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Let’s Talk About Video Game Remakes

Hello there, friends. I hope you’re doing well in these trying times. I’d offer you a nice egg, but by the time it got to you, it’d probably be rotten.

Anyways, let’s discuss video game remakes, ports, rereleases, etc. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to refer to any kind of rerelease as a remake, just to keep things simple. We’re living in an age where nothing is too old, and nostalgia is the name of the game. Sometimes this can be a bad thing. Other times, it’s a very, very good thing. To me, there are two reasons to do a remake of anything: you’re going to do what the original did, but better; or you’re going to do what the original did, but different. Remakes of old video games are all the rage these days, and I’d like you to join me as I explore some missed opportunities with said remakes.

For purely scientific purposes, I’m going to use the 2002 Resident Evil remake on the GameCube as the standard for video game remakes, because it’s so good that it rendered the original obsolete. Not only did the game receive a truly incredible face lift, with character models and environments that still look good today, but it meaningfully expanded upon what the original game was. It maintained the fixed camera, had all of the familiar elements like Albert Wesker, Hunters, Tyrant, and more, but it expanded upon the gameplay, adding in brand new environments, tweaking old ones, totally changing the zombies, a whole slew of new gameplay modes and unlockables, and it delivered a much scarier experience than what gamers got in 1996. To me, this game is a straight upgrade from the original, and even if you’re playing the GameCube version, it holds up extremely well as an example of why fixed camera angles actually worked better than their reputation lets on.

Here’s a controversial statement: I don’t think any video game remake has surpassed the original REmake. It was like lightning in a bottle. Sure, games receive enhanced versions that might include all their DLC, or graphical upgrades like the Crash N. Sane Trilogy, or as is the case with the slew of Mega Man collections that Capcom has put out recently, you get hard-to-find games put together in a great-bang-for-your-buck package while also getting some really neat extra content. But I’ve yet to really play a remake that both improves and expands upon the original in every single way as well as REmake did.

Anyways, I’d like to start this with another Resident Evil remake, last year’s Resident Evil 2. The original RE2 is often considered an original series highlight, with it expanding the series lore and advancing the story in some pretty significant ways since the outbreak moves from an abandoned mansion to a whole city. Of course, when you have a game directed by Hideki Kamiya, you’re usually in for a good time. Last year’s remake was a pretty good game as well, since it translated classic survival horror gameplay into a more palatable over-the-shoulder view.

It also expands on certain elements of the original, such as the part where you play as Sherry Birkin, which is a tense game of hide and seek in an abandoned orphanage in the remake, or the section where you play as Ada Wong. It managed to totally modernize a classic game while still retaining the old school “back track your steps, conserve your ammo, and fight like hell” elements that old school survival horror games employed. The biggest issue I had is that it simply didn’t expand upon the original enough. In both the original and the remake, you don’t really spend a lot of time on the streets of Raccoon City, which is a huge missed opportunity. Obviously, in the original, the developers were working with extremely limited 3D hardware, so it makes sense that most of the game takes place in cramped, confined corridors. But in the remake, it was ripe for exploration. Capcom should have given players a chance to roam the ruined streets of Raccoon City and revel in the chaos more than just the opening ten minutes and a small section in the middle.

Admittedly, the game does include “The Ghost Survivors” scenarios, which are essentially “The Fourth Survivor” but with different loadouts, and you do a lot of running through the streets in them, but these are not canon, and they’re extremely brief, with a successful run taking about five minutes per scenario. The game was crying out for something that expanded the original game as much as Lisa Trevor did in REmake. Unlike REmake, last year’s RE2 does not necessarily replace the original RE2. They are kind of two separate entities.

Leon fires at a cop-turned-zombie

Of course, last year’s Resident Evil 2 still justifies its own existence by doing the same thing differently. Despite how small the game is, environments are stupidly detailed, the gunplay and gore is absolutely top notch, and it manages to make zombies scary. In a world that is absolutely over-saturated with zombie media, that is no small feat. I can’t speak to how effective of a remake Resident Evil 3 is, although I know our own Johnny Malloy enjoyed it quite a bit, but to me, it seems as if history has repeated itself; the game had a limited budget and development cycle, which leads to a final product that is enjoyable but inferior to its predecessor. Am I talking about the original RE3 or the remake? You decide.

Let’s shift gears a bit now to something much more family friendly: the Pokemon franchise. It’s been going on for quite a while now, with a staggering 8 generations under Game Freak’s collective belt. There was a big problem they encountered with generation 3 back in the early 2000s: old hardware was not at all compatible with new hardware. That is to say, players couldn’t transfer over Pokemon they had caught in Gold and Silver to the newest generation since the Gameboy Advance was not compatible with the old hardware of the Gameboy Color. It meant that players had lost all their progress towards “catching them all,” which stopped being the series’ tagline around the fourth or fifth generation. A whole slew of gen 1 and gen 2 Pokemon simply weren’t able to be obtained in generation 3 through normal means. So Game Freak decided on something bold: remake generation 1.

