Age of Remakes: Roundtable discussion, part 1


Remade versions of classic games are popping up on the DS at an alarming rate-- just today, we've seen DS versions of the original Fire Emblem and what is increasingly likely to be a remake of Kirby Super Star (rather than a sequel). We've been exploring the phenomenon recently, polling you as to your dream remakes (dreamakes? ... No.)

To delve a bit deeper into the world of remakery, we decided to hold a roundtable in the style of Siliconera's "From Around the Interweb" series (in which we happily participated). We've gathered the best and brightest (and, of course, most willing to chat) from the gaming community to discuss what's driving the trend of remakes, how this effects us and the game industry, and what they'd like to see a DS-ified version of. We actually received so much excellent material that we're splitting the panel into two parts. Today's participants are Game|Life's Susan Arendt, Siliconera's Spencer Yip, and Gamasutra and Insert Credit's Brandon Sheffield.

Susan Arendt, Game|Life:

The next time you're in line at Starbucks (or the movies, or the Kwik-E-Mart, or anywhere else people stand too close together), look around. Odds are good that you'll spot at least one person who owns a DS, and probably more. The DS is practically as omnipresent as the cell phone, so it's shouldn't come as too great a surprise that developers trying to release as much as they possibly can for it. Churning out new games takes money and, more importantly, time, so a shortcut to cash is to simply retool a golden oldie and call it a remake. And lo, we are awash in games from our yesteryears, whether we want to be or not.

Fortunately, it's not such a bad thing. Putting older games on modern platforms gives newer gamers a chance to experience titles they might not otherwise get to sample. Not everybody wants to put in the legwork to track down a functional Super Nintendo and a copy of Yoshi's Island, after all (their loss, I know). Even those of us who do have those older consoles don't always want to bust them out. Let's see, hook up the 3DO or play Myst on the DS? Yeah, I know which I'd rather do.

The problem arises when developers feel obligated to shoehorn some kind of DS-specific game mechanic into a game that was never meant to include it. Though they sometimes come up with creative solutions, it usually ends up feeling forced and clunky. Better to just give us a solid port than some half-assed touch screen mechanic that we'll wish you skipped in the first place.

As for my personal DS reissue wish list, there's just one game on it: Super Mario RPG. Such a fantastic game, but the fact that it's both hard and expensive to come by means not post-SNES gamers will get to try it.

Brandon Sheffield, Insert Credit/Gamasutra/Game Developer:

I'm pretty well convinced that the trend of remakes on the DS is down to the system's current popularity ... but the DS software bubble has clearly burst. There was a time when you could release any old thing on the DS, and it'd sell – not so anymore. At this point, enough housewives have accidentally bought a really shitty Brain Age clone for them to get really wary of buying anything else. Companies are now going to have to focus on both wooing back those casual types, and supporting the more gamerly folk that own the DS.

Remakes are coming to the DS for the same reason they come anywhere else – they're cheap to make, and have name recognition, so require very minimal PR. Remakes like the ones Square are doing are pretty good, because they're being done in 3D, and look really nice, and in some cases (like FF III) they're bringing over games that weren't in English before. It also works for people like me who didn't have enough money to play the games when they came out originally.

Unfortunately a lot of these turn into comps, like the Atari and Midway ones, are just games we've seen ported over and over and over again. That said, the thing I'd most like to see would be some Data East compilations. Some Magical Drop, Cliffhanger Edward Randy, Windjammers, etc., etc. But that's pretty unlikely!

Not to offend anyone here, but I don't think these remakes are unique to the DS at all, and in most cases, they rightly don't use the touch screen, mic, or dual screens much. If it doesn't make sense, there's no reason to use that stuff. The multitude of re-releases is mostly just because the DS is the next-gen console with the most units sold, and probably will remain so for some time. Remakes are remakes – they come to each system with minimal upgrades (except in Square Enix's case!) and just add to the software glut. Good times!

Spencer Yip, Siliconera:

Technology isn't driving the multitude of DS remakes, sales of the system are. When it comes to making money, remakes are a safe bet. Couple that philosophy with lower development costs, compared to a console game, and you have a no-brainer business plan.

Few remakes take advantage of the DS's unique hardware to add something truly innovative. Dragging your characters with touch screen control in Final Fantasy III is cute, but I doubt many people bought the DS remake for that alone. The problem with adding in novel features is you're splitting the audience. Purists want the original game with a fresh coat of paint and maybe a few new features. Final Fantasy IV's ability system already divided fans, even though it can be ignored. Imagine how fans would react if Square Enix changed the battles to have people sing songs as Edward in the microphone and trace onscreen spell patterns with the stylus.

Some may even argue that many of the DS "remakes" are upgraded ports. Just how much new content is found in Super Mario 64 DS, Resident Evil: Deadly Silence or Diddy Kong Racing? Is New Zealand Story: Revolution really a revolution? Absolutely not. It's the late 80's arcade game with needless touch screen controls into the game. I've played the latter quite a bit recently and the mechanics feel forced. New Zealand Story: Revolution broke remake rule number one: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Touching is good, but you don't have to have it in a game to make it great.

Now that I've gotten my purist moment out of the way, I want really want to see a remake that reconstructs a game from the bottom up. But that breaks the safe bet rule, so it's not going to happen. Instead I plead to Treasure to give me Sin and Punishment with touch screen aiming, d-pad/face button character movement, online leaderboards and double the amount of levels.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.