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What Makes a Good Remake?

Chris Hyde
Ports, Remakes

What Makes a Good Remake?

Why ever bother with a remake? With the constant drive these days for new and exciting IPs providing different experiences, it's sometimes easy to forget the merit of a good update to an old favourite. Once we get past the negative notion of them simply being a lazy, easy buck to lace developer's pockets, and look a bit deeper, we see remakes can actually be equally beneficial to us as consumers and the industry.

But of course, only if they're done well, and boy have there been examples of good and bad over the years, and even some quite recent ones too. So in this article, let's explore what makes a good remake, and why, and who seems to be following this path and who's fallen off the wagon slightly.

Don't Just Port

Let's hit the obvious head on before we start. Doing a remake presents a unique opportunity to present a previously-released game on a new console - usually in a new generation. As such it opens up a ton of opportunities for developers that weren't there when they first made the game - better hardware, game pad/machine functionality etc. So to make a good remake you need to ensure you're maximising these new benefits. And one sure-fire way to do the complete opposite is to simply port a game. And it's even worse if you do it badly. When this happens it's really hard to argue against the main criticism of remakes I mentioned earlier - the developer simply cashing in. SEGA ported their Dreamcast hit Sonic Adventure to Gamecube, and then later to PSN and XBLA without any real focus on what could be achieved on these system, or even how the game played with these new and different controllers. And of course there's the shockingly bad port of the original Street Fighter II onto the ZX Spectrum - which looks horrendous and sounds and plays even worse.

What Makes a Good Remake?

Now I'm not blind in saying that ports don't play a role in videogames. Of course they do, they can broaden the audience, and thus appeal of a game instantly by releasing it on more consoles, and for developers this is a more cost-effective way of people experiencing their creations than developing a new game from scratch. But in the grand scheme of a remake, and more importantly what makes a good remake, ports present a missed opportunity to do things differently. And we'll look at these opportunities now in more detail.

Embrace a New Console

The first important thing to remember when planning a remake is to identify what new opportunities your new platform presents you. A lot of the time this is mainly graphical improvements - and in the past two generations, the step up to high definition has seen numerous remakes of games with improves prowess in the visual department. We've seen numerous examples of HD remakes from in the past few years, but  perhaps one of the best example of how to visually enhance a game lies with Ico & Shadow of the Colossus on PS3 following their individual release on the PS2.

What Makes a Good Remake?

It was a collection that was praised for it's treatment of the HD upgrade on the new, more powerful PS3. Resulting in a collection of two games - already considered classics - but this time in stunning 1080p and running at a solid 30FPS. It meant that not only did these two games now look better than before, but framerate issues that existed in the originals (mainly due to trying to pack to much into a PS2 game in Shadow's case) were nullified, allowing for a better gaming experience. It meant it became an essential purchase for those that hadn't experienced it on the PS2, and those that had - as they felt like more streamlined, more beautiful games to play.

But it's not just visual prowess that defines how you can embrace a new system. Nowadays unique system differences - such as the Xbox Kinect or the Wii's motion sensitive controller - give developers extra ways to enhance a remake and really make it feel at home on the new console.Resident Evil 4's remake for the Wii is widely considered the best version by many critics and gamers as it not only maintains the very high standard of the original game, but the added motion-controlled aiming and functionality, added precision and flexibility into a fast-paced game. It serves as a great example of how to adapt to what is given to you and also defines it away from a port and as a remake, due to this added functionality.

Are You Still Relevant?

Another note to developers though is whether what they are proposing to remake is still a worthwhile venture. Just because a game was a success on it's initial release, does not guarantee the same will be true of a remake today. Many things will could have changed - people's gaming habits, what they look for in games, the competition etc. So developers need to make sure that their game is still relevant in today's industry, when embarking on a remake. To cite two different examples, let's look at two very different HD remakes -  Metal Gear Solid HD Collection and Earthworm Jim HD.

What Makes a Good Remake?

