Video game remakes seem to be all the rage these days. Just this April, we saw the release of two highly anticipated remakes in Final Fantasy VII Remake and Resident Evil 3.
Remakes, however, are not a recent trend. Time and again, publishers and developers have reached into their back catalog and make a play for people’s nostalgia.
As suckers for nostalgia ourselves, we here at Variable respect this hustle, and, to honor this tradition, we’ve put together a list of eight of the best remakes that have been released over the past few decades.
To make things interesting, we’ve put a few constraints. First, we’re limiting ourselves to actual remakes. Re-issues with some extra features, slight graphical updates and a new subtitle on the box don’t count.
Second, we’re limiting ourselves to one entry per franchise on this list. Some franchises have had multiple great remakes, and it wouldn’t be fair to have them take up multiple slots on the list.
With that out of the way, here is our list.
1. Resident Evil
When making this list, the one question that came up (especially with rule no. 2 in mind) was which Resident Evil remake to include. In the end, after a bit of soul searching, the 2002 remake of Resident Evil, or “REMake” to series fans, won out.
Remakes are about celebrating the past after all, and REmake has that in spades. Unlike the succeeding remakes of its sequels, it retains the classic Resident Evil “tank” control scheme and isometric viewpoint over pre-rendered visuals. But giving those visuals a new, more atmospheric makeover.
Despite hewing to the past with its gameplay, however, or maybe because of it, Capcom actually felt comfortable enough to expand on the original. More than just a fresh coat of paint, REmake adds new areas and new, terrifying encounters (we’re looking at you Lisa Trevor), while also adding to the series mythos. In a way, REmake serves as the prototype for the more ambitious remakes we see today.
2. Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes
Resident Evil wasn’t the only PlayStation classic to get a remake in the early 2000s. In 2004, Konami and Silicon Knights unleashed Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes onto Nintendo GameCube.
Solid Snake, Liquid Snake, Meryl Silverburg and Grey Fox never looked better thanks to the more powerful Game Cube hardware. Meanwhile, the improved controls, borrowed from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty, meant that sneaking and fighting around Shadow Moses island was more intuitive as well.
One of the biggest draws of The Twin Snakes, however, was its new cutscenes. Directed by Japanese action film director Ryuhei Kitamura, the cutscenes are over-the-top takes on those of the original.
Hideo Kojima has since incorporated some of Kitamura’s over-the-top antics onto his later games. That said, nothing still beats Kitamura having Solid Snake jumping on a Hind D’s missile before sending one of his own back at it.
3. Super Mario All-Stars
For many older games, this may likely be the first remake they ever played. Super Mario All-Stars brought together all the original Super Mario Bros. games for the Famicom in one complete package for the Super Famicom.
Aside from the graphical overhaul, nothing was really changed here. Then again, considering the pedigree of these games, nothing had to be changed, really. It was just Nintendo letting gamers relive these seminal classics on better hardware.
That said, Super Mario All-Stars was also the first time many gamers realized that different sides of the wold got different takes on Super Mario Bros. 2. While Japan and most of the East got a game that was basically Super Mario Bros. but more challenging, the West instead received a totally new game.
After Nintendo of America deemed the original SMB 2 to be “too hard,” the company instead took another game, the limited release Doki Doki Panic, changed the sprites around, and released it as Super Mario Bros. 2 in the West.
For many players, Super Mario All-Stars was the first time they got to play each region’s version.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
When it was originally released on the GameBoy, The Legend of Zelda: Links Awakening was widely considered to be one fo the best 2D Legend of Zelda games, with some outlets even calling it the best game ever released on the GameBoy. While retaining the series’ classic top-down gameplay, it added a number of mechanics that have since become series staples.
It should have come as no surprise that Nintendo has continued to rerelease the game, first as Links Awakening DX for the Nintendo DS, and finally as a full-on remake for the Switch in 2019.
For the remake, Nintendo implemented a unique art style that both looked fresh for the series, while also harkening back to its Gameboy roots.
