Any Port in a Storm: A PC Gaming Field Guide

I’ll be honest, I originally meant to write this as a small piece for my own personal sideblog. I kept putting off writing it – mainly because a lot of my attention was focused on Retronaissance and usually I only end up writing stuff on my sideblog when I’m feeling particularly passionate, a feeling that fades quickly. It didn’t help that the concept seemed to fit equally well with both forums: the topic did revolve around topics I’d long since discussed on Retronaissance, but I felt more comfortable discussing it with much less tact than I typically employ on here. It doesn’t help that I feel like I spend enough time talking about PC ports on here in the first place, with my various wishlists – finally figured out the subject of August’s, by the way – providing the bulk of my discussion on the subject. After all, superstition or not, a lot of the games I’ve listed have managed to make their way on PC, in one way or another.  I ended up discussing the topic with other contributors to this blog, who were in favor of me putting it here, but my indecision gave me cold feet, which led me to avoid writing the article altogether. Eventually, the concept began to grow – I thought up various other ideas that I decided to add to the original concept – and by that point, it became clear: Any Port in a Storm had become a perfect candidate for an article on Retronaissance. Just keep in mind that my more refined writing style might fall by the wayside at times.

While I’ll admit that I have pretty much had an on-again, off-again relationship with PC gaming from the time I first got into video games, my love of console-focused games has meant that I’ve had a nearly equally long interest in the concept of PC ports. Even from the beginning, the concept of “bad ports” (Street Fighter II) and “good ports” (the first 3 Mortal Kombat games and X-Men: Children of the Atom) were something I could at least acknowledge, albeit starting with a mere gut feeling as opposed to something I could quantify objectively. PC ports have, by and large, come a long way from the 1990s, but even today, there’s no way to guarantee a port’s quality. Some ports manage to exceed the quality of the original source material, creating a truly definitive version of the game, while others are NIS America’s PC port of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana: disasters at launch that may or may not ever be fixed to the point of working properly.

Of course, these days, it’s much easier to find quality ports in an ever-declining sea of garbage. Resources like the PC Gaming Wiki not only point out which games are quality ports, they also make recommendations for fixes on both older and poorly-made games which makes it a truly indispensable resource for PC gamers, especially those new to the medium. The real problem is still quantifying the quality of the ports themselves. As I said, some great games are maligned with terrible ports to this day, while games ranging from mediocre to outright bad will end up with amazing ports that even manage to fix problems with the original releases themselves, effectively enshrining a piece of kusoge in a fashion befitting a masterpiece.

In the end, I’ve decided to use a much-maligned concept long associated with the ills of gaming journalism for my own purposes: the “four-point scale”, a means of rating games from good to excellent. I’ll keep my criticisms on this scale brief: it’s effectively turned any score below a 9 into a dire insult and had the unfortunate consequence of causing certain people (myself, for example) to seek out games that manage to break the scale, earning scores of 6 and below, whether out of curiosity, bile fascination or some inconsequential way of “sticking it to the man”. You know, by paying some other “the man” to play crappy games. Could that have been their plan all along?

The thing is, when it comes to PC ports, the four-point scale works out perfectly. There is a definite base level of quality that people should expect in their ports, a bar that has risen continuously throughout the years. Better still, the types of ports that would receive 7s and 8s would easily have the most discerning PC gamers turning up their noses in disgust, so the unintended consequence of diluting the perceived quality of these grades would be a feature, not a bug. After all, if you don’t like these ports, well… that’s what good’s for.

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Duke Phillips: the first modern games journalist.

7.0 – Console Parity (or Is It Parody?)

Let’s start with the bottom of the barrel and work our way up, shall we? If there’s one good thing about ports that fall into the 7 score, it’s that these days, they’re rare. Clearly many developers, porting companies and especially publishers have learned that ports of that caliber are no longer acceptable to most consumers. The only real question is, why was they ever considered worthy of release in the first place.

At this point in time, the majority of the ports I’d classify as 7s came out at least a decade ago but considering the fact that so many of them are still available for purchase on Steam and various other digital storefronts, I think it’s still fair to make reference to them. At one point, ports in this style would’ve been considered the cream of the crop, but when you look at the history of PC ports overall, it’s understandable. If we were to consider the history of console games ported to PC like an evolutionary line, then the 7’s closest equivalent would clearly be either the Cro Magnon or the Neanderthal compared to the other scores’ Modern Man. When they first appeared on the scene, they were clearly impressive and best suited for survival, but at this point, they’re clearly too primitive to be considered a quality product.

But enough stalling, what defines a 7 on my little four-point scale? Quite simply, a perfect 1:1 port of the console version. Now you’re probably thinking, “But Icepick! Isn’t that what a port is supposed to be?” To which I say, feh! The problem stems from the hardware itself. Despite my posturing about how most modern consoles are just crippled PCs in the first place, their underlying operating systems are still different from one another. Consoles generally focus most (if not all) of their resources into games, while PCs run various other processes in the background at all times. As such, most console games are designed to take advantage of this focus, effectively pushing the entire platform’s resources into the game itself. Try that on a PC and you end up with a port with ridiculously high minimum specifications. Not to mention the recommended specs needed to play the game properly.

That’s to say nothing of the lack of features that PC gamers have come to take for granted these days. Fully-programmable controls, not to mention mouse and keyboard support – I’m not going to judge, but there are more than a small number of PC gamers who swear by them for literally any type of game – future-proofed support for higher resolutions, graphical filters, adjustable frame rates and the ability to switch between full-screen and windowed mode easily. Quite simply, 7-ranked ports completely lack the scalability associated with PC games, forcing a concrete cut-off on the kind of hardware capable of running the games themselves, drawing a very distinct line in the sand.

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Believe it or not, this was an actual PC port, not an emulator. No, really.

Aside from that, 7 ports are generally good ports. Not simply “good” in the scale from good to excellent, but rather they are proper approximations of the original experience. In the end, they have potential. Fixes, whether official or fan-made, can easily rectify many of the issues involved in these “low-grade” ports. One such example would be Inti Creates’ Azure Striker Gunvolt. When the game was first ported to Steam, it was in an incredibly rough state, but now? It’s on par with the recent Switch release as of an update that came out of the blue last month. This is why they fall at the far end of my four-point scale for PC ports that are acceptable. Clearly, they have their issues, but they are still generally competent to perhaps the most important degree of an PC port: recreating the console game accurately. Having said that, most if not all PC gamers at this point would turn their noses up at a modern port of this caliber. Unless I’m absolutely desperate to play the game in question, I’d be equally dissuaded from picking it up. Buyer beware and all that.

Supplement: 7.5 – Pick Your Poison

Of course, that’s not to say that the spirit of 7-grade ports doesn’t live on to this day. Their modern-day equivalents are clearly superior to true 7s, but they still find themselves slacking against the competition. I’ll just refer to them as “7.5s” to make things simpler: after all, they’re better than a 7, but still not quite on par with an 8.

There are two major differences between 7s and 7.5s. First, while 7s aren’t optimized at all, 7.5s are generally just poorly optimized. Not exactly significant, but it’s a step forward. On top of that, 7.5s also usually include at least a few of those expected features I mentioned earlier. Not all of them make it – generally most companies tend to aim for at least partial keyboard support and windowed mode – but a few core features are still better than none.

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For all its problems, at least MK9’s PC version had keyboard support.

With that being said, 7.5s are generally held to the same standard as their ancestors. Examples of 7.5s that I’m personally familiar with include Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition and Injustice: Gods Among Us – both handled by High Voltage Studios, a company which should set off alarm bells in any knowledgeable PC gamer’s head until proven otherwise. These ports are poorly optimized, effectively requiring specs twice as strong as recommended to run them properly and have their fair share of issues, but all-in-all, they’re effectively reasonable facsimiles of the original console versions. Their Mortal Kombat X port managed to be even worse than those two, to the extent where Warner Bros. had to hire the good people at QLOC to fix it for the XL update.

8.0 – The Bare Minimum

Now I can probably guess what’s going through your mind when you’re looking at this header. “But Icepick! You were saying that 8 were so much better than 7s and 7s were the lowest score you’d consider! How can 8s be ‘the bare minimum’?” Well, I’m glad you asked, hypothetical reader. Put simply, to the majority of PC gamers, a port that would score an 8 on this scale is quite literally, the bare minimum of what would be expected in a PC port. 7s are detritus that should, in all honesty, never occur again. 7.5s are outright abominations. But an 8? Well, all but the most discerning PC gamers – which, to be fair, is still probably half of them altogether – would at least consider these ports. The 8 is quite simply a bronze medal, the third-place award – compared to the participant ribbons that I’d associate with 7s and 7.5s. In a perfect world, every company working on a PC port should be aiming for a solid 8.

If there’s any point where the four-point scale metaphor begins to falter, it would have to be on 8. Considering the whole Twilight Princess debacle – for the handful of people reading this who don’t know what I’m talking about, the game scored an 8.8 out of 10 on Gamespot and it started a major backlash – 8s are generally considered bad scores, by the virtue of being lower than a 9. Personally, I tend to gravitate more towards 8s and 9s when it comes to review scores: 10s just often feel too good to be true. Then again, maybe that’s just me. I’m the kind of person who enjoys eating at Taco Bell, because I consider it “Tex-Mex-themed fast food” as opposed to “authentic Mexican cuisine”, which honestly has to be near the top of my personal list of the 10 stupidest opinions in all of human history. A game that scores an 8 has the chance to impress me by surprise, but a perfect score rarely lives up to its own lofty expectations in my eyes. Blame it on my susceptibility to hype backlash and the fact that my tastes don’t often align with critics in general.

Basically, the main thing elevating an 8-grade port over its inferiors is the fact that it feels much more like a PC game. The game is properly optimized to some extent, effectively meaning that current-gen games will run on systems with equivalent specs, as opposed to requiring top-of-the-line components. Keyboard and mouse support is a given and graphical options allow weaker PCs to run the game, while more powerful computers can enhance their experiences with filters and other improvements. Put simply, all of those features that I said were missing from ports I’d score at 7? All present and accounted for in the prototypical 8 port, and with no impact on the quality of the port itself.

Of course, you’re probably thinking “But Icepick! Why is this so low on the scale? This sounds like exactly what you’d want in the first place!” And honestly, that’s a fair assertion. The weakness regarding a port that scores an 8 is admittedly petty, but still relatively practical. 8s generally take all of their assets directly from the console version with no improvements. Now that sounds excellent on the surface, but the problem is that 8 ports aren’t entirely future proof. As time goes on, computers will come out with higher graphical resolutions, improved audio quality and more powerful processors: it’s an inevitability. Remember how great SNES and Genesis games looked at the time? Think about how they look when played at modern resolutions. They either take up a minute fraction of the screen or get blown up to the extent where you can easily count every individual pixel on the screen. A similar fate awaits ports that score an 8 at some undetermined point in the future. It’s nothing personal, they’re just the consequences of the continued march of time. Fortunately, in many cases, enterprising fans have found workarounds that will keep ports of this quality looking good for years to come.

The main example I can think of when it comes to an 8 port would have to be XSEED’s recent PC port of Ys SEVEN. The game was severely hampered by the fact that it was only released on the PlayStation Portable previously. XSEED wanted to keep the various art assets as close to the originals as possible, but due to the small resolution on the game’s textures, the game is locked at a relatively low maximum resolution compared to most games that were released around the same time.

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It’s a little blurry, but this version runs at 60 FPS. And in the end, isn’t that all that matters?

Supplement: Late Ports, Buggy Ports and Both

This section right here? It’s what convinced me to turn this article into more than a simple blogpost. Now it only seems fair to cite my inspirations for this particular aside: NIS America’s disasterpiece of a PC port for Falcom’s exquisite Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. After being delayed multiple times over the course of seven months, when Ys VIII finally launched on PC, the port was an absolute mess. It was so bad, that it was the first Falcom game to not receive a Positive review score on Steam – and it’s not even the first release to come from a company other than fan favorite XSEED. Originally the backlash was so severe, its overall review score was at an unprecedented “Mostly Negative”, but since then it’s settled on “Mixed”.

Why did this happen? Honestly, seeing anything lower than a Mixed score is rare on Steam in general, but why exactly did things drop so low in the first place? To properly understand how this backlash worked, you have to understand the common viewpoint of how PC gamers view two specific types of release issues when it comes to ports. Specifically, ports that launch significantly later than their console counterparts and ports that launch in such a buggy state, that they’re literally unplayable.

When it comes to late ports, PC gamers are generally understanding. I’d liken it to waking up with a dry, scratchy throat or clogged sinuses – unpleasant, but nothing out of the ordinary. Hell, I’ve written a whole series of posts outright begging for ports that couldn’t be anything but late. To misuse some baseball terminology, a late port is effectively like a foul ball: it’s a strike against the game’s reception but not one that will outright dismiss it. It all depends on various factors. For starters, how long the gap between the initial release and the PC port is. I’d say that if it launches within three months of the original – and the time between releases was spent properly optimizing the game and fixing bugs instead of, oh I don’t know, adding in intrusive DRM that actively sabotages the game’s performance at the last minute – it’s generally fine. Don’t think I forgot about what you did to Sonic Mania, Sega. I’ll never forget.

