Like many, you’re probably excited (and maybe a little nervous) about the upcoming Final Fantasy VII remaster. Thankfully, there are already quite a few other remakes of older games out there which prove it’s possible to be both faithful to and exceed the original. Even better, these are games that you can play right now to hopefully make waiting for HD Cloud and Aerith a little more bearable.
Note that this list is about games that have either been remade entirely for more modern hardware, and/or have received additional content or other tweaks to go along with the upscaled graphics. So no straight HD re-releases here.
The World Ends With You: Solo Remix (2012 – iOS, 2014 – Android)
The original The World Ends With You was a pretty incredible RPG when it first released on the Nintendo DS. It follows the story of a nihilistic young man named Neku who finds himself unwittingly pulled into a week-long game that has him fighting for his life. Or rather, fighting to get his life back. It’s complicated.
The modern setting is something rarely seen in Square-Enix RPGs, and setting everything in the Shibuya area of Tokyo gives it an incredible artistic style that hasn’t been matched since. The combat system further breaks from tradition by using gesture-based, real-time combat control simultaneously over two different characters on two different screens.
Solo Remix takes this ground-breaking formula and brings it over to mobile devices, but unlike many mobile ports, it’s more of an upgrade. The pixelated backgrounds and character portraits from the original are replaced with higher resolution images, and the sprites have been cleaned up quite a bit. Even some of the songs are remixed as well. But perhaps the biggest difference is the way the combat was changed in order to allow you to control both characters at the same time on a single screen.
The result is a game that looks prettier, sounds nicer and plays better than its original This is probably the best way to watch Neku’s story unfold.
Conker: Live & Reloaded (2005 – Xbox, backwards-compatible with Xbox 360)
Conker’s Bad Fur Day probably shouldn’t have existed on the Nintendo 64. This was a game that took the 3D mascot platformer genre that was ridiculously popular at the time (think Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot, etc) and turned it into one massively crude joke. It had swearing; it had graphic violence; it had sexual innuendo; it had literal toilet humor.
The wild thing is that, despite the gross humor and inappropriate jokes, the game was actually really good. Its adventure and platforming segments were well done, there was a lot of variety to the puzzles thanks to the context sensitive interactions, and the whole thing was stuffed with pop culture references. One minute you’d be fighting a living, operatic pile of feces, and the next minute you’d find yourself recreating the brutal opening moments of Saving Private Ryan with adorable woodland creatures.
Then along came Live & Reloaded. This Xbox release basically remakes the entire game from the ground up, with significantly more detailed character models and environments, an improved control scheme, and a number of nods to the original – such as Conker ditching his iconic frying pan for a more “edgy” baseball bat with nails sticking out of it. The only unfortunate thing is that most of the big swear words have been cut out of the updated version and replaced with bleeps. Even the battle with The Great Mighty Poo.
Despite the odd choice to edit a non-Nintendo release, Live & Reloaded still manages to be one heck of a mechanical and visual upgrade to a well-loved game.
The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition (2009 – iOS, Mac, PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360)
Almost any fan of point-and-click adventure games has fond memories of the days when LucasArts dominated the market. And those too young to remember are at least familiar with the classics that still hold up incredibly well today. I mean heck, we’re getting a Day of the Tentacle remaster soon!
The Secret of Monkey Island was one such LucasArts classic. Like most of the developer’s adventure games from the era it uses the SCUMM Engine, and features a straightforward, genre-defining command system in which you select an action (look, talk, etc) and then click on a thing to see what happens. This was a pretty big step up from older adventure games that usually involved typing commands in on a keyboard.
It didn’t hurt that the game (and the four that came later) was funny, had memorable characters, and made excellent use of its themes. It’s really no wonder the series is five games strong and continues to be held up as a gold standard among adventure games.
What makes The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition so, well, special is that it uses the original as a template and then production values the heck out of it. The graphics have been remade in a much higher resolution and tie into the visual style of the later games much better. The music has been remastered. The command system is even more accessible to an audience used to more modern gameplay conveniences. Even most of the actors from the latter half of the series were brought in to provide new voice-overs for their characters.
The most interesting thing about this release is how you can switch back and forth between the remastered version and the original whenever you feel like it. If you’d rather play the original, un-modernized form, you can do that. If you want to see how much the sights and sounds differ between versions, you can do that too. It shows just how far the technology had come since the original release, as well as how much work has gone into remastering a classic.
Oddworld: New ’n’ Tasty (2014 – Playstation 4, 2015 – Mac, PC, Playstation 3, Xbox One)
The original Playstation release of Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee built upon several classic puzzle/platformers like the original Prince of Persia, Out of This World/Another World, and even Flashback. But the way it used pre-rendered graphics for the characters and backgrounds set it apart from its contemporaries, and its environments were so surreal it was difficult not to get sucked in.
