Leaks of the upcoming Spyro the Dragon remastered trilogy earlier this week have sent the internet into a predictable meltdown, the sort of spontaneous fan support that many new gaming IPs can only dream of.
Granted, Spyro does have over a decade of goodwill and nostalgia backing it up, but there’s no suggestion that the hype will die away once the game has launched. The Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy launched under similar circumstances last year to critical and public acclaim, and sold better than anyone could have reasonably expected.
And Crash wasn’t an outlier, either. Looking down the list of the UK’s best selling games of last year, a clear pattern emerges. It’s no surprise that the four best selling games of the year - FIFA 18, Call of Duty: WWII, GTA V and Assassin’s Creed Origins - are all part of long-running series, a trend which has been growing for many years.
However, what does stand out is the number of titles that clearly trade on their links to the past. As well as Crash, there was Mario Kart 8, which featured a wide range of retro tracks, and Mario Odyssey, which contained classic 8-bit side-scrolling sections. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was a remastering of the iconic Modern Warfare, while Wolfenstein II and DOOM were both reimaginings of classic series. Only one truly original game from a new series - Horizon Zero Dawn - broke the top 20.
How could this impact the future of consoles?
As we’ve written several times since the Nintendo Switch launched, Microsoft and Sony are at a crossroads when it comes to the direction they take their next consoles. The PS4 Pro and Xbox One X already do everything you’d expect from a next gen console. They’re more powerful and offer better visuals - to the point where many gamers currently don’t have a setup to access their full potential.
It’s hard to see the next generation of PlayStation and Xbox inspiring if all they can offer is even better graphics and more power.
What the nostalgia-driven success of games like Crash has demonstrated is that for many, graphics are still a secondary concern. The N.Sane Trilogy does look fantastic, but it hasn’t done so well because of the graphics, but for what it offers in terms of gameplay. The same is true for the ongoing success of Microsoft’s backwards compatibility drive, which enables gamers to play older games on the Xbox One.
The Switch has proved that gamers respond to more than just ‘more power’. If Sony and Microsoft decide to end their pursuit of simply increased power, it’ll be fascinating to see which direction they move.