Retro Upgrade

"I'm glad people still use hammers in combat; I find it much more intimate than guns. This thing weighs 5 TONS (yes, TONS), so only your Combat Equipped soldiers can use it. Five tons in a few square feet means that the hammer can crush enemy tanks, EASILY."
Shattering Justice description, a weapon meant to be used with Power Armor, Risk of Rain

This is a sister trope to Magikarp Power where something which appears useless or obsolete becomes more effective because it's more compatible with the very latest technology than what came in between (either in technology or the ability of the user). The two can be distinguished thus; a Magikarp Superpower becomes more effective after working and improving it (e.g. levelling a Magikarp up until it evolves into a Gyarados), while this trope becomes more effective because something else has improved (e.g. a high level item which gives Magikarp in particular a significant boost in power).

This can include previously obsolete technologies that suddenly prove to be a vital part of (or to complement) the latest ones or (on a more individual level) someone with a great deal of experience in a given field using a technique beginners avoid because their experience allows them to do it more effectively. All that matters is that the method in question is genuinely ineffective without the advancements or experience to take advantage of it. Historically, it can include technologies and ideas which were too ahead of their time and needed other advancements to be fully realized.

This doesn't just mean technology or techniques that have been around for a long time being used; they have to actually be obsolete. So a vehicle which uses technology which has been around since the dawn of time, like wheels, wouldn't count because nothing has ever replaced the wheel, but a new, renewable fuel which turned out to be more efficient in a steam engine rather than a petrol or diesel engine would.

In speculative fiction settings, this is a common way for a work to justify the prevalence of swords over guns using Technobabble (or Magibabble) to establish some technology which shifts the mechanics of combat in favor of melee weapons somehow (often overlapping with Enhanced Archaic Weapon).

This can also overlap with Break Out the Museum Piece (if said museum piece uses a technology which is advantageous in the situation at hand). A subtrope of Older Is Better. Also related to Bishonen Line (for cases where the creature crossing it originally had a more human form). Compare Minovsky Particle, where a new development justifies otherwise impossible technology.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In Veritas, after spending long periods training to purify his Ki flow, Gangryong discovers that he gets much better results if he deliberately clogs the flow until it bursts and washes out his system. Overlaps with Dangerous Forbidden Technique, since timing it wrong could kill him.
  • In the second half of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, the Gunmen are dropped in favor of the new Guparls. It turns out that the Gunmen are still more useful against anti-spirals because they were designed specifically to fight them.
  • In Digimon Adventure 02, Armor Digivolving is said to be an ancient form of evolution that the Control Spires can't deactivate. The ability to use it is why the old guard can't fight the new villains and the newcomers are needed.

Fan Fiction
  • Core Line: The availability of technology from all over Fiction inside the setting means that enterprising people have utilized advanced technology to upgrade old (by Real Life and other shows' standards) vehicles and weapons in order to create Ace Custom pieces or simply make a mass-produced new "mark" of the old gizmos. Two examples within the setting are the Stingray Industries "Slammer" (an updated copy of the AMT Automag V that works up to par of military-grade combat pistols) and the A-101 "Thunderchild" (an updated version of the A-10 "Thunderbolt" (or "Warthog") that is widely used for anti-armor/mecha-hunting duties).

Film
  • In Woody Allen's film Sleeper: After waking up in the future, Miles orders some health food for breakfast (he used to own a health food store). It's revealed that in the future they've discovered that "unhealthy" foods are actually extremely good for you.
  • In Neil Blomkamp's Elysium, a gangster hands Max an AK-47. Max asks whether it is a family heirloom, being that it is the mid 22nd century, and AK-47's have likely been out of production for a hundred years. The gangster replies that it has been upgraded with air-burst munitions and a simple point-and-shoot interface. Max demonstrates the upgraded weapon's capability with some good old-fashioned slo-mo tech gorn.