If it takes longer than that to release the game on PC, there are other ways to sweeten the pot. Release the game at a mild discount: most console games are generally sold at a discount after a few months anyway. Failing that, include any DLC that has come out in the base package. Honestly, I welcome late ports when they do this: it’s like getting a “Game of the Year” edition from the start! As long as you’re not selling the base game at the launch price six months after the fact, you should be golden.

Ports that are buggy at launch are a different story. Generally, if they come out at the same time as their console counterparts, bugs are expected but not welcome. Going back to the baseball metaphor, a bug-ridden port is a strike, swing and a miss, pure and simple. Launching in an unplayable state is a far worse blow to a game’s reputation than running late – feel free to add in that overused Miyamoto quote if you need to – but the thing about a buggy release is that, the bugs can be fixed. If the developers behind the port remain vigilant and try to iron out all of the game’s issues, its reputation can rebound. Lowering the price (even temporarily) in conjunction with the overhaul doesn’t hurt either.

Which brings us to the ultimate question: what happens when a late port is unplayable on a significant number of systems? Well, widespread backlash. The only acceptable reason for late ports to begin with is to allow for proper bugfixes. Take that promise away and replace it with a port that doesn’t even work and you’d have to wonder what compelled them to release it in that state to begin with. It’s a complete erosion of any and all good will and it will take time to repair the damage done to a company’s reputation when they decide to release something in such a rough state without a quick release to justify it.

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I forget: is quality job one or job none?

As I mentioned before, Ys VIII’s troubled PC version was what inspired me to think about this in the first place. Since then, NISA’s been slowly but surely improving the quality of the port, but it’s still far from acceptable: only those who decided to sacrifice their hard-earned money and kept their barely functional copies of Ys VIII act as the canary in the coalmine, while most of Falcom’s more discerning PC fanbase are waiting for the all-clear. Me personally? I never played the previous game – Memories of Celceta – and since that’s had a PC port announced for release sometime this summer, I’m content to wait for the all-clear. I have to wonder: is NIS America fixing up this port in an effort to repair their disastrous first effort or did the Japanese games media’s reports on this whole debacle send Falcom back into action, like they did with the game’s initial translation? I suppose we’ll never know for sure.

9.0 – The Gold Standard

Ideally, every PC port should end up with roughly a 9 score. Unfortunately, making a 9-caliber PC port isn’t quite as practical as aiming for an 8, especially with older games. In fact, despite their perceived gulf in quality, the difference from 8s to 9s aren’t nearly as different as 7s (and 7.5s) to 8s.

I’m not going to lie though, this is where things might get a little tricky. While I said that 8s were more akin to bronze medals in the grand scheme of things, I’ve also designated 9s as “the gold standard”. This begs the question: what would count as a silver-class port? I’d argue that in terms of my own personal scale, 8s would act as a silver ranking, compared to 7/7.5’s bronze. However, when talking about the general reception of ports by the PC gaming community at large, 8s would certainly be considered a bronze, while 7s are nothing more than cautionary relics of bygone eras and 7.5s are abominations that have no reason to exist at all. I suppose silver is redundant when considering PC ports, which are generally either categorized as “good” or “bad” in the first place.  7.5s and anything lower would be considered bad, 8s are merely “acceptable” – effectively serving as a border – and 9s would easily make up the bulk of the “good” category.

But what differentiates an 8 from a 9 in the first place? Remember how I mentioned earlier that a 8-scored port is susceptible to becoming outdated in lieu of advances in gaming technology? 9s are essentially future-proofed in that regard. Using higher-quality graphical and audio assets compared to the original console releases, 9s would no longer be tethered to the limitations of the original work. In that sense, ports of this quality wouldn’t even feel like ports, they’d feel like games that were originally designed for the PC in the first place. On top of that, ports of this quality generally allow for specifications not yet possible on a majority of systems, effectively allowing for screen resolutions that are either rare or non-existent when the port is first released. Likewise, these ports would also be capable of running on weaker systems, effectively allowing for the entire experience to be perfectly scaled for a majority of current PCs.

To put it in terms that console gamers may more easily understand, imagine a game that you could play on both models of the PS4, the PS3 and the Vita – each with their own unique framerates, resolutions and other flourishes to allow each version to produce a definitive experience, while allowing the more powerful consoles to showcase their additional power compared to older models. Sure, crossplay makes this sound outright mundane, but imagine if it were possible with a single download, as opposed to multiple unique versions, each designed from the ground up with their distinct platform in mind. Hell, in some cases, you’re able to play recent games using PCs with specs on par with the PlayStation 2. Imagine playing a brand-new PS4 game on a system from 2000!

Put simply, ports I’d categorize as 9s are essentially perfect. You’re probably wonder what separates them from 10s. To be honest, it’s far too difficult for me to discuss what ports that would be categorized as 9s lack compared to one that would score a perfect 10 in my eyes. It’ll be much easier to describe in the context of talking about 10s in general. As for examples, XSEED’s recent Trails of Cold Steel ports were considered an extreme improvement over the original PS3 versions. Likewise, Sega and Platinum’s recent ports of Bayonetta and Vanquish are considered the definitive versions.

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This is the best looking Metal Slug game I’ve ever seen.

Thesis: The GOG Equation

One last quick aside before I discuss my take on what defines a perfect score. Frankly, I’ve been falling more and more in love with Good Old Games since I wrote that wishlist last August. Turns out I’m not alone: after a debacle which has left the future of several games on Steam in question, MangaGamer has partnered with GOG to finally bring various high-profile visual novels to their service.

It’s baffled me just how little support GOG seems to receive from a lot of major publishers. While my main prong of attack has been on focusing on making wishlists for old ports to resurface on their service, I’ve also found it kind of weird that a lot of companies seem to drag their feet on releasing more contemporary titles on the service. The weirdest part is when some companies release a few modern games on GOG, but not their entire library. The most notable example of this I can think of is Capcom who, as of right now, have only released their old PC port of Street Fighter Alpha 2 from 1997 and 2016’s PC port of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen on GOG so far. To make matters weirder, Dragon’s Dogma was released at about the same time as the Steam release.

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GOG even makes a big deal about every single new release on their service. When’s the last time Valve did anything remotely like this on Steam?

It just strikes me as weird that so many companies refuse to support GOG, which is essentially the second biggest digital marketplace for PC games, simply based on the fact that they’re the only major one that doesn’t sell Steam keys. There’s a significant demographic of PC gamers that refuse to buy games with any form of DRM – and as beneficial as it has been, Steam is still DRM software – that generally buy games from GOG and other DRM-free stores for that reason. Meanwhile, you’ll see games sold at extreme discounts – I’ve seen games sell at 80% off the standard price – regularly on Steam. It doesn’t hurt that GOG boasts about having “crossplay” with various Steamworks games.

It honestly occurred to me at random one day, that there ought to be some sort of equation for determining when a company should just swallow their pride and release their game on GOG – and Humble Store, I guess, but mostly GOG. I think I’ve come up with a fairly reasonable way to look at it. If a publisher decides to sell one of their games with at least a 50% discount on a regular basis (let’s say, every time there’s a major sale), then I think it’s time to consider dropping Steam exclusivity and making the game available on other marketplaces. The same could be said for games that are sold at a 75% or higher discount – that is, a quarter of the standard price – even once. At that point, it just seems like publishers are desperate to make sales in the first place, so selling to the niche-within-a-niche market that buys exclusively on GOG – or even weirder, the people who are willing to buy games a second time on there – seems like a sure bet to make some extra money.

I understand the argument that a lot of people tend to make: that DRM-free sites encourage piracy. But honestly? Steam’s DRM is easy enough to crack and any additional forms of DRM – even the supposed piracy-killer Denuvo – just seem to act more as a challenge for pirates instead of a deterrent, effectively punishing paying customers more than the people cracking the game for free. Couple that with the fact that the EU withheld a study that proved that piracy doesn’t actually hurt media sales (aside from movie tickets) and there’s really no justification to avoid selling stuff on GOG, unless Valve paid for some kind of exclusivity, which would honestly impress me, considering the hands-off approach they’ve seemed to take running Steam for the past five or so years.

The Perfect 10 – An Abstract Concept

I mentioned earlier that I have an innate distrust of perfect scores. Frankly, the idea of perfection just seems like it should be reserved for purely objective observations, quite the opposite from any and all reviews. When it comes to media, my apprehension becomes a little more pronounced. By definition, a perfect game – even a game simply considered the perfect representation of its genre – should be one that can never be surpassed. The ideal game, a game which should sate any gamer for the rest of their days. No game that has scored perfect 10s across the board has come even remotely close to engrossing me to that extent. As such, I don’t really trust the concept in general: no game – not even one that scores a perfect 10 in every publication, past, present and future – can be perfect.

Which begs the question: what differentiates a 9-grade PC port from a perfect 10? Objectively, absolutely nothing. I already pointed out that a PC port that would score a 9.0 is the gold standard, a port that improves upon its source material, effectively creating a definitive release. As the entire concept of a perfect score is even more subjective than the scale it inhabits, it only seems fair that my take on what consists a perfect score should be equally as subjective.

Enough stalling, my criteria for what separates the crème de la crème is actually fairly subjective. Essentially, a perfect 10 PC port would be of a quality so recognizable, that console gamers effectively want that version ported back to consoles down the line. Or, better still, a case where a PC port works out so well, that publishers themselves decide that it’s worth using said PC version as the basis for any and all re-releases down the line. At the very least, the next batch would be based on the PC port.

I understand just how petty and small that comes across, that for a PC port to be considered ideal, its quality must be recognized outside our niche. However, all things considered, I can’t think of a better criterion of quality than acknowledgement from outside our own field. When you think about it, internal rankings all fall victim to some measure of subjectivity. We all play favorites. But the green-eyed pining of console gamers, hissing jealously at our long-awaited prize, a shinier toy than the one they’ve had for so long? That’s an objective measure: only the most short-sighted console gamers – so, again, roughly half – would even bother caring about a PC port unless it was clearly superior to their version. As for the publishers themselves, PC versions may be easier to port back to consoles again down the line (especially these days), but usually they’ll add some attempt at new flourishes from generation to generation. If it’s a straight port of the existing PC version though, that implies that they’ve perfected their craft.

Thus far, I’ve tried giving you an example of what I would consider a perfect example of each of these ports and I don’t intend to fail you on the perfect 10. Ultra Street Fighter IV started with a rocky release – mainly owed to switching their online matchmaking from using the defunct Games for Windows Live service to Steamworks – but eventually managed to become the definitive version, serving as the basis for a subsequent re-release on the PS4 (which itself had unrelated issues with optimization for months). QLOC outdid themselves on USF4 and have essentially earned their place as my pick for the best PC porting studio of all-time. If someone from any company stumbles upon this article and takes one thing away from it, hire QLOC to port your games to PC. You won’t regret it.

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It even has a benchmark, for cryin’ out loud!

So that brings us to the end of this little experiment. I’ll be honest, as much as I claim to have amassed a great deal of knowledge about PC gaming since migrating back to it around the end of the last console generation, I still consider myself a journeyman. It seems like every day, I learn something new about this platform. Ports and original games I missed out on in my early days of PC gaming and during my time on consoles, releases that were once considered abominations being polished to perfection, even new mods for games that I wouldn’t have expected mods on in the first place. Maybe that’s part of the reason I’ve taken to PC gaming again as much as I have: it’s such a vast environment, it’s pretty much got something for everyone. And for those of you that love my little wishlists: don’t worry, August’s not that far away.

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Remaking History Repeats Itself

When it came to revisiting older articles that I intended to make into series, Remaking History was my white whale. Trying to figure out a way to write a follow-up to the concept was difficult, simply because it revolved around finding five games in franchises that would be worth covering in minor detail, as opposed to doing full write-ups for each of them. Fortunately, I’m more of a sequel man in that regard, but coming up with a list of five games worthy of remaking in the first place managed to be my major hurdle. Still, I ended up persevering and I can finally share the fruits of my labor.

The fact that I considered Remaking History viable as a series in the first place is a testament to my hubris roughly four years ago. Effectively, the concept behind the original article – and by extension, this humble successor – is to pick out five existing games from popular series that don’t live up to the reputation of other titles, both past and present. Personally, I think it’s a crime when games that are already great are given remakes. We’ve managed to get so much joy out of overhauls of weaker and more forgettable titles. MegaMan Powered Up recreated the 1987 classic while learning from later games in the series; Metroid: Samus Returns brought the forgotten Metroid II – a game from the original Remaking History article! – back to prominence; and Ys: The Oath in Felghana easily redeemed its source material, turning the black sheep that was Wanderers from Ys to one of the most popular games in the entire franchise, while still retaining many distinct elements from the source material. Remaking games that were popular in the first place and hold up under modern scrutiny just feels like an utter waste of resources.

