Top 5 Games That Mastered Remaking

With the announcement of Metroid: Samus Returns and the recently released Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, remakes have been on my mind recently.  Now there’s quite a bit of a scale in terms of how much effort goes into video game remakes.  Sometimes you get simple remasters that basically just polish the textures so the game looks good in HD.  Sometimes the graphics are completely redone, maybe a few gameplay polishes.  And sometimes you get the holy grail, a game that takes the story, settings, and basic gameplay of an old game and makes what can basically be considered a new game.  These are my strong preference for video game remakes, but as you might expect from the amount of effort involved, they are the rarest type.  But these do exist, and so I’m going to listing my top five remakes that truly mastered the art of… re-ing.  But before we get to that, let’s look at some great game that I feel went just a little too far in their new features and have “condemned” themselves to be new games:

Punch-Out!! (2009)

Punch-Out!! on NES is a great game.  Super Punch-Out!! on SNES is better.  But Punch-Out!! on Wii annihilates the rest of the series.  With the same name as the NES game (and one of the arcade games) and almost every fighter from it, Punch-Out!! is almost a remake, but every fighter is changed so much (and almost a third of them weren’t in the NES game) that it feels more like a Mario game that uses the same level themes than a remake.

Mortal Kombat (2011)

I loved Mortal Kombat when I was a kid in the 90s, but it was more the violence taboo, dark fantasy tone, and seemingly endless secrets that intrigued me than the gameplay.  So the 2011 Mortal Kombat installment that brought back almost every character from the first three MK games (the nostalgia and image peak) and retold their stories, but this time with great gameplay, was pretty freaking fantasic.  However, it’s not really a remake, instead being a weird, nonsensical, but very entertaining in-universe reboot that continues the series’ story by changing the first three games.

Star Fox 64

Star Fox 64 has an essentially identical story to the first game, but aside from that (and the fact that doing a remake as the second installment in a franchise, only four years after the original was released would be really weird) it changes as much as any other direct sequel.  Star Fox 64 is an amazing game that aged very well for a fifth-gen game, but I don’t think it can really be called a remake.

Ys: The Oath in Felghana

I haven’t played this game (make a PS4 version, damn it!), but I’ve been assured it is a vast improvement over its basis, Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, and that it has the same essential story and is now considered canon in the series.  Having played both Ys III and Ys Origin (which has the same gameplay style as Oath in Felghana), however, I can’t really consider this a true remake when the basic gameplay genre has been changed so dramatically.  But I’m sure it’s a great game, and again, want a convenient version for myself released.

Okay, with those out of the way, let’s get to the actual list!  Five games that push the remake envelope to its max without breaking it.  Not much else to say, here we go:

#5.  Ducktales Remastered

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Everyone loves the NES Ducktales game, but I’m just going to come out and say that several parts of it aged badly.  The control for the signature pogo cane is stiff, the hit detection is noticeably off, and the game is really, really short.  Well in 2013 we got a fantastic remake that may not be perfect, but fixed all of the aforementioned issues and of course was promptly condemned for not matching the deified memories people had of the NES game.  Well screw that, Ducktales Remastered is vastly superior to the original.  In addition to things technology’s march made possible (gorgeous art and animation that looks just like the show, full voice acting), the game greatly expands every level from the NES game and adds two completely new ones, making for an experience that could almost pass for Ducktales 3.  With the Ducktales cartoon’s reboot about to launch (which I’m expecting to also greatly outshine the original, the previews have done a very good job of showing the Gravity Falls influence), now is a great time to play through this game.  It’s a fitting last hurrah for the 80s Ducktales as a whole, in addition to being a great remake.

#4. Ratchet and Clank (2016)

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Straddling the line between remake and reboot, I decided to place this game on the remake side because I’m always going to place gameplay first, and no matter how much the story of the original Ratchet and Clank was changed in Ratchet and Clank 2016, it’s obvious that the original game was still the near exclusive focus.  The advancements in control and quality of life that the later games made are intact, but the levels are almost all from the original.  But like all the remakes on this list, they aren’t just graphically upgraded copies, they’re new levels using the settings and elements of the original.  Ratchet and Clank 2016 does a great job expanding the classic levels it covers and makes them feel every bit as good as new levels would.  While having less levels is a somewhat painful tradeoff and prevents this game from placing higher on the list, R&C2016 is still a polished and satisfying action platformer that can serve as a great introduction to the series for 13 year olds who weren’t alive when the original game was released and are now making you feel old.  Let’s hope we get the Going Commando and Up Your Arsenal remakes that everyone wants, and that they’re as good as this one

