How I Define Retro Gaming

It’s easy to figure out where “Retro Gaming” begins, but where does it end?  Where do we draw the line that defines retro gaming, and gaming outside of the current generation? The definition of “retro” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it in relation to fashion, but says “relating to, reviving, or being the styles and especially the fashions of the past fashionably nostalgic or old-fashioned“.  All this leaves us with is a very vague “of the past” or “nostalgic” to apply towards Retro Gaming.

I have a way that I personally define it, but I admit there are some flaws or outliers in my definition too.  I use my classification of “Retro Gaming” as a way to include more games into the definition, and also to simplify things.  My definition is this:  Retro games are games from the generation before last. (Example: PS4 is current generation, PS3 is last generation, PS2 is retro gaming).

I’m sure some of you disagree with that definition, and have some good reasons to reject it.  A strong case could be made that something like the Playstation 2 generation can’t be considered retro because they still had releases as recent as 2013 (FIFA 14 and Pro Evolution Soccer 14).  That’s a very good point, but it’s a bit of an outlier, along with some other titles from the PS2.   The vast majority of PS2 games released in 2007 and beyond were released side by side or ported from the PSP and Wii, it’s also a lot of sports games, music games, or multi-platform movie licensed games.  There are a few exceptions though, like 2008’s Persona 4.   Now I’m not trying to say these games don’t count, but the PS2 was a system that sold over 158 million units and that install base was too large to ignore worldwide for soccer games, and too large for developers to not port the weaker PSP games, or equally powered Wii games to.    Those games gave the PS2 releases way past it’s time, that really make it hard to make a case for it as a “Retro Console”.    From that same generation, the GameCube’s final release was Madden ’08 in August 2007, and the XBox’s final release was Madden ’09 in August 2008, both well after the system was dead.   I have a strong feeling that with digital releases being so popular now, and that almost every indie game doesn’t require much tech power, we will see today’s consoles get releases well into the next generation and maybe even the one after that (if there is one).

Trying to group a console or generation into the Retro classification is just simpler to do.  Games like Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Time Splitters, and Midnight Club launched with the PS2, they’re 18 years old!  Grand Theft Auto 3, Metal Gear Solid 2 and Halo are 17 years old, while games like Eternal Darkness, Super Mario Sunshine and Metroid Prime are 16!    I feel like we’ve been calling NES games “Retro” at least since that era,  Super Mario Bros. was 16 years old in 2001 when Super Mario Sunshine came out.   When did we start classifying the SNES as a “retro console”?  The Super Nintendo released in 1991 in America, and it’s last game (Frogger) came out in 1998…it was widely accepted as “retro” by 2009, right?

Kids who were 7 years old playing Ready to Rumble Round 2 when it launched with the PS2 would now be 25, surely they can have nostalgic memories at this point, correct?  I often see people link the word retro with “pioneer” or “originators” but retro doesn’t mean they’re the originals or founders, this is why something like the N64 is able to fall under the retro name too.

Since the PS2/GameCube/XBox Era there have been a lot of changes to console gaming, for starters, patches and updates are common occurrences for all games today, it’s actually surprising if a game does not have a patch.   I don’t believe any PS2 or XBox games had patches/updates (at least not for single player) and I know GameCube didn’t.  We also have things like DLC, Micro-transactions, and a slew of other digital additions that have come to console gaming.

Since that era we have been introduced to touch screens, motion controls, camera tracking, VR, and other tech advancements.   We have also seen the creation of “mobile gaming”, which now means more than GameBoys and GameGears.

Independent studios became a much more common thing, and it’s funny because they make a lot of games that have retro aesthetics to them.

Some genres have disappeared from major publishers and major studios.  I would be shocked to see any major publisher (non Nintendo) today put out a new full-retail prices game with an “odd” concept like Super Monkey Ball, Katamari or Magic Pengel.    Sure, we may see another Super Monkey Ball or Katmari due to their established brand recognition, but nowadays quirky game ideas are left for the indies.  3D Platformers once ruled the industry, but now they’re a rarity.   Hell, they’re not even making extreme sports games any more, and I can’t think of a single entry into the “futuristic racer” genre that has come from a major publisher this generation or last.

Games are significantly different than 2 generations ago, from the way they’re sold to us, the way they’re developed, the way they’re played, and even to the genre’s that they’re apart of.  Big shifts like that clearly separate a PS4 from a PS2, a XBoxOne from a XBox and of course a Switch from a GameCube.  Older gamers can get completely nostalgic and say things like “Back in my day, when we bought a game it was 100% complete, no patches, DLC or microtransactions”  “Back in my day there used to be 4 different basketball games released a year”  “Back in my day all of the major companies had 3D Platformers”.   All of those old-man quotes would all apply to the PS2/XBox/Cube generation.  These big changes since 2 generations ago make it even more obvious that the PS2/XBox/Cube era is a lot different than today.

However you define it, that’s your choice and preference, there is no definitive answer.  If you want to discuss feel free to tweet me at @TheGamerPad or join in the Discord at

Posted on February 20, 2019, in Thinking Outloud, Write-Ups and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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