I’ve recently been playing 2 games that would be considered “retro”, but referring to them as such would make me feel old, so we’ll call them “classics”. These classics are Metroid Prime, via the recent remaster on Switch, and The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, via the Switch Online GameBoy Advance collection. It got me thinking about how nostalgia can color our opinions of certain pieces of media, primarily when comparing media of a similar vintage.
Metroid Prime originally came out on the GameCube in 2002, my the extent of my knowledge of the series was via Samus in Super Smash Bros, and I never played the game until the Wii version, which I hated due to the controls.
To contrast, Minish Cap came out on the GameBoy Advance in 2004, and I’ve been a Zelda fan since Link’s Awakening DX on the GameBoy Color. I played this game to death when it released, and spent countless hours searching the (admittedly small) game world seeking out secrets and collectables.
These 2 games are both well-regarded and loved among their respective fans. Both of them are quality, well-made games in their own right. But I’ve found myself enjoying the time I’ve spent replaying Minish Cap more than my time experiencing much of Metroid Prime for the first time. Is Minish Cap just more my style of game? Could it just be a better game? Or maybe my nostalgia is influencing my opinions.
There’s also the fact that my first experience with the Wii version of Metroid Prime was suboptimal. Could that be coloring my opinion of the Switch version, even though none of the issues I had on the Wii exist–or, more accurately, they are not mandatory, as motion controls can be turned on in the game’s settings.
This kind of thing isn’t exclusive to video games. As a child of the 90’s I grew up in the so-called “Disney Renaissance” and, as I’ve been re-exploring that era thanks to Disney Plus, I’ve found myself gravitating towards certain movies. Aladdin, Lion King, Mulan, Pocahontas, the Disney films I watched the most growing up, were the ones I enjoyed the most. And I found myself wholly uninterested in The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Tarzan, or Hercules. None of this is a reflection on the quality of these movies. My feelings about them are entirely down to the ones I remember watching the most, the ones I could picture in my head as clear as day.
Maybe, objectively speaking, Metroid Prime is a better game than Minish Cap. I’m sure there are many people who would be insisting that’s the case, and many others who would argue the opposite. But I don’t know if trying to settle that, or similar debates, would be all that productive. Whether we’re talking Nintendo games from the early 2000’s, or Disney movies from the 1990’s, their perceived quality is wholly determined by how they made us feel when we first experienced them.
Perhaps asking someone today, someone who has yet to experience either game, to play both Minish Cap and Metroid Prime and pick their favorite of the 2 would produce some useful insight. But on the other hand, would their opinions be colored by the ever-evolving experiences games have produced over the last 20 years? Someone who played Breath of the Wild before experiencing Minish Cap for the first time is going to experience the game differently than someone who played it back in 2004.
Admittedly, as someone who un-ironically enjoys Star Wars Episode II–purely due to nostalgia, even though I can recognize and point out the movies many flaws–I’m perhaps not the best person to examine nostalgia vs. objective quality.