I’ve decided to modify the format from the original article. Originally, I broke each entry up into three headings: the problems, the potential and my proposal. Looking back, I wasn’t really a fan of the formatting or the way that each section was broken up. While I’ve still got three subheaders in this new format, they focus more on simpler questions. What game should be remade? Why bother remaking it in the first place? How should a remake be handled? Not an exact match but talking about each game’s problems and potential separately felt redundant. I also wasn’t a fan of rearranging the headers depending on importance, keeping everything standardized should allow for an easier read. With all that being said, let’s move onto the first entry:

MegaMan 7

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What?

The seventh game in the MegaMan franchise’s original “Classic” line and the first game in that particular continuity to appear outside of the original Nintendo Entertainment System. By the time it was released, two games in the follow-up “MegaMan X” series had been released on the Super Nintendo and a third came out within a year of MM7. It’s generally considered one of the weaker games in the Classic series (if not the entire franchise).

Why?

The game was clearly rushed, with a development cycle lasting roughly three months. Obviously, this led to MegaMan 7 having a fair amount of issues. Stiff controls and wonky jumps made the game feel like a parody of the Classic NES games when compared to the X trilogy available on the same platform. The interesting thing about that is these minor issues appear to be the only real problem: a fan remake called Rockman 7 Famicom actually recreates the majority of the game – aside from the introduction and intermission mini-stages – and when transposed into the classic 8-bit style associated with the NES games, it’s honestly an excellent game.

How?

You’re probably expecting me to suggest going a similar route to the fan-game and have Capcom do a similar 8-bit demake. Honestly, I liked MM7’s graphics too much to ditch them, so I’d instead suggest going the “Sonic CD 2011” route. Take the existing game assets and rebuild the game using an improved engine. Simply put, make MegaMan 7 feel like one of the NES games while retaining the SNES aesthetic in both art and sound design. On top of that, expand the resolution to modern proportions, so that the irrelevant complaint about the screen being too cramped can finally be put to rest.

Considering the recent re-release of the original MM7 in the second MegaMan Legacy Collection, I think this is an unlikely project. A shame, considering just how amazing of a budget title this could be.

Shantae

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What?

The first Shantae was originally released on the Game Boy Color back in June 2002, over a year after the Game Boy Advance was released. A cult hit that pushed the aged hardware to its limits, Shantae was cut from the same cloth as games like Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, pushing the concepts found in early “Metroidvanias” exploratory platformers to their limits, combining labyrinthine dungeons with an overworld brimming with character. Future titles only served to expand on the storyline and gameplay, but the original game serves as a clear bedrock for the franchise. On top of that, it’s easily one of the best games in the Game Boy Color’s library.

Why?

Two reasons. For starters, compared to every other game in the series, the original Shantae is only available on a few platforms. Aside from the initial Game Boy Color release, the game was only re-released on the 3DS’s Virtual Console. Compare that to other games in the series, which are available on pretty much all modern platforms. Since the original game was built from the ground-up on the GBC, a remake just seems more viable than a direct port – I have a feeling that Nintendo wouldn’t allow emulation.

On top of that, as good as the first Shantae was, there were a few weird design decisions which a remake could easily iron out. I can think of a whole host of Quality of Life improvements that I’d recommend, making this diamond in the rough truly shine, but I’ll stick to my two main issues to keep things short. The lives mechanic – present in Zelda II and Simon’s Quest – just doesn’t make sense in that type of game. My other major issue is that there wasn’t a map in-game, which is distressing considering that the first Shantae easily boasts the most treacherous overworld of the entire franchise.

How?

Think a Super Mario All-Stars style revamp of the original Shantae, using newer graphics and quality of life improvements, but otherwise leaving the level designs completely untouched. Best way to handle this would be as a budget project: recycling assets from other games in the series seems like it could work. My only question is which art style should they use: the pixel art from Risky’s Revenge/Pirate’s Curse or the new hand-drawn style from Half-Genie Hero?

I’d personally prefer the former, simply because the sprite work from those two games was clearly inspired by the GBC game’s look in the first place, but I worry that they’d need to create more original content compared to recycling HGH’s assets. On the other hand, it might be possible to rehab the original game’s existing graphics to the enhanced style as opposed to outright drawing brand-new assets, which would be a necessity for using the hand-drawn artwork of the most recent game.

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes II

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What?

Clearly the most obscure of my choices by a wide margin, The Legend of Heroes II was one of Falcom’s early turn-based RPGs. I’ll be honest, I’ve never played the game myself, but I am familiar with its legacy. These days, the Legend of Heroes series is probably Falcom’s most popular franchise, at least in their home region. Before all of that, it was just another spinoff from Falcom’s Dragon Slayer “series” – which was really less a series and more of an umbrella term for a variety of projects headed by producer Yoshio Kiya.

Why?

Once again, it all comes down to availability. Oddly enough, every other game in the series was re-released on Windows PC, with the fifth game and the “Trails of the Sky” trilogy debuting on the platform as well. After that, the “Gagharv Trilogy” (the third, fourth and fifth games) and the “Trails in the Sky” trilogy would see enhanced ports on the PlayStation Portable, likely to accompany future titles in the series that would debut on that platform. I just think it’s absolutely weird that the original Legend of Heroes would see a PC port, while its sequel was completely ignored.

Admittedly, the 1997 Windows PC version of the first game isn’t its most recent release: a two-pack of both Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes games were released on the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn in 1998. When it comes right down to it, it’s still easily the most easily accessible version, still being sold on Japanese software sites like DMM to this day.

How?

For inspiration, I’d look to another similar Falcom remake: Ys I & II Chronicles. Simply put, remake both games with a low-budget rerelease in mind. Keep the base gameplay the same as the original games, improve the graphics to the same level as Chronicles and rearrange the soundtrack. That or Falcom could also just re-release the Mega Drive or PC Engine versions ad infinitum. Either way, it’s more about making sure that future generations could enjoy these classic RPGs.

Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero

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What?

Back in the 1990s, Mortal Kombat was a worldwide phenomenon. Don’t get me wrong, the franchise is still popular today, but the sheer amount of promotional material that accompanied the first three games in the franchise is absolutely staggering. Two theatrical films (and at least one direct-to-video), two television series, toy lines, it was truly something else. Midway didn’t rest on their laurels however, deciding to further cash in on their cash cow with Mortal Kombat Mythologies. Speculated to be a pilot for an entire series of spin-offs, the first game chronicled the life of Sub-Zero, the ice ninja, prior to the first Mortal Kombat tournament. The concept seemed like a slam dunk – Sub-Zero is probably the second most popular character in the entire franchise, acting as the Ken to Scorpion’s Ryu. Alas, it was not to be.

Why?

The original game sucked. That’s really all there is to it. The game was essentially a side-scrolling beat-‘em-up with fighting game controls. Add in awkward platforming sequences and the game become annoying to play. In fact, Mythologies reminds me of Acclaim’s Batman Forever game on the Genesis and Super Nintendo, with its cryptic and awkward controls. To make matters bleaker, Mythologies was eventually followed up by Special Forces, a 3D action game that somehow managed to be even worse.

The thing is, the entire concept was still interesting. I owned this game when I was a kid, simply because of just how much the idea of a Sub-Zero-centric adventure grabbed me. Years later, Midway would revisit the concept of a Mortal Kombat action game spinoff with Shaolin Monks, a 3D co-op action game that took place during the second Mortal Kombat, which was substantially more successful.

How?

Mortal Kombat’s already gone through a reboot, so I’d say do the same with Mythologies. Just remake the game as a 3D action game, taking more inspiration from beat-‘em-ups than usual. In other words, use Shaolin Monks as a template. Ditch the poorly implemented fighting game controls in favor of more traditional action game controls. Most importantly, keep those cheesy full-motion video sequences from the PlayStation version – preferably as bonus content, but I wouldn’t reject them being made a part of the new game itself.

Bloody Roar

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What?

Bloody Roar (known in North American arcades as “Beastorizer”) was another also-ran in the era of the 3D fighting game, a period ushered in by heavy hitters like Virtua Fighter and Tekken. Created by the fine people at Hudson Soft, Bloody Roar wasn’t particularly obscure among fans of the genre, but its popularity didn’t reach the dizzying heights the concept deserved. Effectively, the game took cues from other 3D fighters with looser engines – Fighting Vipers comes to mind – but incorporated a unique gimmick: filling an energy gauge allowed the fighters to transform into anthropomorphic animals, giving them access to new attacks as well as boosting their strength and speed. The original Bloody Roar managed to spawn 3 sequels – I personally can’t tell if the second or third game in the series was the most popular – but eventually, even its cult audience wasn’t enough to sustain it.

Why?

Since “Because Icey want!” was rejected by my editor, I’ll give some “valid” reasons. We’ve recently seen a 2D fighting game renaissance, but their 3D counterparts have languished: at this point, Dead or Alive and Tekken seem to be the only active franchises, with Soul Calibur preparing a seventh entry for release sometime this year. We’ve recently seen a boom in 3D platformers on the heels of a similar revival of the 2D variety, so it only stands to reason that there’s an underlying demand for 3D fighters: Virtua Fighter fans have been clamoring for a new game for the better part of a decade now.

How?

Maybe I’ve still got Mortal Kombat on the brain after the last entry, but I’d love to see the series get a full-on reboot, starting from the first game. Ideally, we’d be seeing something exactly like Mortal Kombat 9: a retelling of the first 3 games in the franchise, with many (if not all) of the characters from all three games. After all, Bloody Roar was one of those rare fighting games where most of the characters in its first entry never returned. So, starting from the beginning and working up to the game’s peak in popularity would allow for an interesting roster. It’s not like there were that many characters in the series to begin with, so recreating all of the old characters shouldn’t be that difficult of a feat.

…of course, Konami owns all of Hudson’s IPs these days, so this seems like just another pipe dream. Though I guess if Bomberman can come back, it’s not quite as impossible as some of my other entries on this list.

While the original Remaking History had a 20% success rate – at best, I’d argue “25%” if the Street Fighter I-themed Arcade ladder in the recent Street Fighter V expansion counts as a remake (and it doesn’t) – I’m not quite as confident that anything from this article will come to pass. I’d argue that only Shantae is within the realm of possibility, and even then, it just seems much more likely that WayForward would rather work on a sequel instead. Having said that, I’d love to be proven wrong and that we’ll see these remakes or others like them.

Of Axioms and Idioms: Win Dumb, Lose Fun

Out of all the series I’ve been writing on this site, I’ve got the most ideas by far for the Of Axioms and Idioms series. Kind of sad considering it’s among my newest, but at the very least, it gives me topics to write about. This is one of the earliest ones that occurred to me when I decided to start this little recurring series, so this article has honestly been a long time coming. That’s the best thing about this series: since it mostly relates to my tastes and opinions, it’s kind of difficult for any of them to really become irrelevant. Feel free to stay tuned for the next one, where I discuss how those new-fangled 32-bit consoles aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

The topic I’ll be discussing in this article is a little difficult to explain, but I’ll try my best. Put simply, when I win, I like knowing how I did it. Think of my reactions to gaming across two separate axes: whether I win or lose and whether I understand what’s happening in the game itself. The ideal is obviously for me to win and understand why I won. Losing but understanding why I lost is also fine, that just adds to the thrill of the hunt in my opinion. Losing and not knowing why is generally good as a first step, but hopefully it will eventually lead to an understanding of just how the game in question functions. A first step, if you will, in my process to figure out how a game works. Which brings us to the last possible outcome: winning without knowing how. It drives me crazy, I hate it so much.

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They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. I’m pretty sure that whenever I make a picture, half the words are just the slurred moans of the damned.

