Back to the ‘90s: Industry turns back the clock 20 years as 1990s mania hits the games business

Christopher Dring
Back to the ‘90s: Industry turns back the clock 20 years as 1990s mania hits the games business

Resident Evil 2 is the latest game to ride the wave of ‘90s nostalgia that has swept into the market.

The iconic 1998 horror game is being remade, publisher Capcom has announced. The news comes just two months after Square Enix revealed that its own 1990s epic – Final Fantasy VII – is being recreated for release in 2017.

Other ‘90s revivals include the recent Chart-Track No.1 Rare Replay, a new game in the long-dormant Shenmue series and the upcoming Super Mario Maker, a game that delves into Mario's back catalogue of 2D platformers.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing,” said Capcom brand manager Brian Ayers.

As we get further away from the ‘90s, the rose-tinted glasses start to come out, and a fondness for the period starts to creep back-in. It runs through everything from fashion to music to film, and games are now an established enough culture that they're affected, too.”

Gavin Price, studio head at Playtonic Games, which is developing Yooka-Laylee – a game inspired by 1990s 3D platformers – added: The longer time passes with such experiences missing-in-action, the more and more the pressure builds to do something reminiscent. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, I would say.

A plainer explanation would also be that there has never been a better environment and set of circumstances to allow creators the freedom to do what their hearts desire.”

It isn't just games benefitting from a 1990s renaissance; in TV, both Twin Peaks and The X-Files are receiving new series, while films such as Jurassic World, Independence Day 2 and Baywatch tap into the same nostalgia.

So why now? From a pure economic stand-point, kids brought up in the 1990s are now in their 30s and working within these industries. They're also an affluent audience keen to relive past glories.

For myself - and I reckon most ‘children of the ‘90s' – it was a time when I had the spare time to play games to my heart's content... you're almost overwhelmed with great memories due to the sheer volume of games you played,” Price says. I'll happily sit and look at my retro collection just to evoke those memories.”

Sony's European president Jim Ryan, commenting on the reaction to Final Fantasy VII and Shenmue III at E3, feels that other entertainment fields have long been able to delve into their history, and the wave of ‘90s revivals in games shows how this industry is maturing.

It's probably symptomatic of the fact the industry simply now has more years under its belt,” he said. 20 years ago we couldn't do this because we weren't 20-years-old. Don't you think it's always been the case that great entertainment experiences are enduring? Maybe the form in which they manifest themselves down the road is different, but there is great classical music that transcends ages and generations. It's two things – great stuff will always be of interest and relevant to successive generations, and as an industry we are just older now, so there's the possibility for that phenomenon to come about in a way that wasn't possible a number of years ago.”

Of course, there's an even simpler reason for the industry's new fondness for the 1990s – it sells.

Since Capcom announced Resident Evil HD last summer the fans have been getting more vocal about wanting a Resident Evil 2 Remake,” explains Ayers as to why Capcom finally gave into demands for a new Resident Evil 2 – a game that has been a much-requested title for more than a decade.

As a result of the great reception and success of Resident Evil HD and the upcoming Resident Evil Zero, the team have taken notice and looked at exactly what the fans want next.”

He continued: The 1990s was a time when tech started to catch up with imagination, and allowed developers real freedom to think bigger in terms of game design. You can see it reflected in many ways throughout the nineties – from what composers were able to achieve with the Super Nintendo sound chip right through to what the arrival of CD-ROMS could allow for in terms of file sizes. Some incredible games came out of that period, many of which have stood the test of time fantastically well, and we have so many easy ways to access them again now.”

Price concluded: The hobby was more enthusiast-driven back then and so any game regardless of its material or mechanics had a chance of becoming something much-loved. Many things back then were ‘firsts' for so many players and it was probably the peak time for that... there just aren't that many ‘firsts' in games these days, which is a natural outcome for a maturing industry.

But you never forget your first time, whatever the experience.”

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