These games had very differing receptions on release, mainly for one crucial reason - one was still relevant, and the other wasn't, and I'm sure you can guess which is which. The Metal Gear Solid HD Collection was praised universally because despite it also having a visual overhaul, it still managed to capture the charm, the intrigue, the suspense and joy gamers felt as far back as 2001, but this time to the seventh generation of gamers. It also benefited from being a collection of unmissable value, packing in three stellar games for the price of one, similar in style, if not in terms of overall value to Valve's Orange box a few years earlier. In a world of bargain-seeking gamers, looking to get more experience for their money, this also proved a major selling point, and more importantly kept it relevant to the current market.

The same could not be said for our space annelid friend Earthworm Jim. Now I remember playing the first Earthworm Jim back in the day. It wasn't a perfect platformer by any means, but it was zany, competent and fun with the right level of challenge. It also mirrored the humour and context of the TV series well (yes I watched it). However I would defy anyone under the age of 20 (yes the original was that long ago) to honestly tell me they have heard of the character , and more importantly were desperate to play another Earthworm Jim game. Unlikely. Because Earthworm Jim was a passing fad, that died out long ago, and so the remake in 2010 for XBLA and PSN seemed a little random. But it could probably have still been a competent and relevant game if it threatened to do something new, but all it did was add a few levels, bizarrely remove a couple, and add multiplayer support. Sadly, nothing that had not already been done many times before with more relevant protagonists. As such on release the game was criticised for it's dated gameplay, and even it's art style was not as relevant as it was in the early 90s. It proves that you need to ensure that what your offering is still something there is an appetite for in the industry, and sometimes requires doing things differently, which leads me nicely onto...


Don't Be Afraid of Change

Just because your original release of a title was a success, gives no guarantee that your remake will also bode well. In that sense, change is very much a necessity to success. But how about when change isn't necessary? When some improved visuals of a game is all it needs to still be a good game. How would change in this instance make a good remake? Well put simply, if it is done right, it can make the great games even better.

No game is perfect. As much as I love Secret of Mana (and incidentally would love a HD remake) and view it as my favourite game of all time, I know it's not infallible. That there are chinks in the armour, things that could be ironed out, improvements that could be made. And so perhaps, one of the most powerful questions a developer can ask when considering a remake is "What can we change in this game to make it even better?"

What Makes a Good Remake?

A fantastic example of this is Nintendo's recent remake The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. An overhauled Gamecube game for the Wii U, it not only bought one of Nintendo's beloved franchises into HD for the first time, but it also owned up to a few mistakes from the original. The original Wind Waker was a solid, enjoyable game, but it had it's niggles - some long sailing sections, the game being a bit easy, and a drawn out sequence near the end of the game. All reasonable criticisms of the original, and thankfully all admitted by Nintendo, and resolved in the remake. It meant that not only was the remake a more beautiful game thanks to the power of the Wii U (not sure how many times I'll ever use that statement) but the game was better than the original because the feedback and minor criticism it had received had been addressed. Essentially Nintendo didn't just look at this as a simple cash-generating exercise, but as an opportunity to showcase a more refined version of the game, a perfected vision for old and newcomers alike. And the results were a truly breathtaking game.

Listen to Fans

Listening to criticism - like Nintendo did - is not the only way to create a good remake. Listening to feedback in general, from the people that will buy your games, should ultimately put you on the right path. Importantly you need to understand why it is that fans liked your original game - the core reasons why they had a great time playing, and may be hounding social media for a remake. It sounds obvious but it's amazing how often this is missed by developers, or how out of touch they can be with what really resonated with consumers. The recent remake of Dungeon Keeper for example - even if you strip out the disastrous micro-transactions that plague the game, and indeed the seedy rating system- is a perfect example of a developer not understanding why fans liked the original. They didn't like it because it was called Dungeon Keeper, they liked it because it was challenging, engaging, accessible and rewarding. And without getting into the whole free to play discussion (that deserves it's own article in truth) EA's business model for this game prevented a lot of that from being a reality. And then to top it off, as a result of the backlash EA used the fans as a shield implying that because of nostalgia, a remake can never truly live up to the original. Despite of course, this article alone citing numerous examples to the contrary.

