Like a much-loved landscape or stimulating smell, our favourite games often go hand-in-hand with fond childhood memories. So it is all the more poignant when a new game comes along with the intention to illicit that warm glow of nostalgia.
Whether it was playing Super Bomberman with three friends on the living room floor or being captivated by the world of Final Fantasy VII, our most memorable gaming moments have the magical ability to transport us back to a time when everything was just perfect. When looking at things through rose-tinted spectacles, however, there is always the danger of trying to recreate that magic. And it simply not being the same.
Imagine the earth-shattering irony of replaying Castle of Illusion and having the childhood glee of Christmas 1990 replaced by the apathy one gains from a generic platformer. Or having the realistic graphics of Platoon on C64 transformed into a pixelated mess. Of course some games have stood the test of time better than others, but as a general rule, those cherished gaming memories are often better off untouched in the past.
Thankfully some things will always exist in their own bubble of innocence and bliss, dutifully acknowledged by this year’s Attack of The Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale. Currently available on sale in the 3DS eShop, this charming entry in Level 5’s Guild series is definitely one for the nostalgic gamer. Creator Kaz Ayabe whisks us away to experience a Summer’s day through the eyes of a ten-year-old in a sleepy 70’s Tokyo suburb. The possibility you might not have been a part of Japanese culture in this era, or any other for that matter, does nothing to diminish the sense of nostalgia. From the opening song about a child’s confusion over his parents’ love for him, it is clear that the game is very much an ode to Ayabe’s own childhood.
With direct tributes to old tokusatsu movies featuring Ultraman-style heroes and Godzilla-like monsters, the real stars of the show are actually far more ordinary. Not unlike Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro, the pathways around the picturesque valleys and slow, glistening streams all suggest the little hidden trails that children follow. Feeding their imaginations are the daily routines of the adult residents, and the nearby TV station coincidentally shooting a movie about an alien invasion.
The comparisons with Ghibli don’t stop there, as every highly fantastical event can be seen to be analogous with something the young protagonists fail to understand in the adult world in which they live. Indeed, the entire plot can be seen as childlike escapism – a way in which to make sense of challenging issues, such as having a failed father figure, integrating into a new group of friends, bullying, and living up to people’s expectations. For such a cute and colourfully presented game world, the undercurrents are deceptively dark.
On the Friday afternoon when the monsters are due to appear, black smoke from the distant factories billows into a pure blue sky – the true monster of urbanisation, which threatens to engulf the idylic Japanese countryside. The narrow streets nestled between the hills are home to a community of families and shops: the dry cleaners, a bakery, and a ramen restaurant. With the resonating call of the cicadas and the gentle rhythm of a distant train, it’s not hard to empathise with these characters and recall those lost moments from our own childhood.
At just a few hours in length, and with what only amounts to a simple rock-scissor-paper mechanic in way of actual gameplay, Attack of The Friday Monsters won’t challenge your reactions or puzzle-solving skills. As more of an interactive narrative experience in a similar vein to The Walking Dead, Journey and Year Walk, it won’t get you to develop any kind of strategy at all. What it might do, however, is satisfy that nostalgic yearning for the good old days; and satisfy it without ruining those treasured memories of games gone by.