15 Minute Read

Can Lightning Strike Twice?

Joe Talboys
Creative Director

The Rise Of Video Game Remakes

A quick glance at the gaming landscape in 2023, and you could be forgiven for thinking you've travelled back in time. Don't call it a comeback, call it a remake, or is it a remaster or a reimagining?

From Capcom's critically acclaimed run of recent Resident Evil remakes to the remaster of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2, or the reimagining of Mortal Kombat 1 for the modern era, successful titles from years gone by are consistently being revived on modern platforms in different ways, below is a cheat sheet for the three key reincarnations you'll come across:

Remake: Rebuilding a game from scratch, often with significant changes to graphics, gameplay mechanics, and sometimes even the story.

Remaster: Enhancing an existing game by improving its visuals, audio, and performance without substantially changing the gameplay or content.

Reimagining: Taking the core concept or story of an existing game and presenting it in a new way. It often involves significant changes to gameplay mechanics, art style, and even narrative.

Whatever route game developers take, there are some rules of thumb they can follow to make sure a refreshed title is worth replaying or enjoying for the very first time…

1. Respect The Roots

Most successful titles have a particular DNA that makes them unique. It might be the game mechanics, the protagonist, the enemies, the story, the visual aesthetic or all of the above. When revisiting a title for a remake, remaster or reimagining, it's essential to balance nostalgia and innovation by identifying elements crucial to the original title's success and vowing not to mess with them. 

Silent Hill 2 (2001) is a survival-horror title currently undergoing remake treatment. This game was iconic for its eerie ghost town setting, uniquely strange enemies and mind-bending story — it's a no-brainer that the remake will retain this potent formula and thus remain authentic to the original.

Silent Hill 2 Remake (Coming Soon): Konami

2. Consult The Community

Gamers have always been vocal with their opinions, so engage with the fans, see what they loved and loathed about the original title, and then use this to guide any updates. Resident Evil 4 (initially launched in 2005) was a pivotal game in the franchise. It remained a fan favourite until it was surpassed by the unanimously preferred remake released nearly 20 years later in 2023. 

Among players' most vocal gripes with the original game was the difficulty of escorting Ashley, the president's daughter you're charged with rescuing, through a thicket of enemies. Ashley was seemingly always in the wrong place at the wrong time, which made for a frustrating experience. When embarking on the remake, Capcom listened to the community and took their feedback on board, creating a new control system for escorting Ashley, giving the player the option of having her stay close or hang back. 

This improvement, along with many others, including the addition of stealth attacks and crouching, meant that Resident Evil 4 became a shining example of how a remake can take something great and make it even better, much to fans' delight.

Resident Evil 4 (2023): Capcom

3. New Hardware = New Opportunities

In essence, every technical innovation drives towards greater immersion for the player, so to remain competitive, new games must take advantage. Successful remasters use technology to enhance and modernise the player experience whilst staying true to the essence of the original. Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (2017) is a remastered compilation of the first three games released in 1996, 1997 and 1998. A lot had changed in the intervening years, so Crash had some catching up to do to compete in the 21st century. Developer Vicarious Visions made significant improvements in the following areas:

Graphics: High-definition visuals, improved lighting, and enhanced textures resulted in a more vibrant and visually appealing presentation than the original games.

Characters: The character models of Crash, Coco, and other supporting characters were given more detailed and expressive gestures, making them feel more real.

Audio: Immersion was enhanced with a re-recorded soundtrack and sound effects using significantly improved modern technology to provide more precise and higher-quality audio.

Crash Bandicoot (1996) and Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy (2017): Naughty Dog

4. Keep Pace With The Culture

What makes a good game continues to evolve, so any remake, remaster or reimagining must adjust to players' changing expectations. Some ideas and mechanics, once considered original, can be passé 20 years later. Upon release in 1997, Final Fantasy VII featured a turn-based combat system, but the 2020 remake switched this out for a real-time combat system. This made for a more fast-paced and interactive experience tailored to the preferences of modern gamers. 

Another interesting case is Mortal Kombat. When the original was released in 1992, performing fatalities was akin to witchcraft; the specific combination of buttons needed was shrouded in secrecy, only unearthed through rumour and hearsay. When the recently announced reimagining, titled Mortal Kombat 1, releases in late 2023, it's a safe bet that fatality instructions will be openly available in the pause menu. The internet has changed our expectations of accessing 'hidden content'.

Final Fantasy VII (2020): Square Enix

5. Choose Your Moment

The time elapsed between original releases and their reincarnations varies greatly and is typically dictated by more than development timelines. Remade, remastered and reimagined releases are strategic decisions with an impact on the overall franchise perception, so they need to account for a few key externalities:

The Fans: By keeping an ear to the ground, developers can capitalise on a groundswell of conversation around a particular IP or title by revisiting it. Perhaps a meme is doing the rounds, or fans are directly asking for a release; whatever murmurings are out there, developers need to tune in.

Media Moments: Sometimes, an old IP has a moment and once again comes into vogue. The Last of Us HBO series in 2022 met with a hugely positive critical reception; developer Naughty Dog capitalised and released The Last of Us Part 1, a remake of the 2013 original, so gamers could play along in parallel.

Franchise Milestones: Long-running game IPs are starting to rack up essential dates on the calendar for their fans to celebrate. In 2011, on the 25th anniversary of the original The Legend of Zelda game, a remake titled The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D was released to mark the occasion. Similarly, on the 30th anniversary of the original Metroid II: Return of Samus (1991) for the Game Boy, Nintendo released the remake on the 3DS: Metroid: Samus Returns (2017).

Last of Us Part 1 (2022): Naughty Dog

Back To The Future

A player's view of the past can be rose-tinted — ask anyone who's booted up a title from their childhood only to be reminded of how far video games have come. Remakes, remasters and reimaginings done right achieve the considerable feat of delivering nostalgia whilst levelling up the offering to meet modern expectations. In striking the right balance, developers can breathe new life into beloved classics, bringing delight to nostalgic gaming veterans and a new generation of players. 

Can lightning strike twice? Absolutely. Today's charts show that if the remake is approached sensitively and mindfully, with the right dials turned the right amount; it can be a smash hit. 

One thing is for sure, as long as there are cherished games of the past, this trend looks set to continue. So the next question is, can lightning strike three times?

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