Literature
  • In Dune, both laser weapons and shielding technology have been well developed, but due to the Technobabble behind them if one meets the other then a catastrophic explosion occurs. Most warfare is waged through unconventional projectile weapons - or through simple knife and swordplay.
    • Also used in-story later, when the Harkonnens use the ancient and obsolete technology of artillery against their enemies holed up in caves. Due to the aforementioned shields, artillery has fallen out of use but as shields are useless on Dune, they saw a short resurgence.
  • In the Honor Harrington series, fusion power plants are commonplace for starships, and the inability to miniaturize them past a certain point makes ships smaller than destroyers impractical in combat. The Graysons, lacking the ability to develop fusion power plants, instead spent several centuries obliviously improving on fission reactors. The result, while far less capable than the fusion power plants, are much easier to scale down, and more than adequate to make Light Attack Craft, operating in large numbers with disproportionately powerful weaponry a very unpleasant surprise in battle.
    • Grayson had a similar story with their inertial compensator. Unable to buy their own from their more advanced neighbors they were forced to invent their own from scratch and the resulting designs were rather underpowered compared to everyone else. That was only because of the crudity of the Grayson manufacturing base. The engineering principles behind them, however, turned out to be a major innovation and when applied to Manticore's start of the art technology proved to be a vast improvement over previous designs.
  • In The Forever War, combat takes place within projected stasis fields which neutralize all electromagnetic fields except those contained within a special coating. This means no modern weapons work and leaves humans and aliens fighting an interstellar war using swords and bows.
  • In Michael R. Hicks' In Her Name series, the aliens attacking humanity are very close to, if not quite actually Sufficiently Advanced Aliens. However, their goal is to test humanity rather than wipe them out immediately, and they view one-on-one hand-to-hand as the only honorable form of combat. They, therefore, take steps to prevent modern (in-universe, meaning futuristic from our point of view) weapons, and especially computer-controlled ones such as missiles, from working. Fighting mostly involves tanks and basic projectile weapons, while space combat frequently results in boarding actions which had been previously unheard of.

Live Action Television
  • In Star Trek: Voyager the ship's engine and hull get improved using technology based on the carburetor of an old Ford pickup truck and the hull of the Titanic, respectively.
  • Old Klingon ships in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were protected against the Breen energy-draining weapon, by an obsolete component (it might even have been a reference to the outdated plasma coils in the cloaking system from Star Trek: Generations). Until a sample energy-draining weapon was captured, the Klingons had to bear the brunt of the war effort on their own.
    • In the episode "Tosk", O'Brien offers his assistance to fix Tosk's ship but doesn't know how to go about it unless he knows what the broken part actually does. Tosk explains that it collect interstellar particles and converts it into energy for the engines. Miles compares it to a ramscoop used to suck in air. With that comparison in mind, Miles is able to fix the ship and improve its performance.
  • In Power Rangers RPM, the Paleozords were a Super Prototype that had to be scrapped since they were uncontrollable. But by the time they're unearthed, the related tech had advanced to the point that losing control was no longer an issue.

Video Games
  • In Pokémon Pikachu, despite being pretty much the official mascot for the franchise, was never very useful in-game due to its low stats. Later generations, however, included a special item called the Light Ball, which could be equipped by Pikachu (and only Pikachu) to double its attack power and potentially unlock the move Volt Tackle, thus giving it a viable role as a Glass Cannon.
  • In Chrono Trigger, Robo, a robot from the year 2300, can be equipped with stone arms you find in prehistory and they're the best weapons you can find (at the time).
    • Also, while the Masamune is quickly obsoleted by other swords after defeating Magus with it, it can be upgraded to Frog's ultimate sword after Opening the Sandbox.
  • In Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, high-frequency blades are widely used by cyborg soldiers due to widespread adoption of carbon nanotube-based armor, which is very effective against bullets, but can be sliced through by HF blades.
    • This is further extended with Sam's Muramasa: since it's a high-frequency blade made out of an expertly crafted 16th-century katana instead of a mass-manufactured modern day blade, it's by far the most effective weapon of its type.
  • The obligatory BFG weapon in Serious Sam is the "SBC Cannon", a man-portable cannon which fires depleted uranium cannonballs. Also in Sam's arsenal is a Tommy Gun retrofitted to fire 5.56 rounds.
  • In the Mass Effect series, you get the omniblade, which is a "disposable silicarbonate blade almost as hard as diamond, build by an omnitool micro-factory". In short, it is a trusty old knife, except it's an Absurdly Sharp Blade able to cut through most things. Must useful if used in tandem with a Tactical Camouflage to stab an enemy In the Back (like Kasumi Goto does), or used against Husks.
  • This is the basic story behind the Unreal Tournament 2004 modification Ballistic Weapons, where humanity got into a war with an alien race whose Deflector Shields repelled all of their futuristic energy weapons. In desperation humanity then took out their old bullet-firing weapons, and found out the aliens' shields did nothing to stop regular old bullets. Most of the weapons actually playable in the mod are futuristic upgrades of old 20th- to 21st-century weapons.

