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The stakes of remakes

What is it about remakes that we love so much?  Why can’t we just let something die?  It’s been an unexplained phenomenon for at least the past century, where it seems our culture wants nothing more than to take one of our beloved cultural icons and beat it with a stick, until it looks nothing like the original.

I always thought it went down like this:  somewhere there’s a large, open conference room stuffed full of old men in suits.  The old men have enormous white beards and eyebrows that look ready to rip a man’s face off.  They’re all wearing top hats and have monocles, and have been frantically discussing how to work the intercom without having someone walk outside to actually ask the secretary.  They are all over a hundred and fifteen years old.

Defeated, the men turn to their real job as presidents of entertainment, looking toward their, old gnarled CEO for guidance.  He clasps a cigar between his parchment thin lips and asks the question.

“Remember Charlie Chaplin?  How can we remake that chap to appeal to today’s rapscallions?”

It takes a few minutes to explain to him that Charlie Chaplin is dead, a minor setback, he muses, and for everyone to shout out ideas about what kids today are into.  Skateboarding once again tops the list, along with explosions and ‘topless lasses,’ which the men all agree appeal to rapscallions of any age.

The end result, of course, has little to no resemblance to anything it was supposed to pay homage to.  Though, I’d totally watch that movie, come to think of it.

Anyway, to me there’s little more insulting than seeing a large string of remakes and do-overs, something which has been hitting the gaming industry just as hard as the world of cinema of late.  Out of all the developers so far, Square Enix seems to be hitting the remake world hardest, though if you look around you can find more.  Nintendo remade the original Metroid during the Gameboy Advance days, and if you go on Xbox Live, you can find a really half-assed version of Super Nintendo’s Turtles in Time, complete with updated graphics, but missing levels.

Basically, my beef with these updated and improved games is this:  I don’t want to be putting down forty to fifty bucks on a game I played on the Super Nintendo.  It’s a rip off. Especially when most of these games are little more than ports of the original, with an added dungeon level at the end of each game.  Games that are actually missing content like Turtles in Time should never have been remade at all.  What’s the point?

Now don’t get me wrong, I love having access to some of my favorite video game memories again, but I think the main problem is that I’m beginning to feel like gamers are being taken advantage of by these developers.  For those of us who have been there, seen it, and beat it when it was new in the U.S., it’s a bit like a slap in the face to see a $34 sticker on the “remade” version of Final Fantasy VI for the Gameboy Advance, or when they pull crap like that Bionic Commando remake that has absolutely no playability.

There are some days when I feel like we might see a new game appear of Xbox and Playstation networks:  ET Remade!  Relive the misery!

I have no problem with laying down the big bucks for a current generation title, because you really get the feeling that those developers put a lot of time and effort into making those games as good as they possibly could before the release date.  But if they really want people to take home the Nintendo DS version of Chrono Trigger, they need to add more than extra ending sequences or some shiny, new pixels.

There’s just something about our culture that can’t let something go once it has run its course.  Mark my words, once Harrison Ford dies, we’ll have five to ten years maximum before they try casting someone else as Indiana Jones.  And this Indiana Jones will be hip, cooler, with 90 percent more sex scenes and is actually a master skateboarder who can launch rockets out of his nipples.

There are shining beacons in the otherwise uninspired remake pit, though, waiting for you to wade through the sludge and clean it off for a solid gaming experience.  I have been enjoying the remake of Final Fantasy IV because I get the feeling the development team really went above and beyond in making the best possible product they could.  When it was released in 1992, Square was still using Nintendo age graphics, and it really hits home to see updated environments, characters, and for the first time, voice acting.  It made Final Fantasy IV feel like a brand new game I’ve never seen before, even though it’s really just an updated, polygonal version of the game I played when I was a kid.

Still, the reach of the old men execs is seen, even here.  Seriously, Rosa.  Put a shirt on, you’ll catch cold.

Oh god I’m old.

Basically, remakes can be a good thing, but only if enough effort is put into them in order to make them worth the price tag developers seem to want to put on them.  Though, it’s a fine line between updating a game and completely screwing over what you were trying to remake.  When you’re making a new game in a new franchise, you’re free to do what you want.  But when you resurrect an old Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis game or franchise you have to remember you’re messing with people’s childhoods, where everything seems to have been viewed with rose tinted glasses.

Maybe there’s a larger market for remakes than I think there is, and maybe re-releasing the same games and movies is a secret gold mine, like the secret code for making money fall from the ceiling like you just won some kind of game show.  But before a game or movie is re-released, developers and producers really need to take a long, hard look at the original subject material before deciding whether or not they’re up to the task.  Especially before a thirty dollar price tag is placed onto the result.

I guess the bottom line is that the past is done, it’s gone.  Either find a way to continue your series into the present, or start working on something new.  I guarantee the end result will be a better sight than another thirty dollar slap in the face.

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