Everything old is new again....again!
A NosCon (portmanteau for "nostalgic continuity", a play on retcon's "retroactive continuity") refers to a new entry in a long running game franchise that, to court nostalgic memories of the previous games in the series, uses nostalgic hooks and classic gameplay. A NosCon is a callback to a classic franchise's roots, oftentimes designed to look and play like a game released around the same time as those classic instalments of the series. The NosCon uses players' nostalgic fondness for the games of their youth to draw those players back into a franchise they may no longer associate with the original games in the series.
The NosCon is a design and marketing tactic by publishers and developers; it's a warmth appeal, designed to make you remember the "good ol' days" of playing video games. In some ways, the NosCon is a secret apology from publishers and developers whose classic game franchises may have struggled adjusting to the modern era, although this isn't always the case. Also, game that proclaims its "classic" status right from the start is designed to acknowledge that every game in the franchise between the classics and this "new classic" release weren't worthy of the name of the franchise. The NosCon allows developers to imply this without actually saying it out loud, appealing not only to series stalwarts, but also the franchise purists who have desired a return to the older gameplay roots in a series.
The Key Points of the NosCon
- A NosCon exists inside a franchise. New/Modern games that call back to classic gameplay styles are not NosCons.
- A NosCon does not, in and of itself, relate to the quality of modern interpretations of the franchise. The NosCon merely reflects a desire to see a new instalment in the franchise using various elements of the classic game.
- A NosCon is not a spiritual successor to a different franchise (e.g. Dragon Age: Origins to Baldur's Gate, BioShock to System Shock 2).
- A NosCon is not a straight remake of an older franchise installment (e.g. Bionic Commando Rearmed)
- Only the first game re-imagining is a NosCon (e.g. MegaMan 9 is a NosCon, MegaMan 10 isn't)
How to spot a NosCon
Determining whether a new release in a classic game franchise is a NosCon can be a tricky proposition. To accurately determine if the newest installment in a franchise is working to manipulate your nostalgia, make sure to look at:
How is the franchise being pitched in trailers, screenshots, and interviews?
- See if the game is being described as "Classic", a "Return to Form" , a "Return" of a game series that still had a release the previous year. These tactics are designed less for you to think about the new game being pitched, and more to think about the older games. It's a campaign that wants you to remember how much fun you had when you were 6 years old, playing through these franchises for the first time. If the game's marketing plays hard on the nostalgia card, there's a good chance this retro reboot is a NosCon.
- Example: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 debut trailer makes reference to the three Sonic games released in the late 1980's and early 1990's, using classic sprites and even familiar sound effects (like the classic SEGA logo screen). More time in this trailer is spent playing the Nostalgia card rather than revealing anything about the new game, letting players know that this game is less about its own content, and more about your own rose-tinted memories of the past. This is a classic NosCon tactic.
- Example: Mega Man 9. Giant Bomb lists over 75 games in the Mega Man franchise. However, for the release of the 8-bit callback to the halcyon days of the storied franchise, Capcom decided to call the game Mega Man 9, insinuating that this game released 11 years after the previous named game was the "true sequel" to the franchise...ignoring the dozens of other spinoffs to bear the Mega Man franchise title.
- While most NosCons utilize numbers to tag at the end of a title, that's not always the case. For example, New Super Mario Bros. is a nod to the first Super Mario Bros. game. Terms such as "Rebirth" or "Throwback" are also sometimes used to indicate a NosCon.
- The NosCon is a nostalgic callback to classic gameplay styles. Often, a NosCon allows for an older gameplay design to mold together modern conventions and old-school design.
- Example: Mega Man 9 features the same side scrolling platforming gameplay as its predecessors, and borrows much of its design formula from the Mega Man games released on the NES. The gameplay in Mega Man 9 is accurate to the original game, an effective callback to a game that hasn't seen a proper franchise entry in more than ten years, which is why a series fan could justify the game's shortcomings in light of modern advances as design choices that are accurate/authentic to the original release of the game. Fallout 3 would in this respect not be a NosCon as the gameplay itself only references the originals ( Fallout and Fallout 2).
- NosCons will appeal to nostalgic game players by using/borrowing the same artistic style as the classic games of the series while implementing updates such as HD graphics and/or 3D art along with any other modern standards.
- Example: Contra 4. Modern instalments of the Contra series have been made in 3D or in the combination 2D gameplay/3D graphics for a more modern interpretation of a classic franchise. However, Contra's return to 2D sprite work on the Nintendo DS was seen as a move by a developer trying to make a "real" Contra game... further implying that the real Contra games were the older, 2D games. Using graphical style to appeal to Nostalgic NES, SNES, and Genesis Contra players, while also implying that all the Contra games not to feature the 2D graphics of the older games "didn't count" is a classic NosCon tactic.
- In order for a game to be a NosCon a a significant amount of time must have passed between the older classic games and the latest version. There is no formal requirement for this time period, but must seem like a significant period of time.
- Example: New Super Mario Bros. was released 16 years after Super Mario Bros. 3.
- There must be new iterations in the franchise between the classic game and the NosCon such as spin-offs. These are significantly different from the original classic game, making a departure from the traditional style and/or gameplay. This is often a transition from 2D gameplay to 3D gameplay (with the NosCon going back to the traditional 2D gameplay), but it can simply be an original or revitalized look at the franchise, or even just a gradual evolution away from the classic gameplay style through many different games.
- Example: Bubble Bobble's sequels Rainbow Islands and Parasol Stars were a serious departure from Bubble Bobble's gameplay and style. While the original bubble bobble saw Bub & Bob as bubble blowing dinosaurs capturing enemies in bubbles to kill them. Rainbow Islands changed this by giving players control of Bub & Bob in human form, with the ability to create rainbows. Parasol Stars continued the story of the Human characters with yet another gameplay departure. Returning to the classic bubble blowing gameplay in Bubble Bobble Part 2 was a NosCon.
The roots of "NosCon"
The term NosCon was created by Ryan Davis and fleshed out by Jeff Gerstmann, Vinny Caravella, and Dave Snider, creators of Giant Bomb. The term was coined during the recording of the February 9th, 2010 instalment of the Giant Bombcast. The term NosCon plays off of the term "retcon", short for Retroactive Continuity. A retcon occurs in game franchises (and most other media) where the developers change aspects of the storyline that have already been in other games, retroactively altering the existing plot, such as introducing a new character described as an "old friend" who has known an existing character for years, despite never actually having existed before. NosCon is entirely different to retcon, as while the retcon specifically changes the storyline of a franchise in order to tell a different story, the NosCon effectively ditches modern interpretations of a franchise in favour of previously-established design. If the retcon is designed to push a story or franchise forward, the NosCon is designed to pull a story or franchise backwards.