FireRed and LeafGreen were total overhauls of the very first generation of Pokemon, straight upgrades from what came before. The original game was faithfully intact, with the story mode that fans knew and loved as well as an expanded post game and a whole host of quality of life upgrades from generation 3, such as much less cumbersome PC storage boxes and breeding, as well as a whole bunch of new features such as a super handy Vs. Seeker, which let players battle again with any trainer they’ve encountered, and a solid post-game in the form of the Sevii Islands. The duology of games were a resounding success, with some even hailing them as the franchise best.

Game Freak repeated history again in 2010 with HeartGold and SoulSilver, remakes of the second generation of Pokemon games. Like the prior gen 3 remakes, these 4th generation installments were justified since most of Johto’s Pokemon were not readily available on the current generation hardware (although the GameCube games provided particularly lucrative players with the opportunity to trade between systems via the ill-fated GBA-Gamecube link cable). And, for me, these remakes are the height of the series. Gen 2, even in its original form, did so much right. It significantly expanded the roster of Pokemon. It added a bunch of quality-of-life updates. It had twice as much content since players were able to explore Kanto and take on a whole new Pokemon league after beating the game’s regular Elite 4. It was everything a sequel should be, and then some.

The player character in Pokemon Heartgold and Soulsilver confronts Pokemon trainer Red

The remakes were no slouches either. Not only did the games receive total graphical overhauls, but new elements, like the Battle Frontier and the ability to walk with Pokemon, but the remakes, much like the original gen 2 to gen 1, rendered the original gen 2 obsolete. It’s a magnificent handheld RPG in almost every way. But here’s the thing, and it pains me to say this: these remakes retain many of the flaws of the originals.

As a kid, I was floored by the ability to travel to Kanto upon beating the Elite 4. I thought it was some kind of Easter Egg I had stumbled upon, and that I was the only person in the world that knew about it. It’s a fantastic post game, to be sure, but the big problem with it is that the levels of the Pokemon in Kanto do not scale with a proper post game team. Kanto Routes are populated by early-game low level monsters, with some of their levels being in the single digits, while your own party consists of monsters upwards of level 60. It made travel through familiar routes a grind rather than a challenge, tedious rather than exhilarating. Another huge gripe as a kid was that—if you were in a Kanto town—you couldn’t immediately Fly to a Johto town. Instead, you had to Fly to the Elite 4, then Fly to the Johto town you wanted to get to. These were bizarre elements of an otherwise stellar set of titles.

The big problem I have with the remakes is that they retain these very issues. Kanto is still populated by comically low level Pokemon, and you still can’t fly straight from a town in Johto to a town in Kanto, and vice versa. I don’t know much about game development, but I can’t imagine that these kinds of problems would be all that difficult to fix. Maybe they are. I don’t know. What I do know is that, as good as HeartGold and SoulSilver are, these games missed some chances to really expand upon their originals. Still, even though they don’t improve everything they could have, the remakes justify their existence by being better than the originals.

Let’s shift gears one last time. Last year, I obtained a PS4, and even though the legacy titles available for download are somewhat lacking on the console, there are still a whole bunch of games from the PS2 and PS3 era available to download. One such title is Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. The series as a whole is something I only played sparingly at a friend’s house growing up, so I downloaded the games on sale not too long ago and beat the original. It holds up decently, with a bright, colorful art style, and solid voice acting, but there was something that really stuck in my craw: you couldn’t aim the camera vertically. You could move it around side to side, but you couldn’t aim it up or down, which made certain sections difficult not because they were challenging, but because you couldn’t see where you were going. That’s just bad game design. And I had to wonder why the people in charge of the remake didn’t bother adding in something as simple as vertical camera movement. It would have gone a long way, believe it or not, to making the game feel much more modern than it did.

The point I’m trying to make with all of this discussion is that, more often than not, developers take the easy way out when it comes to remaking games. Very few titles manage to totally capture the spirit of the original while being an improvement in every way, shape, and form. As much as I enjoy a good rerelease of some game, more often than not, I’m left slightly disappointed with the end result. That being said, I do think remakes are a good thing. They help preserve gaming’s past, and, when you get right down to it, gaming as a medium does not have a great track record with preserving its history, not in the way music and film does. Even if a game doesn’t receive all of the improvements that it could, I think that it’s simply nice to have an old game for modern systems, even if it’s only for hindsight’s sake.

Collin Henderson

Written by Collin Henderson

Collin enjoys gaming, reading, and writing. He would love to tell you all about his two books, the crime thriller Lemon Sting, and the short horror story collection Silence Under Screams, but only if you find yourself unfortunate enough to be in a conversation with him. He lives in Massachusetts.

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