What Makes a Good Remake?

But Dungeon Keeper aside, listening to fans, is also predominantly why crowd-funding sites have seen such a boom in the last few years, because they rely on the relationship between developer and consumer, and the dialogue that facilitates improvement and delivery of what consumers want and are prepared to pay for. It is essentially join-up thinking and free market research all rolled into one - and helps take out the risk of a remake right from the get go. The end result tends to land on the positive side because of this inclusive relationship, and an understanding that success relies upon giving the customer what they want.

Over to You!

So, in my opinion, you can make a really good remake by embracing the opportunities and technologies at your disposal, be willing to improve on your past mistakes, and listen to fans to understand why they loved your originals, and whether a remake would be a good idea and what can be done to make it relevant.

But how about you? Is there something I've missed? Something crucial to remakes you think I may have overlooked? And more importantly, what do you think have been the best and worst examples we have seen in the industry? And is there that one game, that in an ideal world you would love to see remade? Let us know in the comments box below!

Add a comment6 comments
stevenjameshyde  Feb. 10, 2014 at 12:22

Remakes done well:
Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes on the Gamecube. The game that MGS would have been if it weren't for the limitations of the PS1
Perfect Dark HD on 360. Added online multiplayer, and the ability to map the controls to resemble various other popular modern FPS. Didn't really need to do much else
Phoenix Wright on the DS. Felt so perfectly at home that you'd never know it was originally a GBA game, and bought the whole series to a wider audience

Remakes done badly:
Beyond Good and Evil HD. Could have been brilliant - a low price point and digital distribution seemed like an ideal way to bring this lost classic to a wider audience. But they didn't fix the game-breakingly infuriating backwards camera control, so it wasn't. Exactly the same issue ruined Jet Set Radio
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD, for reasons made abundantly clear in the Dealspwn review

Last edited by stevenjameshyde, Feb. 10, 2014 at 12:24
Quietus  Feb. 10, 2014 at 19:34

Ah, Secret of Mana. I'd snap a remake up instantly. It wasn't without its flaws, however. Spiky Tiger's difficulty so early on, and the last weapon orbs being so ridiculously rare in the Mana Fortress, for starters. Even then , its flaws are few - such a great game.:D

Late  Feb. 10, 2014 at 19:52

Final Fantasy VII

Yeah, I know - too obvious.

tr0r  Feb. 10, 2014 at 22:11

Superfrog HD. Thats how you do a remake. Sure it was never the most amazing advanced game, but the HD edition made it look super shiny, adjusted certain aspects and, once you unlocked the original levels anyway, was pretty much spot on.

Just less Lucozade than before.

JonLester  Feb. 11, 2014 at 11:05

Great article Chris. Been banging on about this for years (since reviewing the likes of Sonic Adventure and Crazy Taxi on XBLA) - developers need to do more than just sling the game onto a new platform, aspect ratios and all. Lazy port jobs tend to dull the highs we remember and amplify the low points that we forgave all those years ago.

We have had some great remakes, mind - I was reminded about this by today's deal for Persona 4. That's absolutely how you handle a remake of a classic JRPG: full visual makeover and loads of new content that makes it feel like a totally new experience even if you've completed the PS2 original several times over.

A remake can be an opportunity to address problems with the original game, and add features that were impossible at the time - not just to claw a bunch of cash from fans.

EDIT: What remakes do I want? Jet Set Radio Future. All. Day. Long.

Also Uridium 2.

Last edited by JonLester, Feb. 11, 2014 at 11:16
Breadster  Feb. 12, 2014 at 16:55

@stevenjameshyde I picked up Beyond Good and Evil HD not long ago for less than £2. I would have happily paid more for it though. I never played the original but I loved the HD release, it really gave me nostalgia for how that generation of games played, plus it had some early versions of common modern game mechanics.

My favourite remakes are Metal Gear Solid Twin Snakes and Resident Evil on the Gamecube.

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