Remake vs. re-release: What should be changed and what shouldn't0 Comments
As I explore the coast of Cinnabar Island surfing atop my Blastoise on my way to exploit the infamous MISSINGNO. cheat in my Virtual Console copy of Pokémon Blue, I can't help but be flooded with memories of codes copied from GeoCities fan sites, printed out on a black and white printer, and shoved haphazardly between the pages of a Prima strategy guide. Playing through the game again in 2016 is a blast of nostalgia. All the game's triumphs and flaws are preserved, and the only noticeable changes are the ones that time and technology have made impossible, namely the trading and battling mechanics between players. Otherwise it's the same old Pokémon that my ten-year-old self spent hours playing, talking about, and researching on the early days of the internet.
If I'm not the primary demographic that video game re-releases are aimed at, I'm part of a group that appreciates them the most. Sure, there are youngsters looking to boost their knowledge of video games past or old school gamers trying to fill the gaps created by games they missed as kids, but I'm among the few whose old cartridges no longer have life enough to hold save data or whose battery lights have gone out for the last time on aging consoles collecting dust in the closets of siblings or cousins who got hand-me-downs when new systems replaced the old.
Playing those old games brings waves of memories that swirl with the person I am today, creating an experience that isn't totally nostalgia, but definitely isn't new either. You can't go back. You can only get glimpses. It may seem like I'm getting poetic, but I spent countless hours of my childhood playing these games. I think it's important to evaluate something that was such a big part of my life and ask why. Why does it appeal to me today? Or why doesn't it? Who was I, and who am I?
If re-releases of video games are made for people like me, it's certainly important to preserve them so they stay true to the original as closely as possible. That means glitches and exploits have to stay put. I was delighted to find out that the MISSINGNO. code would still work just fine in my modern copy of Pokémon Blue. But video game remakes are a different story. They're meant to fall in this middle ground where they touch on the nostalgia of people who played the original, but they also have to appeal to a new generation of gamers. So the graphics are updated, things that were annoying in the original are fixed, and the overall experience is made smoother, albeit easier.
As someone who sees more and more of the games I enjoyed as a kid getting the remake treatment, I find myself playing the same games over and over again more often, or at least games that are close to the same. And I can't help but think that, at least for the new generation, experiencing a remake without playing the original, that all the smoothing, tinkering, and difficulty lowering results in a more forgettable experience. Will some kid in the future have the same fondness for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D as I did for the original? My guess is no. Part of that, I think, is because the new version gives so many clues about where to go and what to do next that there's little need to look up walkthroughs online or consult a strategy guide or rush to school to ask friends where to go next.
Before you think that I'm just a grumpy old man gamer, let me explain why that's important. Asking other people how to beat a game, whether it be through a friend or a strategy guide, forces you to explore the game further in a community. I can still talk to my friends about any game on the Nintendo 64, even new friends, because those games were shared cultural experiences. It's why I think people enjoy doing speedruns and let's plays online. Players are trying to appeal to a community that exists around the game. Will people still talk about remakes ten years later? It seems unlikely. All of that may make it seem like I'm anti-remake. I'm absolutely not. There are plenty of remakes that I love, but I think there are specific rules that a remake should follow that a re-release should not.
First, remakes should follow the rule that you don't fix what ain't broke. I found this rule particularly broken in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D. I noticed some changes in Majora's Mask 3D that, for me, didn't make sense, and some that did. The system for saving your game was made easier. Some say that this was a much-needed change, and that the original was broken because it was so hard to save the game. But I would say that's part of what made the game difficult and what separated it from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It was a polarizing mechanic, which contributes to making Majora's Mask some people's favorite game in the Zelda series as much as it makes it some people's least favorite.
Also, the game records characters' daily schedules for you, which makes helping them a lot easier. This leads to a problem that I mentioned earlier — it reduces the need to ask friends, look at strategy guides, and rely on a community of fellow players. There are several subtle differences from the original that make the 3D version easier, and a few of the changes are admittedly improvements. However, I don't think this remake will be talked about in years to come.
That leads to my second rule for a good remake — fix what is broken. There's no reason to keep tedious traveling that takes way too long and adds nothing to the game. This is an improvement that The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD introduced. The sailing was never fun and only served to break apart the action and interesting parts of the original. Essentially, the remake reduced the amount of time you spend not playing the game. Some would argue that there are plenty of warp points in the original that cut down on sailing time, but those warp points need to be discovered first, and there aren't that many. It was a needed fix.
A remake should also ditch the illusion of preserving the original game. Pokémon LeafGreen and FireRed updated a lot of the mechanics of the original Pokémon games, and they were all good improvements. You can see what moves do before you learn them, the Pokémon can learn a wider variety of moves and more type-specific moves, and you don't have to keep swapping out items and switching boxes on the PC all the time. There were plenty of subtle improvements that made the game more pleasant and less clunky, but they didn't include the day/night system that had been a part of Pokémon games since Pokémon Gold and Silver.
Why not? Why not allow Eevee to evolve into an Espeon or Umbreon? Why not throw in a handful of time-based events? Nintendo's excuse was they wanted to stay close to the experience of the original games, but they updated so much. To draw a weird line in the sand on an established mechanic in the series was more irritating than nostalgia-inducing. Nintendo made a similar call with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D when they decided to leave in the glitches from the original. Discovering those glitches and talking about them was part of the fun of the game. Why not make a new game with new flaws and glitches that could be found? If you want to stick to the original, put out a re-release. Not a remake.
And finally, a remake should deliver on its promise. The Nintendo 3DS and New 3DS provide a 3D experience, obviously. Even today, it's just about as good as 3D gets without the need for eyewear or a virtual reality headset. Despite the problem of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D trying too hard to preserve the original game, it does deliver on its promise to present it in 3D, and thanks to the 3DS, it's about as good a 3D experience as you can ask for. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD is a different story, though. The Wii U is a high definition system, sort of.
Technically it's HD, but it's not the most HD system on the market. Not even close. As I played through the Twilight Princess remake, I noticed that the textures are nice. Far better than the original. But the game isn't that HD. I noticed plenty of pixelated shadows, characters vibrating as if they were having trouble being rendered, and Link's hood still goes straight through his sheild. You'd think that could be fixed, seeing as it's what you're looking at through the entire game, but no. Nintendo wanted to capitalize on the ten year anniversary of the game when they could have just as easily waited until the NX hits the market with better HD capabilities. If the main selling point of a remake is the updated graphics, the console better be able to back up that promise.
Remakes and re-releases serve different purposes and appeal to different gamers, which is why they need distinct sets of rules. One takes a familiar story and pulls it into the modern gaming world. The other is a method of preservation, of keeping the classics classic. I can't imagine that my Virtual Console copy of Pokémon Blue appeals to young gamers who didn't have it the first time around. There's just too much wrong with it. It's lovably broken. But maybe those young gamers are jamming to Pokémon Omega Ruby or Alpha Sapphire, two very decent remakes. Maybe one day they'll prove that a video game remake can be even more memorable than the original.