08 Jul Remakes/Reboots/Remasters/What?
Remakes are weird, aren’t they. They’re even weirder in video gaming culture. What’s a remake vs. a remaster vs. a reboot? Sometimes companies like Crystal Dynamics create a game called Tomb Raider that is neither a remake NOR a sequel to the original series. 2018 saw God of War, which isn’t a direct sequel or a reboot, but it’s still called God of War. It’s confusing… Classic games are remastered all the time. Games hold such an important piece of our nostalgia that it’s hard to understand a reality where we don’t always have access to our favorites. I also understand that remakes are rampant due to a little bit of creative bankruptcy and the necessity to sell millions of copies. Games cost a lot of money to make and it makes sense that big developers with huge overhead costs would rely on known quantities to get the userbase excited. Gamers may love to bellyache about remakes and reboots, but they often gobble them up like crazy. I used to trash remakes a lot, because I always want something new. Then I realized I was being completely hypocritical and lining up to buy every remake of my favorite games. Though I do think it’s a little dangerous that my favorite game of 2019 so far is a remake and my most anticipated games of the 2019 and 2020 are both remakes. I believe those games will be fantastic in their own right and I know we’re not running out of ideas, I just fear that we won’t get anything new since gamers support remakes like mad.
Remasters I’m typically more comfortable with. Accessibility is very important to me and I think that having access to classic games that have been cleaned up helps these titles grow and find both new fans and new life. Even for myself, I’ve relied on remasters and ports to play many of the games I’ve missed over the years. My Switch is loaded up with NeoGeo games that I never sought out to play and in a way the console has become my favorite place to play classic titles that have been otherwise lost. Without remasters and ports we’d have a great deal of new games to play, but we’d ultimately lose a piece of our history. Gaming, like any other creative pursuit is very reliant on it’s history. Super Metroid leads to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which leads to a healthy portion of independent releases right now. Games like Resident Evil create a genre and their accessibility is incredibly important. Without remasters and ports it would be hard to understand the historical significance of something like Super Mario Bros or Super Mario Bros. 3. Remasters also tend to change very little at how a game works fundamentally. Sometimes they add quality of life improvements like adding a minimap in Phantasy Star or allowing you to speed up battle time in Final Fantasy XII. These little advancements bring these games up to speed with the modern era.
I’m a sucker for a good remaster. Last year I played Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age and it was nice to not have to dust off my PS2 to make that happen. When backwards compatibility is lost to the wind, we can experience past greatness through remasters. Earlier this year I spent a lot of time with The Mana Collection on Switch and reliving Secret of Mana on a modern console was quite the good time. Is it a flavor I’m very familiar with? Sure, but that doesn’t remove its significance. Being able to replay Secret of Mana in modern context was a little eye opening. It allowed me to remember everything I loved about 1990s game design but also made me understand a significant part of the maturation of the action rpg. You can see and feel how Secret of Mana is in the DNA of titles like Kingdom Hearts. Then you can go play a remastered version of Kingdom Hearts to see how that eventually led to Final Fantasy XV. Without remasters this wouldn’t be possible. If you don’t want to go about playing games illegally through emulators and roms, this style of “port” is a great tool to use to experience a little history. Great games withstand the test of time and a good remaster can help elevate that.
Remakes are simple to understand. A developer takes a game and rebuilds it from the ground up. We’ve seen quite a few remakes over the years, from Super Mario All-Stars to Resident Evil (REMake) and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. What I like about remakes is that when a game is too obtuse to work in a modern context, they give players who are new to the series a way to experience the narrative present in the original title. I never played the NES Metroid when I was younger as I started the series with Super Metroid and never looked back. In 2004 Nintendo released a remake of Metroid, called Metroid: Zero Mission on the Game Boy Advance. This was a floor to ceiling remake of the original Metroid with some extra story content and updated controls to make it play more like Metroid Fusion, the prior GBA Metroid game. As someone who had a hard time getting into the original Metroid due to its dated control layout and lack of a save function, I jumped at this remake. As a huge Metroid fan it was amazing to see where the series started from a narrative context. I wanted to experience Samus’ story and this remake has proven to be integral. The same process happened with Metroid: Samus Returns back in 2017, as I had never played Metriod 2. Though it was amazing to finally experience that story on a more modern console. Every previous attempt to try Metroid 2, for me, was bogged down with the limitations of the Game Boy. Both of these remakes served a purpose for me and while it’s easy for me to say that it was a cash grab or it represented a lack of originality, that’s not entirely true. Yes, remakes get fans excited and make money, but I don’t think they’re made because a company has lost their own creativity. When a remake is done well, it sets out to skillfully modernize the game while trying to surpass itself. Metroid and Metroid 2 aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, just dated in their presentation. Zero Mission and Samus Returns help to correct those issues and mostly succeed.
Remakes are best when they pay homage to their original title while giving the player something new and different. When the conversation about remakes comes up, and it always does, I often turn to Capcom and how they’ve handled the remakes for both Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2. The REMake first released on Gamecube in 2002 and gave birth to what I would consider the modern formula for a remake. Though Resident Evil was only about six years old at the time, the jump from PS1 to GameCube was so significant that it made sense for RE to be rebuilt. The settings, characters, and environments are very similar, but there are some fun gameplay extras that help differentiate itself from the original. It felt as though Capcom had wanted to do more with the original game but were limited by what the PS1 could handle. REMake still looks great as well as it has recently been remastered for current gen consoles. Yes…there’s a remaster of a remake… Unfortunately prior to 2015 this game was locked on the GameCube. Luckily…it still looks really great.
