Monthly Archives: February 2015
The Merits of Remakes, Remasters, and Rereleases
My last post ended with me coming to a sudden impromptu realization that almost all the games I’ve played recently and all the games I’m interested in playing in the near future are remakes, rereleases, or HD remasters of games that were released some time ago. These include the HD remaster of the Resident Evil remake for Gamecube (a remaster of a remake!), Grim Fandango, Duke Nukem 3D on the Vita, The Last of Us Remastered, Brandish: The Dark Revenant, and the upcoming Majora’s Mask for 3DS. This left me considering two very important questions: First, why am I apparently more interested in these rereleases than I am the original releases coming up on the slate, and, second, is there merit to there being so many of these types of releases as of late?
To me, it seems that the modern craze over rereleases began when Sony realized that it could smush together an entire series of PS2 ports onto a blu-ray disc (an advantage it had over the Xbox 360), and the transition from SD to HD resolution that occurred during that generation created a reason why such ports would be attractive to customers over just buying relatively inexpensive used copies of the PS2 originals. But that’s not to say that this sort of thing hasn’t always been a part of the gaming industry. From Super Mario All-Stars to Final Fantasy on the GBA, it’s easy to come up with a long list of efforts by game producers to mine their old content across electronic gaming’s short history. While there’s a ton of cynicism toward these kinds of releases now, I think there was a time “before” when gamers were much more receptive. I know there was a lot of fanfare for the GBA Final Fantasy versions, as well as many of the SNES ports that system received. It was exciting to get to play those universally-praised games on a convenient handheld format. And it was exciting to get all the Mario games with updated graphics on SNES. So what has changed? Why now are people so derisive toward making the great games of the past more accessible?
I don’t think all that much has changed really. Rather, I think that gamers now get excited for rereleases of specific games, while they are dismissive toward the trend as a whole. I’ve seen near universal excitement for Majora’s Mask, Resident Evil, and Grim Fandango. So the question then becomes more about why gamers can be both welcoming and shunning toward the practice. I think this incongruous attitude is deeply rooted in the hyperconsumerist mentality that unfortunately remains entrenched in certain parts of the gaming community.
I think ever since the proliferation of home internet access, a large chunk of the gaming community has become particularly susceptible to pre-release marketing with there being an overbearing term that has crystallized around this behavior: “hype.” It is that pervasive obsession with trailers and previews and getting nasty about reviews that inevitable bring things back down to earth. I’ve always considered hype a bad thing, because it generally leads to a complete irrationality and immaturity regarding the ultimate quality of a game. But these are just my opinions, and I know that there are a lot of gamers out there who actively demand to be hyped up by marketing machines and see it as a critical part of their gaming experience. All of this ties in with the topic of this post in that this deep-rooted obsession with the latest new thing hampers our appreciation of those things which are far less new. Playing a game becomes more about being caught up with a marketing and consumer event than it does about playing a game for the simple entertainment and stimulation that it provides. And when the old is released as new again, I think there is maybe an inclination to feel as if these companies are trying to take advantage of or trick their customers, hence why there is some backlash. (With all that said though, I don’t want to be too judgmental of anyone. Heaven knows I’ve spent way more on gaming than anyone should in a given lifetime.)
This cult-of-the-new attitude has been especially inflamed by the trend of the release calendar being seen as a bit barren ever since the latest round of consoles came out. And then to exacerbate the issue further is the fact that a nontrivial portion of the big name releases have been hampered by serious issues, both from a design and technical perspective. This hurt the perception of rereleases in that many gamers began seeing them as cynical attempts to fill out an empty release schedule instead of delivering new experiences that exploit the power of these new gaming machines.
But are all these rereleases just a cynical cash grabs? The answer is probably yes, but I say that under the realization that it is a certainty that every action a major game producer takes is largely guided by its business interests, rather than its creative interests. So really, you can’t fault these rereleases for being cash grabs unless you leverage the same complaint against original titles, because they’re both just calculated attempts by a company to make money. And while some may complain that these are being pushed on the market in lieu of new experiences, I also doubt that is the case. The amount of manpower and resources that went into fixing up Resident Evil for modern gaming machines is probably a much smaller fraction than what would have went into making a new Resident Evil game, and, in fact, Resident Evil Revelations 2 is being released in just a short while. Same thing for Grim Fandango and Zelda, as Double Fine seems to have a number of other projects cooking, and Nintendo plans a new Zelda for later this year. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that we got an excellent Zelda for the 3DS.
