This is, perhaps obviously, something I think about a lot, because our games sort of fall into an in-between space with this stuff. I’ll break it down a bit, at least in terms of my thinking of it.
strict adherence to the past: games that use the NES palette restrictions while also aiming for older, clunky styles of play absolutely get my dander up, I can’t go for this at all. Likewise any “90s-style-low-poly” game that directly invokes the 90s, or uses the word retro. It upsets me more than it should that people are voluntarily following constraints that the developers of the time were pushing against. The older games using this tech/these techniques were good because they were trying to subvert or push past the limitations, not lovingly cling to them. It’s sort of anit-creative.
vintage styling, new design: games like sonic mania and streets of rage 4 (to a lesser extent) fit in here, where the developer takes the technology of the game’s principal era and evolves it, while also evolving the design. Sonic Mania would not be possible on a genesis or even a Sega CD. And the way the game plays introduces things that are fresh but feel like they could’ve been part of the game all along. Streets of Rage 4 changes the style but keeps the kinetic action and vibe - basically the way the original game feels to play, not how it actually plays. All the Kengo Project games fit in here.
Any of above, but original: Shovel Knight falls into this category. It’s much closer to an NES style, but does things the hardware couldn’t. It also plays much smoother and with more modern sensibilities than any game of the era. Our intention with Oh, Deer! was a similar approach, but with higher res and higher density pixel art than any platform could’ve had (so we’re going more for the “styling” approach).
Just using pixel art or low poly as a medium: In general I appreciate when a game uses a given format as a springboard to try something rather than trying to recreate the past. With low poly, I’d say Ethan Redd’s work does this:
That’s what we’re going for with Gunsport as well. It bugs me to have “retro” applied to these games when “stylized” is more appropriate. Blasphemous is another game. To call that retro-styled would do it a big disservice.
Remaster: This is what the dragon’s trap is, or halo remaster, etc. Put a new coat of paint on a game that already has a distinct flavor. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, though it does excite me less in some ways.
Remaster+: Games like the Sega Ages Phantasy Star are prime examples. Take an old game that really feels old, and is generally bad to play in the modern era, and add modern conveniences to it, making it more playable than it ever was. Big fan of this but it’s a very specific scenario.
“recreate my childhood”: this is a cousin of the first category but games like the messenger and some of these racing games do it, where it’s like… lots of attention paid to art and design, but all in service of nostalgia above all else. I just can’t get behind that, because it feels sort of anti-creative to me. Like god darned ready player one, though that is not a video game.
I appreciate that there are so many shades of this now, but I guess it’s pretty clear which ones I prefer!