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.

BeiN True to Yourself: How Nintendo Wins

I’ve been meaning to write an article like this for a while now, and with E3 having just happened, I think I can finally get started now.  As my past articles may give some ultra-subtle foreshadowing of, I am quite happy with how the Switch has been received so far.  After at least four years of almost unrelenting negativity towards Nintendo’s console division, someone finally flipped a switch and turned the light back on.  The Switch has recreated the phenomenon of the original Wii’s launch, an even more impressive feat considering it launched in March instead of November.  With Nintendo seeming to have finally fulfilled their longstanding goal of a launch year without droughts and an incredible E3 that featured a healthy mix of 2017, early 2018, and far away but ultra-exciting games, Switch’s future looks very bright.  So with Nintendo’s four most recent consoles alternating between explosive success and market failure (no, you having nostalgia for GameCube doesn’t mean it sold well, it was closer to Wii U in sales than it was to Nintendo 64, and that didn’t even win its generation), is there any way to make sense of this pattern?

Well, let’s look at the goal behind the four consoles in the most general terms.  The GameCube and Wii U had a focus on attaining something that Nintendo’s competition had in the previous generation that they lacked (disc based software and HD graphics, respectively) and bringing Nintendo back to getting the biggest third-party games and controlling the traditional gaming demographic again.  Both systems also suffered from something of an identity crisis, having drawbacks that stopped them from achieving true parity with their competitors (GCN’s smaller disc space and Wii U’s limited power compared to competing systems) and having stylistic features that conflicted with the goal of winning over the competitor’s fanbase (GameCube’s general “kiddy” image, Wii U’s tablet inspired controller).  After showing a lot of promise at launch, both systems quickly fell behind in market share and third-party support, becoming solid but niche systems you bought for Nintendo’s games.

 

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And look how well pandering to EA worked out.

 

Now let’s look at Wii and Switch.  They actually don’t seem to have fixed the problems I mentioned above, you could even argue they got worse.  Was Wii any less “kiddy” than GameCube?  Is Switch a powerhouse that obliterates or at least matches PlayStation 4 and would be giving PS5 a run for its money if the generations hadn’t gotten completely de-synced?  Did/will either one get all the AAA third party multi-plats that PlayStation/Xbox/PC share?  The answer to all those questions is no.  So why did things work out for these systems, but not their predecessors?

Because Nintendo didn’t half-try to be something they weren’t, they embraced what made them different and turned those weaknesses into strengths.  They flipped things around and succeeded at things their competitors weren’t even trying.  The Wii may have been at least as “kiddy” as GameCube, but it appealed to middle aged parents and senior citizens just as easily, it genuinely was for all ages.  The Switch may be only marginally more powerful than Wii U, but take it out of its dock and it’s a technological marvel as a portable system.  Nintendo solved their problems in ways that their competitors never would have attempted, and unlike trying to copy the other systems, this approach has been rewarded.

 

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Mocking its name just made it stronger.

 

Of course, that doesn’t mean GameCube and Wii U didn’t contribute anything to Nintendo’s future.  Remember GameCube’s bizarre controller layout and various gimmick controllers (bongos, the Game Boy Advance)?  I’m sure you remember Wii U’s attempt to get people excited to play games on the controller’s screen.  Neither of these features caught on, but Wii and Switch managed to evolve these ideas into a functional, wildly popular form.  The Wii had a new way of controlling games that got a huge amount of mainstream attention, and it being included with every system allowed it to thrive.  Wii U’s ability to stream games to its controller at a limited range turned into Switch being a true hybrid that allows you to take complete console games anywhere you want.  Instead of giving up on these ideas, Nintendo believed in them and turned them into something hugely successful.

 

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Its heart was in the right place, it just needed a few tweaks.

 

Now this section is a bit of a leftover from one of the earlier incarnations of this article, but since I’ve compared Wii and Switch so much, I think it’s worth addressing.  Some may ask if we really want Switch to turn into another Wii.  Was its success actually good for gamers?

