The times, they are changing.
Video games have a slew of slippery slopes, and one of those slopes forms when a series changes hands. When a developer walks away from the franchise that they created, a new team is usually brought in to continue the series. After all, there’s still a profit to be made. More often than not, though, the new developer doesn’t have the same inspiration, experience, or understanding of what made the games great, leading to a decline in quality. However, things have changed over the past few years. When it comes to carrying a series’ legacy, new developers might be better suited than the old ones. That blasphemous mindset all stems from one idea: a remake.
It’s no secret that remakes are all the rage in the entertainment industry. However, one branch where this practice has remained rare is the realm of video games. We’ve seen some exceptions, of course. For the most part, though, any revisits of old titles have usually come in the form of HD remasters, and they don’t significantly change anything.
They polish up the dated graphics to look as good as they can on an HD screen, or they might widen the aspect ratio and increase the frame rate. They could even adjust the music for different sound systems. Aside from that, they keep as much of the old assets as possible. They don’t create anything new. Rather, they simply clean up what’s already there. That’s largely been the standard method of returning to old classics… until now.
Remake it from the ground up.
These days, it’s the more popular practice to completely recreate the old game with new tools and fresh materials. Sometimes, the changes are minor. For instance, they emulate the existing gameplay and presentation while making it grander and more intuitive for today’s technology. 2019’s MediEvil exemplifies that.
Alternately, the changes can be as radical as transforming the type of game and how it functions, forcing us to adopt an entirely new skill set to play it. This happened with Final Fantasy VII Remake. Either way, they are rebuilding the product from the ground up, and it’s often a new developer doing the honors.
An N. Sane idea.
Though not entirely novel, the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy popularized this concept. This 2016 collection remade three acclaimed platformers released on the PlayStation in the late ‘90s. The original titles—Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, and Crash Bandicoot: Warped—were developed by Naughty Dog. This PlayStation 4 remake, on the other hand, was done by Vicarious Visions and Toys for Bob, who certainly worked hard to maintain the charm of the classics.
Although they tweaked the physics and made some other minor adjustments, they mostly stuck to the established blueprint. The design and level layout were exactly the same. It’s just that the aesthetic elements around them were merely redone with modern system capabilities. The animation was livelier; the textures and lighting were more detailed, and the voice work and music were rerecorded. As simple as it sounds, this approach obviously worked.
The N. Sane Trilogy was a massive success in every way, enchanting players both young and old. Audiences commended the tremendous amount of care put into recreating these classics. In the eyes of many, this was the definitive way to experience Crash Bandicoot. In addition, the collection was a financial hit, selling 2.5 million units in its first three months and sending a clear message that there was a market for more love letters like this. There’s no denying that this remake started a new trend in the industry.
Reigniting another icon.
Toys for Bob only cemented that trend with their follow-up. They’d already tackled one old-school PlayStation mascot, and they quickly moved on to another. Enter the Spyro Reignited Trilogy. This collection encompasses 1998’s Spyro the Dragon, 1999’s Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!, and 2000’s Spyro: Year of the Dragon, originally developed by Insomniac Games. It succeeded for many of the same reasons as the Crash Bandicoot compilation.
It had re-recorded renditions of familiar voices and music, and it boasted more detailed and vibrant versions of classic designs. On top of these strengths, the trilogy tightened the controls and added infinitely more personality to the presentation. In short, the developers maintained the foundation that fans loved. They simply used it to craft a more ornate building.
Once again, gamers ate it up and asked for more. Consider that both Crash and Spyro had lain dormant for years. What few entries we did see were mostly dismissed as mediocre pretenders. Now, millions of people were clamoring for sequels from a developer who seemed to come out of nowhere. It’s safe to say that this remake strategy has proven successful in the gaming industry. In fact, it’s on such a role that it recently took the next logical step: continuing the series.
Remake the future.
This month, Toys for Bob released Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. This game ignores every entry past the third one and continues where the N. Sane Trilogy left off. It proclaimed itself the true successor to the iconic classics, and it seems that assertion was well-founded.
