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Why Shovel Knight is great and Mighty No. 9 is terrible

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A simple explanation of how “retro” games often fail

Many "classic" games are terrible, at least when looked at through the lens of modern gaming.

We remember how the games of our youth made us feel, and we think of them in terms of how we saw them at the time. We don’t actually want new games that look and play like the classics, we want games that make us feel the same way.

Which is why this video about why Shovel Knight is so good is, well, so good. Take a look.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but the best lesson is that nostalgia works the best when you’re mixing and matching what works with what modern audiences expect from their entertainment. Remaking a particular game is infinitely harder than evoking an entire era; giving the audience a single thing to compare to your modern game just opens you to criticism, while giving yourself the impossible task of competing with someone’s memories.

Remind you of anything?

stranger things gif

But these are things that deliver on the promise of nostalgia. Mighty No. 9 aimed to recreate a single series, without learning much from the years of games that have been released since. It's not pastiche, it's the work of a bad copy machine. Nostalgia only works for the player when it's handled with skill, and this video is a wonderful lesson in how to do that well.