Western Animation

Real Life
  • Most computer programmers are taught not to program in "machine code" and other low level languages (basically the code the computer's processor itself uses) because it's not worth the effort, however a particularly dedicated and skilled programmer might do so to draw the most out of a given piece of hardware (this practice is a lot less common now as higher level languages have become more efficient and hardware's improved to the point where limitations on software efficiency aren't so strict).
  • In warfare;
    • The state of the art in artillery has see-sawed between solid and explosive projectiles as different generations of armor and target hardening have come and gone.
    • On a related note, it's sometimes speculated that improved missile technology will further reduce the importance of gun armament in naval warfare, with weapons such as the Rolling Airframe Missile taking over secondary roles that are usually covered by gun-based systems. However, other speculations contend that advances in anti-missile technology and emerging technologies such as the railgun will reassert the importance of gun armament in naval warfare.
    • For the first half the century, the hand-cranked Gatling gun had been largely replaced by fully automatic machine guns; it was later brought back as an air-to-air combat weapon, with the hand crank replaced by an electric/hydraulic motor and beefed up to fire cannon rounds at a rate of up to 6,000 rounds per minute.
    • "All or nothing" armor strategies. If something's armor isn't strong enough to withstand a direct hit from the weapons it's expected to face, then it's better not to give it any armor at all and enjoy the benefits of lighter weight.
      • Infantry are probably the most extreme example. As guns became stronger and more accurate troops went from fully armored (if they could afford it) to virtually unarmored, until even officers were wearing nothing more than a basic jacket and trousers, because it was all useless. Over time, developments like kevlar, ceramic plates, and ballistic shields have gradually turned the tide, but modern sci-fi seems convinced full body armor is poised for a comeback.
    • By end of World War I, military aircraft had evolved from unstable civilian designs to highly agile killing machines. The advent of the turbojet engine during World War II and further research in aerodynamics (much of it acquired from German scientists after the war) allowed aircraft to exceed the speed of sound without suffering from stability issues. However, starting in the 1970's, military aircraft were purposefully designed to be aerodynamically unstable. This, of course, reduced their maximum speed and flight ceiling but ended up improving their overall maneuverability and flight characteristics, especially at low-to-mid altitudes where most missions take place. The disadvantages of an inherently unstable craft (namely, controlling it) have largely been mitigated by fly-by-wire control systems.
    • Most silencers rarely manage to completely eliminate the sound of a gunshot. Up until the development of specialized silenced firearms and ammunition, the only feasible alternative for silent killing at long range was a crossbow.
      • Additionally, Chinese cops in areas that suffer from terrorist attacks are being issued crossbows for use against suicide bombers. The impact of a bullet might trigger a shock-sensitive explosive; a slower-traveling crossbow bolt is less likely to do so.
    • When tanks first appeared in World War One, they were lightly armored and mainly fired high-explosive munitions for infantry support. By the end of World War II, they had become well-armoured machines with guns that could fire high-velocity shots to pierce increasingly heavy armor. However, the development of increasingly effective shaped-charge warheads during the Cold War led to a belief that no amount of protection could be assured against such weapons. German and French tank designers responded by reducing armor to increase mobility and focused mainly on having their tanks' guns fire high explosive anti-tank rounds at long ranges. However, all of these changes were reversed by the development of composite armor and ERA (explosive reactive armor) blocks, as well as smoothbore guns firing kinetic energy penetrators with extremely high velocities, thus returning to the paradigm of a heavily armored tank with a high-velocity gun.
