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.

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2016

SNES Master KI

It’s time for another top ten most anticipated games list. 2015 didn’t turn out to be as good for games as I was hoping, and the primary reason for that was delays, so I’m doing things a little differently for this list. The jumped guns from my 2015 list are too numerous and prominent to just exclude, so I’m just going to ignore that list, even if it means some repetition. There’s still new stuff to say about the games, after all. 2016 looks even better than the pre-delays 2015, so let’s get to the list!

10: Pokken Tournament

A Pokemon fighter is long overdue, and one will arrive on Wii U in 2016. I’ve honestly lost track of what year it was when we first saw that teaser clip of an unidentified Pokemon game, but the long journey to a home system is almost over. Despite how obvious it was, I still breathed a sigh of relief when it was confirmed that Pokken Tournament would indeed get a home release. Wii U can definitely use a new fighter, and I’m looking forward to see what kind of bonuses we’ll get in the home version.

9: Ratchet and Clank (PS4)

I love platformers, I’ve made that very clear in my writing. While it feels like most retail platformers we could get in 2016 are in that vapor realm where they aren’t confirmed enough to make it to this list (Sonic’s anniversary game, Mario’s new concept 2D platformer and next 3D platformer), we do have Ratchet and Clank. A reboot of the series, the footage shown so far gives me hope that it will feel like a platformer, and it’s about time PS4 got one of its own (no I don’t remember Knack, and neither do you). Let’s hope it does well enough to give Jak and Sly another chance as well.

8: Ace Attorney 6

Being so story driven, I do no research about Ace Attorney games before playing them, so it’s hard to talk about this one. Regardless, I am very glad that it was confirmed for western release as soon as the game was announced, and I’m hoping the new setting will combat some of the predictability factor that hurt AA5 for me. Not much else to say, at least from me, but very much looking forward to this game.

7: Doom (2016)

I had a revelation during 2015: I love old style first person shooters. I played several Doom games for the first time, and was very happy to see that a new one with a simultaneous console release was already announced. Doom 2016 looks to have more of the fast paced action of the 90s games with some console style conveniences, which sounds great to me. A few years ago this series making my list never would have crossed my mind, but my horizons have been expanded and I can only hope Doom 2016 sparks a revival of FPSes with more enemy variety than “guys with different types of guns!”

6: Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

This made Honorable Mention last year, with me saying that if Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse was as big of an improvement as I had heard, it would have placed higher. Well, Pirate’s Curse was better than I had ever imagined, becoming my favorite WayForward game of all time by a clear margin. So naturally, Half-Genie Hero is much more anticipated by me this year. A sequel that fixes Pirate’s Curse’s only flaw (graphics that were incredibly pixelated in HD) is just what I want, so let’s hope that Half-Genie Hero finally makes it out in 2016.

5: Street Fighter V

It will have been seven years since Street Fighter IV came to consoles when SFV comes out, and somehow this is FASTER than we’re used to for the series. Regardless, Street Fighter V seems to be doing everything right, from the free DLC characters to cross-play that will make things a lot easier for S-Rank. I haven’t been following this game as closely as some people I know, but Ryu will be waiting for me and I’m sure I’ll be able to jump right in and start fighting for the honor of D-Pads and consoles. I just hope I have some idea what the hell is happening in the endings this time.

4: Nier: Automata

This was probably the biggest pleasant shock for me in 2015’s gaming scene. I never expected Nier to get a sequel, and if I somehow did I sure as hell wouldn’t have expected Platinum to help make it. I loved Nier, I love Platinum, this is a match made in Heaven, or possibly a frozen hell. If you didn’t play Nier, it had some of the best RPG real-time combat I had ever seen and an amazing amount of gameplay variety. The combat had a similar feel to pure action games, so Platinum actually making it should make it truly amazing. Square-Enix had a great 2015, but this game is my favorite thing they announced all year.

3: Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam

If there’s a bright side to this game coming out late in NA, it’s that I’ll have Xenoblade X finished before I get this. Oh, and it also means it gets to make one of these lists. I loved Dream Team, and it sounds like Paper Jam is going to fix all the problems with it. More of the great level design and my favorite turn based combat system of all time, with better writing and skippable tutorials? Paper Jam sounds perfect, and you know which Mario and Luigi game it is? The fifth. It looks like my lucky number will come through again (even after 2005 and 2015 kind of shook my faith in it). And I couldn’t do this write-up with referencing paper jam Dipper. Akefhgkjfdgbnk!

