Writers Kyle Moffat and Kieren Platts argue the merits and downsides of the many remakes across the gaming industry right now
Remake culture became big in the 2010s, and the 2020s show no signs of the trend slowing down, with remakes, remasters and ports being actively requested. The audience is hungry for them, it reduces workload (still a huge undertaking, but slightly reduced nonetheless), they sell well, and some of them innovate, offering an improved or even completely reinvented gameplay. There’s no doubt that Resident Evil 2’s changes to the camera and combat system struck a chord with its veteran and new audience, but there’s something else at stake.
Remakes can update a game, introducing it to an audience who might not even have been born at original release, but it’s not all positive. Take The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, for example, a famously rushed, incomplete Zelda release with clear areas where the game was missing content. It also arguably has aged the best out of all the 3D Zelda titles, its original cel-shaded, low-poly world making the best of the GameCube’s capabilities. It still looks polished to this day. So, in 2013, when Nintendo announced a remake for the Wii U, their approach was confusing. If the aim was to improve the resolution, leaving the unfinished sections of the game untouched, then why remake Wind Waker at all? If the quality that holds up in the game most is the cel-shading, why overwrite that aspect with saturation, bloom, and unfinished lighting effects? Yet, in all its material, Nintendo has conveniently ‘forgotten’ about the original Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and all references to the games now pretty much exclusively use the remakes as standard. Why hide away the original in embarrassment? The Majora’s Mask remake in 2015 strips away what made the entry unique, and becomes a uniform, standardised Zelda experience that encourages short-term play sessions for what originally was a time-based masterpiece. The stand-out example of how Zelda games can stray from format and still create powerful experiences became homogenised and stale with a few tweaks intended to “fix” the experience. But, as most would agree, the tweaks don’t accentuate that experience. They gloss over it.
This is the concern with remake culture; by replacing works with newer versions, entire games are now disposable. Where Resident Evil 2’s use of fixed cameras and tank controls defined it as a horror game, transforming fumbling and resource management as mechanics, the over-the-shoulder shooter remake encourages us to forget those original efforts as mistakes. The Wii remake of Metroid Prime encourages and forefronts the first-person shooter, over the exploratory L-targeting of the GameCube original.
This disposability isn’t by nature a terrible thing. If Resident Evil: Remastered or Ocarina of Time 3D can show us anything, it’s that accentuating original design decisions and not intruding upon the original experience of the game can lead to remarkable results. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone, including fans of the original, who prefer the original Ocarina of Time to it’s 3D remake. And when one of the highest regarded games of all time can be replaced, that’s an accomplishment to behold. And yet, there’s a lingering sadness. It’s not necessarily true that companies choose between producing a new title or a remake – both are often produced concurrently, so the resources argument doesn’t always apply. However, by openly regarding carefully designed products as mistakes in some way and treating them as disposable can lead to some pretty unhealthy dynamics. Streaming services and the fast-paced nature of how we consume media nowadays train us to blast through creative works as quickly as possible, moving onto the next thing, then the next. We’re not encouraged to cherish the media we consume, and we are actively encouraged to dispose of older works because they’re old, and there’s a newer version coming out next year. This time next year, the iconic character models of Final Fantasy VII, a milestone in the games industry and a pivotal moment in many childhoods and adulthoods alike, will be replaced in culture and in practice by high-resolution recreations.
Perhaps that’s sentimental but replaceability in my mind seems like something we should aspire to avoid. Right now remake culture and cultural significance seem to be on very different pages, and that’s the concern. You can fix oversights and update the game to widescreen all you like, but no game deserves to go unloved, even less so have its love given to a newer, flashier version of itself, which may or may not understand why the original was loved in the first place.
In the current gaming industry, remastering video games is very important. They have helped to diversify a market long dominated by FPS and Sandbox titles such as the Call of Duty, Assassins Creed and Battlefield series. Many gamers like myself have become tired with these genres because of their constant attention, so it could be that remastering reintroduces genres – as well as series – that have been lost across the 21st Century.
One genre that has risen from the ashes through the remaster is platformers. With the Crash N. Sane Trilogy and Spyro Reignited Trilogy, we have seen fondly remembered PlayStation 1 titles earn a second shelf life. With exception to Super Mario and Indie games – think Celeste and Limbo – the video games industry has been platformer deficient in the past decade. Even successful platformers such as Super Mario Maker and Ratchet and Clank feel more like reimagining’s than brand new titles, taking heavy influence from earlier instalments in their respective series.
When I played through both remasters, it was my first experience with the trilogies – with exception to the original Spyro the Dragon – and it was a breath of fresh air because of their challenge, even for somebody going into their 20’s. Admittedly, I purchased both titles expecting to easily complete them and perhaps return them within a couple of months. The opposite occurred as I enjoyed the challenge and plan to play through both again very soon.
With experiencing Spyro the Dragon again after so many years, a wave of nostalgia came over me as I revisited the levels that I vaguely – yet fondly – remember from the 1998 version. Creating updated versions of our childhood memories adds to the escapism of the industry, encapsulating how many of us fell in love with video games to begin with. If a remaster of Tekken 3 or Star Wars Battlefront – not made by EA – was released, I know I would quickly pick them up to relive my childhood memories.
Like mentioned with both the Crash and Spyro trilogies, remakes have opened up the possibility have experiencing acclaimed video games. The magic of remasters doesn’t just arise from reliving memories but creating new ones to cherish forever and this was the case with the 3DS remakes of the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and the sequel, Majora’s Mask. During both adventures I realised why they are so beloved in the gaming world. As a result, I now understand and appreciate how the pair has shaped 3D games and they adopt a linear style enabling focus and appreciation for the narratives being told.
Nostalgia will only get a videogame so far and it’s well-known that games age, especially with how much the medium has developed in recent years. As a result, remasters have a duty to improve the quality of those games with new mechanics, animations and also to remove bugs and glitches were possible. A large number of remasters have undergone drastic changes to compete in today’s market, some more radical than others.
One drastic transformation that comes to mind is the remaster of Resident Evil 2, remade in 2019, with the original released in 1998. Many changes to this survival horror game are entirely justified, with the clunky controls, outdated graphics and the awkward camera from the original much improved. Graphics have been impressively updated, helping to express the gore and horror present in Raccoon City. Furthermore, the controls are much more responsive, with aiming, shooting and running much improved. Introducing the third person perspective used in Resident Evil 4 as well as upgrading voice acting contributes to the overlying agreement from the community that Resident Evil 2 has benefitted from a new skin. This has allowed the game to not just live in a gamer’s nostalgia but to live in the present, making it much more difficult to forget.
Remasters have also provided gamers with the opportunity to purchase polished titles for a cheaper price than that of a completely new title. Both the Spyro and Crash trilogies cost me roughly £60, buying shortly after they were released. Nowadays it is difficult to buy a newly released game for less that £50 due to the markets inflation so remasters are a way for consumers to get a great game for a great price. Yes, they may be shorter in length due to the limitations of previous consoles and faithfulness to the originals but the saying quality over quantity is one to follow when picking up a game. Remasters only occur because the original received critical acclaim so it is more likely that when you pick up a remaster you’re buying a proven product
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