#3. Mega Man Powered Up

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This game is criminally underappreciated.  Unlike Maverick Hunter X, which made minimal gameplay additions and was based on a game that aged too well to really need a remake, Mega Man Powered Up takes the very first Mega Man game and adds an absurd amount of content.  You get a ton of new playable characters, a level editor, and brand new chibi-style 2.5D graphics that can be placed over an exact gameplay replica of the original game.  But the crown jewel of this game is the “New Style” mode with brand new levels based on the themes and gameplay elements of the original, in addition to two brand new bosses with their own original levels.  This game just offers everything.  Want the original game with new graphics?  You’ve got it.  Want a better game based on it?  It’s there.  Want to play as Roll or a robot master?  Go ahead.  Impossible to please?  Then make your own damn level, you can even do that.  Mega Man Powered Up needs to be rescued from its relative obscurity, it’s a must have for every Mega Man fan.

#2. Resident Evil (2002)

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One of the most positively regarded video game remakes of all time, the GameCube Resident Evil (or REmake, as it’s commonly known) took the 1996 original, which had already aged pretty badly by 2002, and turned it into one of the best games to use the classic Resident Evil formula.  The flow of the game was shaken up, the puzzles were redesigned, new enemies and areas were added, the controls were updated, a colossal amount of secrets were added, the dialogue and voice acting were made competent, and the graphics were completely redone and looked truly amazing, they still hold up today, even without the long-postponed HD remaster.  This set the standard for video game remakes, and every re-release of a Resident Evil game since has been met with wishes that another Resident Evil game would get the kind of monumental remake that the original did.  While the lack of information has made it hard to remember, we do have the mythical REmake 2 announced, hopefully we can once again get something on the level of this, the runner-up master of remaking.

#1.  Metroid: Zero Mission

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I debated on the order to place the previous games in, trying to decide how much weight to give how much of an improvement over the original game each remake was versus how much I enjoyed the game personally.  Thankfully, Metroid: Zero Mission excels in both areas.  The original Metroid is enormously influential, but it did not age well at all, and the lack of features and quality of life improvements that Super Metroid standardized is glaring.  Metroid: Zero Mission merges the original game with Super Metroid, adding new abilities, areas, bosses, and story elements to make something that functions as both a new entry in the Metroid series, and a replacement for the poorly-aged original.  While the game is a bit short (despite all the expansions, the aimless wandering and cheap deaths really made the NES Metroid feel longer than it was), the gameplay is just as fun and satisfying as the legendary Super Metroid.  Zero Mission is everything a remake should strive to be, the best possible outcome.  After 13 years of wishing for Metroid II to get the same treatment, we’re just months away from that finally happening, and now seems like the time to recognize both Metroid: Zero Mission and the potential of remakes in general.  If more remakes had the effort and care given to Zero Mission, the world would be a better place and the galaxy would be at peace.

So there you have it, my picks for the top five games that show the full potential of video game remakes.  I’m not saying there’s no place for remasters that simply add some modern quality of life features to a classic game, but I consider games like these five to be the holy grail of video game remakes.  There are plenty of classic but questionably aged games that could benefit from full blown remakes, hopefully we’ll get many more remakes like these five games that mastered remaking.

Two Sides to Every Story

While video games are primarily known for their gameplay and interactivity, each new generation has increased the importance of various other qualities of the medium. Graphics, music and sound have all made impressive strides in the past few generation, to the point where gaming is unrecognizable compared to how it was even a decade ago, let alone three. By comparison, however, storytelling in video games has probably made among the largest strides by comparison. In this medium, we have gone from having either no context or a sentence-long blurb to having multiple hours of cutscenes in the average game.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been any shortfalls in the process, even toward when story in games has become so ubiquitous in the industry. Sometimes, an emphasis on story can hurt a game. Take for example, Ducktales Remastered. While I personally liked the game’s various cutscenes, which were literally scattered throughout each stage, many gamers threw a temper tantrum about the entire affair, claiming that they wreck the game’s overall flow. Of course, a later update added the option to automatically skip most of the game’s cutscenes, but the damage was done. Somehow, putting some story elements into a game based on a Saturday morning cartoon of all things ruined it for everyone.