2: Star Fox Zero

Yep, the top two (oh come on, you knew what number 1 was as soon as I said I wasn’t disqualifying games that were on last year’s list) are the same as last year. But after the tantrum thrown by people who don’t understand that Nintendo games always look much worse at their reveal than they actually will be, this game still needs love. Platinum is probably my favorite non-Nintendo developer right now, so Platinum and Nintendo working together on this game is pretty freaking awesome. After nearly 20 years of struggling, we are long, long overdue for an action-packed direct sequel to Star Fox 64, and it looks like that’s exactly what we’ll get in April. Never give up, trust your instincts, Nintendo franchises always strike back.

1: The Legend of Zelda (Wii U)

We don’t know much more about this game than we did a year ago, but dammit, what we know is still enough to get me hyped. A Zelda with a huge but more importantly FILLED open world sounds great, but that honestly isn’t why I’m excited for this game. I’m excited for this game because I trust the series and developer, and I don’t see why so many people regard that as a bad thing. Aside from a few games that ironically seem to have been rushed to make sure Zelda Wii U didn’t have to be, Nintendo’s quality level has been extremely high in the past few years, and I see no reason not to expect fantastic things from this game. We’ll probably have to wait two and a half years between this game’s announcement and release, but none of that will matter once we finally have it in our hands.

Honorable Mentions

Uncharted 4

I still have some resentment towards this series for replacing Jak, but my true spite is reserved for The Last of Us. I enjoyed the PS3 Uncharted games, and if Uncharted 4 takes some cues from the current Tomb Raiders, it should be the best one yet.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD

I love Twilight Princess, the only flaw is that combat is too easy. Just add a hard mode (which most Zeldas have now) and make sure to keep the Wii remote option, and things are perfect.

Final Fantasy XV

Haven’t been following this that closely, but if it has a good combat system and Square-Enix is as redeemed as they appear, this should be a great game. Not much else to say, really.

Shellshock

2015 was a very strange year for video games, and it didn’t leave me with a lot to offer. The games that did come out in 2015 that I’ve played were great, and I couldn’t get enough of them. Now that 2015 is about to end, let’s talk about 2016 and what it has to offer. There’s a lot of games coming out that I’m anticipating; some of them are games that were delayed, and others were announced within the year. Here are my top 10 most anticipated games of 2016.

10. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Developer: WayForward Studios
Publisher: WayForward Studios
Platform(s): PC, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, XBOX 360, XBOX One
Release Date: Early 2016

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero was originally targeted for 2014, but the game had constant delays due to the extra Stretch Goals that were added. Once again, it makes my list, as I have been playing the Shantae series (sans Pirate’s Curse, which I intend to play at some point). Even though it’s coming to multiple platforms, I will be picking up the Wii U version.

9. Yooka-Laylee

Developer: Playtonic Games
Publisher: Team 17
Platform(s): Wii U, Playstation 4, XBOX One, PC
Release Date: October 2016

I grew up playing Rare’s 3D Platformers on the Nintendo 64, and I enjoyed most of them (mostly the Banjo-Kazooie series). However, I’ve lost interest in Rare soon after Microsoft bought them out, thus ending their partnership with Nintendo. After playing Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts on the XBOX 360, I was disgusted with what they did with the series, and thought to myself that Banjo-Kazooie is dead. Needless to say, I’m not the only one who felt that way.

Playtonic games is a company made up of former Rare staff members, especially most of the key members who worked on the original Banjo-Kazooie. Yooka-Laylee is a spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie games in many ways, but it also has elements from other games, such as Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong 64. I’m really looking forward to this game, as I would love to help keep the spirit of the old Rare alive!

8. Mighty No. 9

Developer: Comcept, Inti Creates, Abstraction Games (3DS/Vita)
Publisher: Comcept (Digital), Deep Silver (Retail)
Platform(s): Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Vita, XBOX One, XBOX 360, PC
Release Date: February 9, 2016 (Retail), February 12, 2016 (Digital)

Another repeat offender on my list, as this game keeps getting delayed over time. Thankfully, there is a guaranteed release date, as it’s going to be released on February 9th in Retail, and February 12th digitally across all platforms. Now as far as this game goes, I’m still excited for it, and anything that plays like Mega Man and the Mega Man X series makes me happy.