It’s funny just how many of these ideas seemed to be inspired by my reflections on the Ys series. The topic came to me while I was reflecting on the differences of Ys VI and its direct predecessor Ys V. Despite the 8 years between the release of those games, they shared many similarities: in setting, in gameplay mechanics and even in my experiences while playing them. In both games, I beat the final bosses on my first attempt. Of course, how I came to the conclusions of each game were completely different. In Ys VI, I understood exactly what I needed to do to beat the final boss, the strategy I needed to follow to avoid losing and it worked out well, taking what I’d learned throughout the game and applying it within the context of a “final exam”. The end of the game just felt satisfying, even if I found that the game’s final challenge lacked difficulty. Ys V, on the other hand, I just sort of randomly beat the final boss. To this day, I still don’t know what strategy I had to use to beat it. I essentially just spammed jump slashes and won. It’s demoralizing to even look back at the video archive I have of it. There was no rhyme or reason behind my victory. Granted, I didn’t really have that much fun playing the game altogether, so my reaction was more one of relief than triumph. In retrospect, my victory felt accidental – and frankly, that’s never a good sensation.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time I remember feeling cheated by something like this. Way back in 2011, I attended PAX East, as I was living in Boston at the time. I generally just went to play demos for upcoming games that had interested me, and among them were two upcoming fighting games: the Mortal Kombat reboot and indie-darling Skullgirls. I played Mortal Kombat first – to the extent where I made a beeline for the booth the second I arrived at the convention, and there was a big line for it – and had a blast. Even though I got my butt kicked, I completely understood what was going on and decided that it would definitely be worth learning the various mechanics and techniques in full when the game released. Skullgirls, on the other hand, had a fittingly sparse booth, with absolutely no line. I got in one match …and I ended up hating it. I won, quite easily, but I didn’t honestly feel any challenge. The victory had no impact, I essentially won easily on a lark and I ended up hating the game for it. It got so bad that, for quite some time, I openly pointed out just how much I hated the game and almost ignored it completely upon its release, deciding to only play the demo on Xbox 360 at a couple of my friends’ requests. The final product was good and to this day I still love it, but it’s just amazing how much of a turnaround my opinion on the game changed from that initial gut reaction. Granted, when I first played the game, it was only beginning to reach a development stage that would eventually resemble the final product, so clearly an insane amount of work went into the game between my first impression and the original public release.

I suppose this last example only really applies as a technicality. I loved the original Dead Rising, even if I only got to it a few years after its initial release, around the time that Capcom was hyping up the release of the sequel. Regardless, my first attempt at a playthrough was disastrous at times. It eventually got to the point where I simply became unable to progress any more. So, I decided to restart the game …only to find that all of the experience levels and new abilities I’d earned on my first attempt had stayed with me the entire time, allowing me a much easier time of progressing through the game once again. Turns out that was Capcom’s intention from the beginning: trying to beat the game on a single run is a challenge that should only be attempted by the most hardcore Dead Rising fans. This had the bonus effect of also allowing players to learn from any mistakes they might have made during previous runs. This replay mechanic allows players to hone their skills and avoid missing out on the game’s main storyline or side missions, teaching them how to better manage their time through the tried and true method of trial and error. While I think the second game managed to strike the perfect balance between accessibility and challenge, the first game’s take was so clever, I can’t help but still love it. Then I think about what’s happened to the series since: Dead Rising 4 is nothing but a bland generic action game, which stripped out any unique elements from the first two and replaced it with the ability to take selfies with zombies.  I’m almost certain one of those drinking bird toys could beat it.

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Oh yeah, I definitely believe this was your first run. No question.

In the end, I suppose this all extends from how I view video games as a whole. Much like how someone who likes doing crosswords or solving math problems in their spare time, I prefer to think of most video games – or at least the ones I enjoy – as puzzles, challenges to be solved and completed. As such, I like winning at video games with seemingly no rhyme or reason behind it as much as a mathematician would enjoy solving a math problem by just guessing the answer at random or a crossword enthusiast would like solving a puzzle by just writing the letter Z everywhere. For me, there needs to be a logic behind any achievements or victory: if I’m just going to randomly win based on nothing, I don’t really see much of a point in putting any form of input into it. I might as well just be watching a Let’s Play at that point – how much of a difference is there between watching someone play through a video game and playing through it yourself when it almost feels like victory is assured from the beginning? I’m afraid I can’t get much out of a game if there’s no struggle, nothing to strive for, no challenge to overcome. At that point, I feel like I might as well be watching a movie. If it feels like I don’t need to earn whatever victory condition is set before me, even in the most rudimentary way, it just ends up feeling patronizing and turns me off.

You’d probably expect this opinion of mine to manifest into a hatred of the trend of “hand-holding” in modern game design. Honestly, you’d be wrong. The thing is that, even at its most blatant, hand holding shows the player everything they need to do. Outside of the most extreme cases, it doesn’t just automatically win the game for them. Even in those rare cases, there’s usually some kind of a caveat, even outside of my own personal “you’re only cheating yourself” perspective. Maybe it doesn’t actually count the stage as beaten, like the Super Guide in various Nintendo platformers: putting a little asterisk there to twist the knife and remind the player to go back and complete the level when their skills have improved to the point where they can do it without help. I’m not going to lie, there are times where forced “hand-holding” is detrimental to game design, but I can’t recall any case where it outright tears out a victory condition and replaces it with “yeah, sure, whatever”. Frankly, I find that way more annoying than every arrow pointing towards the next objective or any sidekick whose sole purpose is to constantly reminds players of various things they either learned in the tutorial or just instinctively knew in the first place.

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Behold, the White Kong of Shame.

This might actually be a pretty big part of the reason why I’ve always liked fighting games, ever since I first played Street Fighter II on my cousin’s SNES when I was really young. At their core, fighting games end up coming down to strategy. A good grasp of the fundamental concepts behind the fighting game genre takes people further than being able to do a pretzel motion ever could. Psychology matters far more than all but the most basic of executions: I can’t even count how many easy wins I’ve thrown away simply because I wanted to finish off someone with a flashy technique, when I should’ve just punched them and been done with it. In fighting games, every loss is merely a new learning experience and every hard-fought victory is simply a crystallization of all that learning. Most importantly, in all but a few fighting games, there’s never any case of winning or losing for no reason – all is laid bare when fighting games are approached from the proper mindset. Adapting to one’s opponent or learning how to play the game in general is more important than a thousand Raging Demons or Deadly Raves, believe me.

I guess I should consider it fortunate that there aren’t that many games where players can simply win “by accident”. It’s to the point where I can’t even think of any more off the top of my head, aside from the one I mentioned earlier in the article: Skullgirls doesn’t count, that was pre-release build. Yet, I’ve heard many a claim that it is the opposite – losing for inconsistent reasons – that is a true scourge of gaming. While I’d argue that win and loss conditions, not to mention the rules of a game in general, should remain consistent, I’d still say that the worst thing that a game could do is allow victory for seemingly no reason. In my opinion, the existence of a failure state is what makes a game “a game” and by extension, fun. I’ve yet to meet anyone who thinks that winning at a game is more important than knowing how and why they reached that conclusion. I’d have to say that I’m not sure what I’d be able to say to them. In the end, video games are more about the journey than the destination for me.

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“The game is fun. The game is a battle. If it’s not fun, why bother? If it’s not a battle, where’s the fun?” — Reggie Fils-Aime

So, what do you think? Do you find it infuriating to win in a game while never really knowing why? Or do you feel like it doesn’t matter, as long as you’re winning? Does it matter to you whether you know why you won or lost in a video game? Feel free to sound off in the comments below and let me know what you think.

A Wishlist Named GOG

On the one hand, giving up on the PC ports articles helped me out with regards to the quality of my writing, at least in terms of the topics I’d cover. After all, they were effectively vanity pieces, where I would essentially just lay out a list of ten games I’d love to see ported to my current platform of choice, particularly via Valve’s Steam platform. Back in the early days, this was a much more viable endeavor: many companies (particularly those of Japanese origin) had just began looking at PC ports as a potential revenue stream and I simply wanted to make my voice heard, even against the backdrop of a little-known blog, echoing from the most obscure corner of the vast internet. Since then, I’ve gotten a significant dividend on my investments and at this point, it seems like more companies have adopted the PC as a secondary platform for Western releases, superseding the current incarnation of the Xbox, with many smaller Japanese companies considering the PC market as a viable place to invest in general. As such, I decided to focus my interests elsewhere – honestly, those lists about ports of PC-exclusive games to consoles have been fun to write – but at the same time, it feels empty. After all, what’s in it for me? I’ve been itching to write another list and despite the fact that I’ve decided to revive the original concept for one more go this holiday season, I wanted to do something a little different first.

Before we dive into this new list, I’ve clearly got some updates to right, on the acquisitions the PC platform has made since that last list back in April. Truth be told, this was one of the determining factors that all but assured that this list would become a reality: if I’d waited until December to write up on everything else, I probably could’ve written an entire article on all the new PC ports we’ve seen announced and released alone. First off, the first Bayonetta was ported to PC as expected, but it was soon followed by a second Sega/Platinum project, the oft-requested Vanquish. Both have been given an even further coat of paint from their original HD releases and as such, now the PC versions are generally considered the definitive releases. de Blob 2 has joined its predecessor on Steam, skipping out on console versions at this point for some strange reason. Glad to see both games have been re-released on PC – I always felt that they were a bit of a longshot – and I hope this means that THQ Nordic has plans to revive the series down the line as well. Then there were games I’d wanted that didn’t even get the chance to be put on this year’s upcoming list: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel was confirmed for release tomorrow on Steam, GOG and Humble Store via XSEED, who confirmed that the second game in the trilogy would also be receiving a PC port later this year and is now apparently taking PC development far more seriously (more on that later); Natsume released their first PC game in the form of Wild Guns Reloaded last month; SNK finally granted my wish and released The King of Fighters XIV on PC, with the port being handled by Abstraction Games, the very company that handled Double Dragon Neon, my first successful request; and Raiden V: Director’s Cut, an enhanced release of the former Xbox One exclusive was announced for both PS4 and PC. Speaking of which, last year, I wrote up a top 10 list of the games that I’d mentioned in previous lists that I most wanted to see become a reality. I’m happy to say that not only did two of those entries become a reality, but they were my top 2 choices overall. MegaMan 9 and 10 are coming to PC (as well as PS4 and XBO) via the upcoming MegaMan Legacy Collection 2, with all of their DLC included. As an added bonus, MegaMans 7 & 8 will also be included: truth be told, I’d have paid the $20 asking price for MM9 and MM10 with their bonus content alone; including MM8 was just gravy. Even more amazing was the news from last month that Ys Seven would be coming to PC in the West, via a brand-new port commissioned by XSEED themselves. Coming to us with an improved translation, 60FPS gameplay and enhanced graphics, it’s looking to be the definitive version of the Ys franchise’s first fully-3D adventure. Better still, this means that now, none of my lists are complete failures: at least one game from every list I’ve written up has had at least one PC port listed made, so I’m absolutely ecstatic about it. What this means for Memories of Celceta, now the only modern game in the series missing from PC, I don’t know, but I’m going to keep my fingers crossed, especially in light of the information that Falcom president Toshihiro Kondo went on record saying that he wants “all of their games on Steam“. Of course, with my top two games on that cumulative list acquired, that may just mean I’ll have to write up a new one in December.

So with that gargantuan list of victories, let’s get to the topic at hand – what is the list going to be about this time around? Quite simply, I’m going to turn the entire concept on its head: instead of asking for games that are exclusive to consoles to receive brand-new ports, why not ask for some old PC games (ports or otherwise) to be re-released so that modern generations can enjoy them? If the title didn’t give it away, this wishlist is dedicated to the fine people over at GOG. Formerly known as “Good Old Games”, G-O-G – or “Gog” as I prefer to pronounce it, simply because it sounds like a caveman’s name. Since they generally deal in older PC games, it just seems fitting to me – is perhaps the second-most popular digital platform when it comes to PC games, and that’s probably due to their unorthodox strategies. If their original name didn’t make it obvious, GOG focuses mostly on providing digital re-releases of old games that are long since out of print. That is to say, the majority of their “new releases” are a bit of a misnomer.

I personally believe that GOG’s popularity is because it bucked the trend that many digital storefronts embraced: attempting to create a “Steam-killer”, seemingly going after an entirely different niche audience of PC gamers – a solid concept given their focus on “good, old games”. Of course, perhaps the most prominent way they’ve separated themselves from Valve’s nigh-monopoly is with their strict policy against DRM software. That essentially makes GOG one of the few digital storefronts where you can literally buy PC games. While that’s had the unfortunate consequence of making them the perfect source for PC game piracy, it’s still something that has earned them quite a few companies’ respect, not to mention a dedicated fanbase, especially among anti-DRM advocates. Likewise, while GOG traditionally works off their website, they’ve also built their own Steam-like client, GOG Galaxy, which allows for various quality of life features Steam is acclaimed for, such as in-game achievements, automatic updates and even online cross-platform play with Steam users.

GOG is the class valedictorian to Steam’s starting quarterback with really rich parents. Valve’s massive war chest has allowed them to become everyone’s favorite PC gaming service, effectively becoming the last man standing after the all-out war against the now-defunct Games for Windows Live. GOG’s focus and policies make them a far less popular choice for the majority of developers and especially publishers, but in return, they provide their customers with far better service. Perhaps the best illustration of this is by comparing the two stores’ refund policies: while Steam offers a strange 2 weeks owned/2 hours played policy, GOG offers a 30-day refund policy, no questions asked. Of course, many times when GOG goes out of their way to secure the re-release of an oft-requested title, it’ll often just show up Steam later on, usually after a particularly anemic exclusivity period. Seems a bit thankless to me, but I guess I understand it.

