Gameboy, SNES, Sega, N64: How technology is turning nostalgia

007 kills Russian soldiers with a mine in the 1997 N64 game GoldenEye

There’s a scene from the 1984 comedy This is Spinal Tap when band member Viv Savage is seen playing a video game on the back of the spoof rock group’s tour bus.

“Look at this computer magic,” says the curly-haired keyboardist as a single laser beam crosses a blank screen before smashing into an object and destroying it.

Video games have come a long way since 1984, an age when kids were playing on ZX Spectrums, Commodores, Amstrads and BBC computers or down the arcade standing at units which dwarfed them.

Today it is war games and shoot ’em ups which, we are told, are breaking new ground in the gaming world with their high definition super sharp graphics.

But for a growing number of gamers the interest lies firmly in the past.

Alex Bowness of Level Up Games with a Gameboy, a Sega Megadrive and an N64

And that’s where Level Up Games in Canterbury’s Palace Street comes in.

It is meeting a double demand for retro games, first from those who grew up playing on the old consoles of yore.

After all, the Atari systems, some of which Level Up’s Alex Bowness sells, go all the way back to the 70s.

But there is also a market among younger people, many of whom may not have been alive when those of us now in our 30s and 40s were playing Mario on the SNES in the 1990s.

In that sense, the retro games market is no different to those who look back for their clothes or films or music. A fascinating world of discovery awaits.

“The nostalgia for retro is becoming stronger every year it seems,” says Alex, 42, who runs Level Up with wife Gemma.

“Lots of things are influencing this, we think. Kids of yesterday are now adults and parents of today. They have the disposable income and desire to show their kids what the older games looked like.

“Simple gameplay has also reminded people that it doesn’t have to be high definition explosions and super sharp graphics to make a good game.

“The need for an experience and a story is becoming much more important for players.”

Sega and Nintendo have even produced mini versions of their 90s consoles such as the SNES and the Megadrive which have classic games like Mario and Sonic built into them.

Alex and Gemma have been operating shops in Canterbury for eight years. Before they took the Palace Street shop, they were under the arches at Burgate.

He says most of his trade is people coming into the Palace Street shop either to buy or sell.

“We love the fact that our business is being able to provide people with the consoles they grew up with and bringing all those memories flooding back to them,” Alex adds.

“Different machines are popular at different times so sometimes it’s not easy to predict what is going to be this season’s must have machine or game series.

“Our own history is full of video games so we’re happy we’ve been able to bring that retro joy for our customers.”

As I wheel away from Level Up on this roasting spring afternoon, I’m left with just one question: Is it really 21 years since Nintendo brought GoldenEye 007 on the N64 out?

I must be getting old…


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