7. Street Fighter V

Developer: Capcom, Dimps
Publisher: Capcom
Platform(s): Playstation 4, PC
Release Date: February 16, 2016

Street Fighter V is the latest installment in the Street Fighter series. While Street Fighter IV (and its subsequent updates) provided a mix of nostalgia for Street Fighter II with a brand new look and feel to the series, Street Fighter V has a bit of Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter III added to the mix, with tons of new things to make it stand out from the rest. There will be a starting cast of seventeen characters (twelve of them are returning, and five of them are brand new), with other characters coming at a later date.

What gets me excited about this game is that Charlie and R. Mika, who are among my favorite Street Fighter Alpha characters, make their return to the series in Street Fighter V. Other characters, such as Birdie, Urien and Karin, are excellent additions and it’s nice to see them back after being absent for years. We also have new takes on other returning characters, and the newer characters seem very interesting. I tried the demo at New York Comic Con this year, and I thought it was a major improvement from Street Fighter IV. I’m definitely looking forward to playing this game!

6. Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

Developer: AlphaDream
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: January 22, 2016

Announced at E3, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is the fifth installment in the Mario & Luigi series. This game is a crossover between Mario & Luigi and the Paper Mario series, where both worlds collide. You take control of Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario to take on both Bowser and Paper Bowser, and their respective armies running rampant across the Mushroom Kingdom. Gameplay is identical to that of the Mario & Luigi series, but you now press the Y Button in Battle to control Paper Mario’s Actions.

Since this game has the quirkiness and the humor from both the Mario & Luigi and the Paper Mario series, this is definitely something I am looking forward to. I still need to beat Partners in Time (which I’m not really a fan of) before tackling the others, then finally making my way to this game.

5. Project X Zone 2

Developer: Monolith Soft, Banpresto
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 16, 2016

I was surprised to see that Bandai Namco Games sign on for a sequel to Project X Zone. There are a lot more characters you control in this game, from Bandai Namco, Sega, Capcom, and now Nintendo! Fire Emblem Awakening’s Chrom and Lucina and Xenoblade Chronicles’ Fiora join the cast. Other series new to Project X Zone 2 are Shinobi, Strider, Ace Attorney, Shenmue, Soul Calibur, Yakuza, and even Segata Sanshiro himself, among others, are represented here.

This game retains the character turn based gameplay from its predecessor, but what interests me about this game is that you now have a full player turn, where you control all of your characters, and an enemy turn, where all the enemies are controlled, as opposed to a random character turn. This is another Strategy RPG that I will happily add to my Nintendo 3DS library, and I look forward to playing every second of it!

4. Pokken Tournament

Developer: Bandai Namco Games
Publisher: Nintendo/The Pokémon Company
Platform(s): Wii U
Release Date: Q2 2016

I’m a huge fan of the Pokémon series, and I do enjoy playing Tekken, so this definitely works for me! Pokken Tournament has a fighting style where you roam around in an arena, performing multiple combos on your opponents, and unleashing an inner power (some of the Pokemon will become a Mega-Evolution) with a Resonance Gauge, allowing you to use Special Attacks. You can also summon assist Pokémon to help you out.

I got to try the arcade version of this game at Dave & Busters in NYC, and I’m impressed with the gameplay. It feels different from Tekken, but then again, with Pokémon, it works! This is one of my must-have games for 2016, and I cannot wait to play this!

3. Star Fox Zero

Developer: Nintendo EPD, Platinum Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform(s): Wii U
Release Date: April 22, 2016

Originally set for a 2015 release, Star Fox Zero goes back to its roots from the Star Fox (SNES) and Star Fox 64 days, with tons of new features, as well as scrapped ideas from Star Fox 2. This isn’t a remake, nor is it a prequel to the original Star Fox, but it is a new installment, nonetheless. There isn’t much dialogue revealed, but the gameplay is exactly as a Star Fox game should be. I got to try this out at Nintendo World Store during the E3 week, and I was impressed! The Gamepad controls takes time to get used to, but once I do, I will enjoy myself!

2. Fire Emblem Fates

Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 19, 2016

I’ve enjoyed Fire Emblem Awakening when it was released in 2013, as I was craving for a Fire Emblem on 3DS at the time. I was heavily excited when Nintendo announced Fire Emblem Fates on the January 2015 Nintendo Direct. As soon as more details popped up, I was curious about having two different versions, and the first thing that popped up my mind was “So is this going to be Fire Emblem meets Pokémon now?”, but as it turns out, it’s part of the game’s story.

