Nostalgia and Ducktales

Nostalgia is a funny thing. It used to connote a pleasant kind of yearning for the past. Maybe a little bittersweet but an ultimately positive feeling. But lately we’ve become skeptical of it. Some call it a barrier to innovation. Corporations cashing in on thirty-somethings who have families now and maybe some wealth. Just throw something in front of them that they remember fondly from their childhood and they’ll munch it right up. Blame endless sequels or our infinite obsession with superheroes on this. Watch your peers rapidly become how you remember your parents, crotchetly declaring that things used to be better.

I attributed these feelings to an nameless, amorphous critic here, but I share them in part. I don’t mind a good remake or rehash, but I want to see new things more. I’ve vowed I won’t end up one of those old guys afraid of new things and unable to adapt to new technology or music or yes, video games.

Which brings us to Ducktales Remastered, a remake of a 1989 NES game. Let’s be real here: Ducktales is not relevant anymore. It does not interest modern kids, all of whom are much too young to remember the heyday of early 90s Disney cartoons and video games. Ducktales is a kids game aimed at adults, even going so far as to use the cartoon’s original voice actors, which is kind of an outstanding feat. Scrooge and co. all sound much older and gravellier, but still nail their signature voices. It’s worthy to note that ‘kid’s game’ also meant something entirely different, gameplay-wise, in the NES days. While Remastered added an easy mode with infinite lives/checkpoints, it’s still dramatically more difficult than most currently produced, age-accessible games.

ducktales

Before we circle back to nostalgia, let’s ask: does a 1989 game hold up in 2016?

Sort of.

The innovation of Ducktales, a platformer like many others following the Super Mario or Megaman greats, was that Scrooge McDuck can use his cane as a pogo stick. Indeed, that’s how you navigate the world. Always be pogo’ing. It’s a cool mechanic. Remastered also obviously updated the graphics. The characters and enemies are sharply done, and look like they hopped right out of the cartoon, though the backgrounds and items are quite muddy and unremarkable. The thing is: other than Scrooge’s unique method of movement, the levels are very simple and forgettable. Enemies don’t do much. The bosses have simple patterns and take too many hits to kill. Add it all up and it’s a fun diversion but not timeless like say, Super Mario Bros 3 or Mega Man 2. Nor does it to compare well to modern re-envisioning like Shovel Knight. It’s appeal is steeped in nostalgia.

The etymology of nostalgia is the Greek nostos, meaning ‘homecoming’, and algos, meaning ‘pain, grief, distress’. When originally used in the 19th century, it was something very dire indeed. Associated with a fictional (& fatal) Swiss disease or the terrible homesickness felt by African slaves. The modern interpretation is far more tame than its origins.

Ducktales made me feel some of the most acute nostalgia of my adult life. I played it at 4-6 years old; naturally amidst some major developmental times. There was a point, here in 2016, where I selected the Moon level and the music played and it was so distantly familiar,I felt a piercing jolt to my upper spine and literally got the chills, so deeply did it connect me to myself, twenty five years removed. Not the nostalgia of watching the next dumb superhero movie or listening to the same old radio station you listened to in your teens, playing the same old music. But the intense, greek version. It wasn’t like I was a slave yearning for a home I was ripped from. Nor do I want to be five years old again by any means. It wasn’t painful. Yet. The combination of intense connection or loss to/of a time gone by combined with that homey feel cannot but remind you of your own mortality. To connect with the past and see yourself now is also to know some day you won’t be experiencing anything at all.

Scent. Books. Memory.

“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.” – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

You know the way scent interacts with memory? Like you smell something you haven’t smelled in years, say a very specific kind of pie, and instantly you’re reliving Christmas morning when you were eleven, right before you smelled (and ate) that same pie?

Books are like that for me. In the shorter term, I can take a look at the books I read in the past year or two, just flip through random blog pages here, and immediately remember where I was. A bus or a train or plane or a couch. What was happening at the time. Work. Life. There’s deep associations between the life I am living and the book I am reading. Scent plays a factor too. I purposely bought a box set of Lord of the Rings hardcovers years ago because they’re identical to the copies I read when I was a kid; the smell of the pages is a thrilling sensory memory of the excitement I felt when I first laid eyes upon middle earth.

I find myself musing because I am reading the second part of Don Quixote. According to goodreads, I read the first part in September of 2011. It’s been sitting on my shelf — actually on three or four different shelves to match my changing apartments — with the bookmark dead center since. I picked it up when I found myself completely unable to decide what to read next.

And the memory sense kicked in big time. The heft of the book, the jagged-edge pages, the feats of the peerless knight errant himself. It connects me to a self that feels removed. A separate coast, an enormously different life. Life changes of course, but it can be difficult to quantify. The sense and memory shift that can be achieved with something so simple as opening a book helps me grasp that fact.