Of course, the lessons one should probably learn are that some genres are more conducive to involved storylines than others. To this day, fighting games have had some major difficulties with implementing cohesive storylines and plots, just due to their history. In the fighting game genre, canonical events weren’t usually determined until the sequel, as there were several playable characters, each with their own unique endings and in many cases, one character’s ending would contradict another’s. Most modern Japanese (or Japanese-influenced) fighting games opt for fleshed-out story modes for each playable character that resemble a visual novel, with specific fights placed between certain segments for flavor. Netherrealm Studios did something similar in both the latest Mortal Kombat game and Injustice: Gods Among Us, substituting the visual novel portions with cutscenes and delivering one unified storyline with multiple playable characters, though generally not the entire cast. Many gamers preferred NRS’s style of delivering narrative and hope to see more companies attempt something similar in the future. The majority of long-time hardcore fighting game fans, however, don’t really care about these or other single-player modes, preferring a greater emphasis on the base gameplay mechanics.

Recently, a new concept has started to become popular within the video game journalism community: ludonarrative dissonance. Ludonarrative dissonance occurs when there are inconsistences between the gameplay and the storyline of a video game. The Bioshock series is among the most popular examples used to explain this: as the thoughtful exploratory nature of the games’ protagonists as depicted in the game’s storyline is considered by some to be at odds with the violent gameplay the series is well-known for. A simpler example would be how Aerith died permanently in FFVII, when Phoenix Downs are both plentiful and capable of resurrecting the dead. Since storyline is becoming more and more an integral part to most modern video games, this is something that must also be kept in mind.

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of exclusively using cutscenes to depict story in video games. Some games have chosen a more “interactive” route in certain cases, allowing for in-game conversations that mimic the traditional cutscenes. A few games that utilize this include Arkham Asylum and the Half-Life games. While this does have the disadvantage of breaking immersion by allowing players to retain some control, it has the added benefit of making the transition between gameplay and story sequences more seamless than the traditional cutscene method. Not to mention, I tend to think it’s kind of fun to mess around with the in-game camera, attack them without doing any real damage or even just interrupting people in-game when given the option.

There’s also the method of hiding story materials within the gameplay itself. Games like the Bioshock series, Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls and the aforementioned Arkham Asylum all hid various items containing backstory and other context for the game’s story in the game itself. Retelling various characters’ and locations’ backstories through journal entries, signposts and even audio recordings does an even better job of creating an immersive storyline than all the cutscenes in every video game in the past decade combined and I would love to see more games attempt this sort of storytelling. Of course, this has the added disadvantage of “cheating” less adventurous players out of a significant portion of the deeper storyline, while cutscenes are generally available to everyone. If I’m going to be honest though, I think that’s worth it.

To wraps things up, here are some DOs and DON’Ts for any game developers, fledgling or otherwise, who happen to come across this article. DO allow for skippable cutscenes, some people aren’t really big on these things and the fact that this still isn’t an industry standard is disgraceful. If you’re going to prevent people from always being able to skip cutscenes, at least allow them the option to skip after the first time they’ve seen it. Forcing gamers to keep rewatching the same damn cutscene that takes place before that boss they just can’t beat is cruel and unusual punishment.

DON’T choose a game genre that doesn’t suit the story you’re trying to tell, and vice versa. For example, if your main character is supposed to be some kind of a pacifist, an action hack-and-slash game probably isn’t the best choice for your particular universe. And for the record, this isn’t a jab at the Bioshock franchise. In fact, I don’t even believe that the Bioshock games suffer from ludonarrative dissonance: both Rapture and Columbia have very seedy underbellies and survival is the name of the game.

DO make an effort to allow players’ actions have some kind of tangible effect on the gameplay. Even if it’s something as minor as some subtle aesthetic changes or some slight variation in some dialogue later in the game, this little parlor trick tends to make story-oriented gamers happy. Plus, it adds to replay value, which is always good to have in general. As long as it makes sense within your game’s narrative and you don’t go overboard with it, it should work out fine.