The game has earned universal acclaim. The developers have taken what they learned and delivered what Crash fans have craved for over two decades. According to many, this recent title elevates the property in every conceivable way, introducing evolved gameplay, creative worlds, and an expanded character roster while retaining the bandicoot’s zany charm. A number of people even declare it the best in the series and an apex of the platforming genre.
With this success story and the plethora of well-loved remakes in this day and age, you could argue that old gaming properties are sometimes better off with a new team. Sure, we’ve seen examples where the original developer remade their work with terrific results. Square Enix’s Final Fantasy VII Remake and Capcom’s update of their early Resident Evil titles come to mind.
The old guys have been naughty (dogs).
That being said, we’ve seen numerous other instances where the old guys fail to inspire much faith. Appropriately enough, let’s start with Naughty Dog. First of all, you have the controversy surrounding their mistreatment of employees and mass layoffs/resignations. The majority of people working at the company as recently as a few years ago are no longer there; it’s basically Naughty Dog in name only at this point.
Then, there’s their reception. While Naughty Dog’s work is mostly admirable, their most recent game, The Last of Us Part II, has garnered a response that’s divisive at best and downright disastrous at worst. That’s quite a far cry from the universal acclaim of Crash Bandicoot 4.
Finally, they’ve long since moved on from their Crash days in terms of tone and gameplay, steadily transitioning from cartoonish romps to serious, story-driven fare. They even said as much back in 2013. Creative director Neil Druckmann, who would know all about controversy these days, revealed that they originally planned to follow their Uncharted series with a reboot of Jak & Daxter, another high-flying platformer they created. However, they abandoned this because their ideas were “getting away from what Jak & Daxter was.” Considering how radical some of Druckmann’s actions have been, that statement carries weight. With all that working against Naughty Dog, it’s hard to imagine Crash’s old home treating him as well as his new one. However, you don’t need such imagination with the next example.
Fumbling on two fronts.
Insomniac Games actually did revisit one of their old titles. No, it wasn’t Spyro, but Ratchet & Clank instead. After countless sequels involving trite prophecies and contrived time travel, the studio went back to the beginning with a PS4 remake of their original PS2 classic. Sadly, 2016’s Ratchet & Clank came with a heap of downgrades from its 2002 predecessor, namely the static presentation, bland characters, and cringe-worthy humor. Not to mention, the haphazard attempt to tie it in with the movie released the same year resulted in a truncated story and a nagging identity crisis.
Rather than suffer the barrage of pop culture references and dull direction, Spyro burned bright in the hands of Toys for Bob. They knew what made the series special and didn’t try to “fix” it for a modern audience.
Baldur’s Gate is closed to BioWare.
The same cannot be said for BioWare, who seem to have a habit of undermining their own franchises. Mass Effect and Dragon Age have both fallen victim to this, but Baldur’s Gate III seems to be spared. Although they were the original developers of this fantasy series, they’re curiously absent from this most recent entry. Granted, we can’t be certain about the quality until the full game comes out, but the current custodians inspire a bit more confidence. Larian Studios is responsible for the esteemed Divinity series, with the latest entry—Divinity: Original Sin II—being cited as one of the best RPGs in recent memory.
BioWare, on the other hand, has practically trashed their whole reputation in just a few years, notable fumbles including the dumbed-down Dragon Age II, the controversial ending to Mass Effect 3, the uninspired mess of Mass Effect: Andromeda, and the abysmally slapdash Anthem. I don’t think many people will shed a tear about them not being involved with Baldur’s Gate. If anything, gamers may be glad that they can’t defile it.
Forging a flimsy foundation.
Many people probably wished for such mercy after Warcraft III: Reforged. When Blizzard Entertainment announced a remake of its 2002 strategy game, people were pumped. They promised updated gameplay, characters redesigned with more detail and personality, and a more cinematic quality to the cutscenes and other narrative bits.
It slowly became clear, though, that they lied. The release was rife with technical issues, and the presentation and aesthetic were not nearly as sublime as Blizzard insisted. In fact, they were virtually unchanged in many areas. That doesn’t even factor in the scummy business practices like proclaiming ownership over player-created matches and making the original Warcraft III unavailable.
