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Category: Classic Video Games

The Retro Game: Nostalgia and Reinvention

When Nintendo released its Classic Mini NES in 2016, the gaming community went berserk. The Mini Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) sold out instantly due to ‘feverish demand’ and within days, scalpers were selling the console for up to nearly four times its retail price on eBay, at an average price of $230. In comparison, the Switch’s launch price was $299 in 2017. 

The NES Classic Mini (Courtesy Nintendo)
The NES Classic Mini (Courtesy Nintendo)

Nintendo’s retro console is a small-size replica of the NES and there isn’t any place to insert cartridges – it contains 30 games made for the original NES, most of which are at least 30 years old. Yet the console was wildly popular, and Nintendo simply could not match the demand for it. The company ceased manufacturing the NES Classic Mini by 2018, but its foray into retro consoles had shown just how popular retro gaming had become. 

The NES Mini’s unprecedented success suggests that even retro-inspired games may well find an audience among gamers, and this is indeed the case. In fact, modern retro-inspired games are popular both among older gamers looking to relive their childhood gaming experiences, and younger players eager for a taste of the classics. Such games succeed not only because of the pull of nostalgia, but also because they recreate the look and feel of older games while introducing innovative gameplay mechanics. 

In this blog, we will discuss what a retro game is and how they have inspired a slew of modern games. We will also discuss the history of how modern, retro-style games attained a degree of mainstream popularity and recognition, and delve into some of the most well regarded retro-inspired games of today. 

What is a Retro Game?

There isn’t a single widely-accepted definition of a retro game – what is considered retro, and what is considered a retro classic, is largely determined by what will evoke nostalgia among older gamers. 

Today, titles released during the 8-bit to 16-bit period (or the third and fourth generation of consoles) are fondly remembered as classics by older gamers, who played these games as children and are more likely to gravitate towards titles that bring back memories of playing such games. The average gamer is around 35-37 years old, and a significant chunk of gamers today are in their late thirties or early forties. They have more disposable income to spend on games, and are more likely to spend frequently on gaming. Such players almost certainly got their first taste of gaming from the third and fourth generation of consoles and their nostalgia for this time period impels them to seek out the games of the ’80s and ’90s. 

The games from this era are true classics, likely to remain relevant even when nostalgia ceases to be a factor. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) saved the industry after the video game crash of 1983 and introduced instant classics such as Super Mario Bros (1985) and The Legend of Zelda (1986), both of which would spawn long-running game franchises. The quality of these games has made retro gaming a highly enjoyable pastime – and the NES and SNES are especially popular among retro gamers. The shift from 2D to 3D, during the fifth generation, marked the end of an era that had brought gaming back to the mainstream. This may be why many indie titles, including the ones we discuss in this blog, pay homage to this time period in gaming history. 

Super Mario Bros and other Ground-Breaking Games Revived the Industry (Courtesy Nintendo)
Super Mario Bros and other Ground-Breaking Games Revived the Industry (Courtesy Nintendo)

What is a Modern Retro Game?

A modern, retro-style game devoutly recreates the 2D aesthetic of the 8-bit and 16-bit era and adopts the gameplay mechanics of the ‘classic’ generation while introducing innovations made possible by modern tools and design perspectives. Essentially, a modern retro game tries not only to recreate the appearance of a much older game, but also the experience of playing such a game, with innovations that can appeal even to younger gamers not necessarily looking to relieve their childhoods.

There are some exceptions to the 2D aesthetic, however: both Project Warlock (2018) and Ion Fury (2019) are inspired by the appearance and gameplay of early FPS games like Doom (1993) and Duke Nukem 3D (1996). Both Project Warlock and Ion Fury are nevertheless inspired by the same time period, and the gamers who played games on the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System, 1990) no doubt played Doom and other FPS titles on PC as well.

Project Warlock Pays Homage to the Shooters of the ’90s (Courtesy Buckshot Software)
Project Warlock Pays Homage to the Shooters of the ’90s (Courtesy Buckshot Software)

History of Modern Retro Games

The rise to prominence of modern retro-style games can be linked to some extent with the history of indie game development – in the 2000s, indie developers carved a niche for themselves by delivering retro-style experiences, and by the 2010s, such games hewed closely to the design and aesthetic of older games, intentionally recreating the experience of playing a classic from the past. 

In the 2000s, major game studios were pushing the envelope on 3D gaming and the decade saw exponential growth in the quality of 3D graphics. Eventually, major studios transitioned to 3D game development and the 3D worlds pioneered by id and Epic Games became common. This created a market for those looking for nostalgic experiences of 2D.

According to Sam Roberts, director of the annual indie game festival Indiecade, the retro aesthetic helped indie developers create a niche for themselves because of the big developers’ ‘single-minded’ pursuit of high-res, photo-realistic graphics, which led them to abandon game genres that had been popular in the ’80s and ’90s. AAA studios were not really inclined to deliver retro gaming experiences, even though a demand for them existed, as demonstrated by the success of Cave Story (2004).

The 2D platform adventure Cave Story was the product of a single game developer, Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya, who made the game over the course of five years, mainly during his free time. The game has received widespread critical acclaim for its polished look and gameplay design, and for the sincere tribute it paid to classic franchises like Metroid, Mega Man, The Legend of Zelda, and Castlevania. Its success demonstrated the demand for retro games, and its quality and sophistication showed how indie game development had matured.

Cave Story was one of Indie Gaming’s First Successful Retro Games (Courtesy Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya)
Cave Story was one of Indie Gaming’s First Successful Retro Games (Courtesy Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya)

This was followed by other successful titles like Braid (2008), Super Meat Boy (2010) Terraria (2011) and Minecraft (2011). With the exception of Minecraft, these early indie successes were already harkening back to the 2D era, inspired in part by Cave Story. In 2008, Microsoft launched its summer of games event to promote indie games and prominently featured Super Meat Boy and Braid. Indie games had emerged from their niche and into the mainstream. 

