The games industry is having a serious case of deja vu this year.
A release slate that includes Final Fantasy VII, Super Mario 64, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2, and a new numbered Crash Bandicoot game sounds straight out of the late ‘90s. Nevertheless all four titles saw some form of release this year. It’s indicative of a trend that’s been gaining traction in recent years. Namely, the trend of repackaging and remaking classic titles and franchises. And it raises questions about the state of the industry.
Now this idea of games being released multiple times — sometimes with new content — is nothing new. It’s been around since developers were porting arcade titles for home consoles, and gamers debated endlessly about which version of Disney’s Aladdin (1993) was best, Genesis or SNES. But the issue has only grown more complex in the intervening decades. There is great debate over the inherent value of this movement. Both sides make compelling arguments.
The Argument Against Recycling
Some label the phenomenon as a nostalgia-exploiting cash-grab. For example, critics have argued that Super Mario 3D All-Stars (2020) is a lackluster and lazy showing from Nintendo, They claim it is little more than an emulator of the titles with no real improvements made.
Critics also argue that this obsession with the past keeps the industry from moving forward. Toys for Bob made it clear that Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time (2020) strives to emulate the series’ traditional difficulty. Upon release, however, fans and critics alike discovered that this aforementioned difficulty was deceiving. It stems not from carefully crafted challenges, but from archaic level design and controls. The game feels like the relic of a bygone era rather than an evolution paying homage to the past.
The Argument For Recycling
Supporters of the rerelease craze contend that it allows developers to update beloved IPs. They can take series that have aged poorly and update them for modern audiences and sensibilities. In an interview with GameInformer, Cory Barlog and Shanon Studstill of Santa Monica Studios explained how their reimagining of Kratos and the God of War franchise in 2018 allowed them to bring the beloved series into a new, more introspective phase. This allowed them to explore characters more deeply and do away with the unsavory tenor of the previous titles.
The Final Fantasy VII Remake (2020) seems to be this kind of reimagining. It adopts a more active battle system similar to Final Fantasy XV (2016) in lieu of the classic, menu-based JRPG combat of the original.
So the question remains, is this new trend in gaming a way for developers to phone it in or a clever technique for breathing new life into beloved games and franchises? One thing is for certain though: if 2020 has been any indication, this trend of recycling classic titles seems like it’s here to stay.
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Is “recycling” games a good thing for the industry?