Perhaps my favorite thing about GOG would be their community wishlists. In my opinion, these are the ultimate proof of their dedication to provide their customers with the best possible service. GOG has wishlists for new features on the website, new features on their Galaxy client, new movies (yes, GOG offers digital video downloads as well), but the longest-running and my personal favorite would have to be their wishlist for new PC games. While there are quite a few cases of people completely missing the point of the service, I’ve upvoted quite a few of these and quite a few of these games have ended up emerging on the service. In fact, GOG’s community wishlist is what inspired this wishlist in the first place, both the concept and some of the entries on here. I’ll include links to those with entries on the community wishlist, in an effort to get them some support and, perhaps, one day, some of these games will find their way onto the service.

The rules are going to be a bit different this time around, just to make my life a bit easier. Chances are this will end up being a one-shot, so I’m not particularly worried with the changes. I’ll be keeping the concept of consolidating multiple games in a single series into one entry, simply to both save space and get as many games in as possible. As these are all existing PC games, there’s no point in separating series by platform, so it’s pretty much a free-for-all in that regard. I’m bumping the company limitations from 1 to 2 entries this time around, simply because there just aren’t as many companies with games I’d want. Likewise, much like previous “special” lists, I’ll be including an additional write-up, this time focusing on my thoughts on the likelihood of these games being released on GOG in the future. That seems like it might be good for a laugh.

The House of the Dead/The Typing of the Dead – Sega

I’m sure I’ve mentioned on several occasions that when I was young, my main outlets for gaming were the Game Gear, my ill-fated Nomads (never give a child with a temper a fragile, yet expensive handheld) and of course, the family computer. Sega was a constant presence on all three platforms. I was always a fan of the “Sega PC” line of games: it blew my mind to see Sonic 3 & Knuckles on my friend’s computer and I was equally blown away by the mere existence of Sonic CD. But there were many more games in there, and as time went on, Sega’s offerings improved. The Sega PC lineup was particularly strong during the Saturn days. Given the fact that the source code is long gone, I think Sega re-releasing the original House of the Dead’s PC port would be a good way to honor the franchise, especially given the fact that every other game in the franchise has been re-released in some form. Likewise, I’d love to see a re-release of the original Typing of the Dead, given how much I’m loving Overkill. Unfortunately, since The Typing of the Dead 2 was Japan-exclusive, I’m far less optimistic about that one seeing a re-release on GOG, unless Sega decides to include a translation.

Odds: Well, Sega has yet to release any games on the GOG platform, so that makes things kind of dicey. Still, given Sega of Europe’s recent shift towards PC ports and original development, I think there may be a chance that we could see some of these games pop up in the future with enough fan demand. (5/10)

Panzer Dragoon – Sega

It almost pains me to include this one, simply because there was another game I wanted from the Sega PC line-up. Alas, that game ended up below, in the honorable mentions, simply due to the importance of this game. Generally considered one of the best games for the Sega Saturn, not to mention one of the best games developed by Sega period, Panzer Dragoon only saw release on the Saturn, on the Japan-exclusive Sega Ages line and as a bonus feature in the Xbox’s Panzer Dragoon Orta. The Xbox version utilized the PC port as its basis – a not-at-all uncommon move for Sega with regards to many titles from around that era – which should speak to its quality. As such, I had to put my nostalgia aside and give Panzer Dragoon the nod: besides, I never really got to play it and I’ve been interested in the game for quite some time now.

Odds: I’d almost say that it’s on par with the HotD games, but honestly, given the sheer zealotry of Panzer Dragoon’s small but dedicated fanbase, I’d say that if any Sega PC game makes it onto GOG, it’s got to be Panzer Dragoon – though, hopefully, Sega doesn’t decide to stop at just one. (6/10)

Metal Gear Solid: Integral/Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance – Konami

I guess it just sort of proves how dumb of a kid I was: I had no idea that either of these games had even received PC ports. Of course, given Konami’s history with the MSX, I guess it kind of makes sense. From what I can tell, both ports were fairly well done, and there were even mods that upscaled all of the textures and graphics to allow for HD gameplay, effectively giving the PC versions an edge over any other version. There was a rumor for quite some time that Konami was planning to port the MGS HD Collection to Steam, but frankly, I think I’d rather just see these ports of the first two games re-released instead.

Odds: Like Sega, Konami has absolutely no presence on GOG at the moment. To make matters worse, they’ve earned themselves a fairly poor reputation among gamers in recent years, both through many of their releases but mostly due to some of their managerial shenanigans. Unless Konami decides they want to win back gamers, I wouldn’t hold my breath. (2/10)

MegaMan Legends/MegaMan X3, X4, X5 & X8 – Capcom

The funny thing about MegaMan Legends is that, for quite some time, the only version you could buy new was the PC version. It was sold for quite some time on GameStop’s digital service, then just randomly vanished into the ether. I’m not sure if Capcom ordered them to take it down or if the game just stopped being compatible with current versions of Windows. Whatever the reason, it just disappeared. Considering the fact that Capcom was able to license a re-release of all three games as PS1 Classics, I’d kind of hope that they would be willing to swing a similar re-release of the PC version on GOG.

I also decided to include all of the MegaMan X games that came out in English-speaking regions, with the exception of the piss-poor port of the first game, handled by the folks at Rozner Labs. From what I can tell, all the ports I’ve mentioned are on par with their counterparts on PlayStation consoles (that includes X3), which is honestly fine by me. There were also ports of X6 and X7 (as well as Legends 2), but these were strictly made for the Asian market, and therefore, wouldn’t be available in English. From what I’ve heard, the port of Legends 2 was of poor quality anyway – and given how little I think of X6 in the first place, I’d be fine with just ignoring them. X8 was released exclusively in both Japan and Europe, so it gets a pass.

Odds: Well, for starters, Capcom has already released a couple games on GOG, namely the recent PC port of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, but more importantly, their Windows PC port of Street Fighter Alpha 2. This effectively makes them the first company I’ve mention that’s clearly aware of GOG’s existence. Having said that, I’d have to give Legends and the X games two separate scores here. While it’s unlikely that Capcom’s planning any major re-releases of the Legends games, it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw a MMX-themed Legacy Collection down the line. While a release along those lines would technically bring those games back to the PC, it would still be cool to see those old ports re-released on GOG, if only for curiosity’s sake. (Legends: 5/10; X Games: 3/10)

Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo – Capcom

This may seem a bit redundant to many of you: after all, I included the HD version of Puzzle Fighter in one of my earlier wishlists. However, I think both versions offer me something different. While the HD version includes online play and the additional two modes that originated in the Dreamcast version, the existing PC port was based on the PS1 release, which means that it has one thing going for it that the HD version couldn’t possibly compete with: nostalgia. SPF2T was one of the earliest games I owned on the PS1, and it included both the original and arranged soundtracks, as well as Street Puzzle Mode. Street Puzzle Mode was among one of the first video game challenges that I found difficult, but managed to overcome after hours of practice and it left me feeling satisfied. Quite simply, Street Puzzle Mode taught me the joys of “gitting gud” at video games, and I can’t stop thanking it for that. While most people would probably just prefer the HD version to get a re-release, I’d personally love to see both: HD on Steam and the original port on GOG.

Odds: Honestly, it’s hard to say. On the one hand, re-releasing the old port would probably be easier than porting the newer version to PC. But given the fact that current platforms in general also lack Puzzle Fighter HD, it’s entirely possible that Capcom would just do it in an effort to keep bringing older games forward to the current generation of platforms. Like I said, I’d like to see both re-released, but something tells me Capcom wouldn’t be onboard with that. (4/10)

Jazz Jackrabbit series – Epic Megagames

It’s actually really surprising how many great platformers there were on PC back in the good ol’ days. I mainly remember Commander Keen and Duke Nukem, but they weren’t the only ones. Perhaps the most popular was Jazz Jackrabbit, who I mainly remember because I kept confusing him with Bucky O’Hare for reasons that…I’m honestly sure I don’t need to state. I never ended up playing the Jazz Jackrabbit games, but when I was young, I absolutely wanted to play them, and considering all of the good things I’ve heard about them, that interest definitely lives on.

Odds: Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a legal caveat here. Jazz Jackrabbit is co-owned by Epic Games and the series’ original creator, Cliff “Cliffy B” Bleszinski. Cliffy B departed from Epic awhile back and is currently puttering around on his own, and I’m not sure if the break-up was amicable enough to allow Jazz Jackrabbit re-releases to be licensed by anyone, let alone GOG. I hope I’m wrong on this one, but the odds don’t look too good. (1/10)

Croc: Legend of the Gobbos/Croc 2 – Fox Interactive (Jeremy “Jez” San?)

I didn’t exactly adjust all that well when platformers made the shift from 2D to 3D. To this day, I’m still not fond of Super Mario 64, which is generally heralded as one of the greatest platformers of all time. I preferred games like the original Crash Bandicoot and Fox Interactive’s Croc. Croc has recently seen something of a resurgence in popularity lately, due to the alleged effect the game had on the development of Super Mario 64, and by extension, the 3D platforming genre. Even before I knew about any of that, I was just fine playing the game on PS1. Seeing the game revived would be a nice little treat in my opinion.

Odds: Another tricky one for rights issues, but for totally different reasons. With Argonaut – the game’s developer – shuttered and Fox Interactive having been closed down, it’s hard to pin down exactly who owns the rights to the Croc franchise. I’ve heard rumors that the whole shebang belongs to Argonaut founder Jeremy “Jez” San, and therefore any re-releases or new iterations of Croc may have to go directly through him, but considering the fact that he doesn’t seem to be quite as hands-on within the video game industry these days, that may make this pretty much impossible. (1/10)

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain – Eidos (Square Enix)

I’ll be honest, in recent years, I’ve found myself interested in the Legacy of Kain series from …well, I guess at this point, it would be Square Enix Europe, wouldn’t it? But I’m a stickler for these kinds of things: especially when delving into series that are “newer” – namely, those that started well after I’d gotten into video games – I generally like to start at the very beginning and work my way forward. The original Blood Omen is the one game from the LoK series that hasn’t seen re-release on PCs, though the PlayStation version is available as a Classic on the PS3. I don’t know why, but I always find incomplete collections to be troubling and re-releasing the first game would be the perfect excuse for me to try getting into it.

Odds: Much like the previous two games, there are apparently some legal issues at hand here. I find this particularly baffling, considering that, as I mentioned earlier, the PS version is still currently available on both the PS3 and PSP. Apparently, Activision and Silicon Knights ported the game to PC, which is likely the source of the hang-up. The game’s been made available on Abandonia, an online repository for games that are considered “Abandonware” and has apparently seen no legal action from either Activision or Square Enix. Either way, the chances of an official re-release seem quite poor at this point. (1/10)

Mortal Kombat Trilogy/Mortal Kombat 4 – Midway (WB Games)

Growing up as a kid, I was in a tough spot: I was absolutely obsessed with fighting games, but generally limited to PC as my main outlet for gaming. Man, if only little Icepick could see the literal deluge of big-name fighting games available on PC nowadays! My main outlets for 2D fighters in my early years were the god-awful port of Street Fighter II, handled by the abomination known as Hi-Tech Expressions (even writing their name sends chills down my spine!) and the first 3 Mortal Kombat games. Sure, later on, I’d become enamored with the PC version of X-Men: Children of the Atom, but that’s a story for another time. Now, the Mortal Kombat ports were actually very well made, pretty much as good as their source material, and I loved these games growing up. Fortunately, GOG already has these games available on their service. What I didn’t know is that these weren’t the only MK PC ports made during this era. No, despite my beliefs that the series took a hiatus between 3 and the 2011 reboot, two more games actually made their way to Windows PC. While Trilogy and 4 weren’t the best games in the franchise – Trilogy was the true forerunner to MUGEN and MK4 was just another in a long line of games that were tarnished by the fifth generation’s obsession with 3D – I’ve got enough nostalgia attached to the previous games in the franchise to want to see just how well or poorly these games translated to the PC.

Odds: Like I said, WB Games already put the first 3 PC ports on GOG, they own the rights to the series and I’ve seen footage of both ports running on modern hardware. I think the only thing keeping these games off GOG is their relative lack of popularity compared to earlier games in the series. Seems pointless to keep them off otherwise. (7/10)

Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits – Midway (WB Games)

I’m actually kind of ashamed that I had to make the wishlist entry for this one myself, but it is what it is. The Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits Collection on PC was one of my earliest introductions to retro video games, particularly those made before or around the time of my birth. Truth be told, I absolutely loved every game in this collection, even if I wasn’t particularly good at any of them. The first two Defenders, Joust, Robotron 2084, Bubbles and Sinistar – all great stuff. Since PC missed out on WB’s most recent slew of Midway/Williams Arcade re-releases, this would be the next best thing.

