Play It Again, Sam: Retro Gaming Is In

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Like Hollywood and the recording industry, the video game business enjoys a proud and time-honored tradition of recycling yesterday's top hits. But as a growing range of recent updates and remakes of classic franchises -- from "Bionic Commando" to "Contra" -- prove, retro gaming has never been bigger.

Forget fancy graphics, sprawling 3-D worlds and endless online connectivity. As underscored by recent Facebook updates of "The Oregon Trail" and "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego," all today's gamer apparently wants is to party like it's 1989.

Savor the irony. Previously, software makers were content to let classics like "Zork" and "Gabriel Knight" rot in obscurity, consigned to suspect "abandonware" sites, where doting fans made discontinued titles available for free download.

But suddenly, in an age where players have so many gaming choices available and so little time to choose between them, they're finding solid gold in yesteryear's hits.

Credit technical and budget constraints, which often made retro games much shorter, less complex and easier to put down than today's rambling 60-hour epics, and frequently rendered audiovisual wizardry secondary to ingenious play.

Old School Games Mean Savings, Nostalgia, Instant Recognition

Ironically, these same qualities make them cheaper to buy, and more instantly gratifying and disposable than modern-day digital diversions -- a perfect attraction for today's increasingly mobile and commitment-phobic gaming enthusiast.

According to a recent Nielsen study, game buyers are spending more time and money on general leisure activities, including smartphone gaming. They're spending less time on pricey, time-consuming set-top gaming epics.

Paired with the rise of digital distribution, which lets players purchase smaller titles on-demand from PCs, smartphones or gaming consoles (via services such as PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, WiiWare, etc.), it's a match made in virtual heaven.

For software publishers, popular existing franchises are easier to convert, update and retail through downloadable platforms than original titles, with savings frequently passed on to nostalgic shoppers. They also guarantee instant recognition on gaming services where the best form of marketing is often a catchy title or positive customer reviews.

Recycled Games Offer Walk Down Memory Lane

For video game aficionados looking to spend as little money as possible, but enjoyably waste 15 minutes idling at work or waiting for the bus, such games aren't just a good deal and instant stress reliever.

They're also a second chance to explore a fantasy world that players never found time for during adolescence, a good excuse to take a happy waltz down memory lane or a perfect opportunity to rewrite history outright.

Many online services, such as GoodOldGames.com, GamersGate and Steam, now make it easy to download and enjoy gaming classics. A growing number of fan-made series remakes ("King's Quest III: Redux"), software emulators ("C64 Forever") and long-overdue director's cuts ("Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror – Remastered") are becoming increasingly available as well.

Of course, retro compilations and budget-priced collectible rehashes have been a part of gaming's cultural fabric since day one.

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