The biggest downside of gaming is that games are often locked to a specific platform. Games on the PS4 aren’t always available on the Switch and vice versa, while lovers of books and movies need only find a bookstore or a streamer with the title available.
This is especially troubling when we start looking at past generations. Newer consoles can’t always play games from older ones. Even in the PC world, some games eventually become so dated that, without some mods from a loving community, you can’t play them on a modern machine. With a small bit of know-how and a PC, emulators are a possibility, but they’re a legally dubious affair and they don’t work perfectly.
So, what about the rest of us who want to recapture a game from our childhood, play a title we missed, or for newbies who want to hit the classics? We’re stuck waiting for developers to bring these games back from the dead.
In the gaming world, that’s more complicated than it sounds.
A Return in Many Forms
For all their apparent simplicity, games are absurdly complex pieces of art. They are not easy to make. And if you want to bring an old favorite back, you often have to go back to the original building blocks to make it functional on a new platform.
Perhaps that’s one reason why rereleasing games comes in so many forms. As long as they’re putting some work in, maybe the developers feel it’s a good chance to do some touch-ups. Whatever the reason, the fact remains: there’s more than one option when bringing a game back.
In general, games are brought back in one of four ways. Ordered from least to most intensive, these are: rereleases (or “ports”), remasters, remakes, and reboots.
Rereleases (usually called “ports”) are the simplest way to bring an old game back from the dead. Put simply, the developer takes the original game and makes it available on a new platform, maybe with some touch-ups to make it function right on that control scheme. Changes are minimal. These are what you’ll find in the NES and SNES collections on the Nintendo Switch.
Remasters are a step up from ports. In a remaster, the developer (or a hired team) reworks the graphics, controls, quests, design, or some other set of elements to improve the original game without changing anything intrinsic to its experience. Basically, it’s like upscaling a game to modern standards. These are often—though not always—well received, with Nintendo’s HD remaster of Wind Waker HD being a great example.
Remakes are much more complicated affairs. In a remake, the original game is rebuilt from the ground up. Old elements are scrapped, and the game is remade as if newly designed by a modern team. Often, it retains only the spirit, world, characters, and story of its predecessor. Among the most famous examples of this is 2020’s Final Fantasy VII Remake, which was nominated for a Game of the Year Award.
Reboots can be hard to separate from remakes. A reboot has the same technical requirements of a remake. Old assets are scrapped, and the game is rebuilt from the ground up. The difference is that reboots are designed to relaunch an old series for a new generation. As a result, they can feature more drastic changes to the story (including simply focusing on a time after the original), to the gameplay or to the world. The main thing preserved is either the spirit, the overall world, or the brand. Doom (2016) is a fantastic example of a reboot done right.
What Players Look For
What players are hoping to see in a rerelease of any kind changes according to the kind of game.
Some players are just looking to recapture that nostalgia. All they want is to play the old game on a new console. As a result, the simplest option (ports) gets the least amount of scrutiny. Players won’t judge them too hard unless a glitch makes them unplayable.
In a remaster, the goal is . . . don’t break anything. Wind Waker HD and Okami HD both upgraded their graphics and cleaned up some bugs and controls. They didn’t revolutionize anything, but they are beloved remasters.
Konami’s Silent Hill HD Collection is an example of a remaster done wrong. It is riddled with glitches and problems with the new voice acting. Most importantly, they ditched the creepy fog that early Silent Hill games were known for. It was originally added due to technical limitations, but the developers didn’t pay attention to what fans said about the game. If they had, they’d have known the fog was integral to the game’s eeriness instead of seeing it as a necessary evil that could be removed.
In remakes and reboots, things get much more complicated. Every fan has something different that stuck with them about the original, but they still expect a lot from such an expansive project, so companies must walk a fine line between bringing back what players love and giving them something new.
In my experience, there are two rules for doing these right. First, don’t be lazy. Don’t deliver a broken experience riddled with glitches or bugs. If you do, you won’t just have one angry audience; you will have an established fan base who feels betrayed. Second, don’t be exploitative. It’s easy for a developer to leverage fan love to deliver them an experience parceled out over several games that, in reality, are just the original stuffed with enough fluff and bloat to ship it out in pieces that cost more than the original.
Outside of these two rules, developers are “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” Every choice they make, whether to keep, remove, or add, will upset someone. The best they can do is listen to fans and remain true to the spirit of the original game while holding the project to high standards.
This is true of anything so deeply wrapped in nostalgia, especially something with such a passionate fanbase as video games. There is a reason why game developers go to the effort of rereleasing games, and it isn’t just money. It’s because they know fans want it.
Now, if Nintendo would remember that in time to rerelease some of the old Zelda games on the Switch this year, that would be lovely.