Retro Remakes, an Overview


We Have the Technology. We Can Make it Better, Prettier, Deeper….

Retro remakes are an odd beast. What is considered a retro remake? What’s their purpose? Why take an old, outdated game, repaint it and then re-release it? Fan-service? A quick n cheap cash-in? As something for the interns to tinker with? All of the above?

Before we get too deep into that discussion, let’s focus on some of the different ways publishers/developers can remake/re-release a retro game for the current generation.

First off is the straight-up port. This is when a publisher takes an old game, packages it in some kind of emulator and releases it onto the new platform. In most cases, the game is an exact replica of its retro counterpart. Sometimes there will be some minor tweaks (altering a word or two of dialogue, changing a reference to a copyrighted work, etc) or features missing that may have required additional hardware. (eg. N64 rumblepack. Wii classic controller lacks rumble support) And then there are times when minor or major features will be added such as graphics post-processing to eliminate pixelation or online capability for multiplayer games. Unfortunately there can be problems when porting old games to new systems. One such problem lies in the hardware, sometimes newer hardware just can’t play or render old games the way their original systems intended. Another, more complex problem can be copyright; the copyright agreements for certain parts of the game, say a soundtrack, may have expired and the publisher can’t renew that agreement. The worst-case-scenario though for retro ports is the lack of original resources. Publishers get bought, developers go bankrupt; computers get replaced, hard-drives crash. The original system files and resources needed for a clean port just may not exist anymore. When this happens, publishers will sometimes go to the hacker/homebrew community, anonymously of course, and get the ROM from the many restoration or archival projects. Barring any of those problems, ports are the quick and easy re-releases that allow retro gamers to get their game on modern consoles without resorting to hacking and homebrew.

Next we have the whitewash retro re-releases. These are when classic games are given a total graphical and audio overhaul while leaving the core game mechanics fully intact. These games feel slightly more refreshed and don’t wear on your eyes with ancient, pixelated graphics, though they do lose some of that “retro” feel. Still, these are great ways to experience the classics, but in a new way.

The last way publishers can dish out some “classic” goodness is with the retro reboot. This is a remake or sequel to a retro game where just about every aspect of the game has been changed. The core concept or idea usually remains intact and the developers attempt to give it a “retro” feel but the graphics, sound and even gameplay have been significantly altered to make it a better fit with the new generation of gamers. These remakes often get mixed results from fans because in the process of revamping a classic to modern standards, what made the game great in the first place is sometimes lost. Though there have been some incredible successes in this class of remake such as New Super Mario Bros. but this is usually because the developers stick as close to the original formula as possible without creating a whitewash remake.

Whether for fan-service or quick cash-ins, retro remakes are great for anyone who missed the games that defined or created the genres and franchises we play today. Or they work if you’re just feeling nostalgic for your childhood:) Which is your favorite type of remake?

Joshua Caleb

Creative genius, Writer extraordinaire, Blogger, Retro gamer, Podcaster, Tech enthusiast, Web surfer, tinkerer and all around geek. The internet is my brain and my life; please be kind to it.

Subscribe to the Retroist Newsletter

* indicates required

10 thoughts on “Retro Remakes, an Overview

  1. Doug says:

    Nice write up. I’ve seen fan-made graphical updates to Donkey Kong and Moon Patrol that I wish would be made available. Mostly, though, I like the game the way it was.

  2. garsh says:

    I agree with Doug, this was excellent. These sound like fine definitions for these terms.

    If I want to play a real original, I usually prefer some simpler solution than a straight port to a modern console. The whitewash approach feels too unfaithful for my liking.

    The retro-reboot is probably my favorite because it can reference a property or theme that I love, but also add all sorts of things that wouldn’t have been reasonable in the time of the original release. They’re tricky to do right, though, because developers tend to compromise the good things about old games in favor of whatever silly thing is fashionable now.

  3. “because developers tend to compromise the good things about old games in favor of whatever silly thing is fashionable now”

    Well said. I am still puzzling over almost every release that has gone in some different direction and has almost nothing to do with the original except the name and basic theme. I am still fuming over X-coms reboot I guess.

    Mortal Kombat is a good example of how to get it right. Cannot wait for Freddy.

  4. Great post, Joshua! I personally agree with garsh.

    @Retroist Yeah, how crazy is that though? Who would have thought that we could play Freddy on a Mortal Kombat title?

  5. Thanks for the feedback guys:) I think I also agree with Garsh in that the retro reboots are the most fun as they can contain all kinds of numerous references to previous games. Unfortunately they’re also the ones that seem to end in the gutter most of the time:(
    Anyway, would anyone be interested in a “Old vs New” or “Retro vs Remake” regular segment, possibly on a weekly or bi-weekly basis? :)

  6. vinvectrex says:

    Nice posting, Joshua. I’m a big fan of point and click adventures – and found it interesting that Sierra began the trend of updating their early works in the 1990s (Space Quest update was pretty decent). Anyway, I for one would love to see this segment on a regular basis.

  7. garsh says:

    I’d be interested in more too, especially if you take your time and maintain this level of quality. It reads like you really put a lot of thought into it and organized your ideas very thoroughly before you ever began typing.

    The choice of header was good, too.

  8. Well, if Mr. Retroist approves, I think I’ll start with a bi-weekly segment on “Retro vs Remake” and maybe once I get in the swing of things I could do it on a weekly basis:)

Leave a Reply