The response was predictably negative. If the studio really saw fit to claim the scenarios that players came up with themselves, then they should have let those players or another developer handle the remake. They might have actually kept their promises and seen Warcraft as something more than just a fiscal tool. Ironically, what started as an attempt to reignite passion for the series only fueled a wealth of rage.
A colossal remake overshadows the current guardian.
Team Ico has also struggled with reclaiming past glories. They made two abstract fantasy titles—Ico and Shadow of the Colossus—which were considered two of the greatest games on the PS2. Unfortunately, their next title was stuck in development hell for over ten years. After shifts in staff and system, the work was finally released as The Last Guardian in 2016. While the reception was decent, it wasn’t nearly as beloved as the developer’s previous works.
Meanwhile, Bluepoint Games was busy on a ground-up remake of Shadow of the Colossus. This studio specializes in remastering existing IPs, such as God of War, Uncharted, and Gravity Rush, and their version of Shadow of the Colossus garnered plenty of praise and profit. With Team Ico’s work ethic and mismanagement, who’s to say that it wouldn’t take another decade to come out under them? Plus, they likely wouldn’t want to revisit their previous game anyway, especially since they’ve only made three.
A Sly exit leads to a Sanzaru sequel.
The fact is that studios move on to other things. Sometimes, their interests lie elsewhere. Their mindset and goals may evolve beyond what they were. Returning to a past property would feel too much like a step backward, and injecting ideas from their modern mentality would destroy what the series was originally meant to be. This partially applies to the earlier Naughty Dog example, but Sucker Punch also seems to fit this description.
They staked their claim to fame with the Sly Cooper trilogy, a series of stealth platformers sporting a cartoonish-yet-film-noir style. Devotees begged for more, but the studio instead threw themselves into the edgy superhero antics of the Infamous series and the historical hack-and-slash, Ghost of Tsushima. They had done all they wanted to do with the lighthearted Sly for the time being.
Thankfully, Sanzaru Games gave fans a fix with Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, a wacky fourth entry that was generally well-liked in spite of a few major flaws. It felt like a next-gen Sly game, replicating the past formula with fun (if predictable) results. That may not have been the case if Sucker Punch had held onto the license.
We’ll remake it from the ashes.
Of course, when the original studio’s not around anymore, you have no choice but to settle for a new pair of hands. This has turned out well for a few high-profile franchises. In fact, we saw two such instances just last month. First, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 by Vicarious Visions remade the first two entries in the storied sports series. Neversoft created the franchise, but they’re now defunct.
Second came Mafia: Definitive Edition, Hangar 13’s remake of the first Mafia. However, this one isn’t entirely separate. Hanger 13 is a division of 2K, whose parent company acquired the original game’s developer, Illusion Softworks.
A similar story came after Vigil Games shut down, several of its members eventually reorganized themselves into Gunfire Games. They then continued their Darksiders series with Darksiders III and Darksiders Genesis. Both of these received fairly favorable reviews.
What does all this mean for remakes and sequels?
Whatever the case, remakes and eventual continuations by new developers may no longer carry the stigma they once did. This is especially the case with older, dormant properties. After all, many fans of those games are grown up now. They have a long-held love for these franchises. A number of them probably got into video game development because of that love. If they create a remake or sequel to their favorite series, then they’ll undoubtedly treat it with more passion than any other project they work on. They know what it means to millions of people, and the last thing they’d want to do is screw it up.
Even if you take out that romanticism, an outside perspective is often healthy for creators and their products. A third party can approach these works from a place of respect and objectivity and not a place of ego, which is the trap that many longtime developers fall into. They can’t appreciate/analyze it like someone else can, and they may not have a firm grasp of why people admire it, being blind to what works and what doesn’t. Alternatively, they might become so high on their own ideas that they try to fix what isn’t broken.
To be fair, this is all hypothetical. Countless factors come into play during game development, and new developers are just as capable of ruining a franchise as the old guard. Much of it depends on their skills and level of cooperation. Given the examples we’ve seen, though, can you really say this train of thought is unfounded?
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