The 2D indie games of the 2000s had unique aesthetics and did not generally mimic the look of an 8-bit or 16-bit game. But from the 2010s onwards, new techniques allowed developers to create an authentic ‘retro’ look. Shovel Knight (2014), made with a custom engine, was so similar in appearance to the games of the ’80s and ’90s that some gamers believed it could be played on the NES console. 

Super Meat Boy (Courtesy Team Meat)
Super Meat Boy (Courtesy Team Meat)

By the mid 2010s, there were a slew of indie games that took cues from Shovel Knight, and attempted to faithfully recreate the retro aesthetic of the ’80s and ’90s. Such games also retained older gameplay elements while introducing modern conveniences. Not all went as far as Shovel Knight in recreating the ‘classic’ look, but their visuals are clearly inspired by games for the NES and the SNES. 

Why are Modern Retro Games So Popular?

Modern retro-inspired games are popular because they are well-developed titles that are highly replayable and maintain an older-looking visuals and audio – the best retro games combine nostalgia and innovation to appeal to a wide variety of gamers.

In fact, a video game is far more capable of evoking nostalgic feelings than a film or a piece of music because it is highly immersive, allowing you to revisit a cherished virtual space from the past. Playing retro games (rather than watching a classic film) can be an intensely personal experience

However, just nostalgia alone cannot account for the popularity of retro games. Such games also bring back the elegant simplicity of older game design, and even while some of them are harder to play than the average game, their gameplay elements can be quickly understood, paving the way for an immersive experience quite unlike a modern AAA game, which can become overwhelming with its cutscenes, visuals, branching storylines and sprawling worlds. Those looking for a simpler experience may naturally turn to retro games.

According to The Independent, 90% of gamers will not finish modern games, partly because games now feature longer campaigns – a modern game’s campaign can take between 30-100 hours to complete. Given the complexity and length of modern video games, older gamers tend to prefer the simplicity and familiarity of a retro game that will not eat into their time. Even younger players can be attracted to such games because they are now trendy and their core gameplay loops are relatively easy to pick up.

Another compelling reason to play a retro game is that it provides an alternative to the toxic culture of competitive multiplayer gaming. As a critic observes, contemporary multiplayer focuses on ‘destroying’ opponents, but the couch co-op games of the ’80s and ’90s were about having fun together. Retro games that allow multiplayer gaming of the older kind let people relax instead of obsessing over being the best and racking up the most kills. 

At its simplest, nostalgia is a sentimental yearning for a happy past. It indubitably plays a role in the popularity of retro-inspired games, but so do many other factors. Gamers who are rediscovering old-school couch co-op are not just reliving their childhood, they are escaping the needless stress of competitive multiplayer. Gamers who are tired of sprawling open-world games with endless side quests can enjoy both the simplicity and the challenge of retro-inspired games. 

The Best Retro Games of Today

The best retro games released today blend nostalgia, innovative gameplay, simplicity and a very recognizable 8-bit or 16-bit aesthetic that goes right down to the use of ‘chiptune’ music and a rigorously limited colour palette derived from classic games. The games we discuss below are all very well-regarded for their adroit recreation of the past for gaming audiences of the present. 


Celeste (2018) is a retro platformer with unusual mechanics – it lacks a skill progression system even as the levels get tougher. You will have to restart each level, or screen, afresh if you make a single mistake, and the lack of level progression essentially impels you, rather than your player character, to become better at the game. This might give the impression that Celeste is a ‘hard’ game, meant to be ‘beaten’ – but the game uses its difficulty to tell a compelling and emotional story about a young woman who must climb a mountain while coping with her depression and anxiety. 

Celeste is a Difficult Game that Tells a Moving Story (Courtesy Maddy Makes Games)
Celeste is a Difficult Game that Tells a Moving Story (Courtesy Maddy Makes Games)

You die a lot in Celeste, but each death is a reminder that you are constantly learning how to overcome challenges. When you do complete each level, there is an exhilarating sense of accomplishment, especially as your player character does not level up – it’s you who have surpassed the challenge. Celeste’s restrained approach to mental health actually helped a player cope with suicidal thoughts – a remarkable achievement for any game. Celeste was by no means a ‘cult’ hit – by the end of 2019, it had sold over a million units. 

Sonic Mania

Unlike most retro-inspired games, which are usually made by indie studios, Sonic Mania (2017) was produced by Sega itself. Sonic Mania went back to the franchise’s roots – building and maintaining momentum were once again the focus of the game. The Sonic franchise had long been stagnant and Sonic Mania was a refreshing return to form. 

Sonic Mania Goes Back to the Franchise's Roots (Courtesy Sega)
Sonic Mania Goes Back to the Franchise's Roots (Courtesy Sega)

The game allows you to control Sonic, Tails, Might, Ray, and Knuckles, each of whom have unique skills. Sonic’s new drop-dash move enables faster movement through the air, enabling new platforming strategies. The soundtrack, with its combination of remixed classics and modern tracks suited the game’s own mix of old and new. The graphics were true to the aesthetics of the Sega Genesis, but still looked great on modern displays. Sonic was finally cool again, and all thanks to a game that got back to the basics, and within a year of launch, it had sold a million copies

The Messenger

Inspired by Ninja Gaiden (2004), The Messenger (2018) is an intense 2D side scroller that lets you play as a deadly Ninja who initially goes through various linear levels to combat a boss. But that is when the game throws a twist at you: the Ninja gains special powers that enable him to explore the past and present, presented in 8-bit and 16-bit styles.