Speaking of overboard, DON’T oversaturate your game with cutscenes. If I wanted to sit through 7+ hours of uninterrupted non-interactive segments, I’d go for a TV show or movie binge on Netflix, because that’s what TV shows and movies are good at: being passive entertainment. If you ship a game with more hours of cutscenes and cinematics than gameplay, you have failed as a developer. A good rule of thumb, at least in my opinions, would be to shoot for at least 3 hours of gameplay for every hour of cutscenes in a single-player campaign, bare minimum.

DO try to achieve a proper tone for the storyline you’re trying to tell. Not everything has to be an epic, serious storyline: take a look at how well Sonic ’06 turned out. Light-hearted storylines or straight-up parodies shouldn’t be as rare in gaming as they are today. We need more games we can just laugh at. On that note, DON’T wedge a story into a game if you can’t make it work. Despite the fact that all single-player games seem to be moving more and more towards story-heavy experiences, I think there is still a need out there for some arcade-style games with minimal storylines. The backlash against Ducktales Remastered supports my point here. The most important thing to remember is that if your focus during development is on telling a story, make sure it’s one worth telling in a game, instead of some other medium. Interactivity should be key to your story in some form, even the crummiest fighting game storyline got that one right, because even at worst, it was the bare minimum of what could be considered a Choose Your Own Adventure, and a CYOA is more interactive than the stories in most other forms of media.

In the end, regardless of how important stories become as video games continue to evolve and grow, they should never come at the cost of gameplay. Even in the case of visual novels, where the most complex form of interactivity you’re likely to find is cycling through multiple menu choices, unless they include some kind of weird mini-game. Excising the gameplay from a video game is like taking the video out of television or movies, the sound from radio and even the words from books. In some cases, you’ll be left with something, but the main point of that particular form of media will be lost on its audience.

When Does Fanservice Hurt?

Before I begin, I’d like to apologize for the misleading title: no, this isn’t an editorial on the extremely controversial topic of sexualized females in video games. It just seems like all of the good points on that subject have already been made, and frankly, I don’t have anything unique to say on the subject. This article is about something far less consequential with regards to real-world events, but I’d argue far more interesting and objectively more important with regards to video games in general: when pandering to a fanbase leads to terrible games. Let’s face it, ladies and germs, the sexiness and/or gender of your protagonist doesn’t really have a distinct impact on the quality of gameplay, while catering to hamfisted, moronic fan demands typically does.

We live in an age where fan interaction with the various creators of video games — the publishers AND developers — is at an all-time high. Numerous companies like XSEED, Atlus USA and even some heavy-hitters like the Western branches of Capcom and Namco Bandai games have official channels of communication with the general public. They use them to better understand the desires of their long-time customers, “the fans” if you will (though looking at some communities, fans might be the wrong term). We’ve seen real-life examples of this kind of thing: Project X Zone getting released in the West, PC versions of Dark Souls and Ys I &II, a full HD remake of the NES Classic Ducktales, for Inafune’s sake!

But at the same time, there’s a clear downside to this as well. Not only are we affecting what’s being made, we’re affecting things that were already being made. And quite frankly, sometimes, gamers at large (or more likely, the extremely vocal minority) don’t wield this power with any sort of wisdom. When Eiji Aonuma is aware of the “Zelda Cycle”, clearly there’s some kind of problem. Clearly, there are cases where too much pandering to fans can lead to incredibly shitty games.

What’s that? You’re demanding proof, specific examples of terrible games that were clearly caused by taking fan advice to strange new places? Sure, why not? First on the agenda: the utterly despised Sonic the Hedgehog reboot from 2006 (better known as “Sonic ’06”). Why do I blame the fans on this monstrosity? Well, simply put, many of the non-glitch flaws the game had (mandatory side character missions and the over-the-top serious plot) were the direct result of fans wanting the games to be more like the Sonic Adventure games. And don’t get me started on the Genesis Sonic fanboys who were blatantly pandered to in the first episode of Sonic the Hedgehog 4, a game that Sega said was a letter to hardcore old-school Sonic fans, while the objectively superior Sonic Colors was “just a game for kids”.