It starts off similarly on both versions, but after a certain point, you take a completely different path. Once you do take that path, you stick to it throughout the entire game. There is also a downloadable expansion, which serves as the game’s conclusion. This is probably the biggest story in any Fire Emblem game yet, and I look forward to February 19th!


 

Honorable Mentions

Before I talk about what’s number one, I’d like to talk about my honorable mentions. These games are what I’m looking forward to, but not as much as the games on this list, and as a result, they make this short list.

Bravely Second (Nintendo, Square Enix), Hyper Light Drifter (Heart Machine), Cuphead (Studio MDHR), Genei Ibun Roku #FE (Atlus, Nintendo)


 

1. The Legend of Zelda (Wii U)

Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform(s): Wii U
Release Date: Holiday 2016

Another repeat offender, but there’s a reason for that. Eiji Aonuma needed more time for development of this game, so it’s slated for Holiday 2016 for now. We haven’t seen much of this, but what little I’ve seen is enough for me to put this on the number one spot. I am going to love moving around in an open world setting, and exploring new dungeons. We’ll see at E3 as to what’s going on with this game, and what else it has to offer.

And there we have it, my Most Anticipated games of 2016. It seems like 2016 will be a bigger year for video games, seeing as how we’re going to see the NX for the very first time, and how will it stack up against the competition. There’s a lot to look forward to, and I’m ready to take that ride!


 

Professor Icepick

Well, 2015 was a decent year for the most part. Sure, we got some good releases, but what I got out of it was more hope for the future. A lot of key titles were announced, and while most of them won’t hit until after 2016, it’s still important to look forward. On the plus side, all but 2 of my picks from last year actually hit this time around. Not bad, if you ask me.

10. The King of Fighters XIV

Publisher/Developer: SNK Playmore
Platform: PS4 (maybe more?)
Release Date: 2016

I’m going to be honest, I’ve been hard on the latest KoF game since it was first announced. After all, it would be hard to top the Playmore era’s magnum opus after SNK went back into hibernation for a few years. Then there was the Chinese buyout, which worried me somewhat at first, as I feared a shift from pachinko machines to mobile games. Worst of all was the first trailer: everything about it reminded me of the Maximum Impact games. But as time went on, especially after the latest trailer from the PlayStation Experience, the game’s look began to improve. It’s not quite at hype levels yet, but considering that it boasts a 50-character roster at launch (Mortal Kombat X only managed around half that, and it’s the closest competition that comes to mind), I think it’s worth keeping an eye on. Hopefully, the fact that PSX downgraded it to “Playstation 4 Console Exclusive”, as well as the fact that a key executive from SNK Playmore said that their success on Steam was a key reason they got back into game development, means I’ll be able to partake on my platform of choice down the line, hopefully with crossplay.

9. Star Fox Zero

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Platinum Games
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: April 22, 2016

If there’s one series that Nintendo fans have been clamoring for, it’s probably Metroid. Then F-Zero. Star Fox is definitely a close third, though. Sure, its legacy has been somewhat marred by various mediocre releases: Star Fox 64 was a tough act to follow. The upcoming Zero, however, looks like it might just do the trick. Co-developed by developer darling Platinum Games (Bayonetta, Madworld, Metal Gear Rising), Zero looks to be bringing Star Fox back to its action roots and is even managing to incorporate the Arwing’s Walker transformation from the cancelled Star Fox 2, among other things. With Platinum on-board and an emphasis on the classic gameplay of the first two games in the series, I’ve got a good feeling that this one might be the game to put Star Fox back on top.

8. Timespinner

Publisher/Developer: Lunar Ray Games
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, 3DS
Release Date: July 2016

Timespinner was merely an honorable mention last year, but it ended up getting pushed back to 2016, much to my chagrin. One of my Kickstarter darlings from quite some time ago, Timespinner is looking to evoke various classic games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and MegaMan X, with a SNES-inspired artstyle. Players take on the role of Lunais, a young woman with the power to control time. After the technologically advanced empire of Lachiem kills her family, she vows revenge, travelling through history to destroy them all. With interesting time manipulation mechanics and solid-looking gameplay, Timespinner looks like it will be worth the wait.

