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!! 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
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)
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
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)
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
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.