Repackaging videogames is nothing new—just look at Sony’s Greatest Hits line—but for the past two console generations, we’ve been subjected to an ocean of HD remakes and collections. And since most are seen as cash-grabs or cheap ways to fill out a console library, how are developers supposed to stay afloat in that ocean?
These re-releases aren’t going to stop hitting store shelves any time soon, so the best we can do is hope they add something of value to a game we set aside years ago. There are several ways to do this, from choosing the right games to releasing the game at the perfect moment. Many lessons can be learned from the remake process.
1. Improve Bad Mechanics
Saying Ocarina of Time’s Water Temple is a slog is like saying Arby’s will make you sick—it’s common knowledge. Backtracking, tricky water traps and a grating climb to the boss are just three bad apples in the rotten bunch. Majora’s Mask has its share of problems too, all stemming from the three-day time mechanic. It’s easy to miss events and lose progress in favor of traveling back in time to talk to that one guy who shows up in the that one place for one hour of one day.
Both of these titles saw significant improvement when re-released on 3DS. The Water Temple was partially redesigned, and the Bomber’s Notebook listed much more helpful information about side quests and timing. If it is broke, fix it.
2. Add Features You Couldn’t Have Before
Zelda games weren’t the only Nintendo 64 classics to receive an update. Rare’s Banjo Kazooie and its sequel were up-rezzed and repackaged for Xbox Live Arcade. Even better, they were improved with the addition of one of the N64’s greatest teases, Stop ‘n’ Swop. The mechanic was simple: collect six eggs and an ice key in the first game, and use them to unlock something special in the next one. It didn’t work out in the N64’s time.
Instead, the super secret magic of Stop ‘n’ Swop was saved for the third game, Nuts & Bolts. Collecting the goodies in the first two unlocked vehicle blueprints and building blocks in the Xbox 360 release. Were it not for the XBLA release of the games, this feature would have never been utilized.
3. Build Hype for a New Installment
By the time Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time released in 2013, the world had gone almost a decade without a raccoon-centric platformer. In the lull, a repackaging of the first three games called the Sly Collection released for Playstation 3. But the team behind this re-release was Sanzaru Games, not the original developer Sucker Punch. Why? Well, the Sucker Punch guys were so happy with Sanzaru’s demo for Thieves in Time that they handed over the keys to the collection. This was all done behind the curtain at the time.
And if the guys backstage are that hyped about something, you can bet the audience will be too. The Sly Collection got the hype train going—some outlets even consider Thieves in Time the best in the series.
4. Bring Everything to One Console
Look up “brutality” in the dictionary, and you’ll find one Playstation 2 series listed—and it ain’t Barbie Horse Adventures. Kratos’ journey in the first two God of War games is a must-see for PS2 devotees. But when the PS3 released, those die-hards were forced to upgrade if they wanted to finish the Greek fight with God of War III.
But the God of War collection fixed that, prettying up the first two games for a PS3 debut. Much like the Sly Collection, the full Kratos run was then totally playable on one console. This is reminiscent of the DVD-to-Blu Ray jump from around the same time period. Why get up and change devices or discs when you can have everything in the new, better looking format?
5. Keep a Community Alive
On April 14, 2010, the original Xbox Live shut down for good, cutting off Xbox web connections like grand opening ribbons. The first two Halo titles were played right up to the last second. Hopefully someone got in one last “kill-amanjaro.” As ceremonious as these final deathmatches were, they were just that—final. Playing Halo: Combat Evolved online via consoles was impossible.
Until Anniversary, that is. This Xbox 360 re-release came with a fresh coat of digital paint, a graphical update that could be toggled on and off. The campaign structure was untouched, allowing old-school Spartans to play exactly what they played a decade before. A revamped multiplayer mode let those same soldiers jump into classic, yet improved maps, bringing the whole community back to their roots.
6. Give It a Second Chance
The games we’ve already discussed so far are considered successes, both critically and commercially. Unfortunately the sales didn’t match the review scores for cult classics like Beyond Good & Evil and Okami. The stories, mechanics and soundtracks were all praised, but to no avail. We call them “critical darlings” for a reason.
But much like Arrested Development getting new life through Netflix, both of these sixth generation titles got a second chance through digital HD re-releases. So while there’s no guarantee that an HD retelling of Creatures or Haven: Call of the King would be successful, sending them out into the wilds of Xbox Live and Playstation Network is an inexpensive way to find out.
7. Introduce It to a New Generation
“Video Game Z is already getting an HD release? It just came out last gen!” This is a common complaint. God of War, Sly Cooper and Halo only moved up by a single console. Chances are the dudes buying the re-releases owned the games previously. One of the largest original-to-remake jumps comes from Bionic Commando, which leapt from the NES to 360 and PS3 with Rearmed. That’s a 20-year gap.
This is a good thing. An 80s-to-00s leap means children who grew up with the original Nathan Spencer can introduce him to their children. A high school kid who played Gears of War in middle school just a few years prior won’t have the same affection for the game as when he reaches his 40s—and by then, he can sit down for a shootout with his own little high schooler.
8. Make It a Package Deal
Re-released games don’t have to come in single servings like Bionic Commando Rearmed. They don’t have to come in a series like the Sly Collection either. The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection sits firmly in the spiritual successor realm—there’s still debate over how the games are actually linked—with no dependence on continuity or franchising.
This thematic packaging is a good thing, equivalent to a Quentin Tarantino director’s set or a Dr. Suess book collection. It’s almost a concept album of videogames. Imagine a collection of Suda51 titles like Killer7 and No More Heroes, or a digital buffet of Shigeru Miyamoto’s greatest hits. The parallelism and potential payout is palpable (say that five times fast).
9. Use It as a Director’s Cut
Whether or not you re-buy a game you already bought once comes down to one thing: added value. Is there more, or better, content than before? In today’s world of DLC, this can be a slippery slope, but when Grand Theft Auto’s younger cousin Bully came out, that wasn’t the case. That’s why when Scholarship Edition hit the next console generation, it had content you literally could not get anywhere else—much like a director’s cut DVD.
This is the most important incentive for a potential customer. A shiny new case and pretty new graphics are nice, but like grandma always said, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Does the re-release you’re buying actually add anything new?
Tony Wilson is a writer, podcaster and general hooligan across the internet. He loves when people yell at him on Twitter.