7. Cuphead

Publisher/Developer: Studio MDHR
Platform: PC, Xbox One
Release Date: 2016

Cuphead was also only on my honorable mentions last year, but since then, this game has started looking better and better. A run-and-gun game with nothing but bosses starring two cup-headed inkblots who lost a bet with the devil and are forced to do his bidding. The real star of the game, however, is its beautiful 2D animation that looks like it was ripped straight out of a Max Fleischer cartoon. I thought it was due out last year, but there really wasn’t any solid confirmation on that.

6. Yooka-Laylee

Publisher/Developer: Team17/Playtonic Games
Platform: PC, Wii U, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Release Date: October 2016

Another one of my Kickstarter darlings, though I’ll be surprised if you haven’t heard about it. Yooka-Laylee is a spiritual successor to Rare’s N64-era platformers. You know, games like Banjo-Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day and to a lesser extent, Donkey Kong 64. With vibrant character designs and a glorious soundtrack handled by David Wise and Grant Kirkhope, Yooka-Laylee is set to launch at the end of 2016.

5. Doom

Publisher/Developer: Bethesda Softworks/id Software
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: Spring 2016

Growing up with only a PC and a Game Gear during my earliest of gaming days wasn’t easy, missing out on some really big titles. Sure, there was the occasional port; some good, some bad, but then there was Doom. Doom was probably the first big mainstream PC gaming phenomenon I actually remember and it was glorious. After Doom II came out, the series went on a long hiatus, only to be revived with the mediocre Doom 3, which tried to retool the game into a pseudo-survival horror game for some reason. Bethesda got its hooks into the series recently, and that’s a good thing: they’re taking Doom back to its crazy, gory but ridiculously cartoony roots. I’m not completely sold on the game just yet: the cinematic kills look like they’ll get tedious after a while and Bethesda doesn’t exactly have the best reputation for releasing games without a hell of a lot of glitches at launch. Still, it looks like it’s going to be good regardless.

4. South Park: The Fractured but Whole

Publisher/Developer: Ubisoft
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: 2016

I’ve loved South Park since the show debuted in 1996. I love Paper Mario, so it was pretty much a no-brainer that I’d like The Stick of Truth. When Matt and Trey announced they were working on a sequel at Ubisoft’s E3 conference this year, I was incredibly hyped…and the hype still hasn’t exactly worn off. This time, they’re ditching the fantasy motif and going for something more superhero-related. Considering how awesome the superhero-themed episodes of South Park are and the fact that Matt and Trey are returning to write this one (with more experience under their belts this time), I’ve got some high hopes for this game.

3. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

Publisher/Developer: Nihon Falcom
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Release Date: Summer 2016 (Japan)

Yeah, I know: Ys VIII will only be hitting Japan in 2016. Regardless, it’s exciting. We haven’t heard a thing about the game since TGS 2014, when it was first announced with that awesome teaser trailer. Then Toyko Xanadu took all of Falcom’s attention and for a while there, I thought Ys 8 might’ve just become vaporware. Fortunately, it’s back and with a release window no less: Summer 2016. Sure, we probably won’t see it hit the States for at least a year or two, but knowing it actually exists is good enough for me.

2. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Publisher/Developer: WayForward
Platform: PC, Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: 2016

I love me some Shantae, that much you should know by now. For the third consecutive year, Half-Genie Hero makes the list. I’m not sure if it’ll actually hit in 2016, just like I wasn’t sure it would hit in 2014 or 2015. I just feel like keeping the hope alive, especially since development has really gone underway, especially with the release of the limited beta on PC. Nintendo appears to think it’s coming this year though. So there’s that.

1. Street Fighter V

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform:  PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: February 16, 2016

Pretty obvious, when you think about it. I’ve loved the Street Fighter series since I played the second game on the SNES when I was a child. I’ve gotten my hands on the beta twice and I’ve had fun with it. I’ll probably have way more fun when I get a chance to play against friends though. The new characters look better than most of the ones from the original version of Street Fighter 4: F.A.N.G’s my personal favorite at this point in time, but I’ve honestly like all of them but Necalli. There’s also the fact that Capcom’s already confirmed 6 new characters for next year, all of whom will be free to those who put in the time and the effort to unlock them. All-in-all, Street Fighter V has been fun and hopefully it lives up to my expectations when the game launches in February.