New ’n’ Tasty is essentially an upscaled and modernized revision to the original. Instead of pre-rendered backgrounds and characters it uses 3D models and high resolution textures. And while the puzzles remain unchanged, the vastly improved presentation makes them feel like they could be an entirely new game.
A much bigger change is the inclusion of a save system that makes things little less strenuous by allowing you to save at almost any time. The puzzles are still brutal, but now you don’t always have to suffer through so many of them in succession whenever you fail.
Purists can still play the old fashioned way, of course, but being able to save more often (coupled with the even prettier graphics) make Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty accessible to an even wider audience.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena (2009 – PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, 2010 – Mac)
The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay is a movie tie-in that wisely ignores the events of the film and instead tells a different part of its central character’s story. You, as the infamous Richard B. Riddick, are locked up in one of the universe’s toughest prisons: the titular Butcher Bay. The game offers a nice mixture of stealth elements, first-person action, and even a few adventure elements.
Assault on Dark Athena serves as both a sequel to the first game and a visual overhaul of the original. While the Dark Athena campaign isn’t bad, everyone really picked it up for the remastered version of Butcher Bay included on the disc, which features improved textures and models, better lighting, and slightly more intelligent AI. The combat system has also been tweaked to make counterattacking easier, which is great because that was one of the most enjoyable parts of the brawling. It even comes with an online multiplayer mode that nobody really touched, but it was still nice of them to include it.
Metroid: Zero Mission (2004 – GBA, 2014 – Virtual Console [JP], 2015 – Virtual Console [EU])
The Metroid series has been going strong for decades (for the most part), with lots of sequels and spin-offs and very few disappointments like Other M. The original Metroid was an impressive accomplishment for its time, with an expansive world to explore, lots of different enemies to encounter, and the whole “explore, find, backtrack” approach to game design that’s become fairly common ever since. Even with the original NES hardware limitations it creates a suitably oppressive atmosphere.
While the game was a bit hamstrung by an awkward password save system and it desperately needed a map, it still holds up pretty well. At least it did until Zero Mission came onto the scene in 2004.
Metroid: Zero Mission was a complete remake of the original on the Game Boy Advance using the engine from its contemporary, Metroid: Fusion, paired with the style of Super Metroid. In other words, it took the game that started it all, and modernized it in the best possible way. Zero Mission tells the same story of galactic bounty hunter Samus Aran and her assault on the space pirates’ home base on planet Zebes, but expands upon it with new abilities, enemies, puzzles, and environments.
While Zero Mission keeps most of the familiar layouts from the original, it also includes some new secrets. Some previously dead ends now held secret passages. Wall sections that were purely decorative before now contained extra missile tanks. And, of course, there was the unexpected twist that took place after defeating the game’s original final boss, Mother Brain.
There are so many reasons Metroid fans, or those who are looking to get into the series, should check out Zero Mission – assuming US residents can find an original GBA cartridge since it’s yet to receive an eShop release in North America. The upgraded visuals add a lot more detail to everything – not just to make it look nicer but to hint at more of the universe’s backstory and setting – and the improved gameplay elements add more variety to Samus’ abilities. It’s a worthy remake of one of the most memorable NES classics.
Resident Evil (2002 – Gamecube, 2008 – Wii)
Sure, pretty much everyone liked the second one better, but the first Resident Evil is where everything started. There’s just something about its “trapped in a secluded mansion” setting that feels far more lonely and isolated than the later games in the series. Then the Director’s Cut came out and fans could obsess over a new version of the one that started it all – only most of the extra content was lackluster and the new music was awful.
Then it was announced that the Gamecube would get a completely remastered version. It would be the first game – with the original S.T.A.R.S team, the Tyrant, etc – but completely rebuilt. New graphics, new animations, new puzzles, new camera angles, revamped environments, and several new areas to explore.
This “REmake,” as it’s often referred to, is easily the best iteration of the first Resident Evil to own. It captures the feel and nostalgia of the survival horror classic while simultaneously giving everything a much-needed updating. The new and reimagined puzzles make it more difficult for veterans to just breeze through it and the addition of Crimson Heads – extremely aggressive über zombies that appear if you leave regular zombie corpses laying around for too long – adds an impressive amount of tension to the requisite backtracking.
This particular remake of Resident Evil was so well loved that it’s since gone on to be remade yet again, with an HD remaster that came out out earlier this year on Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC.
We still don’t know how long it’s going to be before the Final Fantasy VII remake will be available, but I’m hoping that the games on this list will help to take your mind off the wait. If you haven’t had the chance to play some (or any) of them yet, now would be a great time to check them out. And of course, feel free to weigh in on your favorite remakes and remasters in the comments below!
Rob Rich (@RobsteinOne) is just a guy who likes to play video games, then tell people about them. He’s also a fan of the indie development scene.