Yes, it absolutely was!

It’s time to get over the delusion that Wii was nothing but Nintendo lazily making mini-game compilations and third parties badly copying the aforementioned mini-game compilations.  Yes, the Wii ___ series and shovelware that all market leaders attract existed, but you could and can ignore them, and there is a diamond mine hidden under them.  Nintendo made some of their best games on the Wii, and I don’t just mean the Super Mario Galaxies and Xenoblade.  Punch-Out, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, Wario Land Shake-It, Metroid Prime 3, Sin and Punishment 2, Pandora’s Tower, games you should give a genuine chance like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Zelda: Skyward Sword, Nintendo absolutely did not just focus on gimmicky mini-game compilations during the Wii’s lifespan.

But the lack of attention those games get is nothing compared to the third-party hidden gems on Wii.  Zack and Wiki, Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands, Muramasa, Madworld, No More Heroes 2, Dead Space Extraction, A Boy and His Blob, Rabbids Go Home, Sonic Colors, Epic Mickey, Lost in Shadow, Red Steel 2, Trauma Team, House of the Dead Overkill, Goldeneye 007, Medal of Honor Heroes 2, Boom Blox Bash Party, Rodea: The Sky Soldier, there are so many third party Wii games that may not have been super hyped AAA budget games but were the type of quality mid-ware that people thought died in the seventh generation.  Switch turning out like Wii would indeed be a good thing, and fortunately, there are already signs of its portable ability bringing back some of those mid-ware style games.

 

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Have you played this game? Do you know what it is? This is Trauma Team, just one of the many underappreciated Wii games.

 

So in conclusion, I think the moral here is pretty obvious.  Nintendo systems with one syllable names do better, end of story.  In seriousness, I think it’s safe to say that Nintendo does a lot better when they focus on their strengths instead of trying to attain the strengths of others.  Directly competing on their competitor’s turf doesn’t work, and with the console generations being out of sync between companies now it is barely measurable (I defy you to find a way to compare Switch and PS4’s success that doesn’t require waiting 5+ years to judge).  While it would be nice for Nintendo to achieve the third-party dominance they had with the NES and SNES, I don’t think it’s practical right now and both Nintendo and their fans will have a better time if they focus on what worked for Wii and Switch instead of trying to bring SNES back with one fell swoop.  Wait a second, if you pronounce them “Ness” and “Sness”, those systems are also one syllable… that IS the key!

Top Ten Video Game Series Comebacks (Part One)

I like sequels. If you’ve read my previous articles, you know that. But I’ve done enough articles in a row trying to convince people of something, so let’s do something more upbeat. There are few things in gaming I love more than when an abandoned or tainted series brings out a new game that is as good or better than the glory days. To qualify for this list, prior to the game in question its series has to have either had at least two bad installments in a row, or been missing for at least one console generation. Let’s get right to it, I’ve even ranked the entries this time!

Number 10: Twisted Metal Black
Playstation 2; 2001

How Things were Before: One of the earliest games for the original Playstation, Twisted Metal popularized the car combat genre and enticed gamers with its interesting characters and quite dark setting and sense of humor. Everyone loved the weapon infused, city destroying destruction derby of the titular tournament. Twisted Metal 2 improved on the original in every way, and is a classic still enjoyable today. Then the original developer, SingleTrac, left the series and it was handed over to the infamous 989 studios. Twisted Metal 3 was a poor clone of Twisted Metal 2, using an identical formula but with much worse controls and writing. Twisted Metal 4 tried to be more original, but the gameplay was not improved and the story was a terrible fanfic (Calypso apparently had a never before mentioned magical ring of souls as his power source, meaning Sweet Tooth could steal it and take over the tournament). Twisted Metal had become a joke and no one wanted another one.

