The Nostalgia Trap: Stop Falling for Remakes
A Shadow of the Colossus remake was announced at this year’s E3. Not shocking news after the hype balloon burst on the decade-in-the-making pet simulator The Last Guardian, like the highest possible resolution version of Hey You, Pikachu!. The Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy will release in three days, 30 June, according to its Wikipedia page. Those who want to get their Cloud on will get a chance at some undetermined date with the Final Fantasy VII Remake, at which point all critique will cease at the zenith of nostalgia and no games will likely ever be released again, for fear of comparison to perfection.
Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection happened last year. So did Skyrim – Special Edition and Batman: Return to Arkham. I’m pretty sure remakes of The Legend of Kay and Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, amidst truly indomitable support, also transpired in the last year or two. What’s next? Kao the Kangaroo HD? Bubsy Anniversary?
Some of these games aren’t even a decade old and they’re being carted out for remakes like four-year-olds getting dressed up for a late baptism. The most cynical example I could concoct, I don’t have to: it’s real. To sell Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, a game whose fan-base responded in a way less enthusiastic than anaphylactic, on the back of Modern Warfare Remastered, should tell any self-respecting troglodyte exactly who remakes are intended to entice.
Of course, we’re treading a blurred line here between remakes and remasters. If the exact same game has its resolution kicked up, it’s a “remaster,” usually denoted by the “HD” or “collection” on the STEAM page. In other words, many of you already have the Shadow of the Colossus HD (remaster) for the PS3, and since the new remake is basically what you were promised in the first place, you might as well go all in while you’re ahead, right?
The good thing about remasters is that they’re basically the same game, and the bad thing (besides the good thing) is that not every game looks better in a resolution they weren’t made for. It didn’t do Devil May Cry any favors in my opinion, but Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner looks pretty. Just depends.
I’m not here to talk about remasters: everyone knows those are cynical money vacuums preying on children who know where mommy puts her purse. I want to talk about full-blown, tantalizing, polygonal beauties. Nostalgic remakes.
Everyone knows why you would play these – to re-experience a game you love. Final Fantasy VII is the best example I can think of because its fan-base is the most vocally delusional. That game never looked good. Ever. Its arts and crafts puppet show of soppy origami cutouts never stood against the hand-drawn marvel of Final Fantasy VI. They don’t even stand against its own backgrounds. Those who needed to justify buying a PlayStation, to feel like they had the “latest and greatest,” found it with FFVII. My friends used to gush about it to me and they sounded like the sound bites of a bad ad: “full motion video!,” “full 3D models!,” “full animated cut-scenes!” Always “full,” as if sprite-work had always been half-empty. It never impressed me.
But people had fun with it. I have games I’m guilty about loving too. But I’m not over here demanding a remake of Nightmare Creatures.
Does the influx of remakes, and demand for them, indicate a falling opinion of the industry? Maybe. That would explain the need, when assuming the need to play games remains constant, to relive games we’ve already completed a dozen times rather than play new ones. If we eliminate the really cynical remakes that only support decrepit IPs in a desirable but completely unearned retirement, and focus on the games we loved in the first place, what’s left?
People loved Ocarina of Time, so it’s only natural that Nintendo would continue to reap the monetary benefits of love with Ocarina of Time 3D. So the short answer is: what’s left is a scheme in which those cheated out of money are told they enjoy it. Movies do this too, but the difference is that a film doesn’t have all the actors and assets frozen in ones and zeroes to be manipulated and released again. At least in the cinema, the movie has to be completely remade. What most games call a “remake” I prefer to call an “update.” Isn’t this admitting that a game has outlived its appeal?
I certainly think so. I would never play a graphical update of a game I love, not despite but because I love it, just as I would never watch Casablanca in color or re-dye faded jeans. The idea that a game’s graphics can be remade suggests that not all the elements of the game’s design cohere to its design. It admits that visuals were not considered integral to the game’s construction, as they ought to be, and must be, if the game is truly good. It implies that a game made in any yesterday is deficient because of its age.
I would play a remake of a game I dislike for the same reason and for the opposite effect. A remake might give the chance for the developers to use an old game’s bones and make something more effective. The best example I can think of is the Resident Evil remake on the GameCube, superior to its clunky original in every conceivable way. The structure and the feel was re-examined and appropriated to the new graphics. The game had to change into, essentially, a new game with an old story. But this isn’t what we usually mean by remakes.
I’m all for novelty. I played and liked Castlevania Chronicles for PS1 and Space Invaders Extreme for DS. But I treated them as new games and as such Castlevania particularly was full of flaws. I would never liken it to the original classic or play it as its equivalent. It had some new ideas, but it leaned on my appreciation for another game. I feel like we need to see through that strategy, because Crash Bandicoot just isn’t the same inglorious critter we loved when we were seven. We, and games, have grown up. Naughty Dog moved on. To go back indicates a defilement of the basic unspoken agreement between a player and a game, to interact with the new. The trap of your memories will lead many, many such games to be sold even four days from now. The gap between an original and its “improvement” will continue to close for as long as it’s profitable. But if you love those games, you must believe they can stand alone.
There’s nothing wrong with having a house repainted. But how much longer will we let the painters tell us that it’s a new house?