The Messenger's 8-bit and 16-bit Art Styles are Part of its Gameplay (Devolver Digital)
The Messenger's 8-bit and 16-bit Art Styles are Part of its Gameplay (Devolver Digital)

But this is just the beginning – the past and present levels branch out into even more areas, and by then it is clear that The Messenger is not a linear game at all, but a game inspired by the Metroidvania gaming genre, which uses guided non-linearity to encourage exploration. The player must traverse various levels, solve puzzles and defeat several more enemies before he meets the real, final boss: the demon who destroyed his village. 

Enter the Gungeon

Emulating the top-down shooters of the third and fourth console generations, Enter the Gungeon (2016) is a rogue-like title with a high difficulty level filled with creative gun designs. The procedurally generated levels follow an internal logic that results in true novelty, rather than slight variations of the same thing, increasing replay value. The game was a critical and commercial success: it has sold three million units since launch.

Enter the Gungeon’s Bullet Hell Mechanic (Courtesy Devolver Digital)
Enter the Gungeon’s Bullet Hell Mechanic (Courtesy Devolver Digital)

The game is difficult enough that there are online guides for beginners who may be unfamiliar with the ‘bullet hell’ mechanic – a staple of many games from the NES and SNES era. In a bullet hell game, a large number of projectiles in detailed formations are hurled at the player, who must then avoid them even as he tries to destroy the gun firing these missiles. Enter the Gungeon uses the bullet hell mechanic to maximal effect, with a great deal of variety both in terms of enemy projectiles and the implements that the player character can use to defeat them. 

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (2018) is perhaps a game that hews too close to its inspirations. Heavily influenced by the Castlevania series, the game painstakingly recreates the 8-bit aesthetic and the slow-paced action of the NES classic Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1989). In fact, the game’s combat system was so like its inspirations that one reviewer soon grew impatient with the characters’ ‘plodding movement and attack speed’, and IGN states that the game walks a fine line between homage and theft.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon’s Owes Much to its Inspirations (Courtesy Inti Creates)
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon’s Owes Much to its Inspirations (Courtesy Inti Creates)

Other reviewers were more appreciative, praising the ease with which you could switch between multiple player characters, and the gothic visuals and music that set a brooding tone for the whole game. Even IGN praised its difficulty scaling, as the game introduced new gameplay elements rather than just giving bosses more health – some enemies can knock back the player, who might then plummet down the sort of abysses very common in 2D games. The game offers multiple options for tackling its eight stages, making it highly replayable. Within two years of launch, the game had sold over half a million copies

Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight comes closest to perfectly recreating an 8-bit game and its art style counts almost as a faithful forgery, and even the widely praised chiptune soundtrack reinforces the feeling that one is playing a game made for the NES – developers actually had to clarify that the title could only run on modern consoles. 

The 2D platformer pays homage to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (1987), copying its downward thrust attack, and other inspirations include Castlevania, Super Mario Bros and the Mega Man series. 

The game’s developers – Yacht Club Games – recreated many elements of a classic 2D side-scroller, including ‘parallax’ scrolling – the backgrounds of side-scrolling games can suggest a 3D space by shifting different layers at different speeds, mimicking how near parts of the landscape rush by you when you look out a train window, while horizon landmarks seem to remain immobile. Even the colour palette of the game is restricted to what would have been available during the NES era. Yacht Club Games took a nuanced approach to difficulty as well, introducing penalties for dying rather than returning you back to the beginning of the level – in effect, the game’s difficulty is the only aspect not faithfully copied from its inspirations.

Shovel Knight: A Game So Retro Users Thought it Required an NES (Courtesy Yacht Club Games)
Shovel Knight: A Game So Retro Users Thought it Required an NES (Courtesy Yacht Club Games)

The crowdfunded game proved so successful, both among audiences and critics, that it is now considered one of the greatest games ever made, and has sold 2.5 million copies since launch. 


The 2D RPG Undertale (2015), was also lauded as game of the year by many publications and was nominated for, and won, many awards – in a year when the Witcher 3 hit the stands. This is all the more incredible because Undertale was mostly made by a single designer, Toby Fox, who also composed the music for the game. Undertale, like Shovel Knight, is a classic of the 2010s.

Undertale shares the 8-bit aesthetic of Shovel Knight but its gameplay is entirely unique, quite unlike any games from the classic (or contemporary) era. Undertale leaves it up to the player to decide whether they want to kill or spare enemies, creating three distinct playstyles pacifist (with no kills), neutral (with some kills) and genocide (all kills). Undertale however, gently nudges you toward a neutral playthrough

Transcending both the Retro and Modern Aesthetic, Undertale is an Indie Classic (Courtesy Toby Fox)
Transcending both the Retro and Modern Aesthetic, Undertale is an Indie Classic (Courtesy Toby Fox)

Many games discussed here add nuance to game difficulty – Undertale actually lets you talk to enemies and get past them without striking a single blow. Many of the games feature widely-acclaimed music, Undertale is the most streamed video game soundtrack on Spotify as of May 2022. Your play style even determines what content you will see – an iconic battle with one of the game’s toughest enemies (accompanied by one of gaming’s most popular tunes) is unlocked only if you choose the genocide playthrough. Simply put, Undertale is indie development at its innovative best, combining old and new, and transcending both. 

Released in September, the game sold over half a million copies soon after launch, becoming one of the best-selling Steam titles of 2015. It has since made $26.7 million off Steam sales alone, and continues to remain popular, getting ported to the Switch as well, where it became one of the top-selling indie games in 2019. 


