Remastering nostalgia

 
 

With the video game industry preparing to enter a new console cycle, Martin Healy looks at a hugely popular trend of this current generation: HD re-releases

It’s a trick that Disney has been pulling for a number of decades: mining nostalgia. As generations of children grow older and classic heroes like Mickey Mouse become a distant memory, Disney finds another way to re-introduce their stable of characters for a brand new generation and their empire carries on.

In video game terms, this has been a hugely popular idea powering modern  Nintendo. The recent release of Pokémon X & Y will attempt to become a cornerstone of childhood for modern kids just like it did for youngsters in the late 90s. It’s always someone’s first Pokémon game. Such business practices have helped keep media empires alive and well, but a related trend has appeared in recent years, that of HD re-releases.

This generation of consoles has gone on longer than any other in the industry’s history. As evidenced by the all too common news of lay-offs within the industry, publishers are running out of money, ideas, and reliable franchises to milk. With their backs against the wall, they came to embrace the idea on banking on people’s nostalgia for games of yore and thus the HD re-release was born.

Dozens of such releases have appeared since the concept’s inception around 2010. Various franchises from the PlayStation 2 era have been upgraded with better performance, smoother textures, and sharper HD graphics.

The idea of the HD re-release, which can be appealing based on your fondness for the franchise in question as well as the quality of the HD upgrade, has been mishandled by game publishers as time has worn on.

The concept began with a number of huge, last-gen series like God of War and Resident Evil, but the quantity of games left to remake has dried up, leading to remakes of obscure and forgotten games as well as unremarkable entries in major franchises, such as the remastering of the two Zone of the Enders games for example.

One issue regarding HD re-releases has been the drop in quality of the ports. The God of War Collection and The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection are high-points of the area. These games have seen their looks drastically upgraded by developers who were given the appropriate time and resources.

For every well-crafted release, however, we see others that seem to have been pumped out in a few months just to bolster a publisher’s financial bottom line. The Silent Hill HD Collection on the Xbox 360 was a technical mess and was never actually fixed post release. The lazy re-releases cast a bad light on the concept, like some of the cut-rate arcade ports seen during the early days of Xbox Live Arcade.

While plenty of franchises have been restored for the current generation, for better or for worse, we’re also running into the problem of upgrading out-dated games and ruining the nostalgia. Games are not films; films age relatively gracefully while games do not.

A movie from the 1940s can still be very enjoyable today but the same is rarely said about games from 1983. This problem extends all the way up to the last decade. HD re-releases look to upgrade games from the late 90s and early 2000s, but even these relatively recent games can be very tricky to sell to an audience (whether new or returning) in 2013.

Game mechanics get dated quickly and are constantly refined by newer releases. Unless you hold incredibly strong nostalgia for a particular game, playing a HD version of something like Resident Evil Code: Veronica X is inherently difficult, with the mechanics and controls incredibly frustrating compared to modern Resident Evil games, or any modern release.

It is only when these games are actually remade or heavily overhauled that we get a facsimile of how they were to be originally played. Sadly, publishers find little time for such endeavours. The HD collection represents an easy method to earn some quick turnover in these uncertain times.

Nintendo have a good track record regarding HD releases, as seen with their handling of the Zelda franchise with Wind Waker HD. With this, they did more than just a visual overhaul and addressed many of the big design complaints of the original release, making for an objectively better game overall.

Trying to capture the joy of older video games is a hugely common feeling for all gaming enthusiasts. It’s difficult not to yearn for games of the past. While the intentions of the HD re-release are sound, publishers have shown an unwillingness to properly give these games a preverbal “new coat of paint”.

It appears that developers need to completely re-tool older franchises or remake them from scratch in order for them to appeal to modern industry standards. In the meantime, publishers will happily continue to scrape the bottom of the barrel looking for games to update, so don’t be surprised if Microsoft announces a Blinx: The Time Sweeper HD Collection any time soon.

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