I have a question for you: do you return to games you’re nostalgic for? For me, there isn’t a year that goes by where I don’t play one of a handful of titles that give me a strong sense of nostalgia. These are games I really enjoyed back when I was around 11 years old, and replaying them feels like curling up in a warm blanket. They transport me back to a time when I was old enough to enjoy games to their fullest, but wasn’t so old that the pressures of society began crushing my enthusiasm for life. It’s a nice feeling to indulge, especially with…you know…everything.
I’ve always assumed other folks did this too, but never actually bothered to ask. As such I’ll pose the question again: do you replay games that you’re nostalgic for? Are you also able to grasp onto the happy memories of the past through replaying these games? As a jumping off point, I’ll share my own list of games, but I’d like to hear from you. Which games give you those sweet memories of the past? I’d also be curious if they come from a similar time in your life. Regardless, here are the games that give me a cozy feeling of nostalgia.
Pokémon Leafgreen / Emerald
Despite my current lack of interest in Pokémon, it played a very large part in my formative years. Hell, there’s probably things I don’t even remember that my parents could tell you about Pokémon. I’m also not sure if it shows, but it was one of the primary sources of inspiration for honing my artistic abilities. I’m not sure how much Pokémon influence can still be seen in my work, but it was definitely there in the earlier years. So it should come as no surprise then, that Pokémon is a huge source of nostalgia for me.
Both Leafgreen and Emerald occupy what I consider to be the “perfect” era of Pokémon. While I think the games are very flawed, they hit the right balance of being simple enough, while still being engaging. In future games the move pools of most critters were expanded such that you have effectively unlimited options when it comes to customizing your Pokémon. I enjoy how in these games you’re far more limited, which makes weighing up the different available options a little more impactful.
Both of these games also mark when Pokémon stopped being extremely crusty. The Gameboy Advance’s stronger hardware meant that a lot of the annoying limitations of earlier games were removed with these titles. The storage system no longer being a complete pain in the butt to use, and your inventory no longer being limited to 20 items are probably my two favourite improvements. The visuals are also quite vibrant compared to what came before. I know some people really like the newer 3D games, but those chunky GBA sprites will always be my favourite.
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
While Wind Waker has some of the weakest dungeon design of any Zelda game, it is still one of my favourites. I’m fairly certain that stems, in part, from it being one of the first Zelda games I played. However, few games in the franchise manage to hit the same notes as it. I don’t know about you, but sailing around the ocean in Wind Waker just gives it the vibe that you’re embarking on some grand adventure. I never really got that from any other Zelda game aside from Breath of the Wild, which also had terrible dungeons. Maybe there’s something to that?
It’s not just the feeling of adventure that really cemented Wind Waker as a favourite though: it’s also the characters. There are a ton of charming side characters you’ll meet throughout your journey. I remember Makar, Tetra, and Medley, where I couldn’t even tell you the names of the side characters from most Zelda games. Wind Waker is also one of the only Zelda games where Link is a character. Normally he takes the role of a stoic avatar for the player. By contrast, Toon Link is just some dude who’s trying to save his little sister. He still mute, but is so damn expressive that I always felt like I got a better sense of his thoughts and feelings throughout his journey – something I can’t say for most iterations of Link.
Super Mario Sunshine
Okay – before you have a cow let me explain. I know this is the red headed step child of the 3D Mario titles. It completely throws Nintendo’s coveted Mario design philosophy out the god damn window. Normally, Mario games are built in such a way where players can finish them with just the basics. Sunshine is not designed this way. It is one of the only Mario games not designed this way. You either know how to do a bunch of crazy bullshit, or you aren’t going to finish the game. And that’s probably why I like it so much.
As a kid I’d become easily frustrated by this game. You’re equipped with a watergun jetpack thing called FLUDD. This thing frequently allows you to bypass entire sections of levels since you can temporarily hover while using it. This allowed a much younger me to skip past most of the more challenging platforming sections of the game. Unfortunately, when I’d hit the mandatory sections where you need to play without FLUDD, I’d become stone-walled. These are the parts of Sunshine where there are massive spikes of difficulty, as you need to be able to execute Mario’s full array of different abilities.
As a result, I’d get bored, stop playing the game, and come back several months later to try again. In a lot of ways, this game was to younger me what something like Monster Hunter, or Guilty Gear are to current day me. It was a challenge to slowly master over hours of practice. Let me tell you – when I finally beat it for the first time it felt great. Hell, it still does. Here’s hoping I never forget that feeling.
Sonic Adventure 2
Have you ever been motivated to continue playing a game because you really liked a minigame in it? Sonic Adventure 2 would be that for me. Anyone who has played this game will already know what I’m talking about: the Chao Garden. In this, you get to raise a bunch of adorable little critters called Chao by feeding them items you collect from the main game levels, so you can race them. That’s it. This stupid minigame is why I’ve spent so much time playing Sonic Adventure 2.
Granted, after playing for hours upon hours to raise your Chao you become quite proficient at the actual game part of Sonic Adventure. Even at the time of its release, this game was a complete disaster. Sonic didn’t transition to 3D anywhere near as gracefully as his contemporaries did. Despite that, I still have a fondness for the game. It might just be Stockholm Syndrome at this point, but y’all can never take away all the good memories I have from playing this one.
Well there you have it. Those are my 5 games that I go back to when I want to curl up in a cozy blanket of nostalgia. As I said, I will play at least one of them annually, and usually have a great time reliving some of my old memories. But what about you? I’ve been prattling on for the better part of 1200 words, but I’d like to know if you have games that you go back to when you’re feeling particularly nostalgic. Let me know in the comments on here, or twitter, or – if you’re feeling particularly verbose – write your own post and tag me so I can drop by to read it.