    • There's an interesting example with submarines, as well. Nuke subs are unparalleled in their ability to roam the open ocean for months at a time with little to no support. For most of the mid-late 20th Century, they also performed much better in terms of submerged speed and other factors. However, beginning with the Soviet Kilo class in the 1980s, diesel-electric technology started catching up in performance, if not loitering time. While their batteries limit the amount of time they can spend underwater, diesel-electric subs are now significantly *quieter* than nuke subs.
    • The PaK 36 was a potent anti-tank gun when it was first introduced. However, by 1940, it was dismissed as "the Wehrmacht's door-knocker", as it had become virtually unable to pierce the armor of any Allied tank. The weapon was rescued and given a new lease of life by the advent of tungsten-cored ammunition, allowing it to penetrate thicker armor than the standard round could manage. When it became apparent that even the improved ammunition would no longer work, the gun was further adapted to fire a shaped charge grenade from the muzzle, which had the ability to pierce virtually any Allied tank armor up until the end of the war. Though it was supplanted in its role as an infantry anti-tank weapon by larger, more powerful guns, the PaK 36's lighter weight, low production costs, and ease of handling had some distinct advantages that allowed it to remain in production until 1942, with some light infantry and paratrooper units using it until the end of the war.
    • Some rifles (e.g. M14, FN FAL) considered obsolete due to their larger calibers being superseded by 5.56mm rounds have gotten a second lease on life as a sniper or designated marksman rifles.
  • In car design;
    • Diesel cars became trendy around 1980, but they had their problems and quickly disappeared for the most part. Then sometime in the 2000's, diesel-powered autos made a comeback due to improved technology.
      • Diesel engines also need next to zero modification to be converted into burning biodiesel, a fuel with almost zero carbon footprint. In fact, the first ever Diesel engine are built burning cooking oil, the precursor of modern biodiesel, as its fuel. Biodiesel are also fairly cheap as they can be made from kitchen and slaughterhouse waste, lowering the demand for city landfill capacity. Some cities, like Shanghai, have its entire bus fleet converted into running on biodiesel and new buses are biodiesel/electric hybrids. Also in Shangai citizens with biodiesel, compatible cars can buy biodiesel from bus companies at a price much lower than petroleum diesel, and the conversion fees, if any, are partly covered by the city. Biodiesel generally has the same fuel mileage as petroleum, and the natural lubricating property of biodiesel reduces the wear and tear of the engine.
    • The Wankel rotary engine. Mazda touted the Wankel as the engine of the future, as highlighted in this oft-played commercial from 1973. But the Wankel had its problems and was pretty much forgotten at least for automotive use, except in the RX-7. Technological improvements brought on the Renesis, a new rotary engine in 2003 for the RX-8. The other wiki says Mazda discontinued that as well, though, for emissions standards reasons. However, the Wankel engine isn't dead: as of November 2013, Mazda is working on the successor to the Renesis and have plans to develop a smaller rotor as a range extender for hybrids. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly popular as a small engine in applications where its high power-to-weight ratio, smaller dimensions, and inherent simplicity far outweigh its disadvantages.
    • Double example: during the early days of automobiles, electric cars were better regarded than gasoline vehicles. Internal combustion technology, of course, outpaced electric vehicle technology for most of the 20th Century. With advances in electric cells and motors (as well as the development of hybrid cars, thanks to computers becoming advanced enough to manage the energy in them) they're beginning to become viable once again, even to the point of overcoming the auto industry's notorious barriers to entry and high-level change.
  • Airships. The airships of old had a lot of safety and maneuverability issues and thus were phased out by airplanes. Modern technology, though, can provide cheap nonflammable helium and an effective slightly-heavier-than-air design that greatly improves maneuverability. As a result, new airship projects are starting to appear, since they are much more fuel-efficient when carrying heavy cargoes than airplanes.
    • Also they need a relatively smaller airfield to land, rather than miles of landing strips. They're like a third option between airplanes and helicopters.
