Nostalgia gaming and the return of childhood classics

How your longing for simpler times is fuelling a gaming revival

We grew up in somewhat of a golden age of childhood videogames. The advent of the Nintendo DS in 2004 and Wii consoles in 2006 brought gaming to a younger audience than ever before. We whiled away the hours happily, glued to the likes of Nintendogs, Super Mario Bros, and Pokémon. Over a decade on, Nintendo is now in quite a unique position of being a source of real childhood nostalgia for a large chunk of consumers, and they are capitalising on that. 

Gaming nostalgia is a powerful experience, as video games are designed specifically to elicit emotion, to spark the part of your brain that gives you satisfaction. There is a reason that nostalgia can be incredibly impactful for those of us who grew up gaming. The games we played as children create clear markers in our childhood memories and experiences.  Ask someone what their favourite game is and more often than not the reply is “I love XYZ but I’ve always loved ABC”. Our childhood games hold a special place for us, and it should come as no surprise that game companies are recognising and feeding into this. Nostalgia gaming has become a point of interest for a variety of gaming companies, most predominantly Nintendo. These brands are returning to older titles to rework them for newer game systems, or simply reusing the title in never-ending franchises.

“One of the standout titles of this year’s Nintendo Direct was without a doubt the reworking of Wii Sports for their Switch console.”

Regardless of the industry, brands must always be rethinking and reworking their marketing strategies to turn the best possible profit. Sometimes this includes playing on what we know, the dependable and the nostalgic. The recent Nintendo Direct, Nintendo’s informational presentation on upcoming games and developments, highlighted the use of nostalgia as an unspoken buzzword in game advertisements. 

For example, one of the standout titles of this year’s Nintendo Direct was without a doubt the reworking of Wii Sports for their Switch console. Wii Sports and all its reiterations have managed to stay popular and relevant in pop culture and collective nostalgia. Nintendo Switch Sports, to be released on April 29, will feature classics such as bowling and tennis, while also introducing games such as football that truly use the full capabilities of the joy-con controller pair. This ode to the 2000’s kids’ childhood highlights this long-lasting love for the game, regardless of how awkward the Wii game system may feel now in 2022. 

While Nintendo has played its part in keeping the game alive, Wii sports has stood the test of time for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the games were good, very good in some cases, but many of the quality games came from later additions to the franchise such as Wii Sports Resort. Nostalgia allows us to simply remember the best instances of our experience, ignoring how frustrating aspects of the (now outdated) Wii could sometimes be.

Another element that keeps Wii sports alive in our memory, one completely outside of the marketing strategy of Nintendo, is meme culture. Through meme culture and social media, we revitalise game titles in popular culture by returning to them and bringing them to the front of public discussion years after their release. While you might be in the small group who hasn’t played Wii Sports, there’s a high chance you’ve seen the Matt memes (about a particularly adept Wii sports non-playable character) circulating the internet for a few years now.

We are all united by our familiar experiences, and gaming brands have realised that when they return to the games of our childhood, they don’t have to win us over with clever marketing, but rather just appeal to our inner child. Nintendo has created some of gaming’s most iconic titles, which regardless of the iterations will always elicit a degree of excitement, and the Wii Sports franchise is one that deserves the love it receives. However, there’s no denying the clever play on nostalgia the gaming company is using here.

Aside from Wii sports reboots, nostalgia gaming shows itself in another area of the recent Nintendo Direct in their Mario Kart expansions. As a franchise, Mario Kart has managed to hold legendary status over multigenerational childhoods. The Mario Bros franchise itself being used for nostalgia shouldn’t come as a surprise in the slightest.

That being said, convincing a massive audience to pay for more in-game content is not usually an easy feat. But this year Nintendo is doing just that, introducing a deluxe expansion pack for Mario Kart 8, featuring reworked maps from previous titles such as Mario Kart 64, Mario Kart Tour, and Mario Kart Wii.

“Remastering games for newer generations of game systems is a sure-fire way to garner interest from an audience of die-hard fans.”

This wide range of games that Nintendo is pulling from will allow childhood maps to be experienced on the newest game systems. It can be difficult for extras and DLC (downloadable content) to appeal to a wider audience, and companies will always face questions about why it wasn’t included in the first place, and why the player should fork out for expansions to the game. But Nintendo, yet again, has bypassed these frustrations by simply playing up the nostalgia factor.

Remastering games for newer generations of game systems is a sure-fire way to garner interest from an audience of die-hard fans. The game Portal has done just this, having been brought to the Switch, and is due to be released later this year. Fans watching the trailer used in Nintendo Direct saw that features will remain true to the original game, not bringing much new to the table, and yet fans will still get a thrill of excitement from hearing the voices of familiar characters such as GLaDOS. The lines chosen in the trailer only further exemplify this, focusing on the time passing of the game. Many other cult games have followed similar tactics, for example, Assassin’s Creed has also been remastered for the Switch.

Nostalgia gaming is a growing phenomenon among large-scale game companies and indie producers alike. These appeals to the consumer’s childhood memories have been met with phenomenal success. This year’s Nintendo Direct has only highlighted the relevance of nostalgia in the gaming industry. And this remastered Wii Sports might just get me to finally buy additional joy-cons for my Nintendo Lite, so it’s definitely good business!