Remakes: Celebrating the Classics or Milking Them Dry?
What do remakes have to offer us?
Remake or Remaster?
Remakes are NOT remasters. Same species, different breed. (Skip this part if you know what I’m talking about.)
Remaster means to touch up the visual quality of game, resurfacing textures, editing finer details to make the game look sharper and less outdated. Kind of like a make-up job for an actor. Aside from quality, there’s no outstanding visual differences.
Remake means the actual texture models will be replaced, which obviously requires a serious amount of investment in time and money. Or, it could mean an entirely new game built from scratch but featuring the same story and world as the original, like Final Fantasy VII.
The Goal of a Remake
Why remake a game? Remasters aren’t exactly cheap and easy, but to remake a video game is truly a huge undertaking. No wonder they only happen for the classic hits such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of time/Majora’s Mask or the PlayStation icons Crash and Spyro; globally renown games that were simply too old for a remaster to be worthwhile.
Yet, the approach Nintendo and Activision have taken to remaking these games seems in-line with the goals of a remaster. It seems they wanted to take the product and make it shiny and new, without altering the original experience. Perhaps if these games weren’t so old, they would have taken the remaster route.
A Question of Aesthetic
It was clearly worth the effort of remaking these games to satisfy the worldwide fans, who were salivating at the promise of their dear, yet dusty old Gandalf the Grey titles reborn in full Gandalf the White glamour—not to mention bringing these revered classics to a whole new generation of gamers.
And the wumpa-fruits of their efforts are plain to see. So smooth, unlike the jagged PS1-era graphics. Crash even has fur to call his own. I’m not here to rain on anyone’s parade—the fans got what they wanted, and all of these remakes were a great success.
If you remake a game (basically, replacing all its visual components) the aesthetic is inevitably going to change. I’m using Crash as a familiar example for this article. Naughty Dog co-founder Jason Rubin is a comic book creator, and the influences show in the character design. Crash has always been in 3D, but his mannerisms are very reminiscent of a 2D animation style such as Looney Tunes.
His body was angular due to the limitations of technology at the time. But the positive side-effect from that was that it gave him character. Remake Crash seems to have lost that; he’s all bloated and looks more like the mascot than the real deal.
And while the remake undeniably looks much better, I cannot help but feel there is something phoney about the polished, plastic-like textures. It may be nostalgia speaking, but I think the original did a better job of creating the impression of a beach, jungle, etc. even with its inferior graphics.
What a Remake Could Offer
The gameplay remains more-or-less exactly the same, but I can’t say the visual aesthetic captures that of the original, at least in the case of Crash and Spyro. I don’t expect a remake to be the exact same; it just can’t be. So why not take advantage of that?
One thing Activision did was make Crash’s sister, Coco, a playable character, which is awesome. (She was only playable in a select few before.) But I think we as a gaming community need to be aware of the creative possibilities a remake can offer and, most importantly, be open to them. Enemy designs could be re-imagined. New modes could be added. I think a remake is an opportunity for creative people to say, “This is what this game represents... now let’s do that even better,” capturing the heart and soul of the game, rather than injecting it with steroids so it puffs up.
Remakes are a celebration of the classics, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t embrace a little creativity. Let’s not scream and shout because we want them to be like this or that. A good director will recognize what makes a game appealing and envision how that can translate into the modern era. That’s something to bear in mind for Final Fantasy VII, perhaps one of the most anticipated remakes of a product ever!