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Game On: Remasters, remakes and rose-tinted glasses are rampant in the gaming industry

UPDATED: Thu., May 7, 2020

Arcade-style “beat ’em up” game “Streets of Rage 4” was released April 30, revisiting a series left behind in 1994.
Arcade-style “beat ’em up” game “Streets of Rage 4” was released April 30, revisiting a series left behind in 1994.

For every new video game to hit the market lately, it seems like there’s a remake of an old game, too. “Final Fantasy VII Remake” was released April 10, followed by “Streets of Rage 4” on April 30. There are boatloads of simple ports of classic games to modern consoles, but neither of these two was a quick cash grab – “Final Fantasy VII Remake” was re-created from the ground up and spent five years in production. Developer Lizardcube spent two years creating all-new assets for “Streets of Rage 4,” a sequel to a long-dead series that hadn’t seen a release since 1994.

As someone who poured many hours into the original trilogy on the Sega Genesis, I feel qualified to say this: “Streets of Rage 4” is excellent. It manages to be faithful to the originals while adding enough new elements to justify its existence in 2020. The game is a side-scrolling “beat ’em up” akin to the “Final Fight” or “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” games you can find in almost any arcade.

It’s a struggling genre, but there’s something timeless about dispensing vigilante justice on crime-ridden streets alongside a friend while pumping electronic music fuels the rampage. “Streets of Rage 4” scored 80-85/100 on Metacritic, the latest in a string of successes from Sega, allowing outside developers to take on its franchises.

Bigger publishers are in on the remake craze, too. For Sony, “Crash Bandicoot,” “Spyro the Dragon” and even “MediEvil” saw remasters of its PlayStation 1 games throughout 2017-19. Microsoft doesn’t own many iconic IPs, but it has kept the old Halo games alive with the consistently updated “Master Chief Collection,” and Microsoft is rumored to be bringing back “Fable” soon.

Ironically, the publisher with its eyes most set toward the future also is the one who’s been in the market the longest: Nintendo. Nintendo offers digital downloads of its classic games ported to modern consoles, but otherwise the company tends to leave the past in the past. This might change – Nintendo has almost always taken a conservative approach to the evolving industry. It was the last console manufacturer to use CDs instead of cartridges, the last to implement internet connectivity and the last to let players download full games, among other things.

Even Nintendo is starting to acknowledge the demand for remakes, most notably releasing “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” in 2019 for the Nintendo Switch – the original was released in 1993. Most of Mario’s 3D games from 1996 onward will be remastered this year.

The trend is good and bad for consumers. It’s great for newcomers who may have missed out on older video games – according to Statista, there were 1.8 billion gamers in the world in 2014, while current estimates are 2.5 billion. On the other hand, one could argue that more resources being dedicated to revitalizing old games equates to less resources being put into making brand new ones, so there are fewer fresh experiences for seasoned gamers.

Remaking classic games is a safe bet for publishers, but most of those classics became popular because the developers produced bold, new ideas to challenge players and offer fresh experiences. I don’t know if it’s because of this trend or I’m getting older and more cynical, but it’s been a long time since a game made me say “wow.”

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