I’ve also heard the complaint levied that returning to and reproducing so much content isn’t good for gaming as a collective creative endeavor. I agree with this to some extent. I always want gaming to move forward, and I strongly support the growth of new creative experiences. I don’t want to allow obsession with nostalgic past experiences to take over any part of my life, gaming or otherwise. But I also feel that it’s important to have played and experienced the great games of the past to have a better understanding of the potential and depth of gaming as a creative endeavour. No one in music has ever said that you shouldn’t listen to Led Zeppelin because Fall Out Boy just released a new album, and, similarly, I don’t think anyone should say that you shouldn’t play Ocarina of Time because you’ve played the latest Dragon Age. I get most excited by rereleases of great games I’ve never gotten the chance to play. I don’t think anyone can say that they’ve played every classic game out there, and these rereleases create accessible and convenient versions of these classics for the broader audience of gaming today that are compatible with the current technology we use for gaming and attainable through the storefronts that are most readily available to us today. And taking it a step further, I hope this trend can help introduce younger audiences to what I/we consider important gaming experiences.
To wrap up this long rambling post, I want to return to the other question I asked myself in the opening: Why am I more interested in rereleases than I am original content right now? I think it’s just a coincidence really. The release schedule right now is not so good. It’s typical of the post-holiday time really. The big name original releases that are coming out, such as The Order and Evolve, just don’t resonate with my personal interests, and even the indie gaming scene, which is usually so restless, is a bit quiet right now. So I turn my attention to all these classics that are gurgling up. And having just got out of grad school (which was a long period where I had to agonize over all my buying decisions), I have the time and money now to go revisit some of the games I’ve felt bad for missing but always wanted to play, and I’m actually somewhat thankful for this opportunity.
Some Short Reviews of What I’ve Been Playing in January
Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition (PSVita)
Duke3D was not only released this month for PS3 and PSVita, it was also of no charge to PSPlus subscribers. I bought a Vita back in December to occupy my time during my holiday travels, so I decided to give the handheld version a go. It actually works pretty well on the Vita. The Vita’s sticks are quite a bit shorter and don’t have as much range as the traditional Dual Shock-style controller, so it takes a little bit of getting accustomed to them for a first person shooter, but once I did, I found aiming to work pretty well in the game. In addition, the game’s simplicity, especially when regarded against modern shooters, makes it a good fit for the small screen, handheld experience. I’m one of those people who have the bad habit of playing games in attention-deficit mode, where I play a game on a handheld or laptop while Netflix or something is streaming on my TV, and Duke3D on the Vita is pretty ideal for that.
I’m actually not the biggest Duke3D fan, and what I mean by that is that I don’t have a particularly long history with it. My first time playing the game was the XBLA version that was released a long while ago. I liked it well enough then, but I just sort of dropped it halfway through the second episode after I lost interest with it. I’m hoping to beat the Vita version though. To be honest, I find Duke Nukem to be kind of an annoying character, and the themes of strippers and hot babes being abducted by alien invaders is something only the lowest common denominator of the newly pubescent could appreaciate. There was a time in gaming during the late nineties where this sort of game was considered “mature” and edgy, and I understand why that was the case. Gaming (or mainstream gaming at least) was growing up at the time, and part of growing up is going through an awkward phase that is clouded by gratuitous attitudes towards sex and violence. Regardless of these themes though, I think that the action game that underlies all this immaturity is still quite good, and thus I continue to play it. It has that quality of unfettered run and gun adrenaline that you just don’t get in today’s heavily “cinematized” FPSes.
The Last of Us Remastered (PS4)
This is probably the game I’ve spent the most amount of time with this month. I rented the original PS3 version out of Redbox when it came out, but I only got a little ways into the Summer chapter before returning it. I was just too busy at the time to commit to playing it. When talking about a Naughty Dog game (at least post-Uncharted 2), it seems most people immediately fixate on the storytelling. To be honest, I don’t find the storytelling in the Uncharted series to be particularly interesting, and I’ve always been amazed at the amount of praise that they receive. I don’t find it bad, just unexceptional. The plots of the Uncharted games all feel very common to me. They are all relatively standard action movie plots that don’t do anything particularly unique for that genre. I do feel, however, that Naughty Dog is good at creating characters that are a great deal more likeable than the standard action game hero who is designed more to embody a masculine power fantasy than feel like a human being. And beyond the story, I feel the Uncharted games aren’t exactly the pinnacle of TPS design, although they are adequate. Uncharted 3, in particular, I think has serious problems with much of it’s design.
With regards to story, I feel that The Last of Us is more or well the same. Plot-wise it is tracking through very well trodden ground, and it hits many of the same beats and tropes that recur across modern dramatic zombie fiction a la The Walking Dead. It’s very predictable. This is particularly a problem in the beginning of the game. I found it picked up quite a bit though toward the middle, however, with a well designed arc that, despite following another template of the genre, did manage to create some genuine suspense.