The greatest quality of the retro games we have discussed is their runaway imagination, even as they hew close to their 8-bit inspirations. Nostalgia can only go so far; in fact, it has been criticised for discouraging innovation in game design. The designers of retro-inspired games are aware of this, and succeed in striking a fine balance between nostalgia and reinvention. 

Many of the games featured here are far more innovative than some of the greatest AAA games released today, despite the millions of dollars spent by bigger studios – AAA titles invariably push the envelope in terms of graphics, but not always in terms of gameplay. Moreover, ‘risk aversion’ is the new norm for bigger industry players, and this allows smaller games, with smaller budgets, to truly spread their wings and soar to new heights. And the ones that reach truly undiscovered territory are those that go back to the roots of home console gaming. 

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Remakes, Remasters and Next-Gen Upgrades (How Revived Games Thrive)

When Bluepoint Games was remaking Shadow of the Colossus (2005) for the PS4, they noticed a pattern about the birds in the central temple complex of the game. In Shadow, the protagonist Wander sets out from this temple to kill various giants, and is returned to the temple once his mission is complete. Bluepoint developers noticed that if Wander was heading out for his fourth giant, or Colossus, then four birds would be perched in the temple; if he was heading out for his 10th, then ten birds would appear. 

This detail had escaped Bluepoint’s notice when they were remastering the game for the PS3, and in any case, since a remaster mostly uses the original code, the pattern would have been reproduced automatically. But in a remake, which requires developers to recreate a game, pretty much from scratch, all these little touches have to be remade as well, and Bluepoint took great pains to ensure that the bird-and-colossus pattern, and various other details, made it to the remake. 

The result was a ‘precedent-setting’ game that not only introduced Shadow to a whole new generation of gamers, but also preserved and recaptured the experience of playing the ground-breaking original. Bluepoint’s remake has received widespread critical acclaim, with some claiming that the new Shadow is one of the best remakes of all time. The original Shadow of the Colossus is often cited as an example of how video games can be art, and Bluepoint’s painstaking reconstruction does justice to the game, its fans and its legacy. 

In this blog, we will discuss remakes, remasters and next-gen upgrades, all of which give old games a new lease of life on upgraded consoles and modern PC hardware. We will see how prominent remakes faithfully retain the unique features of the originals, how remasters greatly enhance the graphics of an older game for new hardware, and how the next-gen upgrade endows a game with improved graphical fidelity and performance on a new generation of consoles. 

Remakes and remasters are compelling business propositions today, especially because the gamers who played the original versions of classic games are older now and have more disposable income. Remakes and remasters are big money makers – digital revenue for prominent remakes nearly doubled between 2018 and 2020, and remake earnings surged in 2020 amidst widespread pandemic lockdowns. Moreover, remakes and remasters allow younger gamers to experience ground-breaking classics with all the graphical fidelity and streamlined gameplay of modern hardware.

Older Gamers Who Have Played Classic Games Create a Market for Remasters and Remakes
Older Gamers Who Have Played Classic Games Create a Market for Remasters and Remakes

In fact, in 2020, a remaster – The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD  – was more anticipated than many new titles, and it was also the best-selling game in the US at launch, during July 2021. Remakes of Resident Evil 2 (2019) and 3 (2020) had bigger launches than the new entry in the franchise, Resident Evil 7 (2017). One observer calls the new trend of remasters and remakes a ‘nostalgia gold rush’, underscoring how a longing for the past plays a crucial role in driving the success of a remake or a remaster. 

In the following sections, we will discuss what remakes, remasters and next-gen upgrades are, and why they are made. 

How are Games Revived for New Generations?

The development of remakes, remasters and next-gen upgrades are all endeavours that revive an older game for new hardware and modern consoles. But what, exactly, do these terms mean, and why do studios and developers undertake remakes and remastering projects? We discuss both in the sections below.

What is a Video Game Remake?

A video game remake is a ground-up recreation of a classic game. It includes high-quality models, textures, animations and sounds, and is powered by a modern game engine that brings state-of-the-art lighting, reflections, shadows and other effects. 

Examples include Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 remake, released nearly 21 years after the original, and the Final Fantasy VII remake (2020). Both games were originally released on Sony’s first PlayStation console.

Final Fantasy VII Remake (Courtesy Square Enix)
Final Fantasy VII Remake (Courtesy Square Enix)

What is a Video Game Remaster?

A video game remaster is essentially a much better-looking version of an older game. Taking advantage of modern hardware, a remaster adds a whole range of visual effects that were either unavailable to the original, or hard to implement without performance costs, and also upgrade the game’s textures, models and animations. In general, remasters use much of the same code as the original, but can update it so that the game runs at higher resolutions and frame rates on new hardware. Many remasters are bundled into a single collection as well, and remasters of a single game can include all the DLC in a single edition. 

There are numerous examples of remasters, across video game generations, including the Shadow of the Colossus remaster (2011) for the PS3, the Last of Us Remastered (2014) for the PS4, and the Master Chief Collection (MCC) for PC and the Xbox One consoles. The MCC continues to receive updates long after its initial release in 2014

Halo: The Master Chief Collection (Courtesy Microsoft)
Halo: The Master Chief Collection (Courtesy Microsoft)

What is a Next-Gen Upgrade?

A next-gen patch updates a game to match the quality of titles released for the latest hardware. They are usually meant for recent games – older games would need a remaster. Even a bare-bones next-gen upgrade will usually boost frame rates and performance and enable higher resolutions. Some developers may also provide high-res texture packs and greatly upgrade game graphics with features such as ray-tracing, support for upscaling algorithms and HDR rendering. Many games receive such upgrades for current-gen consoles. 

