Opinion – The Rights And Wrongs Of Remakes
Remakes are risky business. Fans may say they want to see their favorite games get a new treatment, but developers need to be careful, because a remake is easy to do poorly. Keep too close to the original, and people complain that it doesn't bring anything new to the table. Go too far afield, and it doesn't deliver the nostalgic kick that people wanted in the first place. It's a fine line, but following a few simple rules can make it easier to walk.
Whether a developer is creating an HD version or making more drastic changes, a remake needs to revolve around a single question: Would someone who liked the original want to play this? In essence, if you're going to re-release a game, it needs to appeal to the audience who made it popular in the first place. They're going to be the ones driving sales; I haven't seen any official sales figures on this, but I'd bet that the number of series veterans far outnumber the newcomers in terms of who buys a remake.
If we can assume that most of the players are already familiar with the content, then they need incentive to play the new version. If I just wanted to replay Metroid, I would plug in my NES and play Metroid. A remake needs to tap into the same vein as the classic version while still providing surprises and new content. That's why Metroid: Zero Mission is a fantastic remake; it has the iconic locations from the original, but enough has changed to give players a new sense of discovery.
Metroid: Zero Mission
Just adding new stuff isn't enough, though. It has to be the right new stuff. Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes is a good illustration of this misstep. It's the same Metal Gear Solid story that we loved the first time around, but the addition of new cutscenes actually damaged the experience for many fans. Those scenes, while cool in their cinematic flair, turned Snake into a different kind of action hero. Instead of Snake Plissken from Escape From New York, he become more like Neo from The Matrix...a significant shift that lots of players found hard to swallow.
The goal should be to add enough new levels, characters, and bonus content to reignite old fans' interest. Also, some of those things should be accessible right away; don't make players beat the entire game again to see all the new stuff (like unlocking Pale Wing in the Vita version of Earth Defense Force 2017). However, don't go overboard to the point that the additions dilute or completely alter the core experience.
Speaking of the "core experience," a new kind of remake has risen to prominence in recent years: The HD remake. These games are essentially the same as their predecessors, but prettier. Sony's efforts with the God of War Collection helped pave the way for an era where last-gen classics could get a second lease on life. Now we have collections for all sorts of series – Prince of Persia, Sly Cooper, Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Solid, just to name a few. While those releases are great for people who just want to replay old games, they don't add much to the equation. Are they a great value? Absolutely. Are they great remakes? Questionable.
Metal Gear Solid HD Collection
Initially, gamers were happy to get a bundle of great games with a new coat of paint. But as more of them are hitting the market, fatigue has set in. To make these HD collections stand out, they need additional content. My favorite HD remake of the bunch is the Ico/Shadow one, because it includes a version of Ico that translates Yorda's dialogue via subtitles, and even allows a second player to take control of her...though you need to beat the game to unlock these features. It's great to replay last-gen games you love in HD, but it's even better to find a few surprises along the way.
With the competing pressures to add new content while keeping things the same, it's no wonder that some companies are hesitant to remake certain titles, despite the apparent fan enthusiasm. It could develop into a no-win situation, but when the right balance is struck, it's like your playing your favorite game for the first time again.