The Revival: Launching on the new Playstation 2, Twisted Metal Black was developed by a reincarnation of SingleTrac, Incognito Entertainment. Rebooting (well, kind of, it’s impossible to explain without spoilers) the series into the opposite of Twisted Metal 4’s corny insanity, Twisted Metal Black made it clear from the start that it was not a simple follow-up. One of the most disturbing games ever made, TMB’s characters all had horrific pasts that shocked gamers. The psychological horror angle was done excellently and made the series feel completely fresh again. The gameplay was polished to be even better than Twisted Metal 2, with balanced and strategic combat that the developers themselves called “Street Fighter II on wheels.” Twisted Metal Black was everything you could ask for in a series revival, so why is it only number 10? Unfortunately, upon being saved the series immediately went away, not getting a new entry until five years after TMB that was decent but underwhelming. Then it went away AGAIN until Sony decided to just have another reboot. The reboot was terrible, and the future of the series looks bleak. Twisted Metal Black did everything right, but its series threw away the new life it was given.

Number 9: Punch-Out!!
Nintendo Wii; 2009

How Things were Before: Punch-Out had two successful but not famous arcade games in the mid-80s, but what everyone remembers about the series is the NES installment. More a series of boss fights with puzzle elements than a boxing game, the NES Punch-Out became iconic and beloved. The series got another installment on the Super Nintendo, which didn’t get quite as much attention but was an excellent game that was even better than the first. Then… the series just vanished. Lost among the overwhelming number of franchises Nintendo had to support, the series did not get a new game on Nintendo 64 or GameCube. A lot of people thought the Wii’s controller would be perfect for the series, but did Nintendo still care about the franchise? With a different boxing game included in Wii Sports, it didn’t seem that way.

The Revival: In 2008, at the height of panic over Nintendo abandoning their fans and classic franchises (I’ll spare you the multi-paragraph rant on how people are now complaining about the exact opposite), a new Punch-Out game was announced for the Wii. Called simply Punch-Out!! (there are five games in the series, and only two names between all of them), the announcement was very welcome to Punch-Out fans and Nintendo fans in general. But now that the series was alive, there was the question of how it would transfer into the modern gaming client. The previous Punch-Out games were not very long, could the series justify a $50 release in 2009? As it turned out, absolutely. Punch-Out Wii may have had only 14 opponent boxers, but with their complete transformations in Title Defense mode, several special missions for each, and a high difficulty level, 100%ing the game was a massive undertaking. Add in the huge amount of personality given to the boxers and your trainer, and you have the best game in the Punch-Out series by a wide margin and a successful revival. Let’s hope another one is coming, even if it will probably be called Super Punch-Out yet again.

Number 8: Rayman Origins
Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii; 2011

How Things were Before: In 1995, 2D platformers were in the later part of their golden age. With the next generation of gaming starting, most developers focused on polygons and 3D gameplay. Rayman, however, was a traditional sprite based 2D platformer that used more powerful hardware to look absolutely beautiful. There were some very severe problems with the gameplay, mainly the difficulty balance, but the wow factor made the game popular. As the generations proceeded, Rayman would get 3D sequels that were less visually distinctive but better designed in gameplay, and the series gained a loyal following. In 2006, a fourth entry in the series was announced for the upcoming Wii, which would see Rayman battling a new enemy species called Rabbids. The game was taken over by novel uses of the Wii Remote, and became a collection of mini-games. The game was very popular, with the Rabbids overshadowing Rayman. The Rabbids became the stars, with Rayman eventually being pushed out of his own series. The Rabbids even got a few platformer spin-offs, without Rayman in them at all. Rayman seemed dead and forgotten.

The Revival: As you might expect, despite Ubisoft seeming to have forgotten about Rayman, he still had a quite dedicated fanbase that was not happy about the Rabbids taking over. In 2010, it was announced that Rayman would return to his platforming ways in an episodic series of digital download games. In 2011 this changed into a full retail release, and the final game was better than anyone could have expected. In some ways it was similar to the original Rayman (which is good, since the plot had been all but removed, making the Origins in the title a relic), a beautiful 2D platformer using 2D animation to look absolutely stunning. However, unlike the original, the gameplay was just as good as the visuals. Rayman Origins managed to be a creative, very challenging platformer without relying on trial and error level design or bad collision detection like the original game. Rayman Origins not only got Rayman back in the spotlight, it far exceeded all previous games in the series and is sure to be remembered as a classic platformer.

