As the video game industry matures, it’s becoming apparent that game development is a cyclical event. New ideas are valued, but retreading old territory is what really seems to get the games community talking. When a beloved retro game receives a remake, it lets a new generation experience classics from the old generation, but more than that, it gives the old generation a chance to revisit an old favorite and resurrect the memories that accompany it.
But not all remakes are about cashing in on pangs of nostalgia: They can be about second chances, too. APB: Reloaded,coming later in 2011, is a remake of APB: All Points Bulletin, a 2010 Windows online game that bombed so hard it took its developer, Realtime Worlds, down with it. The remake is being handled by Reloaded Productions, a subsidiary of K2 Network, and will be free-to-play rather than subscription based.
The remake of APB: All Points Bulletin should be an interesting event, as the first game was plagued with multiple problems from the earliest days of its development. Making APB: Reloaded a free-to-play game will put it in the hands of plenty of players (whether or not it stays there remains to be seen). The remake also brings to light a specific question: Is there a procedure for handling game remakes and franchise revivals that will increase the newer game’s chances of financial and critical success?
For starters, selling a game on nostalgic value alone will only take it so far. In fact, it can work against you: People often carry around memories of their favorite games for years, and in time, that game’s faults will sift away from everything that made it grand, leaving behind an exaggerated memory of a game that is fit to be canonized. In other words, when a game is remade or a franchise is revived, the number of gamers who favor the remake to the original is pretty darn small. That’s not to say old fans wouldn’t enjoy a new effort–but that new effort has to be well put-together.
2008’s Mega Man 9, for instance, didn’t simply employ retro NES graphics, which were certainly charming on their own: It also brought over the sharp controls, clever level design and high difficulty level that made the series a classic on the NES. Granted, the Mega Man franchise has always existed in as one spin-off or another, but the back-to-the-basics style of Mega Man 9 can still be regarded as a revival of Capcom’s long-dormant classic Blue Bomber. Either way, it was easy to tell that the team behind the game understood what made Mega Man games a staple on the Famicom and NES, and worked hard to bring the side-scrolling experience of yesteryear to modern consoles.
On the flip side, there are many ways to go wrong with a game remake or a franchise revival. If a team disregards the reasons for the original game’s widespread popularity in the days of olde, a remake simply won’t work. 2008’s Golden Axe: Beast Rider for the PS3 and Xbox 360 was slow, featured clunky controls, and limited the player to one character as their avatar, Tyris Flare. The other two iconic Golden Axe warriors, the axe-wielding barbarian and the dwarf, were given non-player status. Despite reviving the Golden Axe franchise, Beast Rider more or less shrugged off its heritage and turned its back on the reasons why the franchise devoured so many quarters in the first place.
There are other general points worth remembering about remakes and reboots. For instance, if the original game was initially lighthearted in tone or a bit sparse on story, it’s okay to retain those traits. Hardcore fans of a series do appreciate a little more padding-out of game’s story, but if the in-game characters open their mouth once too often, player irritation will follow.
Game remakes and revivals ultimately boil down to striking a balance between respect for the old source material, and refinement through modern game development. It’s a tricky process that will leave behind a broken trial of sad gamers if done incorrectly. Take a look at Metacritic and count how many remakes are branded as thoroughly average games. It’s not all bad news, though. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D is almost guaranteed to put everyone in a good mood.