With Crash Bandicoot planning to complete its comeback with Crash 4 after riding the momentum of the N. Sane Trilogy, it made me think about all the times when game developers have tried to win back fans by advertising the return of "what you loved" about the series. Generally when this happens, fans feel that their favorite video game series has gone astray from what they liked about it. And in response, the developers can make an attempt to backpedal on what made said series go astray and try to recapture what fans loved about the series in the first place.
However, like many things, trying to make this type of throwback game can go well or go badly. Done well, making a throwback to a series's glory days can successfully win back disgruntled fans who may have given up on getting another good game from that series. Done badly, making that kind of throwback game could lead to it being perceived as a shallow and/or watered-down copy of said series' glory days, sometimes even ignoring the admittedly good innovations during a series's "astray" years.
The question is: What makes a good throwback to a series's glory days? There are two games I have in mind that do similar things that make me ask this question.
On one hand, we have Twilght Princess. After the then-mixed reception of Majora's Mask and Wind Waker, the game did a lot of things to call back to Ocarina of Time. It used throwbacks to OoT's dungeon themes for most of its dungeons. There's no more Great Sea or three-day system to serve as an overworld gimmick, and Epona is back in her rideable glory. Speaking of gimmicks, new core mechanics are rather sparse, with new tools such as the Spinner, Dominion Rod, and Ball and Chain used as little more than pre-made puzzle solvers.
And despite all of these efforts to throw back to Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess is considered one of the weaker Zelda titles at best, and at worst the beginning of a series slump that lasted through the release of Skyward Sword and ended with the release of A Link Between Worlds. The game was and still is considered a cheap attempt at recapturing the crowd that loved Ocarina of Time, and in fact may have played a part in the re-evaluation of Majora's Mask and Wind Waker eventually becoming more beloved for their respective innovations on the formula.
On the other hand, we have Sonic Mania. If anything, it hews much closer to the Sonic series' glory days more than Twilight Princess does to the Zelda series'. Compared to Twilight Princess's use of throwback aesthetics, Sonic Mania goes for direct (yet souped-up) recreations of old level themes. In addition, the mechanics are very faithful recreations of the physics and controls of the classic Genesis/MD games after the attempt to ape later Advance/Rush with Sonic 4 and the close-but-not-quite 2.5D recreation of Generations. And like Twilight Princess, new core mechanics are rather sparse, with only the new Drop Dash for Sonic standing out, though Plus did add Mighty and Ray along with a new mode to the picture.
Despite all of these throwbacks that could result in a "cheap copy" like Twilight Princess, Sonic Mania was acclaimed as a true return to form for the franchise, and with the disappointment of Forces a few months later, turned many against Sonic Team and towards the Mania team for "getting" what Sega continues to fail to realize about Sonic.
Of course, there are way more good and bad throwbacks than the ones I just talked about. On the good side we have Devil May Cry 5 and Mega Man 11. On the bad side we have Star Fox Zero and the whole New Super Mario Bros. series.
So there must be a way to throw back well and recapture old fans, and there is a way to throw back poorly and come across as a poor man's clone of the old games. What is it about good throwbacks that do the former and bad ones that do the latter?
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