Odds: Well, if Midway Arcade Origins gives us anything to go by, it’s that WB Games owns the rights to all six of the games present in this collection, so clearly there are no legal issues. This may just be another case of WB not knowing what they’re sitting on. (7/10)

Honorable Mentions

Virtua Fighter PC/Virtua Fighter 2:  I actually had Virtua Fighter PC when I was a kid and that’s what made it so hard to leave it off the main list. I had no idea that its sequel also received a PC port, but considering the fact that I’d almost certainly prefer to see the version from Sega’s Model 2 Collection hit PC instead, I almost considered leaving it off. Still, it’s better to have options in general, so I figured why not?

Jill of the Jungle: This game actually almost made the list, but considering my lack of nostalgic love for the game and what I’ve seen of the gameplay, I decided to push it down to the honorable mentions instead. Still, it’s an important game when looking back at platforming games on the PC, so it deserves to be preserved in some form and enjoyed by modern audiences.

Super Street Fighter II Turbo: I really wish that I had known about this port when I was a kid: if only that SF2 port had been half this good, I would’ve been happy. By no means arcade-perfect, the game is still impressive in just how much they got right. Supplemented with an amazing arranged soundtrack, courtesy of Redbook audio, Gametek’s port of SSF2T should have gotten way more love than it got. I’ve seen its demo floating around on the Wayback Machine’s PC game archive, but I’d love to own the real deal – even just a digital copy.

Having the past of PC gaming available in the modern day is great. It shows you just how far PC gaming has come and what we’ve lost along the way. While I doubt I’ll have enough material to do a follow-up list for GOG in the future, I’m still happy I decided to write up this list. While I’ve got my clear favorites on this list, I’d love to see any of these hit the service in the near future. I’m not particularly optimistic about most of these games seeing re-release, but who knows, maybe by the time I write the next list, this one too will have borne fruit. I just wouldn’t expect any future lists on other services – I wouldn’t have any idea where to begin with Battle.Net, let alone Origin.

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

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.

Made To Be Broken

A few months back, I wrote a piece about how both my feelings of nostalgia and general malaise towards more recent generations have cropped into how I view the medium of video games as they move forward: that is, negatively. Needless to say, there are just certain trends that are making me feel burnt out and I somehow long for what I remember as gaming’s “Wild West” era. While I was conceiving the piece, I was persuaded to split it in half and the previous article dealt with the more loose and open nature of the console market in general, focusing on just how many companies tried to break into the video game market in an effort to revolutionize it, but ended up as “also-ran” footnotes in the ever-lengthening history of video games.

This time around, I’ll be focusing more on oddities within the games of this time period themselves – games that would clearly be indies if they were made today. Though for the most part, I’ll be focusing on various cultural shifts that happened during this time period, many of which have had reverberations that affect the medium to this day. Perhaps if some of these events hadn’t happened, video games as a whole would look completely different. Shifts that may very well have only happened due to the sheer fluidity of the format at the time they occurred, things that may have even been impossible if they happened today.

One of the reasons I decided to write these articles in the first place was due to a story I had read online that just amazed me. It involved the cult classic D, an avant-garde full-motion video adventure game released in 1995 on the 3DO, Sega Saturn, PlayStation and PC – the latter has recently been re-released on Good Old Games. The game’s creator, the late Kenji Eno related a story to 1UP about the game’s development. He actually added the game’s story late in the game’s development and it involved cannibalism, a taboo subject in many parts of the world. In order to assure that the game was released uncensored, Eno submitted the game for approval late, sending a copy without the story segments. He then switched that copy with the full game, sending it to be printed out. I am just awed by this story: if anything like this were to happen today, the game would have likely have been recalled and every original copy would have likely have been destroyed.

Indeed, the entire landscape of the video game market changed back in 1993. Due to the controversial video game releases of Night Trap and Mortal Kombat, both in their full unaltered state on various Sega platforms, there was a congressional hearing over whether or not video games with “controversial content” should have been completely banned. That’s right, the United States Congress threatened to ban video games with violent or sexual content, not unlike Germany or Australia’s wide array of video game regulation. In the end, a compromise was made: the video game industry decided to self-regulate content and educate parents on the type of content the products they were selling contained, in order to allow them to make informed purchases of material they deemed appropriate for their children. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) was founded the following year in 1994. It was later joined by Japan’s Computer Entertainment Rating Organization (CERO) in 2002 and Pan European Game Information (PEGI) in 2003. In the end, this was probably a net positive overall, but what I find ironic about this was that Sega was putting ratings on their games before the ESRB was even established.

Night Trap and D were both what were referred to as “full-motion video” (commonly abbreviated as “FMV”) games, utilizing the then-cutting edge ability of CD-based consoles to create an entire video game experience using video clips. Typically, these games utilized live-action footage, thus creating “graphics” that trump even modern video games in terms of realism. Of course, this would generally come at the cost of complex gameplay experiences: gameplay was rarely more complex than the quick-time events we’ve seen in video games for generations. Of course, we’ve recently seen a resurgence in the genre, via indie developers. Though this time around, it would seem that the games made in the revival are less about providing graphical fidelity and more about creating “art” – scare quotes intended.

Of course, the existence of FMV games as a genre brings up another point. This may just be a matter of my own perception, but it seemed like there was a time when popular titles would lead into entirely new genres. I remember watching the “first-person shooter” genre blossom from the more derogatory “Doom clones”. Street Fighter II, while not the first fighting game, cemented various aspects of the 2D fighting game genre. These days, it seems like we never surpass the “clone” phase of this evolution: the closest we’ve gotten is the deluge of “crafting” games in the wake of Minecraft, but this generally just leads to games in existing genres adopting its unique elements.

Likewise, another thing I’d consider to be better in “the good ol’ days” would be the limitations put upon developers. In generations past, developers were generally only limited by whatever hardware they were developing for. This would generally lead to clever solutions to problems: arcade games would be entirely overhauled if they weren’t suitable for consoles, various perspective cheats would be used to create amazing graphical tricks and sometimes even entirely new hardware could be added to offset whatever limitations the systems in question had. Meanwhile, in the modern era, developers seem to have the exact opposite problem – an amazing amount of power to work with, but generally held back by the far more mundane problem of a lack of resources. Strict deadlines, a lack of manpower or finances: these are the major bottlenecks that plague today’s developers. In an era where it seems like we’re getting less and less for the same amount, it’s just sad to consider that we’re effectively being cheated out of the best possible games of this generation for such bland reasons.

In the end, perhaps the reason that video games as a medium feels far less elastic and much more deeply rooted in various traditions is due to the simple fact that they have a history now. Much like how early motion pictures were far more inventive than modern films, video games have gone through their own set of growing pains and settled on various frameworks. While adhesion to whatever institutions that have taken root in the industry are obviously not mandatory, they’ve effectively become a groove that the industry as a whole have settled into, effectively creating the landscape we know today.

Spinoff Sideshow: The Zelda of Legend

I don’t know why, but it seems like I have this tendency to start new series on Retronaissance, and despite my efforts to continue them, it just never seems to pan out for me. At best, it seems like I just come up with new series that seem like new takes on older ones, almost like a spinoff. With that awkward segue, I bring you yet another series, which hopefully won’t meet the same fate as those others: Spinoff Sideshow – where I will be detailing potential spinoffs for existing video game franchises that just strike me as interesting.

Video games are one of those rare mediums where sequels generally have the potential to exceed their predecessors. Likewise, they have a tendency to be the rare genre where spinoffs can truly deliver a unique experience, as opposed to just being the same ol’-same ‘ol in a new locale or a weak vehicle for the breakout character of an existing property. Throughout my time gaming, I’ve seen my fair share of interesting spinoffs – games that do more than just regurgitate the standard formula and slap a new character on the front (granted, some of those are pretty good, like UmJammer Lammy or MegaMan & Bass). However, I personally prefer to see games that feel like a totally new experience, merely using the existing intellectual properties to make the sale. I’m talking about games like Luigi’s Mansion, The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks.

Our inaugural topic for this series? Well, people have been asking for an official Zelda-led Zelda title for quite some time now. Zelda’s playable appearance in Hyrule Warriors managed to stoke the flames of demand for that one and even Eiji Aonuma, current producer of the Zelda franchise, has expressed interest in such a title. I’ve seen some fan proposals for a game across the internet, most prominently one that turns my stomach by reducing Zelda to a gender-and-palette-swapped Link, stripping the character of her unique properties. Personally, I think I can do better than the others.

First of all, let’s consider the name. Since most people associate Link with the “Legend of Zelda” game, I’d avoid using it. Personally, I’d probably go for “Hyrule Historia” or “Legend of Hyrule”. Though if you want to make sure that Zelda’s name is in the title, we could go with “The Zelda of Legend”. I mean, it’s clever in a not-really clever way. I would personally go for a Hyrule-related name personally.

Now onto the real meat of this spinoff, the gameplay. The basic concept is simple – think of a traditional Zelda game with less of an emphasis on melee combat, focusing instead on slower, ranged combat and stealth. Obviously, the puzzles would also be kept, but Zelda would have a completely different moveset when compared to Link. While Link mostly utilizes on his Master Sword for combat, Zelda would instead mainly use light arrows (which are commonly associated with her) and other forms of magic. After all, we’ve seen Zelda cast various magic spells when acting as an NPC and in playable appearances in other games, such as Hyrule Warriors and especially the Super Smash Bros. games. For example, I could see using her Naryu’s Love attack from Smash to reflect projectiles back at enemies (a common strategy for taking down Zelda bosses) and Din’s Fire could be a potential replacement for bombs and the lantern.

My consideration for the most important aspect of Zelda’s arsenal is something that should be familiar to Zelda aficionados: transformations. After all, Zelda’s had more than her fair share of disguises in previous games, most of which gave her access to brand new powers and abilities. Now, the following examples are just that – examples – but hopefully, they’ll still provide some context. First, there’s the obvious pick, Zelda’s most famous alter-ego: Sheik, the stealthy Sheikah warrior. When disguised as Sheik, Zelda’s stealth abilities would increase and she’d be given access to new attacks. Another form that comes to mind would be Tetra from The Wind Waker, which would allow for direct melee combat, perhaps replacing magical skill for the cutlass and pistol she wielded in Hyrule Warriors Legends. The last concept I had for a transformation would be a monster transformation, not unlike how Zelda possessed a Phantom in Spirit Tracks. This ability would be entirely defensive, unable to attack, but in return, Zelda would be able to walk through dungeons without being attacked by monsters, even gaining the ability to talk to them not unlike the Power of Alter from Ys II, effectively adding a new dimension to the stealth gameplay I mentioned before – hiding in plain sight. This “Phantom” form would also be large, thus able to move certain objects, making it indispensable when it comes to solving specific puzzles.

As I said earlier, puzzles would be a key element for this game, to the extent where there would even be ways to obtain specific items or defeat enemies with little problem by utilizing certain items to solve puzzles. Likewise, the magic and transformations I mentioned earlier would count as dungeon items. Better yet, a Zelda-led spinoff could be the perfect opportunity to experiment with the standard Zelda items, modifying them to some extent. One of the ideas I came up with would be replacing the various effects of the Ocarina/Harp and various rods in the game with minor spells that could be found throughout the overworld map and dungeons, imbuing Zelda with control over fire and ice, the ability to fling herself into the air and to warp to various locations. Another idea would be to bring back old items that haven’t resurfaced in Zelda games in quite some time, like the Cane of Somaria, the Roc’s Cape or the Magnetic Gloves. Zelda could also utilize standard items in unique ways – for example, placing the Mirror Shield would allow Zelda to set up angled shots for her Light Arrows to hit a specific target placed at an angle she couldn’t hit directly. Finally, while I would like to keep Zelda’s standard form’s ability for melee combat limited to distinguish her from Link, I would also like to see the Rapier from Hyrule Warriors emerge in the game at some point, likely as a very-late game item, possibly even in the final dungeon.

Of course, one of the more important elements of the Zelda series with regards to its fanbase has been the story. I’d pretty much leave this blank for the most part, but in spite of the focus that has been placed upon the Zelda timelines, I feel like the stories work best when they come up with the storyline first and try to place in within the timeline later, as opposed to just trying to work a game into a specific point in a specific timeline. I guess this could be in the Adult Link timeline, you know, the one where the Hero of Time disappears? That’s my best guess off the top of my head.

I guess there are still two elephants in the room: what to do with Zelda’s most commonly recurring co-stars – Link and Ganon(dorf). I’m of two minds about Link. On one hand, leaving him out would probably be a far more suitable situation for Zelda taking charge in her own adventure. Likewise, this would also likely cement my suggestion for setting the game in “The Era Without a Hero”. On the other hand, it might be interesting to see Zelda react to a standard incarnation of Link, perhaps she could view him as her rival – not wanting to fall into the traditional role of damsel in distress her eponymous ancestors commonly fell into and instead choosing to save Hyrule all on her own. As for Ganondorf, personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing a different final villain, especially one that could be original to Zelda’s story. Unfortunately, there’s the argument that could be made that saddling Zelda with anyone besides the Great King of Evil, pig demon or not, would likely delegitimize her adventures. I’d consider this a shame, but I can see the argument for making Ganon(dorf) the big bad.

