With Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow of Valentia coming out this week, we thought it’d be a grand idea to consider the finest attempts to recast old into new. Echoes was originally an 8-bit Famicom game from 1992 that never came out in the west; now it’s a fully-voiced polygonal version of the original for the 3DS. Something must be in the water: Just this year, we’ve seen Blaster Master Zero, essentially a reenvisioning of the classic NES game, and Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, a labor-of-love that takes an underplayed Sega Master System action-RPG and coats it in a luscious coat of modern paint.
The remake is perhaps more common among filmmakers. Over a century of film has led to the constant threat of bad decisions—see: 2014’s Annie, 2010’s Clash of the Titans or 1998’s Psycho—but sometimes something beautiful and new happens. Games appear to be remade often since, by their nature, they’re made over and over when built for different platforms. But we’re looking at intentional rebuilds. Time has passed. Technology has changed. Sometimes a poor game is used as raw materials for something great. Sometimes a great game is buffed and shined and allowed to sparkle even brighter for a new generation. Sometimes… mistakes are made. These are the ten best (and five worst) videogame remakes.
10. Metal Gear Solid (Game Boy Color)
How do you shrink down a PlayStation game onto an 8-bit portable? I don’t know. And neither does Konami, because that’s not exactly what they did. This marvel from 2000 is actually a sequel to the MSX original, incorporating some of the gameplay invented for the PS1 stealth classic. Known as Metal Gear: Ghost Babel in Japan, this game makes the list on a technicality, being given the same name as the Playstation game even if, in fact, it’s not a straight remake. But the kids in the year 2000 didn’t know any better. They were just happy their computers didn’t implode and their bank accounts didn’t shut down.
9. Final Fantasy III (Nintendo DS)
This is not the Final Fantasy III you know from the Super Nintendo days. Due to different naming conventions, that was actually the sixth Final Fantasy game, but the third to come out in North America. Like the newest Fire Emblem, the original Final Fantasy 3 never made it out of Japan… until this remake. You could argue the follow-up, Final Fantasy IV, is the superior game, but fans had already played the base game as Final Fantasy 2 on the SNES. We give Final Fantasy 3 extra points for finally dragging the source material out of its country of origin. Not to mention it’s a deep, complex role-playing game that doesn’t skimp on the challenge.
8. Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES)
I am contractually obligated to include this. So… it’s not necessarily a remake, but—stop me if you’ve heard this—a revamping of the Japanese-only Doki Doki Panic into a Mario game for the west. Still, those who argue it’s simply a character-swap aren’t paying close enough attention. Touches like swaying grass make the world feel alive where once it was stale, and the addition of a run button changes the pace and momentum of the action. It makes the list based on historical importance alone—the next twenty-five years of Mario would be changed for it, with the inclusion of Shy Guys, flying carpets, hateful cacti and Birdo into subsequent franchise entries. And any game featured on 20/20 deserves the love.
7. Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix (Xbox 360/PlayStation 3)
One of the essential games from the ‘90s got a comic book makeover, literally: The artists at UDON Entertainment redrew Ryu, Dhalsim and all the rest in lovely, bold high-definition that seemed to leap from ink-saturated pages. Better still, those one-on-one fights you remember from the arcades could now take place across the globe, adding online functionality to the core game. Look for a similar proposition later this month when Ultra Street Fighter 2: The Final Challengers comes out on Nintendo Switch.
6. DOOM (Xbox One/PlayStation 4)
I guess if you dig into the lore, this is actually a sequel with the same character that survived at the end of Doom 2. But come on. You hold a giant gun. You sprint down hallways filled with demons. You blast them to pieces. This is the original game had John Romero et al had access to black magic and 21st century tech in 1993. It’s a good thing they didn’t; they would have been thrown in jail for exploding people’s fragile pre-millennium heads.
5. Space Invaders Extreme (Playstation Portable/Nintendo DS)
A good remake captures the spirit of the original but builds something more on top of the pre-existing formula that wasn’t possible, something that adds to the game but doesn’t break the formula. This plays as an extension of the arcade phenomenon but quickly becomes a psychedelic freak out of light and sound. The feeling would metastasize into the brilliant and evolutionary Groove Coaster for smartphones, made by the same folks thanks to their addled brains.
4. Punch-Out!! (Wii)
The arcade Punch-Out!! is a flashy attention-getter in public but a shallow game at heart. The NES console Punch-Out!! is one of the tightest, sharpest, funniest action-puzzle-sports games in history, making its blatant racism almost palatable. This unexpected Wii revamp had big boxing shoes to fill and did so with Vaseline-smooth animation, accessible challenge, and some smart late-game remixes of classic bouts. And they kept the bike ride in and the sweatshirt pink. Smart moves.
3. Rez Infinite (PS VR)
This Dreamcast shooter-cum-trance inducer has turned heads since its inception; its inimitable style was already once polished up for an HD remake, but expanding Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s vision into virtual reality makes you feel like the game you’ve been playing for years was 80% missing all this time.
2. Resident Evil (GameCube)
Another game that, upon its release, seemed to remold the original into what we saw in our minds while playing the now-crusty PS1 game. Capcom’s zombie haunted house sim spooked suburban kids in 1996 with jagged polygons and rabid dog jump-scares. This lovingly crafted recreation evokes the sense of atmosphere and dread the original could only hint at. It’s the difference between riding a carnival ghost train and learning a murder took place in your new house right after you sign the mortgage papers.
1. Donkey Kong ‘94 (Game Boy)
The greatest fake-out in gaming history. Everyone knew Donkey Kong. We played it (or our parents did) in 1981 at the arcades. We knew the sounds and movements by memory. We thought we were getting to play it portably. For many, that would have been enough. And that’s exactly what happens… but after those first four levels, the game erupts into a stunning puzzle-action game overflowing with 100 levels and advanced techniques and Mario (née Jumpman) doing backflips and handstands. A near-perfect game.
THE FIVE WORST REMAKES
The less said about these, the better. Just know that all original games are top-class and worth seeking out. If you stumble across these versions first, know they are imposters and must be avoided at all costs.
5. Legends of Zork (PC)
Someone thought remaking the classic text-adventure with chintzy cartoon visuals and auto-battles was a sound creative decision.
4. Yoshi’s New Island (3DS)
Okay, so this is an alright game. But any attempt to rekindle the Super FX chip magic of the SNES wonder will almost assuredly fail. And it’s a long way to fall from the top. The Wii U (and now 3DS) Yoshi’s Woolly World fared much, much better by being its own thing.
3. Mega Man 2 (iOS)
Imagine playing Mega Man 2 using Virtual Buttons on your smart device circa 2009.
2. Donkey Kong Jungle Beat: New Play Control (Wii)
The physicality and inventiveness of using actual bongos to control a platformer made this late GameCube release a bold and seriously underappreciated gem. The Wii-make not only stripped the cathartic pounding from the design but also changed basic aspects of the game that flattened the appeal of the original’s rhythmic score-attack challenge.
1. Blasteroids (Arcade)
Asteroids is one of the greatest games of all time. It is pure. It looks like liquid diamonds. It is hard but fair, a test of cunning and patience and, dare I say, valor. Blasteroids, Atari’s 1987 follow-up, distorts the original with needless complications and un-fun additions. Worse: They “updated” the vector graphics into blurry pixels that clutter up the screen. A travesty.
Since 2003, Jon Irwin has been paid to write about film, techno, ice cream, wine, golf, drag-racing, French children and videogames. His first book, Super Mario Bros. 2, was published last year by Boss Fight Books. Follow along: @WinWinIrwin.