, elements such as faster menu systems, and cloud saving support rely on aspects only introduced post-2000.

The Power of Nostalgia

Determining which is the best possible way to form a retro-inspired game comes down to the feeling that a developer wishes to inspire. In casino games, the base thrill has always been the cornerstone, while in tile-based adventures imagination reigns supreme. Then some games lean on both old graphics and classic systems, only crossing over the boundaries of the '80s to make the experience better for the player.

This flexibility has always led to conflict within the retro gaming community, between what is truly retro and which oversteps retro boundaries. While we can't speak to exactly which category should be seen which way, we can at least rest assured that retro-inspired experiences are bigger than they've ever been. Whether you grew up with '80s games or are a new fan looking backward, it's a great time to live, even if the discussion is confusing. Ultimately, there are no wrong answers, and it's just a matter of finding what fits your tastes and nostalgia best.

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