  • In the early days of the games industry a lot of them were made by individual programmers (or small teams) who self-published (by distributing cassette tapes or floppy disks with photocopied manuals). As computer hardware became more powerful, games became more complicated to make and larger teams were needed. Then Digital Distribution happened, along with smaller devices which call for older styles of gameplay and improvements in middleware that make it easier to create compelling games without large teams, and "indie" games are back in vogue.
    • Internet distribution has also sparked a similar resurgence of self-publication in literature and film, which was long ago common in both fields but had fallen by the wayside in the interim. In film in particular it had become synonymous with True Art Is Incomprehensible, but now is taken up in earnest by everybody from fanfic writes to aspiring directors.
  • For some, cars with tape decks. These were generally obsoleted by built-in CD Players, but in the interim, there were special adapters that connected to the headphone jack of a portable CD player to use the car's speakers. Then came the advent of MP3 players. At that point, you could still use the adapter with the MP3 player in the same manner, but it had no way of interfacing with a CD player. Because of that, the obsolete tape deck would actually be the preferred method of interfacing with your car's entertainment system.
    • Likewise, car cigarette lighters started to go out of style as public opinion turned against smoking... until people started realizing that the sockets that housed them could also be used to recharge portable electronics. While the lighters themselves are unlikely to make a comeback any time soon, the prevalence of car chargers has given a new (albeit possibly temporary because a USB port is much smaller and not really more expensive for automakers to put in) lease on life to the mechanism that formerly heated them up.
  • The ubiquitous "QWERTY" keyboard layout was designed first and foremost to prevent typewriters from jamming by putting letters commonly used together far away from each other; however, advances in typewriter technology and moreover the rise of the computer made QWERTY's benefits irrelevant, rendering it The Artifact. Now, we have smartphones, where thumb-typing and predictive text benefit significantly from the next letter usually being on the other side of the board.
  • Coaxial cables were thought to be obsolete in delivering TV signals by wire, replaced by composite, component, and then HDMI. The humble coaxial, however, was found to be unparalleled at delivering Internet signals to households short of specialized wiring like fiber optics. The result is that coaxial returned in The New '10s as a popular way for households to go online, as it's fast and cheap.
  • In large cities with very dense populations and perpetual heavy motor traffic, some police officers have taken to traveling around on bicycle, as they can fit into tight spaces easily, are almost completely silent, and, with enough skill, can turn on a dime. They might not reach the blazing speeds cars can, but that doesn't matter when every driver is stuck in gridlock.
  • In robotic combat, bots with hammers for weapons had early success in the early 2000's, but improvements in armor soon rendered them useless in comparison to spinning weapons. Then came the 2016 season of BattleBots, where improvements in pneumatic technology, the idea to anchor the bot to the metal floor using electromagnets, and the fact that you can aim a hammer but you can't aim a wildly spinning object, saw bots like beta and Chomp advance deep into the tournament. Chomp, in particular, has a computer-guided system (all other hammer-bots prior had their hammers controlled by humans) and a pointed tip, allowing it to strike with pinpoint accuracy. For instance, Chomp defeated the previous year's champion Bite Force by pecking at a small hole in Bite Force where its drive chain was exposed, rendering Bite Force's spinning drum useless less than 10 seconds into the match.
  • Most home video game consoles stopped using cartridges in the mid-nineties in favor of CDs. The sole holdout Nintendo proceed to demonstrate why the others had moved on as cartridges' advantages such as faster load times and no need for separate memory cards were vastly outstripped by how much data CD Roms could hold and at a much cheaper manufacturing price. Since then, games have gotten larger and now take a significant time to read from the disk, while cartridges have become smaller and cheaper with the advent of flash memory. Nintendo, after three generations of disk-based systems is switching back to cartridges for the Nintendo Switch.

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