Earlier this year we saw Capcom released a remake of Resident Evil 2 on PS4, PC, and Xbox One. From previews alone, this game looked as though it was everything Resident Evil past and present. RE2 is a complete overhaul of everything the original was and it found a way to be even better. Resident Evil 2’s remake used influence from every other game in the series, but mostly Resident Evil 4. RE4s influence made this remake feel modern and smooth. Luckily, it kept the slow and dreadful pace of the original, giving the game some great attempts to scare the living daylights out of the player. This remake is everything a recreation should be. It needs to know where it comes from and what it needs to do to make the game fun and interesting for both new and old fans alike. Capcom understood this and what made RE2 great in the first place. They knew what would resonate with people and they had such admiration for THE classic Resident Evil game that they gave us the perfect reimagination. Resident Evil 2 is arguably the best remake ever and is currently my Game of the Year.
Later this year we’ll be treated to a remake of Link’s Awakening and in 2020 the Final Fantasy VII remake finally releases (kinda). Both of these games look so good and while the Mike Staub of 10 years ago would grumble and claim that we’re “OUT OF IDEAS”, I can’t help but be excited for being able to experience these through a new lens. Square and Nintendo have poured their heart and soul into these remakes and I think they will be something to celebrate for years to come. Like the Resident Evil 2 and Metroid Remakes, there’s love and legacy in those trailers. What it comes down to is as the Beatles taught us…all you need is love.
The strangest and most confusing of the iterative process in creative industries is the “reboot”. I happen to love the word reboot and I was a big fan of the cartoon of the same name back in the Toonami years. That being said, they always confuse me. Reboots have been a pretty common occurrence in Hollywood as of late. The Terminator movies have been rebooted, every horror series has a reboot, X-Men, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Ghostbusters…all rebooted. Sometimes you have situations like where the fourth Rambo movie is called “Rambo”, that’s it…Video games aren’t immune to this issue either. Let’s take a look at Tomb Raider, shall we? Tomb Raider has been rebooted at least twice in its twenty year history. The First Tomb Raider game released in 1996 and was rebooted after 10 years in 2006 with Tomb Raider Legend. The Legend series had its own trilogy but was rebooted a second time in 2013 with a game simply called…Tomb Raider… yeah, kinda like Rambo, but in this case it was the twelfth game in the series. Franchises like Hitman, Wolfenstein, Ratchet and Clank, Doom, Ninja Gaiden, Fallout, and God of War have all been “rebooted” to some pretty great results. I’ve played all of these series’ reboots and many of them are as good as the original, if not better. In the case of Tomb Raider, the modern take on that lineage is more compelling and better crafted than any of the previous games.
I think reboots get thrown around because they’re known quantities and it’s interesting to take a character that people are familiar with and throw them into situations that are different. It also allows the creative teams to change aspects of a series’ story or gameplay and make changes while still staying true to itself. In Tomb Raider (2013), the old formula wasn’t working anymore. Drawing influence from series like Uncharted, Crystal Dynamics was able to tell a more modern story with Lara Croft. The new series, to me, was more interesting and appealing than any of the prior games. Now I understand that this series could have been called something else and could have used a different protagonist, but Lara Croft is a name, and in some way a virtual celebrity. Just like Bond fans want to see what 007 is up to, Tomb Raider fans want to see what adventures Croft is going on. I’m happy this series got a reboot as they’ve become some of my favorite action-adventure games as of late.
Reboots often get struck down as lazy, and I can understand why. It’s the “create something new” argument all over again, but in an environment where it’s hard to take chances and even harder to get people excited about new IPs, reboots have a great role in elevating the medium. You can take a familiar character and put them in a new series and because of name recognition people will actually PLAY it. One of my favorite games of all time is Okami, a beautiful Zelda-Like on the PS2. Originally this game was not a commercial success and I fully believe that’s because it was a new IP that people weren’t familiar with. If it had starred a more recognizable character, it may have done much better. It took time but Okami has become a modern classic (and the best 3D Zelda outside of BOTW and OOT). It’s hard for giant game companies to take chances on series like Okami, so it makes sense for them to craft something new and original and put a familiar character in it. It feels wrong, but if that helps as a survival mechanic, I’m for it. I want these companies to take interesting mechanical strides forward and if that means I’m playing another game as Ryu Hayabusa? Then I’m for it!
We then come to games like God of War (2018). It’s sort of a sequel and it’s almost a reboot. Kratos remembers his whole life from Sparta and the events of the first three God of War games, but it’s a new story in a new environment and Kratos is a very different character. I’m going to put this in the Rambo or Logan bin. Old Man Kratos, still angry, but has a son and lives in Norway now. It works, it’s cool.
I’m not going to get into Spiritual Successors, because they add another level of confusion and complexity that we don’t really need here. I’m just going to say that you should play BioShock and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.
Do we need this classification of games? I think so. I think they help players understand exactly what they’re playing. Like all iterative media, it’s good to know where something came from and where they can go. We’re at an interesting period for games right now. There are a healthy amount of remakes, remasters, and reboots every year. They all have their place and importance in the medium and they help new players of all ages live in those strange and different worlds. I am wary that we will eventually be overrun with this type of media, but I trust developers to continue to give us new things. If AAA studios don’t, the indies will. All I ask is that the games are good and the remakes are made with love.