Though the term “remake” gets thrown around a lot in discussions about video games, there has actually only been a relatively small number of true remakes of video games. Most of what are overgeneralized as “remakes” are actually just remasters, upgraded ports, or outright reboots (I keep hearing people refer to the new Doom as a remake of the original–not quite). Instead of trying to define what makes for a legitimate remake versus one of those three things, the ones listed in the match-ups below should clear up any confusion as to how they differ from mere HD remasters or “enhanced editions” of games.
Here are some of the most noteworthy original/remake pairings of all time and how they stack up against each other, concluding with my personal belief as to which one is superior.
Bionic Commando (1988, NES)
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Bionic Commando Rearmed (2008, PS3/X360/PC)
While a lot of things set the original Bionic Commando apart from its side-scrolling action/platform peers, the most notable was the game’s novel swing mechanic. Your character was completely unable to jump in BC, so grappling and swinging was the only way to cross chasms and be otherwise vertical in any way. Combined with the slower, more deliberate pace of the shootouts than the Contras of the day, Bionic Commando definitely felt like nothing else in video games at the time. Ahead of a highly-publicized 2009 3D reboot, Capcom released Bionic Commando Rearmed. A remake of the original game with 2D gameplay but 3D graphics, it still managed to stand out from its competition 20 years later with the focus on swinging over jumping. Rearmed was also packed with hilarious self-referential jokes and fourth-wall-breaking humor that made it as much of a treat to play as its beautiful polygonal backdrops. The first game definitely had an underlying campy humor, but Rearmed took it and ran with it.
Verdict: Retaining everything that made the original great but adding tighter control, prettier visuals, and clever in-jokes, I swing in favor of Rearmed. Just avoid its highly disappointing sequel, Rearmed 2–you can jump in it, for Super Joe’s sake!
Metroid (1987, NES)
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Metroid: Zero Mission (2004, GBA)
When Nintendo released Metroid in 1987, it was a huge departure for the company. Rather than a colorful world full of lighthearted characters in a fun action romp, Metroid was a dark, isolating, and decidedly mature (for its time and platform) sci-fi adventure. It was also among the first side-scrolling games that wasn’t just about moving left to right, and was set in a series of large environments that needed to be thoroughly explored in order to succeed. And of course, in one of the biggest twists in video game history to this day, you find out at the end of the game that your hero was actually heroine Samus Aran. For remake Zero Mission, Nintendo used the evolution that the franchise had taken with Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion and crafted an adventure that told the story and explored the world of the original game, but in a better-paced and less obtuse way–gone was the blind trial-and-error of the original that made it almost impossible to play by that point. And of course, the visuals were far superior, putting the GBA’s added horsepower to great use.
Verdict: There’s really no contest here. With all due respect to the trailblazing original, Zero Mission all but makes it obsolete. Sure, the map makes the game easier, but it also makes it far less obtuse and random. So unless difficulty is more important to you than pacing and polish (and fun), then there’s not much reason to play the original over Zero Mission. Also, Zero Suit Samus.
Dragon Warrior IV (1992, NES)
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Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen (2008, NDS)
When the first entry in Japan’s Dragon Quest series finally came to North America in the form of Dragon Warrior, three years had passed between the two versions, which was–and still is–an eternity in video game time. Although a number of enhancements were done to DW, it still felt a bit dated next to the other NES games of 1989. Unfortunately, the series never caught up, with Dragon Warrior IV not hitting the NES until 1992 (the same year that the fifth Dragon Quest was hitting Japan). Constantly lagging behind technology and trends didn’t do the franchise’s North American presence any favors, and new core entries in the series stopped coming to the States entirely for eight long years. Fortunately, Square Enix released NDS remakes for not only the two core DQ games we didn’t get–V and VI–but also of DWIV (now under its original Japanese title). The remakes really bring the games to life, with new character designs by Akira Toriyama that give the cast more personality than in the original (though smartly kept them as 2D sprites). Exploring the worlds is also more engrossing thanks to the added third dimension. And while the Dragon Warrior games always had respectable localizations, a 2008 localization is likely to be better than a 1992 one buy default, and the writing and dialogue for the DQIV remake was as sharp and funny as ever.
Verdict: Purists may prefer the look of the original–and admittedly, the visuals in the remake are a bit washed out and lack the crispness of a fully pixelated game–but Dragon Quest IV for DS is simply the definitive version of the game in just about every way. Especially because you won’t have to take out a second mortgage on your house to buy a physical copy of it.
Final Fantasy II [US title] (1991, SNES)
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Final Fantasy IV (2008, NDS)
Another reason that the Dragon Warrior games struggled to find an audience in the West is that the Final Fantasy series was smartly skipping installments so that the ones released in North America were always as current as possible. So instead of always being a few years behind, Square decided to go straight from FF1 to 1991’s FFIV and bring it to the U.S. as FFII, only a year after DQ‘s 1987 installment had finally come here four years late. Not only did FFII feel cutting-edge technologically, it also happened to have one of the best-loved stories and casts in the franchise’s history. It’s because of this that Square decided to use fan-favorite FFII/IV as the first FF game to get a fully overhauled remake in the franchise’s history. But while the jump to 3D and a more powerful system only did good things for DQ, the DS remake of FFIV doesn’t quite take the place of the original–or some of the subsequent enhanced 2D ports–as the definitive FFIV experience. The 3D character models try to replicate the squat style of their 2D counterparts but end up looking awkward as as result, and the voice acting is sub-par both from an acting quality standpoint and a sound quality standpoint. Finally, the 3D environments are hit-or-miss, breathtaking in some places and completely phoned-in in others.