Developers may also update remasters or remakes with next-gen features: examples include Resident Evil 2, a remake which received a ray-tracing patch on console and PC, and Crysis Remastered, which was updated to support NVIDIA’s Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS), an AI-based upscaling technique

Why are Video Games Remastered and Remade?

Remasters and remakes are not made purely for financial reasons, though such considerations may play a significant role in determining what game is to be remastered or remade. Good remakes and remasters evoke nostalgia, build excitement for new releases in the franchise and help developers improve their skills and industry cred.

Furthering a Game’s Legacy and Evoking Nostalgia

One of the key reasons for remastering or remaking a game is to evoke nostalgia among the many fans it garnered when the original was released. Remasters and remakes allow fans to revisit cherished virtual spaces while enjoying all the convenience and graphical fidelity of modern hardware. Such updated games can also attract entirely new audiences looking to discover why these titles became classics. 

Off-Setting the Risks of AAA Development

According to an NPD analyst, publishers can pursue the remastering trend to make money through lower-risk ventures. Remasters may sell less than a new game, but cost much less to make, and publishers can also decide which games to remaster, knowing where the demand exists. In fact, Nintendo’s Super Mario 3D All-Stars, a compilation of older Super Mario games, was sold with a sixty-dollar price tag and became the second best-selling Switch title of 2020, despite the fact that the collection was a time-limited release. An avid fan base looking to relive their beloved franchise had created a natural and profitable market for the Switch release, and saved Nintendo the millions of dollars involved in making a new game from scratch. 

Super Mario 3D All-Stars (Courtesy Nintendo)
Super Mario 3D All-Stars (Courtesy Nintendo)

Creating Excitement for New Releases

Microsoft successfully built hype around Halo 5: Guardians (2015) by releasing the Master Chief Collection for Xbox One right before it. The MCC allowed many new gamers to experience the franchise’s history before they dived into Halo 5. Despite a troubled launch, the Master Chief Collection is now a well-regarded remaster and arguably the best way to experience the early adventures of John 117.

The Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (2017), a collection of remastered Crash Bandicoot games was a resounding success, and a remake of the PS1 game, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled (2019) followed soon after. For long, Crash Bandicoot had been a mascot for Sony, but the franchise had stagnated until the remaster and remake revived it. In 2020, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time marked the first new release in the franchise in 12 years and proved a commercial and critical success

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (Courtesy Activision)
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (Courtesy Activision)

Building a Developer’s Reputation and Capabilities

When Grim Fandango (1998) was remastered and released for multiple platforms in 2015 by Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Productions, it was praised by fans and critics and sold far more units than the original. Double Fine built brand loyalty so well with its Grim Fandango remaster that its Kickstarter project ‘Double-Fine Adventure’ broke records in 2012, raising one million dollars within 24 hours. 

Grim Fandango Remastered (Courtesy Double Fine Productions)
Grim Fandango Remastered (Courtesy Double Fine Productions)

Bluepoint Games has a splendid reputation thanks to its critically-acclaimed remasters of games in the God of War and Uncharted franchises, and its marvellous remakes of Shadow of the Colossus and Demon’s Souls (2020). Its remake of FromSoftware’s first ‘Souls-like’ game was a launch title for the PS5 and Bluepoint has been purchased by Sony. It now has the chance to make a first-party PlayStation game, and all its experience remaking and remastering Sony hits will no doubt help.

In the following sections, we will discuss just what it takes to remake, remaster or upgrade a game – each endeavour has its own challenges, and we delve into them below. 

The Video Game Remake - a Labour of Love

Remaking a video game from scratch is a major undertaking, given that the game being remade was released generations ago. The resulting remake must nevertheless capture the feel of the original faithfully, while updating the content to modern gameplay and graphics standards. As such, developers must have one eye on the past and one to the future, and strive to recreate every little detail in the original, and even keep the gameplay elements and mechanics intact while updating them to match modern controller setups. 

Prominent titles include Bluepoint’s great Shadow of the Colossus (SOTC) remake for the PS4 released in 2018, Capcom’s remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3, and Square Enix’s Final Fantasy VII Remake. SOTC’s remake was released 13 years after the original, the RE 2 remake nearly two decades after the original, and the FF7 remake was released 23 years after the original – the original games are so old they necessitated a full remake. 

This is why remakes are recreated on modern game engines, and not much of the original code makes it to the remake. Many of the environments, models and textures have to be made from scratch. Combat elements may need to be overhauled, as is the case with the Final Fantasy VII remake – the original had turn-based combat while the remake features a revamped real-time combat system and allows you to switch between the main player character and his companions to execute special moves. The end result recreates the flow of battle in the original, while introducing innovative gameplay mechanics.

FF VII Remake’s Combat System is Used to Control Multiple Characters (Courtesy Square Enix)
FF VII Remake’s Combat System is Used to Control Multiple Characters (Courtesy Square Enix)

Bluepoint Games has justly earned the moniker ‘masters of the remaster’ because of their work on various critically acclaimed remasters and remakes, and their Shadow of the Colossus has been hailed as one of the best remakes ever – a closer look can tell us just what it takes to create a great remake of a beloved game. 

Shadow of the Colossus is a minimalist classic made by game creator Fumito Ueda for the PS2. In the game, the hero Wander explores desolate landscapes in search of mighty ‘Colossi’, whom he must kill in order to bring his lover back from death. The game’s areas offer no treasures, there are no low-level enemies to combat, no NPCs and no cities, towns or villages. Wander has only a sword and a bow with arrows to kill each Colossus, and rides a horse that doesn’t always respect his commands. The game is essentially sixteen boss battles, each of which is unique and takes place in its own desolate world, made all the more memorable because Ueda shuns so many traditional gameplay tropes. SOTC was an instant classic and A New Yorker article discusses the game’s status as a work of art. Remaking a game with such a formidable reputation was, well, a colossal challenge. 