As for the game’s style, for some reason I’ve always pictured this game as more of a 3D game, as you may have been able to guess by my write-up. Having said that, a 2D game could be interesting as well, though aside from A Link Between Worlds, those games have a reputation for being low-rate handheld titles when compared to the 3D games that commonly originate on consoles. Regarding a second quest, I mean that’s a Zelda staple, so it seems like it would be a perfect choice. Instead of just making it a mirrored hard mode, however, I’d like to see an alternate playable character. My personal pick would be Impa, though I’m sure there could be other worthy characters. Having said that, being a Zelda-centered game would be a good excuse to throw in a little fanservice – I know what you’re thinking I mean, but you’re wrong. I mean Nintendo should make the effort to throw in some popular side characters from earlier games into the setting of Zelda’s adventure, whether in the form of identical descendants/ancestors or just extremely similar counterparts.

I’ve always considered the idea of a Zelda-led game to be more interesting than the common request to just “make Link a girl”, due to the simple fact that Zelda’s unique ability set would lead to a far more interesting game in the interest of “promoting diversity” than simply giving Link a pair of X chromosomes ever could. I’ll be honest, the latter always struck me as lazy pandering. Hopefully, Nintendo decides to do a Zelda-led game at some point in the future, either as a fully-featured console title or even as an eShop pilot title which could lead to a full-fledged expansion in the future.

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2015

SNES Master KI

Before I get to the honorable mentions, I have to acknowledge two games I jumped the gun on last year.  Xenoblade Chronicles X and Yoshi’s Wooly World were on my 2014 list (under their codenames), and would have definitely made this list if it weren’t for that.

Honorable Mentions

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Publisher/Developer: WayForward
Platform: PC, Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: 2015

I haven’t gotten around to playing the third Shantae yet, but if it’s as big of an improvement over the first two as I’m told, I’m sure I’ll love this one.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Grezzo
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: Spring 2015

While I don’t love Majora’s Mask as much as a lot of people, it’s still a great game and a remake that could fix some of my problems with it has great potential.

Scalebound

Publisher/Developer: Microsoft Studios/Platinum Games
Platform: Xbox One
Release Date: 2015

I’m almost certainly not going to be able to get this in 2015, but it’s still a Platinum game, and I love Platinum.


10. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Intelligent Systems
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: March 13, 2015

While strategy games aren’t exactly my forte, I’ve managed to get into the ones Nintendo has made, so I’m cautiously optimistic about Codename STEAM.  I’ve managed to not resent it for not being Paper Mario, at least, and am hoping that Nintendo can pull off a real-time/turn based balance that very few games can make work for me.

9. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater

Publisher/Developer: Activision
Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Release Date: 2015

The only sports series I’ve ever truly loved (really, it’s more of a combo based platformer), I have wanted the THPS series to return to its THPS4 glory for over a decade now.  While we don’t know anything about this game besides its 2015 release date, I’ve seen series return to form after long dark ages before, and I have faith that it is at least possible for it to happen again.

8. Bloodborne

Publisher/Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment/From Software
Platform: Playstation 4
Release Date: March 24, 2015

I really wanted to like Demon’s Souls, I loved the idea of a massive and ultra-challenging dark fantasy action game.  However, I couldn’t get past the WRPG elements.  Bloodborne’s faster, action game style battle system gives me renewed hope.  I don’t have a PS4 yet, but if this game delivers, it may be what gets me to take the plunge.

7. Rise of the Tomb Raider

Publisher/Developer: Microsoft Studios/Square Enix/Crystal Dynamics
Platform: Xbox One, Xbox 360
Release Date: Holiday 2015

Tomb Raider 2013 was a fantastic revival for the series, I loved it as soon as I played it despite not being into the Tomb Raider series to begin with.  Being able to control your jumps just makes everything feel so much better.  This game would be higher on the list if not for the Xbox timed exclusive issue.  I hate timed exclusives, regardless of whether the system I own is the one which gets them (remember the Resident Evil 4 trolling?).  But I still have faith that this will be a great game, whether I settle for the 360 version or wait until 2016 for the inevitable PS4 release.

6. Splatoon

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: Q2 2015

My initial impression of Splatoon was that it looked interesting, but that I wasn’t going to get hyped until a solid single player mode was confirmed, which I was sure would happen.  Well, it happened, and in time to shoot the game up on this list.  The puzzle/platformer/shooter hybrid gameplay in single player looks great, and easily unique enough to justify this being a new IP.  Maybe people will actually remember this before going into the “Nintendo never makes new IPs” nonsense.

5. Mighty No. 9

Publisher/Developer: Comcept/Inti Creates
Platform: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS
Release Date: April 2015

Mega Man will come back.  It is impossible for a series that old and popular to be killed for good, no matter how incompetent Capcom has become.  But in the meantime, Mighty No. 9 should do a great job of filling that void in our hearts.  Inafune is not making any effort to pretend this isn’t a replacement goldfish for Mega Man, and I’m fine with that.  The classic/X hybrid gameplay looks great, the only thing that could make this better is if my joke to troll Icepick came true and Beck was replaced by Mighty Number 10 (but you can call him X) after the first level.

4. Mortal Kombat X

Publisher/Developer: Warner Bros. Games/Netherrealm Studios
Platform: PC. PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: April 14, 2015

Like the aforementioned Tomb Raider 2013, Mortal Kombat 2011 was a fantastic return to form for a long-suffering series.  And unlike Tomb Raider, Mortal Kombat was a series I had plenty of nostalgia for.  All Mortal Kombat X has to do is keep the same solid fighting engine that the series finally achieved, and have the same boatload of single player content, and I’ll be happy.  And thanks to story mode, we can look forward to seeing what happens next in this game, instead of finding out what happened in the previous one.

3. Mario Maker

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: 2015

Now this game is long overdue.  After more than half a decade of the premiere make your own platformer franchise being little on intuition and big on floaty physics, we’re getting a game with intuitive touch screen level design and the perfection of 2D Mario physics.  I can’t wait to make my own levels and play yours, even if we don’t get an expansion pack’s worth of pre-made levels included like I’m hoping.  I’ve already got several level ideas planned for this, and you’ll get to play them.

2. Star Fox Wii U

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: 2015

“Come on Reggie, give us Star Fox!”  Well, he did.  We don’t know much about this game, but Nintendo has been on a roll with game quality lately, so I see no reason not to expect this to be the long overdue return to form for Star Fox.  Not much more to say, but I know I’m not the only one greatly anticipating learning more about this game.

1. The Legend of Zelda Wii U

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: 2015

After a long pseudo-drought where we only got touch-screen controlled Zeldas, the series has come back in a big way with the last couple games (yes, I liked Skyward Sword, and so will you in a couple years).  While the idea of an open-world emphasizing Zelda would have frightened me a few years ago, A Link Between Worlds showed that there is absolutely nothing to worry about.  Like Star Fox, we don’t know a terribly large amount about this game, but I’ve never had more confidence in Nintendo’s game quality.  On November 20th, 2015 (Yes, that’s a guess, but my guesses about release dates for Nintendo’s big Holiday game have a pretty good track record), it’s time to return to Hyrule.

Professor Icepick

While last year was pretty good for video games, I notice that a few of the games I had on this list last year missed their release windows. Oh well, it appears none of them died, due to copious updates. Last year was pretty good (at least for me, AAA market kinda took a hit), here’s hoping 2015 manages to be even better.

Honorable Mentions

Cuphead

Publisher/Developer: Studio MDHR
Platform: PC, Xbox One
Release Date: 2015 

A quirky 2D platformer that takes design cues from classic black & white cartoons.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Grezzo
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: Spring 2015

A long-awaited enhanced port of a classic Zelda title for the Nintendo 64.

Hyper Light Drifter

Publisher/Developer: Heart Machine
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Wii U, Ouya
Release Date: Early 2015

A top-down 2D action-RPG that draws inspiration from both A Link to the Past and Diablo II.

Timespinner

Publisher/Developer: Lunar Ray Games
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, 3DS
Release Date: November 2015

A SNES-inspired Metroid-like that takes cues from games like MegaMan X and Symphony of the Night.


10. Axiom Verge

Publisher/Developer: Tom Happ/Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Release Date: 2015

So let’s start things off with an indie game you may not have heard of. Axiom Verge is unique as it is being developed by a single man: Tom Happ, who previously worked on such high profile titles as Tiger Woods and NFL Street. The game’s development started as a part-time hobby back in March 2010 and the game is finally approaching completion. It’s an exploration platformer that takes cues from games like Metroid, Contra and Blaster Master. It’s also got a really nice looking 8-bit aesthetic that is somehow simultaneously simple and detailed.

9. Tekken 7

Publisher/Developer: Namco Bandai
Platform: Arcade
Release Date: February 2015

I’ve actually been playing the Tekken games since the original one hit arcades back in the mid-90s, and despite a few missteps (Tekkens 4 & 6, respectively), the latest major release in the series, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, was incredible. T7 appears to be going in another new direction, removing TTT2’s bound system and adding “Rage Arts”, which are basically super combos. These trends worry me a little, but I’m still anticipating the game, especially as this may finally be the first Tekken to hit PCs when it is released for the home market.

8. Citizens of Earth

Publisher/Developer: Atlus USA/Eden Industries
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, 3DS
Release Date: January 20, 2015

I’ve mentioned in the past that Nintendo’s Earthbound is one of the few traditional turn-based RPGs I like, due to its unique setting, clever writing and quirky variations on JRPG gameplay. When Eden Industries (made up of ex-members of Next Level Games) announced Citizens of Earth, I’ll admit, I was a little excited. Mostly because this probably the closest thing to another Earthbound we’ll ever see in the West. Alas, their initial crowdfunding campaign failed, but Atlus USA stepped in and funded the game themselves. Citizens of Earth places you in the role of the Vice President of the World, who recruits friends, family and other citizens to help him campaign for re-election, allowing for a unique party system where various members have different unique abilities.

7. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Intelligent Systems
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: March 13, 2015

Code Name S.T.E.A.M. was one of those games I just loved at first sight. With an awesome steampunk setting, an aesthetic inspired by American comic books and a unique battle system that harkens back to Valkyria Chronicles’ turn-based strategy/third-person shooter hybrid gameplay, this game just looks amazing to me. Considering the fact that you’re fighting off an alien invasion with famous characters from literature under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln with anachronistic steam-powered technology makes it even cooler. It’s got such a ridiculous premise, I can’t help but love it. Here’s hoping the game lives up to its potential though, but with Intelligent Systems handling development, I’m sure it’ll be a blast.

6. Splatoon

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: Q2 2015

Speaking of new Nintendo IPs, Splatoon’s a definite departure from what we’ve come to expect from the Big N. Debuting at E3 2014 as a 4-on-4 third-person shooter, the game’s colorful and vibrant artstyle was interesting. Competing with your opponents to cover more of the stage with your ink, it’s an interesting twist on traditional multiplayer shooters. What made the game even more palatable for me was the announcement of an extended single-player campaign. Definitely can’t wait to see how this one turns out.

5. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/HAL Laboratory
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: February 13, 2015

This was one of the biggest surprises I had all year. Kirby: Canvas Curse was one of the most interesting games on the Nintendo DS and I always figured it was going to be a one-hit wonder. Lo and behold, Nintendo decided to make a sequel on the Wii U of all things. Better still, they decided to use a really cool claymation aesthetic, which I fell in love with at first sight. Better still, it’s heavily rumored that this is going to be a $40 title like Captain Toad. At that price, how could I resist?

4. Yoshi’s Woolly World

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Good-Feel
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: Spring 2015

I’ll be honest: when this game was first announced as “Yarn Yoshi”, I was incredibly skeptical about it, as every single follow-up to the SNES classic Yoshi’s Island has been mediocre at best. However, as I saw more footage of the game and learned of Good-Feel’s involvement, I became excited, mainly because of how much Woolly World began to resemble Kirby’s Epic Yarn as development progressed. Of course, then there was that long period of radio silence where I feared the game had been cancelled, but fortunately more news eventually came and the game was confirmed for release in 2015. After so many years of waiting, it looks like Yoshi’s Island is finally getting a worthy sequel and I can’t wait.

3. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Publisher/Developer: WayForward
Platform: PC, Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: 2015

Another of my Kickstarter darlings, Half-Genie Hero is the fourth game in the Shantae series. For the longest time, I was merely a fan of Shantae from afar: I had only played a small portion of the original. This past year, however, I beat all three games in the series: the first on 3DS’s Virtual Console, the second in its recent Director’s Cut re-release on Steam, and the third on 3DS. Of course, HGH is going to be an entirely different animal, with hand-drawn HD graphics instead of traditional sprite work. This is also going to be the first time the series isn’t released on a Nintendo handheld and the first time it will appear on Playstation and Xbox systems. While the 2015 date isn’t solid, Wayforward has recently confirmed the scope of the project and is hard at work, delivering another amazing product.