Verdict: To be fair, the FFIV remake does have some gameplay and mechanical tweaks that make aspects of the game more polished and user-friendly than the original, but it’s hard to appreciate them when the heart and soul of the game–the story, characters, and world–are hurt by the above mentioned issues. It’s definitely worth playing, but it doesn’t surpass the original.
Tomb Raider (1996, PS1/SAT/PC)
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Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007, PS2/X360/PSP/Wii/PC)
People are always so eager to talk about how Lara Croft herself–and those iconic breasts–revolutionized video games, but what is often forgotten is how groundbreaking her actual games initially were independent of her hourglass figure. The original Tomb Raider was right there among the very first wave of 3D games, and its massive, cavernous environments and the large move set and range of motion at Lara’s disposal were far ahead of their time. Unfortunately, publisher Eidos was too eager to cash in on Lara and TR‘s blockbuster success, forcing out too many games in too few years with ever-diminishing creative and commercial returns. In what would end up being the first of several reboots for the franchise, 2006’s Tomb Raider: Legend was a fantastic return to form for the series, ditching the rigid grid-based movement of the original games and introducing realistic physics into the puzzle solving (and giving Lara slightly more realistic proportions). The following year, Legend served as the framework for a remake of Lara’s first adventure, revisiting the story, environments, and puzzles of that game but making them feel smoother and more modern thanks to Legend‘s solid engine.
Verdict: Quality-wise, Anniversary was a step-down from Legend, partly because it was still built on the back of an 11-year old game. So the original Tomb Raider was a much better 1996 game than Tomb Raider: Anniversary was a 2007 game. That said, it’s very difficult now to go back to the stiff controls and no-room-for-error jumping and climbing of the original, so Anniversary is technically the better game, and certainly the one that’s much more playable today.
Resident Evil (1996, PS1/SAT/PC)
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Resident Evil (2002, GameCube)
While “scary games” existed before Resident Evil, gamers of a certain age will always equate the first time a game made them literally jump out of their chair or had them genuinely afraid to open a door with the first installment in Capcom’s hit horror series. The franchise had started to stagnate a little bit a few years into the sixth console generation, and RE needed a serious overhaul in order to stay relevant. But before that would happen to great success with RE4, Capcom decided to first take fans back to that legendary mansion and do a complete remake of the first game. Although 3D environments and free-moving cameras were the norm by then, “REmake” opted to stay true to RE‘s classic roots of static camera angles and prerendered environments. But even with the foundation and mechanics remaining “old school,” REmake looked anything but, and despite the prerendered backgrounds was one of the best-looking games around at that point. Everything else was tweaked and polished as well, making the game feel as much better as it looked.
Verdict: Resident Evil is one of those games whose place in the video game pantheon can never be taken away, but trying to actually play it now would only serve as a reminder of how far games of have come since then. Once you’ve played REmake for even 10 minutes, going back to the original would be like trying to watch a movie on a VHS tape that you recorded off of a TV broadcast in 1987 after you’ve seen that same movie remastered in 4K.
Metal Gear Solid (1998, PS1/PC)
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Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (2004, GameCube)
While games had voice acting and cinematic camera angles prior to Metal Gear Solid, the 1998 action game was one of the first times that both were being called “movie-quality” in a video game. Hideo Kojima’s first mainstream blockbuster ushered in a whole new era of Hollywood-inspired games, with its twisting espionage plot and cast of complex characters. Sequel Metal Gear Solid 2 was generally considered inferior to the original in almost every aspect except visuals, which placed it among the best-looking games ever made for years to come. So when it was announced that there was going to be a remake of MGS1 with the visuals of MGS2 and some of that game’s improved mechanics, the world was justifiably excited. Well, Twin Snakes definitely improves on MGS1 visually, and includes things introduced in MGS2 like first-person aiming and the ability to shoot tranquilizer darts. Unfortunately, it also includes re-recorded dialog of inconsistent quality and cut-scenes with absurd action moments that make Solid Snake into a slow-mo-flipping superhero akin to Neo from The Matrix (not at all what Kojima was going for with the character). And those previously mentioned gameplay “improvements?” Turns out that being able to aim in first-person completely breaks some of the game’s boss fights, and the ability to put enemies to sleep makes the game far too easy since MGS1 wasn’t originally designed with that in mind.
Verdict: Twin Snakes takes only a couple steps forward from MGS but several bigger slips backward. MGS is still the definitive game by far, and still has some of the best acting and cinematography in any video game even by today’s standards. It also still plays flawlessly. But…it is a PS1 game. So if you absolutely cannot stand the thought of going quite that far back from a visual standpoint but haven’t experienced MGS, Twin Snakes certainly isn’t a bad way to do so. Otherwise, the original is still the superior game by far.