For its PS4 remake, Bluepoint started with the updated code base from their PS3 remaster of the game, and used Ueda’s later title, The Last Guardian (2016) as a guideline for how the visuals should be updated. To recreate the forested and grassy areas of the original, they devised a foliage system, in which grass and plants not only sway in the wind, but also bend and flatten as Wander runs through them. 

They painted details such as erosion, cracks and other damage onto the terrain and the mountains to make them realistic, and retained the unique architecture and look of each structure, and even the Colossi themselves, while improving them with higher-quality textures and models. Animations were also revamped and look much more believable, especially in the battles with the Colossi. Even the fur on the Colossi sway and bend as Wander climbs up the giants to kill them. 

Crucially, Bluepoint used physically-based rendering (PBR), a texturing and rendering pipeline that accurately models the interaction of light with in-game objects and is especially effective in rendering reflective or glossy, metallic surfaces realistically. In a game that uses PBR, a gold crown and an iron sword won’t shine the same way – each metal’s sheen is based on its real-life characteristics – and even glossy or dull leather will look different based on how they interact with light in real life. Bluepoint used a blend of PBR and traditional techniques to maintain a balance between modern photorealism and the stylised look of the original. The developers also strove to stay true to the lighting setup of the original, even as they introduced High-Dynamic Range (HDR) rendering with their Bluepoint engine. With HDR, the game has much brighter highlights (leading to glorious skies), much deeper blacks and a far greater range of colours.

The Shadow of the Colossus Remake’s Visuals Utterly Transcends the Original (Courtesy Sony)
The Shadow of the Colossus Remake’s Visuals Utterly Transcends the Original (Courtesy Sony)

Bluepoint also brought performance improvements to the game. They broke up the world into manageable portions, rendering distant areas at lower levels of detail, and made countless optimisations to game assets so that they could offer a 60-frames-per-second (FPS) performance mode, and a locked 30-FPS quality mode at 4k HDR on the PS4 Pro. They also fixed the awkward controls and camera movement of the original, so that the game is playable no matter what frame rate you choose. However, they decided to keep the original control mapping as an option for older fans. With its devout attention to detail and its commitment to reviving SOTC for a new generation, this remake does count as one of the best ever, and is a standard for other developers to reach for. 

Capcom also did an excellent job with the Resident Evil 2 remake, though the title is significantly different from the original, which was not a true 3D game and was released for Sony’s first PlayStation, well before full-3D games were pioneered by id Software and Epic Games. Nevertheless, Capcom faithfully retained the original’s atmosphere – ‘jump-scare’ locations are recreated faithfully in the remake, and even some of the in-game objects are placed exactly where they were in the original. However, some character roles are expanded and certain areas are reworked from scratch. 2019’s Resident Evil 2 is not a shot-for-shot recreation, but a reimagined version that remains true to the spirit of the original. 

The Resident Evil 2 Remake Captures the Spirit of the Original (Courtesy Capcom)
The Resident Evil 2 Remake Captures the Spirit of the Original (Courtesy Capcom)

Capcom nevertheless fumbled the Resident Evil 3 remake, cutting out content, iconic locations and scripting the behaviour of the enemy, Nemesis, taking away the element of surprise that made him so terrifying in the original. 

A remake works if it remains faithful to the original while reimagining it at the same time. Not even the best graphical upgrades can assure success if the game veers too far away from the original. Introducing new elements while staying true to the source is a tough balancing act, and remakes of games such as Resident Evil 2, Shadow of the Colossus and Final Fantasy VII pull this off, while others fail to live up to expectations. Considering that the Final Fantasy VII remake cost $140 million – more than what it takes to make and market a major movie – developers must tread carefully when remaking old games for contemporary audiences. However, despite the manifest challenges involved, studios continue to pursue the remake trend – upcoming remakes include Resident Evil 4 (2005), Dead Space (2008), Silent Hill 2 (2001), Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell (2002), and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003).

The Video Game Remaster – Old Games Get a New Look

A video game remaster is a lesser undertaking than a remake – it uses largely the same game code but greatly enhances the visuals by adding various graphical effects, and increasing resolution and performance by taking advantage of modern hardware. Many remasters are bundled into a single collection, giving users good value for their money. 

Remastering is an ideal choice for famous games released a generation or two ago Generally the time frame between a remaster and the original is shorter, especially when contrasted to a remake. Bioshock: The Collection (2016) – a compilation of remastered Bioshock games, was released about three years after the last Bioshock title, Bioshock Infinite. Borderlands: The Handsome Collection (2015) which contains Borderlands II and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, was released a year after the latter title.

Sony has used remasters to fill out its catalogue since the PS3 generation. A Wikipedia page lists nearly 60 remasters for the PS3, many of which are bundles containing multiple remastered games. These games look much better than their PS2 or PS1 counterparts because the PS3 is one of the first HD consoles, and the original games remastered from SD (standard definition) look much sharper, with higher-quality texture detail and better character models. There are nearly 60 remaster titles (some of which bundle multiple games) for the PS4 as well, but many of these remasters are available on other consoles and PC too. Sony’s remasters are either branded as ‘Classics HD’ or come with labels like ‘Remastered in High Definition’. 

Remastered games come with a slew of visual upgrades. Assassin’s Creed 3 Remastered (2019) includes volumetric lighting (or ‘god-rays’), screen-space reflections (by which water bodies and other glass-like surfaces reflect nearby objects in the scene), improved shadow detail, realistic lighting from in-game light sources and increased view distance. The remaster also uses physically-based rendering along with upgraded textures and remade character models to make the game look photorealistic and supports 4K HDR rendering on PC, PS4 Pro, Xbox One X, and the current console generation.

