HD remasters of old video games are more common than ever, but behind the cynical reissues lie a host of lesser known classics…
You might imagine – sometimes justifiably – that when a games publisher opts to take an old game and give it an HD remaster, it’s taking the lazy option. After all, it requires little effort, and relatively little money, to exhume something from the back catalogue, slap some prettier visuals on top of it and whack it out to the shops.
But no matter how dedicated a gamer you are, you can’t play everything, so you will have missed a few classics when they first came out – perhaps because they were exclusive to a console which you didn’t own, or you were chest-deep in another game and lacking funds at the time.
That’s one instance in which an HD remaster can come in handy. But it’s also worth examining publishers’ motivations for giving an old game an HD remaster tart-up. Sometimes, the original games saw showers of critical praise, yet didn’t sell well due to another factor like poor marketing or being on a console that nobody owned.
Publishers often feel inclined to dust off old games and make them over to coincide with an anniversary – as Square Enix did with Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age during last year’s celebrations of the fabled RPG franchise’s 30th anniversary.
Others come into being in order to showcase a new console’s capabilities, such as Skyrim for the Switch. Others are simply labours of love, often fuelled by fan demand – such as 2014’s Oddworld: New ‘N’ Tasty.
However they came into being, you’ll find that all these HD remasters are very fine games indeed, and some are stone-cold classics…
Okami HD (PS3/XO/PS4/PC)
Despite coming out in 2007 on the PlayStation 2 to rave reviews, Capcom’s Okami unaccountably failed to sell very well. Yet in its HD incarnation it’s impossible to do anything than marvel at it. It remains utterly original and unique; gameplay-wise, it’s an action RPG reminiscent of the Zelda games. Except you play as Amaterasu, a white wolf armed with a paintbrush that discharges powers donated by the Celestial Gods, and who has been charged with restoring vibrant life to a land ravaged by a mysterious curse. Its traditional ink wash sumi-e-inspired cel-shaded art style is achingly beautiful, and its eco-friendly vibe seems more relevant than ever. Even its combat engine is surprisingly deep, despite mainly employing one button.
Rare Replay (XO)
Rare Replay isn’t a conventional HD remaster, as the games it contains have been faithfully reproduced in all their pixelated, often sprite-powered glory. But what games! Over the 30 years which are celebrated — in which Rare bestrode the games industry like a colossus until, ironically, it was bought by Rare Replay publisher Microsoft in 2002 – it churned out a vast library of brilliant games. The best of which Rare Replay brought to a modern audience, including the painfully funny Conker’s Bad Fur Day (surely the only game to feature an entire level constructed from faeces), classic platformer Banjo-Kazooie, first person shooter Perfect Dark (sadly GoldenEye 007, the game which proved first person shooters could work on consoles, is absent for licensing reasons) and the utterly unique Viva Piñata. Not so much a collection of games as a history lesson – except history lessons were never so much fun.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (PS4/PC)
When Final Fantasy XII came out in 2006 it was one of the last games made for the PlayStation 2. With gamers’ attention turning to the imminent arrival of the PlayStation 3, and a risk-taking design approach which introduced the odd but effective Gambit artificial intelligence system, it flopped by Final Fantasy standards. However, this loving remaster – featuring vastly improved graphics, some judicious gameplay tweaks, and new game modes – shows that if Square Enix hadn’t taken a number of poor decisions at the time Final Fantasy XII would have been remembered as a classic iteration of the franchise. One of 2017’s very best RPGs, in one of the best years for RPGs ever.
Resident Evil HD Remaster/Revelations HD (XO/PS4/PC)
To be brutally frank, Capcom’s 2015 remaster of the 1996 classic which kickstarted the survival-horror genre looks pretty dodgy by today’s graphical standards, and could perhaps have done with having some of its almost wilful clunkiness ironed out. But it’s still a brilliant, chilling, infernally creepy game that can be picked up pretty cheaply.
Meanwhile, last year’s Resident Evil Revelations HD is way better than you might imagine, presuming you missed the original when it came out on the Nintendo 3DS in 2012. It offers classic, late-ish period Resident Evil action (without a hint of the ill-advised efforts to ape Hollywood films that blighted Resident Evils 5 and 6). It’s not the longest game, but the inclusion of the brilliant Raid mode adds an extra dose of meatiness.
Also, if you’re a Resident Evil fan, 2015’s Resident Evil Revelations 2 worked brilliantly in its episodic format. Both Revelations games have also recently been ported to the Nintendo Switch. Even better than that, an HD remake of Resident Evil 2 – held by many to be the best of all the Resi games – is in the pipeline.
Beyond Good & Evil HD (360/PS3)
You’ll have to dig around a bit to find this – we picked it up in 2016 for free as part of Microsoft’s Games With Gold programme, shortly after it was made backwards-compatible on the Xbox One. And given that it’s an HD remaster which dates back seven years, it won’t impress you much in graphical terms.
But with Ubisoft’s resident genius Michel Ancel currently working on Beyond Good And Evil 2, we thought we’d remind ourselves of the 2003 original, and boy, was that decision rewarded. It’s a fabulous game, with a thoroughly unique and endearing vibe married to some utterly serious gameplay, which has dated surprisingly well. It still feels fresh and unique.
Oddworld: New ‘N’ Tasty! (360/PS3/Wii U/XO/PS4/PC/PSV)
This rebuilt-from-the ground-up take on the 1997 PlayStation game Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee may still be a side-scrolling, 2.5D platformer, yet somehow it feels thoroughly modern and relevant. Not to mention insanely charming and sometimes even heart-rending. Following the adventures of Abe, a lizard-like Mudokon able to possess other creatures, it is, quite simply, one of the most inventive platform games ever. They don’t make games like this anymore – but they really should.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection (XO)
This lovingly retouched compendium, which includes all the first four Halo games, can be picked up for about £25 these days, which represents extraordinary value for money. It even features the ability to switch between the remastered and original graphics in the first two games, which proves endlessly fascinating. There’s also a number of multiplayer modes from the various games, which still hold up surprisingly well. Let’s hope current keeper of the Halo flame, 343 Industries, resists the temptation to ruin Halo 6 by infesting it with the modern scourge that manifests itself as loot boxes.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Special Edition (XO/PS4/NS/PC)
Skyrim, as everyone calls it, is unquestionably one of the finest action RPGs ever. Although its thunder may recently have been stolen by The Witcher 3, and given that it was released in 2011 it’s about time Bethesda Softworks pulled its finger out and made its successor.
In the meantime, Bethesda released a Special Edition of the game in 2016, with upgraded graphics and all the downloadable content – which is a must-buy for anyone who classes themselves as an RPG-head. And last year, the company produced a brilliant port of it for Nintendo’s Switch. Nintendo’s consoles traditionally struggle for power compared to their rivals, so generally miss out on the cross-platform blockbusters, but that is no longer the case for HD remasters. Precisely the sort of game that nobody ever thought they would be able to play on a Nintendo console.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
And here’s the one we’ve all been waiting for. Except it isn’t here yet, we have no idea when it will arrive and nobody has seen more than a glimpse of it. Yet it’s one of the most hotly anticipated games ever.
All we know about this mooted remake, of what most people hold to be the best Final Fantasy game, is that it’s a ground-up job which will differ wildly from the original but hopefully preserve its best aspects. Hopefully, we’ll get our first proper glimpse of it at this year’s E3 Show in Los Angeles. And who knows, maybe 2018 will be the year in which it arrives? Don’t hold your breath.