(Oh, by the way, I know this was on my list last year, despite missing 2014 entirely. Let’s just retroactively give that spot to Pirate’s Curse, which for some reason, I thought was going to make its 2013 release window. …in January 2014.)

2. Mortal Kombat X

Publisher/Developer: Warner Bros. Games/Netherrealm Studios
Platform: PC. PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: April 14, 2015

As you may very well know by now, I’m a huge fan of 2D fighting games. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many games in that genre in 2015 that have been announced that aren’t either expansions of existing games, Japan-exclusive “doujin” titles or recent Kickstarters that may not hit their release targets. Fortunately, Netherrealm Studios has got my back. We’ve seen them blossom into a truly skilled developer in 2011’s Mortal Kombat, watched as they experimented with new system mechanics in 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us, and are looking to deliver a truly glorious experience in their upcoming Mortal Kombat X. With each character being split into 3 variations, each with different strengths and unique abilities, plus stage interactions returning from Injustice, MKX is shaping up to be a truly amazing game. I just hope the PC port is more stable than the previous NRS releases, whether it’s done by High Voltage Software or a new team altogether. Their previous ports crash my current laptop, despite being powerful enough to run the games (albeit on low settings).

1. Mighty No. 9

Publisher/Developer: Comcept/Inti Creates
Platform: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS
Release Date: April 2015

Does this really surprise anyone? I’ve been mooning over this game ever since it was first announced. By the time it comes out next year, we’ll have gone half a decade without a new MegaMan release from Capcom (the last game they actually managed to release was 2010’s MegaMan 10). I think we’re long overdue for some classic run-and-gun platforming. Though the game’s development has been marred by some controversy (especially with regards to “slacker backing” additional content like voice acting and an additional stage as future DLC), I’m still incredibly excited to see the final project in action.

A Tough Act to Follow

Over the years, there were tons of video games that are universally liked by critics and gamers alike, and there were sequels that had much more praise than their predecessors. However, even among the most critically acclaimed game series there are games that other entries can’t come close to. What I’ve decided to do was to make a list and narrow down specific games that meet this criteria. There were ten different choices I have made for this list, and with that, I present to you the ten games that are a Tough Act to Follow.

Street Fighter II: The World Warrior – Arcade (1991)

The original Street Fighter hit the arcades in 1987 with lukewarm responses, but when Street Fighter II was released in 1991, the game became an instant hit. It was so popular that Capcom made an updated version of it a year later, followed by three more subsequent updates ending with Super Street Fighter II Turbo. People were getting tired of the updates, as they were waiting for Street Fighter III. A new game was announced in 1995, but it wasn’t Street Fighter III; it was Street Fighter Alpha. While the game was popular, as were Street Fighter Alpha 2 and 3, they never reached the same success as Street Fighter II. When Street Fighter III was released, it did not catch on due to the lack of classic characters save for Ryu, Ken, Akuma, and Chun-Li (granted, Chun-Li only appeared in Third Strike, while Akuma did not appear in New Generation). While Street Fighter IV (and its subsequent updates) was successful, the original game was criticized for balance issues (mainly with Sagat being overpowered, which was proven to be unfair). Still, its popularity couldn’t match the same type of popularity that Street Fighter II had.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles – Genesis (1994)

After two successful games in the series, Sonic the Hedgehog became a pop culture phenomenon in the early 1990’s. To capitalize on the success, Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on what was dubbed as “Hedgehog Day”, which happened on Groundhog Day of 1994. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 introduced a save feature, a new character, new ways to get into special stages, bonus stages through checkpoint lamp posts, and new power ups. There are greater distinction of levels per zone (including the music), as well as differentiation of characters in regards to their skill (such as Tails being able to fly or swim). While Sonic 1 and 2 had in game cutscenes, it was fleshed out more in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles to show what’s going to happen next. The game’s reception was a lot more critically acclaimed in comparison to its predecessors in spite of the fact that Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles were released separately within a span of eight months.

Super Metroid – SNES (1994)

The original Metroid introduced exploration in a side-scrolling adventure game in a non-linear world. Metroid II introduced save points, which eliminated the need for passwords. Both of those games were popular in their own rights, and were both well received; granted, Metroid II wasn’t as well received as the first one, but was still popular enough. When Super Metroid was released, it introduced many new elements to the series, such as a map, more expansive areas, eight-way directional shooting, and new weapon and item upgrades. It is exponentially better than the original Metroid, and has done a lot more than what the original Metroid has offered. There have been many other Metroid games that came afterwards, but none of them have reached the same critical acclaim that Super Metroid had, although Metroid Prime came close to it. Since Super Metroid is held to a high standard, every Metroid game that came after it would always be judged in comparison.

Super Mario 64 – N64 (1996)/Super Mario Galaxy 2 – Wii (2010)

After many years of 2D Mario platformers, with the last ones being Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island on Super Nintendo, and Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins for Game Boy, the next step was to bring Mario into a new world: The Third Dimension. The goal was to bring Mario into a 3D World where he can explore new areas like never before, and Super Mario 64 accomplished that. While the Nintendo 64 was not as successful as the Sony Playstation, Super Mario 64 was very popular, and to this day, is still highly regarded as one of, if not, the best platformers of all time. Super Mario Sunshine tried to capitalize on it with more expansive worlds, and a new mechanic, the F.L.U.D.D., specifically made for this game. Unfortunately, it didn’t reach the same critical and commercial success that Super Mario 64 had.

Super Mario Galaxy changed things up, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 takes it into another level. The gameplay is similar to the original Super Mario Galaxy, where it has a new physics engine, which allows each and every celestial object to have its own gravitational force, which lets players circumnavigate rounded or irregular planetoids, walking upside down, or sideways, for a matter of giving the game a feel of going through galaxies. There are new unique stages with excellent level design, as well as a new Hub World, the Starship Mario. You collect 120 Power Stars, 120 Green Stars, and 2 special Power Stars, bringing it up to a total of 242 Stars. The game received critical praise that matches Super Mario Galaxy, with many of the critics citing that this game is better than the original. There have been debates on the Galaxy games (specifically Galaxy 2) and 64 as to which is the best in the 3D Mario series, and with Super Mario 3D World out now, only time will tell if it will match or surpass the praise of these games.

Final Fantasy VII – PS1 (1997)

While past Final Fantasy games were popular amongst dedicated gamers, Final Fantasy VII was the first Japanese RPG to have a mainstream presence in the western market. The gameplay hasn’t changed much from the previous Final Fantasy games, but it was the first game in the series in 3D. The pre-rendered backgrounds and the breathtaking FMV cutscenes wowed people to the point that an entire market opened up to JRPG’s. Final Fantasy VII for many gamers was an introduction to Japanese RPG’s, and the story was a lot more complex than what gamers had seen, and was a one of the first console based games to have more openly adult themes in western markets.

Final Fantasy VII was well received, and sold really well, and it cemented Sony’s dominance in the fifth generation console wars. While some later Final Fantasy games, such as IX, and in between X and XII, had dedicated fanbases, none of them matched the mainstream impact that VII had. To this day, people still demand a remake of Final Fantasy VII, but all Final Fantasy VII fans received were spinoff games and a movie.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – PS1 (1997)

Castlevania has always been a popular series ever since it made its debut on the NES back in 1987. While it had a lot of hits with games such as Dracula’s Curse, Super Castlevania IV, and even the Japanese TurboGrafx-CD game Rondo of Blood, it wasn’t until the series made the jump on the Playstation with Symphony of the Night. This game was a complete departure from other Castlevania games, and adopted a Metroid-esque style with RPG elements, allowing you to explore Dracula’s Castle in its entirety. The popularity of this game led to more games in the series, as well as other games to adopt this style, dubbed as “Metroidvania” due to their similarities with Super Metroid with the map and structure with the game. There have been other Castlevania sequels to come out after this game, and while some of them couldn’t match the popuarity, others just fell flat. No matter what Castlevania game comes out, people will always make the claim that Symphony of the Night is the best game in the series.

Resident Evil 2 – PS1 (1998)/Resident Evil 4 – GCN (2005)

While Resident Evil 1 and 3 have their respective fanbases, Resident Evil 2 was the most popular game of the original trilogy. The controls were refined, the ammo wasn’t as limited, and when you draw your gun, you face towards the nearest enemy. It made better use of having two playable characters, giving the game continuity between the character’s stories, and having rewards for beating the game with the second character. This game was well received, with fans wanting a remake of this game.

By the time Resident Evil 4 had been released, the initial Resident Evil Formula was considered stale due to the awkward fixed camera and controls, as well as it being a newer generation at the time, so it felt much like an early 3D game. Therefore, Capcom capped Shinji Mikami to reimagine the Survival Horror genre. While many prototypes became other Capcom games, the final product was significantly different from the Resident Evil of old. The game now resembles a Third-Person Shooter, but still stayed true to the series’ Survival Horror roots. You don’t have to find a specific item to save anymore, which removes the limitation of saving. It got really good critical reception, it received good reviews on release and has won Game of the Year on multiple publications. This game is also a fan favorite, with fans claiming that it was arguably the best game in the series. After Resident Evil 4, fans argued that the games in the mainline series focused more on action gameplay, as a detriment to the series. Other games in the series that had the Survival Horror gameplay either didn’t succeed financially, or did not give the Survival Horror experience that longtime fans had hoped for.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – N64 (1998)

Like Super Mario 64, Nintendo wanted to bring The Legend of Zelda to a new world. They did so by changing the top-down overworld seen in past Zelda games into a more dynamic 3D environment. It is the first Zelda game in the series to introduce free-roaming, context-sensitive actions, and Z-targeting. There is a method where you can change the setting to seven years in the future, where Link becomes an adult, and must rescue the rest of the seven sages. While the Ocarina has appeared in past Zelda games, Ocarina of Time lets you learn twelve different melodies for solving puzzles and teleporting to locations you already visited within the game.

When Ocarina of Time was released, the critical acclaim was exceptional, and even to this day, it’s always at least in a close struggle for the highest game in Gamerankings and Metacritic. It is not only claimed by fans and critics to be the best Zelda game of all time, it is also claimed to be the best game of all time. There have been other games in the series that rivaled the popularity, but Ocarina of Time is the last Legend of Zelda you can praise without the fanbase attacking you. It was even remade in 2011 for the Nintendo 3DS, which many people enjoyed just as much as the original, if not, more.

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door – GCN (2004)

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is much like its predecessor, only better in every way. Timed moves and the Partner system were improved: with the partners now having their own Heart Points, as well as having more abilities. The battles are staged and audience participation can have an impact on the battle, and as you level up, it increases the audience size. Save for Game Informer’s infamous 6.75 score, the game was well received, and it sold well for a Gamecube game. The reason that many Paper Mario fans don’t like Super Paper Mario or Sticker Star is because it deviates too much from the formula that The Thousand Year Door perfected. Beta footage of Sticker Star implied that it was going to be a direct sequel, but as development time went on, it changed to a completely different game.

Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening – PS2 (2005)

While Devil May Cry was a genre trendsetter, Devil May Cry 3 felt more like a modern action game. It fixed the problem Devil May Cry 2 had, which was that the game was a lot easier. It added different styles for Dante to use that dramatically changed the gameplay. After gamers grew attached to Dante’s cocky and aggressive attitude in Devil May Cry, his emotionless performance in Devil May Cry 2 disappointed many. Devil May Cry 3 completely reverses this with Dante being even cockier, and the game had more over the top cheese than ever. After the negative reception of Devil May Cry 2, Devil May Cry 3 redeemed the series for many gamers and reviewers. Devil May Cry 4’s reception was lukewarm from fans and reviewers, and DmC had a massive fan backlash.

Honorable Mentions:

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest – SNES (1995)
It gave the series its own identity after the original borrowed elements heavily from Super Mario World. The level design really hit its stride with its cleverly hidden secrets. The game is held at a high regard where arguably not even the other games in the series would match its popularity.

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 – Arcade (1995)
While Mortal Kombat 2 may arguably be better, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 was ultimately considered to be the last great Mortal Kombat game in the series until Mortal Kombat 9.

Mega Man 2 – NES (1989)
Mega Man 2 was initially well received and even considered to be the best in the series. Even Keiji Inafune considers this game to be his favorite Mega Man game that he has worked on.

And there you have it, ten different games that set the standards of the video game industry, with sequels unable to match the sales success or popularity. These games will always be looked upon as some of the best games of all time, and it shows when you look at retrospectives and top 10 lists. Many fans argue about what happened with these respective series after the specific game gets high praise, and many argue about which game is really better in their series. Regardless, there will always be games that are a Tough Act to Follow.

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.