Historically speaking, I’m someone who has long turned my nose up at the industry practice of repackaging something old and passing it off as new. In my mind, the best games have always been transformative experiences that focus on innovating – whether via a new IP in a familiar genre, or an established franchise being taken in an unexpected direction (or, heaven forbid, something new entirely). Even before remakes became the game industry’s golden goose, the deluge of seen-it-before sequels and risk averse, rinse and repeat game design had me reasonably fatigued with the state of things. When I consider the games I have enjoyed the most over the last few months then, I’m scratching my head – because they’re all remakes.
To cut to the chase on this, the games I’m referring to here are Metroid Prime Remastered, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe, and Zelda: Skyward Sword HD. All three are positively ancient by today’s standards, and yet I’d consider one of them (Metroid) as a thoroughly eligible contender for Game of the Year – and all three as outright phenomenal games. I’ve been racking my brain over the last few days trying to figure out why I consider it perfectly acceptable for Nintendo to spit-polish old titles and put them out at full price, and why I look at EA’s Dead Space remake and do an enormous cartoon yawn. Why am I actively trying to 100% complete a game about a floating pink ball with a face, whereas the thought of playing THQ’s Destroy All Humans remakes makes me want to probe myself?
It’s not even like there’s some weird Nintendo zealotry going on here, either. I owned Game Boys and a Wii during my youth, however they were always the secondary consoles in my gaming life. With that said, I have previously played all of these games in their original form – it’s just that now, it feels as though they offer something that they previously couldn’t. In addition, Nintendo’s holistic approach to remaking these games adds a secret-sauce that other publishers/developers in the industry can only dream of achieving.
Take Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe for example. At its core, it’s a distillation of Nintendo and HAL’s 2D platforming efforts – it’s fizzing with charm, and as described in our review, is a testament to just how far Kirby has come as a franchise. Beyond that, it serves as a clear indication that Nintendo continues to dance to the beat of its own drum in the midst of a homogenous industry. The value added through the addition of the Magolor Epilogue content and how seamlessly it’s been slotted into the experience shows a level of care and attention that feels alien in 2023. Operating at the eye of the storm, Kirby (and by extension, Nintendo) are a serene oasis of tried and true, hallmark design elements that feel fresh in spite of their age.
Similar platitudes can be leveled at the – frankly incredible – Metroid Prime remaster. Even the fact that Nintendo opted to subtitle that game “Remastered” feels like a misnomer – make no mistake, Metroid Prime Remastered is a complete remake, akin to Bluepoint’s work with Demon Souls and Shadow of the Colossus over on PlayStation. Following its recent shadow drop, we didn’t get a chance to review this one here at NE towers (we were too busy scooping our jaws up off of the floor). Nevertheless, it effortlessly supports a theory that’s been gestating in my head for the last few weeks: Even though the process of remaking games is a relatively new endeavor for Nintendo, it doesn’t change how Nintendo works to position itself within the industry as a whole. Over the years, Nintendo staffers have routinely attempted to convince us that they aren’t in direct competition with Xbox and PlayStation – a turn of phrase that routinely raises eyebrows. Perhaps if they were allowed to finish that thought in its entirety, they’d concede that they are more of an antidote to the Sonys, Microsofts, Ubisofts and EAs of the world than they are a competitive element.
Essentially, the fact that Nintendo can issue a remake of a twenty year old game, and have it considered by some (including me) as an early Game of the Year contender shows how frail the wider games industry has become over the last decade or so. Don’t get me wrong, there are still great titles to be found on other platforms – but if King Dedede rocked up at my front door, hammer in hand, and said “Edan, listen mate – I have to smash all of your gaming gear. I’ll give you 30 seconds to save your favorite” – I’d be grabbing my Switch, and not my Xbox, Playstation or PC. At that moment I’d be thinking less about how mental it is that Kirby’s eponymous anti-hero has appeared in the southeast of Ireland, and more about how routinely I’ve been disappointed by those other platforms. How often are games arriving to us in a broken, unfinished, and uninspired state on these machines? Teraflops of power, and the best we can hope for is games that want to be films. CPU and GPU horsepower that would have literally changed history had it existed 40 years ago, and the best it can muster up is Cyberpunk 2077.
I digress there, of course – however I do feel that whether Nintendo opt to release wholly new games or simply remake older ones, the company’s unique standing in an increasingly confused industry becomes more and more valuable. As Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia: Sands of Time remake languishes in development hell, Nintendo retains the ability to make games they have made already. Is that too harsh? I don’t care, I’ve said it. More remakes please, Nintendo – keep them coming. As the rest of the industry loses its cool, as the economy grows uncertain and profit forecasts are reigned in, as an already risk-averse industry grows even more wary of creativity and innovation – I’m more than happy to stroll down familiar boulevards, stopping once in a while to admire the brickwork on the house that Mario built. These games are timeless for a reason – the value-adds that a remake brings to the table are just Nintendo showing the rest of the industry how it’s done.
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