In addition, I’ve found The Last of Us to be a significantly more compelling game to play than the Uncharted series. It is generally more focused on aggressive stealth action, similar to Splinter Cell Conviction, with the player character using stealth more to set up ambushes rather than sneak by unseen. There are a number of ways to attack a given situation, as the game allows the player to take down enemies from a behind the back sneak attack, use them as human shields, snipe them silently with arrows, use a wide variety of throwable explosives, or just simply take them out in a blaze of gunfire. It’s quite a bit more stimulating and thought-provoking than the Uncharted-style encounter design where they just pour a bunch of dudes into an area of chest high walls and tell you to “don’t stop shooting until nothing’s left moving.” I do have a big gripe about the crafting system, however. It’s not so much about having to craft items, rather, I feel that the way the game makes you root around in so many little side rooms for crafting ingredients puts a drag on the pacing. In addition, the AI characters would often walk off without me while I was collecting crafting items, but I could vaguely hear them in the distance still talking to me or each other. It made me continually feel like I was missing important dialogue and story information. Still, I’m looking forward to finishing the game soon.
Brandish: The Dark Revenant (PSP, PSVita Compatible)
This was a quiet release during the month of January. I’m a huge fan of the Ys games that XSEED released on PSP, and seemingly out of the blue they have released another PSP port of one of Falcom’s classic series. Brandish: The Dark Revenant is a PSP remake of the original Brandish, somewhat similar I think to how Oath in Felghana is a remake of Ys III. Falcom is really good at designing great action RPGs, but although Brandish and Ys both belong to this genre, they play very differently.
Brandish is technically a dungeon crawler, tasking the player with reaching the top of an underground tower, but this is not the type of dungeon crawler that focuses on grinding for loot and levels. The levels have been crafted by the developer instead of being randomly generated, and there is more a focus on puzzle solving, careful exploration, and arranged combat encounters. The closest modern analogue to this game I can think of is the Legend of Grimrock series, although Brandish is played from a top-down perspective and lacks a party of characters. Another commonality that these games have is that while actions occur in real time, movement is confined to a square grid.
The story in this game is nothing particularly special. In fact, it doesn’t just take a backseat to the action, it’s locked in the trunk. The game starts with your character being ambushed by a bikini-clad sorceress seeking revenge on behalf of her master (or at least I think that’s what’s going on). An earthquake occurs during the confrontation, and the two characters fall into a crevasse and become trapped in a long lost underground kingdom. The player is then tasked with ascending a monster-ridden tower to return to the surface. Every so often, you cross paths with the sorceress and a small confrontation occurs, but otherwise there’s no story to speak of. If my description of this story sounds so exasperated, that’s because it’s just a very thin aspect of the game. This is definitely not a title for gamers looking for a story-dense experience.
The gameplay is actually fairly fun, fortunately, but it starts off a bit too easy. I think the description in the PSN store says that there are 40 dungeon floors to the game, but for about the first fifteen or so, I found both the puzzles and the monster to be an incredibly light challenge. I stopped playing the game for a little while, because the lack of difficulty was making it feel more like a chore than a stimulating experience. Fortunately, it does start to become quite a bit more challenging, and I’ve begun pouring a lot more time into it as a consequence. In addition, one cool thing about the dungeon design is that on most floors there are optional areas that require some extra-tough puzzle-solving and secret hunting to gain access to.
I have a feeling I won’t finish this game anytime soon. This is probably more of a positive than a negative. The lack of story kind of makes it a game that is easy to come back to after having put it down for long periods of time. Ultimately, I think this is an easy recommendation to any fans of Falcom’s other action RPGs. It’s a PSP game, but it is compatible with and looks great on the Vita’s screen.
Games I’m Looking Forward to in February
It seems that I haven’t beaten a single game in the month of January. I have a feeling though that I’m not to far from the end of The Last of Us, and, as I said, Duke Nukem and Brandish are games that I’m going to be coming back to for a while. There are a few games I’m looking forward to picking up in February. First up is Resident Evil Remake HD. I’m a big fan of the Resident Evil series, particularly the first two games, but I’ve never been able to play this version due to lack of a Gamecube. It’s always been a bit of a fascination for me though, as it makes the mansion look and feel like a much more sinister entity than what it was in the original games. I’m super excited to play the just released uprezzed version.
I will also definitely be getting into Majora’s Mask 3D. As I didn’t own an N64, Ocarina of Time 3D was my first experience with that game, and it left a big impression on me. I had always sort of doubted the fanfare around that game when it was released, since game-starved Nintendo 64 fans tended to play up every game that came out for that system as THE GREATEST GAME OF ALL TIME!!!!!!!! But after having seriously played it on the 3DS, I completely understand OoT’s popularity. I realize Majora’s Mask is a very different game from OoT, but I’m still excited to get a hold of it.
I’m also considering getting into the re-release of Grim Fandango, although the talk I’ve heard about the absurdity of the puzzle logic it possesses kind of makes me cautious. And, looking over what I’ve written, I’m recognizing a running theme of re-releases dominating my playlist. I’m thinking maybe I should spice things up with something more contemporary. After all, I believe it’s okay to have a healthy appreciation of the past, but obsession with those past experiences at the expense of rejecting the arrival of new experiences is what will turn you into an old man.