 

Honorable Mentions

Project X Zone 2

Publisher/Developer: Bandai Namco/Monolith Soft
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: February 16, 2016

I was a fan of the original – never finished it though, because chapters got too long for me. Besides, it’s got Segata Sanshiro in it. ‘Nuff said.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir

Publisher/Developer: Atlus/Vanillaware
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3
Release Date: Spring 2016

Ever since I played Muramasa, I’ve wanted to try out more of Vanillaware’s games. I always sort of hoped that Odin Sphere would hit PS2 Classics, but this is even better. Only this that could make this better would be a PC release. (Then again, George Kamitani himself said they were exploring options for that sort of thing…)

Hyper Light Drifter

Publisher/Developer: Heart Machine
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Wii U, Ouya
Release Date: 2016

Making my honorable mentions list two years in a row is no small feat. Hyper Light Drifter is an action RPG with a beautiful pseudo-retro style. Despite not being released yet, it has managed to achieve quiet the number of cameos and references: Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, Indivisible, Runbow, the list goes on.

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/AlphaDream
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: January 22, 2016

Aside from the original on SNES, I have enjoyed pretty much every Mario RPG games. Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi are two of my favorite turn-based RPG series of all-time, so a crossover between the two is more than welcome from my standpoint.

Clayfighter

Publisher/Developer: Interplay/Drip Drop Games
Platform: PC
Release Date: 2016

When I was a kid, I used to love playing the original Clayfighter on Sega Genesis. The sequels weren’t so good, but I’m still sort of looking forward to the upcoming reboot. Hopefully it ends up exceeding even the original, while maintaining its wacky sense of humor.


 

Dishonorable Mention

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: February 9, 2016

The reason I consider this a “dishonorable” mention is because, while I am still looking forward its release, the development cycle was infested with problems and constant delays. Don’t even get me started on the Red Ash debacle, which was followed with the final delay that pushed it into 2016. Part of me thinks that was Inafune’s way of punishing us, but I just can’t be sure.

So those are my most anticipated games of 2016. That’s not to say that there aren’t even more games that I’m looking forward to, but these are my top picks. What do you think? Did we miss any games you’re looking forward to? Feel free to sound off in the comments section with your picks for 2016.

Jumping From the Ashes: The Rebirth of Platformers

When we last left platformers at the close of the sixth generation and dawn of the seventh, things were not looking good. The transition to 3D that had seemed so promising with Super Mario 64 had caused initially hidden but quickly expanding problems for the genre, and the gaming market had shifted in a direction that was not very hospitable for platformers. Sonic had become a joke and Mario was for all intents and purposes missing from the genre. Ratchet and Clank could barely be considered a platformer anymore, and no other series from the last generation seemed to be making the leap. Was all hope lost?

It certainly seemed so at the beginning of the generation. While there was some hope with New Super Mario Bros. finally bringing back 2D Mario and its exceptional sales, this didn’t have the same impact as a console game would have, and Mario’s return could be more of a sign of Nintendo’s health than the platforming genre. Besides, a 2D game obviously couldn’t solve how to make platformers work in 3D.

As for what was happening to 3D platformers… it wasn’t pretty. The seventh generation’s large emphasis on cinematics led to what could be called auto-platforming: a jumping system where the player has very limited control over jumps and depends on set pieces to guide their character through acrobatic feats that look cool but take little interaction besides pressing the right direction now and then. This completely removes the point of platforming, platformers are about mastering a game’s jumping system and learning the patterns and layout of the environment so you can navigate it. Auto-platforming removes both of these features, since the jumping tends to be incredibly simplistic and the environments have been reduced to a prop that enables your platforming instead of testing it. There is no freedom in how you navigate the environment, platforming has been reduced to a quick time event. Games like the 3D Prince of Persias, Uncharted, and Assassin’s Creed are examples of games that contain auto-platforming, and for a short but painful time period it seemed that this was the closest we would get to 3D platformers in the seventh generation.

So things were at their darkest for platformers, who could save them? Well, it’s actually pretty obvious. Mario, who had both defined platformers and unknowingly set them on the path to destruction, had another 3D platformer coming out in 2007. I’ve tried my best to stay objective throughout these articles, but I’m going to have to let some emotion into this part. Super Mario Galaxy was miraculous. It was as if the decline of platformers had never happened, we had a game that kept the linear essence of the genre and used 3D to enhance the core gameplay and level design instead of replacing it with exploration. To make things even more miraculous, the gaming media and community seemed to recognize this. While few were brave enough to openly acknowledge that linearity could be a good thing, Super Mario Galaxy was incredibly popular and considered an instant classic in a way no platformer since Super Mario 64 had been. With such an amazing game to lead platformers in the seventh generation, the genre’s troubles were surely over, right?

