Looking at a Future of Remakes, Remasters, and Ports
While the whole gaming world is furiously spamming their F5 key's trying to refresh web pages to get the privilege to pre-order to their new Xbox Series X/S, PS5 or Nvidia 3000's series GPU, game developers are seemingly scrambling to give us something to play on them. It looks like Covid has put a big dent in both new consoles launch line ups and slowed down Nintendo's insane momentum with the Switch. So what is a company to do when you have literally enough demand to crash every major electronic retailer website, but no profit generating games to attach to those shiny new pieces of plastic? You throw open the vault and see what you can shine up and sell for $40-$60.
There are a couple logical reasons that a developer may wish to dust off a dormant franchise, or bring back a "greatest hits" of a current one. The first reason is obviously profits. These rehashes of older games are profitable. They already have an established player base, at the very least the story and characters are in place. In some cases its as easy as bumping up the resolution, updating the controls and hitting send to the digital store. It is a much easier proposition to remaster Mario than it is to come up with a whole new game.
The other reason is to test the market for a new game in an older franchise that may have fallen by the wayside. A developer can release a collection of remakes/remasters and then see how the current gaming community receives it. A great example of this would be the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. This was a ground up rebuild and was well enough received that a full blown new entry in the Crash series is on its way. Remakes and remasters are a fantastic way for companies to make money while doing market testing for new projects.
A remaster is sometimes really appreciated by fans if it brings a franchise out of the shadows and onto a new platform. I love playing Doom 3 on my Switch. However it is sometimes seen as a lazy nostalgia fueled cash grab. I think with a basic understanding of emulation, fans of Emulate This will tend to feel a little hesitant when picking up a remaster, regardless of their feelings on the subject matter. I recently went through this thought process with the release of the Super Mario 3D All-Stars for the Switch. I can emulate all three games in the collection on my PC. Is it really worth $60 since they did not add any new content? I have even owned 2 out of the 3 games physically before.
While I am no game developer, and I am positive more goes on behinds the scenes than I understand, a remaster seems like putting a fresh coat of paint on the game and sending it out the door. This is appreciated, when an amature coder does it for the gaming community but less impressive when a large developer does it for a quick profit. A great example of this is the PC version of Mario 64 vs the official remaster that was just released. The PC version is not a rom, but a stand alone PC game that can run at 4K 60 fps and lets you use a variety of controllers. It is very impressive and Nintendo immediately dispatched its army of lawyers to take it down. If you compare the unofficial (free) PC release of Mario 64, to the version included on the official Mario 3D All Stars Collection, it is disappointing. The official version, that comes with two other 3D Mario games is capped at 30fps and is stuck in a letterboxed 4:3 aspect ratio, but it does get a resolution bump. It is insane in 2020 to not have a widescreen option for a game you are charging any amount of money for. As part of a "remaster" you should keep the original aspect ration as a choice, but not the only choice.
One can at least appreciate a PS1 or N64 game being remastered as developers need to upgrade the resolution, clean up some textures and remap the controls to feel authentic on modern controllers, or the cluster of control options on the Switch. I sort of feel for the developers who have the task of remastering a N64 or PS1 game. It has to feel like home to original players, and feel like an enjoyable modern game to new gamers in 2020. Those are vastly different masters to serve. If I was a developer, I would put anything from the N64 or PS1 exclusively in the remake column. Go back and play most N64 and PS1 games. These were the awkward teenage years of gaming industry, and no one wants to relive those years as they actually happened.
The remaster trend treads on even thinner ice when developers pull games from the not so retro category of their backlog. There were some amazing games that came out on the Xbox 360 and PS3, and they will be classics someday no doubt, but they are not in need of remaster in 2020... Activison will sell you a remastered copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare from 2009 that has less content than the original release. Ubisoft released a remaster of Assassin's Creed III from 2012 on the current systems. the Xbox One came out in 2013. We are remastering games that came out a year before the Xbox One sitting under my desk.
Microsoft is also doing the remaster thing with the Halo games, but it has a much more pro-consumer feeling to it. They are going through each one of the Halo games and refreshing them one by one and adding that remaster into the insane value Halo: Master Chief Collection. They are even going back and remastering the games for PC, now that they are making an effort make the PC library mirror the Xbox library. The coolest feature that they include is the ability to switch back and forth from the original version to remastered version. This lets you appreciate the work that they have done, and the work that the original devs did back when it was new. Playing Halo 2 in 1440p at 120fps is a beautiful thing. To top it all off, its available on Xbox Gamepass, so about 15 million people already have access to it for free. Anyone up for a match of Team Deathmatch on Blood Gulch?
This trend is only going to get worse as we move into the next generation and companies can breath second life in to their titles that may have performed ok on PS4/Xbox One but could use a 4K/ray tracing patch. There is a growing commitment from some devs to offer free upgraded versions of their current games on next gen systems, which is a welcome departure from the remaster trend.
As much as I love retro gaming, there is one fact that is hard to outrun. Technology improves with every generation. While some games can be looked at as close to perfection on retro platforms, developers would have done more with them if it was possible. The recent rash of remakes that have hit the market have taken beloved classics and reimagined them with modern technology. It is like when a custom car maker takes an old muscle car and puts a modern engine and suspension in it. It is the classic you love, but so much better.
