The Most Faithful Updates To Classic Games

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Some of the games I’ve been playing and anticipating recently that are either from or reminiscent of very old franchises have been doing a refreshingly good job of maintaining the look and feel of their predecessors. It’s starting to bring about an affect I’d like to see more of where we get to see older styles of video games running on today’s technology. Thinking about it brings to light how few franchises have even survived long enough to do this.

I’m finding that one of the main reasons I enjoyed Super Mario 3D Land and am now enjoying Super Mario 3D World so much is their art direction. In short, it feels more faithful to the look of Nintendo’s NES and Super NES Mario games compared to more recent Mario games, even New Super Mario Bros. in subtle ways. Nintendo has done a fantastic job of rendering these 30-year-old character designs with modern graphics engines where other companies would have “updated” them. On top of that, I personally see the gameplay in 3D World to be the most logical evolution from Mario sidescrollers we’ve seen yet. The NSMB games feel less interesting to me because they don’t push new directions as much as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World did in the 90’s. I consider Super Mario 64 and to a lesser extent Super Mario Galaxy to be forks of the original Mario formula that had to change up the pace of gameplay to accommodate 3D exploration. 3D Land and 3D World on the other hand feel like the classic gameplay pushed in new directions. Combined with the faithful look makes me think this could have been “Super Maro Bros. 5” or something had Nintendo taken a different route during the N64 years.

Why I find this interesting to think about is because of my disappointment that we’ll probably never get a Mega Man game that looks like 1987 Mega Man taking full advantage of today’s gaming tech. The closest you’ll get to seeing that is what the character looks like in Super Smash Bros. on 3DS and Wii U. We’ll never see this happen for Bomberman, and I’ve given up on seeing another great Sonic the Hedgehog game.

It just brings to mind how brutal the “polygon ceiling” was in the late 90’s, how few classic franchises of the pre-3D era successfully transitioned into 3D. In some ways the slaughter is still going on. Konami, just about turning away from conventional video games, has just about killed Castlevania and Suikoden. Even the Lords of Shadow games looked and felt very different from the older Castlevania games. I don’t think Capcom will be doing a new Breath of Fire game in the style of the older ones on modern hardware any time soon. More and more arcade-era game franchises are fading away. Even Final Fantasy is currently trying to get back on its feet and had to change its look with the times over the years.

Take the Final Fantasy VII Remake for example. We can all guess it’s probably going to end up looking like Final Fantasy XV or Advent Children. What if instead of going for that semi-realistic look Square Enix went back to Tetsuya Nomura’s 1997 concept art and tried to completely resurrect that look? Why can’t an RPG try to look like a Yoshitaka Amano painting in motion? Dragon Quest manages to stand out in this regard partly due to its enduring popularity in Japan and partly due to the series attaching itself to Akira Toriyama’s character designs early on.

A recently unveiled game that evokes the same kind of feeling is the remake of the original System Shock. The footage looks shockingly faithful to the original 1994 game… just with modern model detail and lighting. It looks like it’s literally going to be yesterday’s gameplay with today’s technology. Not that System Shock’s gameplay systems don’t hold up today (it’s the user interface that’s outdated).

Maybe a better way to put it would be to say yesterday’s ideas, or an extrapolation of yesterday’s ideas alternate to what’s common in games today. That’s at least how I feel when I play Dark Souls games. I couldn’t tell you how much they retain from the King’s Field series, but a big part of their success comes from how they’ve resurrected a lot of old ideas about dungeon crawler design in a refreshing way.

One last game I hope becomes evocative of this feeling is the upcoming DOOM. Id has already shown that at least in terms of the look it’s willing to start over and rebuild to veer away from the Call of Duty aesthetic, but I’m still cautiously anxious to see if its campaign truly brings back the pre-Half-Life first person shooter.

BULLETS:

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One thought on “The Most Faithful Updates To Classic Games

  1. Matt says:

    You are absolutely right about Super Mario 3D World. It is a Mario sidescroller directly translated into a 3D universe. Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy are completely different branches.

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