Well, not exactly. Super Mario Galaxy may have been universally loved, but did that guarantee that other platformers would follow its example and that they would also be popular? In 2008, it didn’t seem that way. Despite Super Mario Galaxy the previous year, 2008 was arguably the darkest looking year for the future of the genre. Wario Land Shake-It was a good game that was completely ignored for being 2D, Sonic Unleashed gave up on platforming to focus on action/racing style gameplay and was still mediocre at best, and Little Big Planet focused on customization to the detriment of its core gameplay. Mario, the exception to the genre’s woes, was nowhere in sight and may have again gone into hibernation for most of a generation. Had all been lost?

It turns out all we needed was a little patience. Games aren’t made overnight, and this was truer than ever before with the seventh generation’s rising development time cycles. Platformers weren’t dead in 2008, they were charging. After more than a decade of turmoil, 2009 was the start of the platformer renaissance. If I had to pinpoint a precise moment where it started, it wouldn’t be with a game release, but with an announcement. At E3 2009, Mario shattered his one platformer (if that) per system curse with the announcements of New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Super Mario Galaxy 2.

These announcements weren’t just good news for the Mario series, both games symbolized a wonderful development in the genre. Super Mario Galaxy 2 showed that the original Super Mario Galaxy was not a one time swan song for the genre, it was the new beginning it deserved to be. This would be demonstrated as games like Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time, Sly Cooper Thieves in Time, and Rabbids Go Home returned their series to a platforming focus. Arguably best of all, Sonic Colors systematically broke every step in the dreaded Sonic cycle and finally returned the series to platforming greatness. 3D platformers had changed again, and this time for the better. The damage done at the start of the 3D era had finally been healed.

But that wasn’t the only thing that caused the platformer revival. While the 3D platformer finally reached a good place in its troubled evolution, the 2D platformer made an astonishing comeback on consoles. Despite the dismissal Wario Land Shake-It was met with, New Super Mario Bros. Wii became one of the best selling console games of all time and companies took notice. Donkey Kong Country Returns, Rayman Origins, Kirby’s Epic Yarn/Return to Dreamland, and of course New Super Mario Bros. U continued the multiplayer console 2D platformer revival. If anything, 2D platformers are more prominent than 3D ones now, which no one would have ever predicted in the fifth and sixth gens.

So here we are at the dawn of the eighth generation. How do things look for platformers? While we don’t have the sheer quantity from the third and fourth generation golden age and probably won’t any time soon, 2013 seems to continue at the post-revival pace with Sly Cooper Thieves in Time, Rayman Legends, Yarn Yoshi, and a new 3D Mario all released or scheduled for this year. Mario aside, platformers aren’t the market dominator they used to be, but they’re selling well enough to keep a steady stream of them coming. There’s still a ways to go before platformers fully regain their 16-bit era glory, but things look far brighter for the genre than at any other time since then.

What Went Wrong: Platformers in the 3D Era

The 8 and 16-bit eras were a glorious age for platformers. Super Mario Bros. completely redefined gaming at the start of the third generation, and as a result platformers became the dominant genre in console gaming. This continued through the 16-bit era, with Mario and Sonic engaging in the greatest franchise war in gaming history and countless companies trying to cash in. Despite the mascots with attitude invasion, there were still plenty of great platformers. Donkey Kong Country, Ristar, Mega Man X, Kirby Super Star, Rocket Knight Adventures, it seemed like the good times would never end. As we all know, however, they did. I don’t think anyone would deny that in the sixth generation, platformers were nowhere near as prominent as they had been a decade earlier, but what led to this and where did it start? In my opinion, the roots of the problem can be traced back to the very start of the fifth generation.

When Super Mario 64 was released, the last thing on anyone’s mind was that platformers were going to face a decline. Arguably the most influential game of the 90s, Super Mario 64 single handedly carried Nintendo 64’s launch to record breaking heights, and it was one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time. No one can deny that it had a huge and positive impact on 3D gaming as a whole, and few would deny that it is a great game. There are, however, some valid questions about how great of a platformer it is. Super Mario 64 was praised for its sense of wonder and exploration, the feel that you could go anywhere and do anything (at least relative to other games from the time period), but as it took people far too long to realize, that’s really not the point of a platformer. Super Mario 64 did not have as much pure platforming as the 2D Mario games, there was a lot more time spent searching and exploring with often minimal environmental challenges, and dying from anything except bottomless pits was nearly impossible. The non-linear nature of the levels necessitated a simplicity in their design, since it always had to be possible to backtrack. Despite these issues, Super Mario 64 was still a great game and a quality platformer. However, something that revolutionary is bound to have wide reaching influence, and not every designer knows when to stop.