While I gave Activision trouble for remastering barely outdated games for a quick buck, they are killing it with full blown remakes. The recent Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 + 2 remake is some of the most fun I have had gaming in years and is going to be my measuring stick for all future remakes. They nailed the balance of fan service and modern mechanics to bring in new players. It is features two full games, online multiplayer, expanded/improved skate park creator and features a ton of challenges and unlockable. All of that for $40. They did not even charge the full $60 for this one. I have also enjoyed playing the Spyro Reignited Trilogy on the Switch with my kids. They have captured the feel and magic of both franchises, while getting rid of all of the clumsy limitations that show their age. They are both great pick ups!
Capcom has also done a nice job with their recent remake efforts. Both Resident Evil 2 and 3 received the full remake treatment and were met with great reviews that mimicked the reviews of the originals with RE 2, getting hirer marks than RE 3. I am excited to check out the upcoming Resident Evil 4 remake as that was the only game in the series I really connected with. Since they seem content to never make another Marvel vs Capcom game again, probably Disney's doing, I would love a Marvel vs Capcom collection or full remake on any platform. I think a collection of the first three games would work well for the Switch, while a graphically intense remake should be aimed at the next gen systems and PC.
Nintendo has also thrown their hat in the remake ring with a couple great remakes. I am a giant man child and really enjoyed the simplified remakes of Pokemon Red and Blue on Switch via the Let's Go series. My kids begged for it...Totally all them... There is also the very stylized remake of Links Awakening. I hope that they continue to pull a loved game from their backlog and give it a ground up remake every year. There are rumors of the well reviewed Pokemon Gold and Silver getting the Let's Go treatment and I hope they do. Nintendo is sitting on so many IP's that need to be brought out for a new generation to enjoy, but its going to take the full remake treatment. Kids are not putting down Fortnite to play Super Metroid on the SNES app on their Switch. Their dad's will, but no chance they are.
Ports...Looking at you here Nintendo
The system that has spawned specialized studios that only work on porting games is the Nintendo Switch. The Switch has some amazing first party games that I have really enjoyed. Talk with a Switch owner for more than five minutes and they will tell you all about Breath of the wild, Animal Crossing, and Mario Odyssey.
What they don't brag about is how like 50% of the games available for the Switch are ports. Some ports are awesome and really make you wonder what kind of witchcraft was used to get games like The Witcher 3, Doom, and The Outer Limits onto the small handheld console. Oh and Skyrim, but I am pretty sure that is being played on graphing calculators by now. They are not the prettiest version of the game, or the smoothest running, but they run, and the experience is pretty good for the obvious limits in place. The other benefit of porting a game like The Witcher 3, to the Switch is usually you get all of the DLC included as the sort of "complete edition".
Where it gets less rosy is when Nintendo reaches like 5 years back to their last console, the Wii U, for Switch ports. This is a bittersweet from a consumer standpoint. I like it because like everyone else, I did not own a Wii U. However they have the balls to charge a full $60 for these ports. They add barely enough content to justify tacking on a couple letters or a buzzword to the title. The best selling Switch game of all time is a Wii U port, in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. These games have already been developed, are already rendered in 1080p, and have minimal additions to them. They are not slowing down on the ports either, They have plans to release Pikmin 3 this fall and Super Mario 3D World in 202. None of the games that Nintendo brought to the Switch are bad games at all, they are great titles that did not get a fair shake on the failed Wii U. Just don't sell them for the same price as you would a brand new game. Also you gonna make some new games? Just asking as a Switch owner who is tired of Wii U and Xbox 360 games...
Then there is the rest of the industry that looks at the Switch owners like a drunk girl at closing time. Studios like EA have ported over Xbox 360 games for almost full price, while they are still available for sale on other digital marketplaces for $5. This sucks and hopefully will die out if no one falls for it. No one needs to spend $50 on Burnout Paradise. Escpecially when you can spend $30 on Grid, a much better racing title for the Switch that added a lot of extra control options that really makes the game a blast to play.
There are some positive examples of developers dumping ports onto the Switch. It has become a great platform for indie games that got their start on Steam to come over and enjoy a massive player base to sell to. Games like Hallow Knight, Stardew Valley, and Dead Cells are awesome experiences on the Switch. I think one of the main reasons the Switch does not have a traditional "virtual console" like previous Nintendo systems is to let these indie games flourish.
A game is worth what someone will pay, and if you enjoy a remake, remaster, or a port then its a great buy for you. I am concerned that instead of pushing forward with new IP's, continued series, and just fresh ideas in general, we are going to be stuck in a recycled time loop where we buy the same 10 games over and over again. For example I have bought Resident Evil 4 at least 3 times now and am eying a 4th...I will always love dropping into a half pipe in Tony Hawks Pro Skater, or killing aliens in Halo, but I don't love that I am probably missing out on a new experience as a result of that. With next gen games looking like they are going to cost more money than ever before, we should celebrate the past, but be aware that developers are not always fanboys like us and will prey on that nostalgia brings us back to our favorite games, regardless of how they look in 2020.
If you are still reading this (thanks!) and waiting for me to mention the biggest remake of the last 10 years, Final Fantasy VII remake, it's not happening...I hear it was great, looked spiffy, but I am just not a FF VII guy. If you want to talk about that game, or literally anything else, head over to our discord to chat with some cool Emulate This fans.