Number 7: Mortal Kombat (2011)
Playstation 3, Xbox 360; 2011

How Things were Before: Anyone alive in the 90s, gamer or not, knows about Mortal Kombat. Most famous for the uproar its violent finishing moves caused, Mortal Kombat was always a series that got by on image. But what an amazing image it was, for a time period in the mid-90s Mortal Kombat was just the coolest thing imaginable. It wasn’t just the blood, the dark fantasy setting and seemingly endless secrets captured the imagination of gamers everywhere. It was enough to make you not realize how shallow and unbalanced the actual fighting was. Needless to say, when the cool factor wore off, the series fell hard. Mortal Kombat 4 had an awkward transition to 3D that hurt the presentation as much as the gameplay (the digitized graphics in the 2D MKs were a big part of the appeal), and gamers had clearly gotten sick of the series. The series went on hiatus, with a five year gap between Mortal Kombat 4 and the next game in the main series. Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance and its follow-ups made more of an effort to be quality fighting games, but they still fell short and never came close to recapturing the aesthetic feel the 2D games had. That fighting games as a whole were far less popular than in the series’ heyday did not help. After Mortal Kombat vs DC was released over a decade since it would have been relevant, there seemed to be no hope for the series.

The Revival: With Street Fighter IV making fighting games popular again (more on that later) it made sense that another revival of the Mortal Kombat series would be attempted. Called simply Mortal Kombat, the game would be a reboot (albeit one caused by in-story reasons) retelling the first three games of the series, its prime. It would have almost every character and stage from the first three games included. But would that be enough to make people care about the series again? Turns out it didn’t have to be, after more than 15 years Mortal Kombat finally became a legitimate fighter. NetherRealm studios completely redid the fighting engine, and finally made a balanced, competitive fighting game for the series. There was also an exceptional amount of one player content added, including a story mode that had a ridiculous plot but showed off the setting people had loved in the past very well. The best game in the series by a huge margin, Mortal Kombat is the best thing that could happen to longtime fans.

Number 6: Donkey Kong Country Returns:
Nintendo Wii; 2010

How Things were Before: Donkey Kong is one of the oldest still active video game characters, debuting with Mario over 30 years ago. But the series this revival is about started in 1994 with Donkey Kong Country, a Super Nintendo platformer that blew everyone away with its pre-rendered graphics. It was followed by two sequels on the same system and the trilogy became some of the best loved games of SNES’ many, many classics. There was also a solid trilogy of GameBoy spin-offs. A Nintendo 64 sequel was a given, and it was released in 1999. There’s some controversy over its quality, but many, including me, feel its obsession with collecting and switching characters made for a far inferior game compared to the SNES installments. After that, the series faded away. The only thing you could even argue was a Donkey Kong platformer on GameCube was Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, which was a good and creative game, but very different from the Donkey Kong Country games. As a new decade began, the series’ glory days were far behind it.

The Revival: As E3 2010 approached, there were rumors of a new Donkey Kong game by the extremely talented Retro Studios. At Nintendo’s showing, these rumors proved true, but to our surprise the game was a 2D sidescroller. The platformer revival having just started, people were not accustomed to such an anticipated console game being two dimensional. There was some disappointment caused by the game being 2D, but most were just excited that Donkey Kong Country had finally, as the title itself announced, returned. The game turned out to be better than anyone could have hoped. With level design significantly better than the already excellent SNES games, and also a much longer game, Donkey Kong Country Returns was the best game in the series. Like another series that it isn’t time to talk about yet, Retro had given Donkey Kong Country a truly glorious rebirth. And with Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze announced less than a week ago as I write this, that rebirth seems to have been sustained.

That’s all for now, but stay tuned for the second part of this article. We still have the top five video game series revivals of all time countdown!