Anyone who was into platformers during the fifth generation will recognize the label collectathon. A collectathon is a platformer where the goal of the game is to collect a huge and varied amount of items that are strewn throughout the levels. They are usually non-linear, and most of the items are checked off a list scavenger hunt style (“In this level find 10 Important Plot Things, 6 Kind of Important Things, 100 Scattered Everywhere Things, and 3 Secret Things”) instead of being a renewable resource like money in an RPG. Super Mario 64 was fairly restrained in what it made you collect, but naturally future 3D platformers wanted to be even bigger and presumably better. Some games such as the Crash and Spyro series struck a good balance, but for other platformers this spiraled out of control. “Platformers” became more and more about checking every corner of usually mapless levels and less about any sort of actual platforming. Since the non-linear design made standard platforming so difficult to incorporate, mini-games were given more and more emphasis (more on that later). This came to a head in Donkey Kong 64. Not only did you need to collect 25 Golden Bananas, 375+ bananas, a couple of hidden Banana Fairies, an Arena Crown and Boss Key, and enough banana coins to buy all the new abilities in each stage… you had to do this with five characters, almost every collectable only being available to one of them! The backtracking and aimless wandering through the massive levels completely overshadowed any platforming, and that’s not even getting into the chunk of the game taken by genre switching mini-games. Donkey Kong 64 was the rallying point for a backlash against collectathon platformers, and developers did listen. Unfortunately, the solution was arguably even more detrimental to platformers.

Enter the sixth generation of gaming. Things started out rocky for platformers from the very start, with Sonic making a rough transition to 3D, Crash and Spyro leaving their original developers, and Mario missing GameCube’s launch. The generation really got started in Fall 2001, and some of the most popular and influential games of that time were Grand Theft Auto 3, Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Halo. I bring those up not only because they were trendsetting games that weren’t platformers, but because they are all M rated, which demonstrates one of the big problems platformers faced in the sixth generation. The sixth generation’s market was dominated by mature rated games, which barely any platformers fall under (and the few that do tend to be satire based instead of gritty realism). Grand Theft Auto 3 is especially relevant to the decline of platformers’ mainstream popularity, since the wide open sandbox genre it popularized in many ways took the role platformers had in the fifth generation. Huge open worlds with a gigantic amount of collectables, sub-missions, and gameplay types made the generational transition, but the platforming elements didn’t come with them. Sandbox games were getting all the clones, not platformers.

The defining platformer for the sixth generation was Ratchet and Clank. The gun focused combat system, increased emphasis on story, and more clear mission objectives were all things that the series made standard for 3D platformers in its generation. The influence can clearly be seen with the Sly Cooper and Jak and Daxter series. The first game in those series came out before or at the same time as Ratchet and Clank, and both sequels changed a great amount to be more similar to R&C. Unfortunately, like Super Mario 64, Ratchet and Clank’s formula (which still had a good amount of platforming) would be exaggerated to its detriment in future games. The Ratchet and Clank games consistently reduced the amount of platforming in them throughout the generation, replacing it with RPG style upgrades for the guns and a combat emphasis. Other platformers used the wide open sandbox approach of Grand Theft Auto, leaving little room for platforming. The evolution of platformers in the sixth generation was a lateral move, while the new standards were less annoying than the collection mania of the fifth generation, platforming had been even more shoved to the wayside.

Things were not looking good for platformers as the sixth generation came to a close. What exactly was it that caused the genre to go from its industry dominating golden age to the verge of extinction? The biggest internal problem was the transition to 3D, platformers thrive on complex environmental level design and precise control, neither of which were the strong point of early 3D games. This caused platformers to look for another way to wow gamers, and while it initially worked, it grew out of control to the point where gamers decided they didn’t need the platforming at all. Combined with the rise of cinematic and adult oriented games, everything was perfectly lined up to knock the platforming genre from its dominant position. Things were going to get even worse in the seventh generation, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel. But that’s a story for another time.