Ray-Tracing Renders Ultra Realistic Reflections and Lighting in Spider-Man: Remastered (Courtesy Sony)
Ray-Tracing Renders Ultra Realistic Reflections and Lighting in Spider-Man: Remastered (Courtesy Sony)

One of the better remaster editions available today is Halo: The Master Chief Collection, both in terms of the visual upgrades it brings to its games, and the sheer number of games included – six remastered games, with each title’s multiplayer receiving regular updates. When released in 2014 for the Xbox One, the MCC won IGN’s People’s Choice Award as the best remaster of the year, and the collection has only gotten better since. MCC was first released for PC in 2019, (though only Halo: Reach was included), but within a year, all games in the collection were ported to PC. 

The visual upgrades are of such a quality that one can end up considering these remasters as remakes. Digital Foundry’s Youtube review of Halo 2: Anniversary, which is part of the MCC, straight up calls the game a remake. Halo 2 has gorgeous pre-rendered cinematics that replace the original’s engine-based cutscenes, and uses real-time lighting and shadows, along with global illumination, to add realistic lights and shadows to both in-game objects and particle effects (such as explosions). Not all games in the collection were as comprehensively remastered as Halo 2, but every game does come with performance enhancements and supports increased resolutions. The collection is not without its flaws, however, and the multiplayer experience can be buggy, especially in the PC versions of Halo 2 and Halo 3

Halo 2’s Remaster Overhauls Much of the Original’s Graphics (Courtesy Microsoft)
Halo 2’s Remaster Overhauls Much of the Original’s Graphics (Courtesy Microsoft)

Remasters generally improve upon the original and become the ideal way to experience an older game, unless the game has been remade – Fumito Ueda had endorsed the PS3 remaster of Shadow of the Colossus as the definitive edition of the game before the remake was released. But even prominent companies like Blizzard and Rockstar Games can botch remasters so thoroughly that they become the target for relentless backlash from gamers. 

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition (2021), which bundles ground-breaking classics such as GTA III (2001), GTA: Vice City (2002) and GTA: San Andreas (2004) is an example of what happens if a publisher remasters games without taking care to respect player expectations. The release was buggy, the graphics lacklustre, character models still looked flat and unrealistic, and the Guardian’s critic calls the remaster an ‘infuriating disappointment’. published an opinion piece arguing that companies shouldn’t release remasters just to make a fast buck but must cherish the creative history of the games they upgrade, and excoriated Rockstar for removing the original versions of these games from digital download stores when it released the remastered collection. The debacle forced Rockstar to apologise, even though they had not developed the remaster in-house – Grove Street Games, the studio behind the remaster, is fixing its various issues

Rockstar Studios Received Backlash for Botching the Remaster of Seminal GTA Games (Courtesy Rockstar)
Rockstar Studios Received Backlash for Botching the Remaster of Seminal GTA Games (Courtesy Rockstar)

Another infamous example is Warcraft III Reforged (2020), which is a remaster of the original Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (2002). It received an overwhelmingly negative reception and even led to the creation of a website that successfully petitioned for a refund to all those who bought the remaster by listing all the upgrades that Blizzard had promised, but not delivered. 

Warcraft III: Reforged – a Remaster – Failed to Deliver on its Promises (Courtesy Blizzard)
Warcraft III: Reforged – a Remaster – Failed to Deliver on its Promises (Courtesy Blizzard)

Remasters will likely succeed if developers stick to what is now a well-worn path – offering good value for money by improving the visuals and performance of the game, and bundling either its DLC, or multiple games, into one easily accessible package. 

As discussed above, remasters are inherently less risky than new games or costly remakes, and their target audience can be clearly identified. This is perhaps the reason why a badly-made remaster draws such backlash – it fails to live up to quite modest expectations.

The Next-Gen Upgrade – A Boost for Recent Games

Both remasters and remakes involve a good deal of effort, time and money, and must satisfy gamers familiar with the original and others looking to discover a classic. 

A next-gen upgrade doesn’t have to completely overhaul a game, and usually upgrades a game’s performance and visuals to a certain level – it can unlock 60-FPS modes on a title that was locked at 30 FPS in an earlier console generation, and can also use current-gen hardware to display a game at native or upscaled 4k resolutions. 

Some developers go the extra mile and provide higher-res textures, and offer support for ray-tracing and upscaling algorithms, and utterly transform their game’s look as a result – ray-tracing is an advanced graphics technology that results in near-perfect lighting, shadows and reflections, but it can also severely affect performance. It thus goes hand-in-hand with upscaling algorithms, which allow the game engine to render ray-traced scenes at much lower resolutions before upscaling the result. 

Capcom’s Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3 and Resident Evil 7: Bio-Hazard all have free next gen-upgrades, which feature ray-tracing. id Software’s Doom Eternal (2020) got a ray-tracing patch for both PC and current-gen consoles, as did HellBlade: Senua’s Sacrifice (2017) – both games are also available on the Xbox and PC Game Pass.

Doom Eternal is Utterly Transformed by Ray-Traced Reflections (Courtesy Bethesda)
Doom Eternal is Utterly Transformed by Ray-Traced Reflections (Courtesy Bethesda)

Next-gen upgrades make sense for recent games. By default, such games use modern rendering paradigms, such as physically-based rendering and HDR, and are built from scratch with the sort of graphics features that are introduced to an older game when it is remastered or remade. A cross-gen title, which is released late in the life-cycle of an older console generation and ‘straddles’ the boundary between older and current-gen consoles, is also an obvious candidate for a next-gen patch. 

