Nostalgia is a powerful force, so much so that designers often revisit past projects to bring experiences to a new generations of players, often with better technology than the original development. The concept of a remake is nothing new to game development, but what makes an exceptional example of such? To find out, I’ll be exploring a wide array of remakes from the Super Nintendo to as recent as the Xbox One.
One of the first remakes I can remember was Super Mario All Stars, specifically the new coat of paint Super Mario Bros 3 was given. Everything popped with new color, but the controls and gameplay were still familiar, if not almost identical. The game also had three other Mario games, each with updated graphics, one of which was Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels, a game that hadn’t been released in the West prior.
Bringing classic experiences into a new generation of graphics and music seemed like a no-brainer to me, even as a child. As if all of my favorite games should just grow up with me; however, wouldn’t I eventually become bored with the same games, no matter how well they were designed?
Remakes also have the chance to expand upon gameplay elements or update controls. One of the best examples of this is Capcom’s Remake of the first Resident Evil, known as Resident Evil HD Remaster. This game recreates all of the static backgrounds with full 3D modeling, to ensure that the lighting was perfect. Combine that with an optional, modern control scheme makes this groundbreaking game less stiff to a new audience. Also, this remake seems minor compared to the graphical overhaul of the game when it was brought to the Gamecube back in 2002.
Capcom has a firm understanding of how to remake its games in an effective manner and have had plenty of practice to the point of ridiculousness: adding a parody of itself in Dead Rising 3‘s DLC. I did always enjoy Capcom remakes more than its newest games, simply because I felt that there was tighter design in those early titles. Speaking of which, I would love to see Demon’s Crest be brought into a new age, but I digress.
Even more recent was Epic Games’ remake of the first Gears of War on the Xbox One. This Ultimate Edition brought Marcus and the rest of his thick-necked squad into higher resolutions, with new mechanics (developed throughout the franchise) being utilized as well. Marking targets, which was seen in Gears 3, is now a staple of staying alive on the multiplayer battlefields. Speaking of multiplayer, the Gears franchise was one of the few that could combat the juggernaut that was Halo as one of the most played games on Xbox Live. With these two shooters being exclusive to the Xbox, Microsoft ruled the online space with the 360 console and could very well do the same in the current console generation, especially with Halo 5 looming just over the horizon.
Yet, Ultimate Edition is a good example on how companies can ride out the wave of nostalgia on a board of missed opportunities. For example, many of the animations in the Xbox One Gears was pulled straight from the original. These movements seem stiff by modern comparisons, or even when compared to Gears of War 3. It was also a bit of letdown when looking at the modes offered. Even though Horde mode hadn’t been invented when the original Gears launched, it would have been an excellent addition to this Ultimate Edition.
All in all, it was great to see the COG go up against the Locust on the Xbox One with nicer graphics, but there could’ve been some more features added to make it feel more ultimate than it claims to be. Although, it’s also important to note that players who try out this version will be getting the entire Gears franchise for free. Unfortunately, while there’s much to be enjoyed in Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, it seems like an attempt to make some quick cash for Gears 4.
Remaking a game to truly capitalize on what makes these sort of memories special takes complete dedication with goals that align to the players, not profits.
One of the best examples of this surprisingly comes from Square Enix, a company horribly guilty of shelling out remakes for a quick buck. Nonetheless, the amount of care and polish that was put into Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix is astounding. Much of the original files that were used to create the first Kingdom Hearts on the PlayStation 2 were lost. Therefore, to give Kingdom Hearts the remake it deserved, Square Enix’s team re-recorded all of the music in a studio, remodeled all of the graphics, and tightened up the gameplay to be more consistent with the franchise as a whole. What resulted was an absolutely excellent release.
Not only was the game completely remade, but elements from the elusive Kingdom Hearts Final Mix were also included. Final Mix was actually the first imported game I had ever seen. This was when I learned that consoles could be modified and how region locking affected what could and couldn’t be played. This lack of knowing the Japanese language, coupled with my love for the series, made Kingdom Hearts 1.5 a must have game in my library.
There are many more remakes worth mentioning, but what can be taken away from remakes as a whole? For developers, there is much to be utilized from tapping into their players’ nostalgia. Its a feeling that can leave audiences speechless or giggly from reliving fond memories. However, there is a fine line to be tread: each remake must be given great attention. Even new developers can use nostalgia to their advantage in ways that can skyrocket small teams into having more resources. Shovel Knight is a great example of this as its design is similar to several older games, but remains unique.
Yes, gamers remember Super Mario Bros 3 or Resident Evil because they were great feats in game design. Yet, know that as a medium there is so much that developers haven’t discovered. New possibilities lie hidden, beneath the surface of what has already been done. As new technologies emerge and game design becomes more available, games will continue to be that defining art form which demands so much time and sweat, but ends up being an expression of those who made them and those who play them.