Of course, it’s not always that blatant. I’ll never forget how much my fellow writer SNES Master KI complained when ascended fan-game Street Fighter X MegaMan got a save functionality in its second version in the form of…passwords. To be fair, he wasn’t the only one annoyed by that choice, but I personally didn’t mind that myself. Then there was that entire era where portable Castlevanias were trying to find their own identity after the overwhelming success of Symphony of the Night, one in particular was a blatant knockoff and by extension, the blandest of the bunch: Harmony of Dissonance, the second Game Boy Advance entry. Then there was Mortal Kombat Trilogy, a game that attempted to combine the rosters of every 2D Mortal Kombat into such an incoherent mess, it makes Marvel vs Capcom 2 look well-crafted and would make 9 out of 10 MUGEN players blush. Worst still was Mortal Kombat Armageddon, which attempted to recreate Trilogy’s “magic”, but as a result, nixed unique fatalities due to a lack of storage in lieu of the “Kreate a Fatality”, which is far less interesting than it sounds. Worse still, putting every character from the 6 previous games not only made the game daunting to even look at, but also blatantly made it clear how little anyone cared for anything outside of the first 3 games, which lead to future iterations gleaning from those particular rosters, with few exceptions.

Of course, in most of these cases, it seems like the major flaws stem from older, more popular games in each franchise. In fact, all of my examples tend to be based on games that were fairly popular amongst fans, and as such, the companies (and single developer, in SFxMM’s case) in question simply took a myopic view on what made these particular games great, focusing on bringing back specific minor elements from earlier without planning out how to implement it into a new engine which may not support such things. For example, Super Castlevania IV still had sub-weapons, despite the aimable whip making them pretty much worthless. Games like the two aforementioned Sonic games, MK Armageddon and some post-SotN Metroidvanias, on the other hand, just suffer from being pale imitations of earlier games.

But why blame the fans? The answer should be obvious: these companies are trying to pander to an audience that is clearly bi-polar and generally doesn’t even know what it wants. Trying to appeal to your audience isn’t really a bad thing, but letting them dictate your entire vision is a recipe for disaster. One of the opinions all of my favorite creators of any kind of media have all shared is that the primary audience of any work of media should be the creator him/herself. That’s the only way you’re going to be able to get the best work out of anyone.

Besides, if there’s two universal truths in the universe, it’s that only death and taxes are constant and fanbases ruin everything. No exceptions, fanbases are probably the worst possible place to get any kind of constructive criticism. The worst part being that if any singular aspect of your next game even resembles any individual fan’s ideal vision for a sequel, chances are this will enrage them, as you didn’t make the exact game they themselves conceived. And the more elements that match up, the more rage-filled they become. Keeping up with the fans’ ever-changing opinions is a fool’s errand at best. For example, take The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. When it first came out, the reactions were strictly negative. “Stupid kiddy art style!” “Nothing like Ocarina of Time!” Nowadays, it’s one of the more popular 3D entries in the series, but given the huge fan backlash, the higher-ups at Nintendo literally had to be coerced to greenlight the recent HD re-release. An even better example would be Super Mario Sunshine. Even to this day, Sunshine is utterly despised by the majority of the fanbase, but each time a new Mario platformer (2D or 3D) gets announced, more and more people hold up Sunshine as an example of the kind of unique gameplay they expect out of future Mario games, despite still hating Sunshine to an insane degree!

Worse still is that you’re pretty much always going to have to deal with broken bases on literally anything. No matter what, you’re probably going to be dealing with at least two equal but opposite sects of your fanbase on literally any issue. A really common example would be how to deal with the gameplay for the sequel to a game, especially next-gen sequels. Half of the fanbase will want the new game to resemble the last one (or in some cases, an even older game) exactly, while the other half will want the game to be an entirely different experience. Of course, going forward with either of those options will likely get you destroyed by the fanbase in the end. But this kind of thing applies to literally anything about your game.

Of course, doing the exact opposite and never listening to any fan feedback at all isn’t exactly a good idea either. After all, listening to the fans got us things like Ultra Street Fighter IV as opposed to another boring rebalance, Super Mario Galaxy 2 giving us more of a formula we wanted and the massive improvement on the second episode of Sonic 4. I guess the lesson that all developers should take to heart is that to take all fan requests with a grain of salt. If they’re conducive to the game you’re trying to build, then by all means, implement it. But if it compromises your vision in any way, then just don’t do it. We’ve already seen too many good games get destroyed by pandering to a fickle and feckless fanbase.