Recent games and cross-gen titles may have run at lower resolutions and frame rates due to the limitations of console hardware when they were released, and the next-gen patch is meant to fix this and make the game run better on newer consoles. Adding support for ray-tracing and upscaling algorithms is a bonus – developers may be focussing on delivering such features for true next-gen games released exclusively for the PS5 or the XBox Series X|S, rather than upgrading older games with such tech.

Given that a next-gen upgrade can be quite trivial compared to a remaster or a remake, one would expect an industry-wide standard for delivering them. This is far from the case. If you want a remake or a remaster, all you need to do is go to a shop or a digital storefront and buy it. But the upgrade path to a next-gen version of your game is absurdly convoluted today. 

Some developers participate in Xbox’s Smart Delivery program, which automatically downloads the game version best suited to your console regardless of what disc or digital edition you buy. Microsoft has promised Smart Delivery support for all first-party games, but third-party publishers aren’t obliged to participate. Ubisoft supports Smart Delivery for Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla (2020) and CD Projekt Red does the same for Cyberpunk 2077 (2020). However, EA came up with a ‘dual entitlement’ scheme where owners of Madden NFL 21 (2020) could claim a free next-gen upgrade for the Xbox Series X|S or PS5 before Madden NFL 22 was released, which makes little sense – why should one game’s next-gen upgrade be blocked after the franchise gets a new release?

Sony, meanwhile, seems to lack a coherent strategy for delivering upgrades, and does not feature any pro-consumer initiative meant to match up to Smart Delivery. Sony promised dual entitlement for a range of first-party cross-gen games for the PS5 – which meant that buying a cross-gen PS4 game would entitle you to a free PS5 upgrade – but did not include Horizon Forbidden West (2022) in this policy. After the ensuing backlash, the game’s PS4 version now has a free upgrade when bought for a PS5, but nevertheless, a costlier PS5 version exists. Consumers may well buy the PS5 version, not realising that the buying PS4 version will result in an identical download

For cross-gen titles with dual entitlement, Sony simply leaves it up to the user to figure out the differences between the PS4 and PS5 versions of the game, and choose accordingly. An InputMag columnist calls the PS5 the ‘most confusing console on the market’, especially because it does not list the next-gen features of even its launch titles in the product description – you have to download these games (or watch Youtube videos of those who did) to find out the features available in quality and performance modes.

As mentioned above, Capcom released its Resident Evil next-gen upgrades for free, and CD Projekt Red did the same for Cyberpunk 2077, offering ray-tracing support on consoles with its next-gen patch. The company has also promised a next-gen upgrade for its seven-year-old open-world classic, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt (2015) – the patch is expected to arrive before the end of 2022

In fact, Microsoft has told third-party developers that they should offer Xbox Series X|S upgrades for free, and should refrain from branding such upgrades as new DLC. If the developer still decides to create a paid upgrade path, Microsoft recommends that owners of a last-gen version be offered a discount when they pay for the Xbox Series X|S version. Of course, no third-party studio or publisher is obliged to heed Microsoft’s suggestions, resulting in controversial releases such as Control Ultimate Edition.

505 Games’ policy regarding Control’s next-gen upgrade has been particularly egregious. Released in 2019, Control was one of the first games to implement advanced ray-tracing effects on the PC, and is one of the games NVIDIA uses to showcase the capabilities of its RTX cards. Console players, however, could not enjoy these features because the Xbox Series X|S and the PS5 were yet to be released. 

When the publisher did offer a next-gen console upgrade, they locked it behind a $40 ‘Ultimate Edition’, which had no new content when compared to the Digital Deluxe Edition many users had bought earlier, expecting a free next-gen upgrade for the extra money they had paid. In fact, the only upgrade path for the next-gen patch on console is to buy the Ultimate Edition, even if you have bought the base game and all the DLC earlier, and fans of the game are justifiably angry. 

Despite being simpler than a remaster or a remake, a next-gen patch is a far more convoluted upgrade path and can lead to considerable confusion and frustration. While developers strive to create beautiful and faithful remakes and remasters of older classics, there appears to be no industry-wide commitment to deliver the relatively simpler enhancements of a next-gen patch. Is this because gamers now expect these upgrades for free?


Remakes and remasters succeed or fail based on how well they uplift a game while remaining true to the source material, especially as nostalgia is a significant factor in determining such games’ sales. In the future, however, we may not see such remakes or remasters because of the prominence of live-service games, which aim to always keep pace with the 11latest graphics standards as part of their intent to keep gamers engaged for years. 

Also, the primacy and profitability of mobile games may make remakes and remasters less important in the future because the factors driving their creation may no longer be relevant. Shadow of the Colossus has arguably awed multiple generations of gamers, but will a mobile game like Angry Birds ever hold the same place in gamers’ hearts, especially to justify a remaster? 

Ray-tracing transforms the look of present-day games that implement it, and we may soon reach a point where there isn’t much of a difference between console generations, especially as consoles these days feature much the same architecture as PCs, while being optimised for gaming. This would imply that the ‘next-gen upgrade’ will suffice to update a game to a new console generation or a new line of PC hardware. 

Given how utterly confusing upgrade paths are today, publishers, developers and console manufacturers – especially Sony and Microsoft – may soon have to collaborate on establishing a standard by which each console automatically provides access to the most suitable version of any title that a gamer buys. Microsoft has already laid the groundwork with Smart Delivery, but such an initiative can work only if everyone agrees to implement it. Gamers will continue to be short-changed, especially when it comes to next-gen patches, until an industry-wide policy is established for such upgrades. 

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