What really sets Links Awakening on the Switch apart, however, are the “Chamber Dungeons.” Created after the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto asked series producer Eiji Aonuma to create the Zelda series’ take on Super Mario Maker, these allow players to rearrange rooms from the game’s existing dungeons and share these with their friends.
While the customization isn’t quite on par with Super Mario Maker, these “Chamber Dungeons” are still a blast to play.
5. Metroid Zero Mission
For its second Metroid game for the Gameboy Advance, Nintendo decided to remake the original 1986 Metroid.
Zero Mission takes the original Metroid and gives it a fresh, 32-bit coat of paint, making the planet Zebes look even more vibrant and stunning than it did in 1994’s Super Metroid. In addition, the game also took advantage of new mechanics added in later games in the series, especially the previous GBA game, Metroid Fusion.
What makes Zero Mission stand out, however, is how it adds to the original game. Instead of simply adding new areas, Zero Mission adds a whole new chapter after where the original ends.
What made this final chapter unique was how it broke from the traditional Metroidvania formula. Not only was a separate “stage” split off from the main map, but it also stripped heroine Samus Aran of all her gear—traditional Metroidvanias revolve around players expanding their tools to be able to explore more of the map.
Zero Mission’s final chapter instead transforms the game into a stealth game, with Samus having to sneak around before eventually finding a new power suit.
More than just breaking the Metroidvania mold, however, Nintendo also used it to expand on Samus’ backstory, giving players small glimpses into heroines past.
6. Shadow of the Colossus
While most remakes on this list feature extensive additions to the original game, the Shadow of the Colossus remake for PlayStation 4 does the opposite. Aside from the graphical update, Bluepoint did its best to slavishly recreate the PlayStation 2 original.
Not that they didn’t have any prior experience with the game. Before releasing the remake, Bluepoint cut its teeth on a port of the original for PlayStation 3.
The dedication to recreating the original means that playing Shadow of the Colossus on PlayStation 4 feels just like playing the 2005 original. That’s not to say they didn’t change anything. To help adapt the game to modern tastes, Bluepoint actually reworked the game’s controls.
However, such is the team’s dedication to the original that the new control scheme feels like a natural fit for the game.
7. Grim Fandango Remastered
Back in the 1990s, LucasArts made its name on various point-and-click adventure games. One of the best and most beloved of these was 1998’s Grim Fandango.
Set in a 1930’s noir style take on the Mexican Day of the Dead, Grim Fandango was LucasArt’s first adventure game using 3D graphics. The setting worked to the game’s advantage, with the calaca styled characters not requiring a lot of polygons to render.
The remake retains the original’s style and, it runs on the same engine. What DoubleFine, the studio by Grim Fandango creator Tim Schafer, did was to have the remake feature both the original and updated graphics (something that later remakes of LucasArts’ adventure games have also done).
What they did change, however, was the controls. The original Grim Fandango ditched the point-and-click controls for “tanks-style” controls, similar to the original Resident Evil games. This made the game much more intuitive to play than in 1998.
In addition, the team also added a “Director’s Commentary” track. While this was a common feature for home video releases of movies, at the time, it was a rarity for video games.
8. Black Mesa
Of all the remakes featured in this list, Black Mesa just might have the most unique story of them all. It originally started as a fan-made response to another remake: Half-Life: Source.
When Valve remade the original Half-Life on their newer Source Engine, they didn’t really make any improvements to the original. This decision disappointed a number of fans and led to two teams of modders working on separate projects that would later merge into Black Mesa.
When word of this fan-made remake came out, Valve then approached the team, now known as Crowbar Collective, to turn Black Mesa into an official release.
While Black Mesa took the better part of a decade to finally be released, the final product was worth it. True to their word, Crowbar Collective improved a number of things, most notably reworking the parts of the game set in the alien world of Xen, that many fans didn’t like in the original.
In a way, Black Mesa represents the ultimate expression of the remake. These projects are mostly tailored towards fans who’re nostalgic about the original. Black Mesa is a game made by fans nostalgic about the original, for fans nostalgic about the original, making the definitive version of the game they love, with official approval from the original creators.
So there we have it, our list of some of the best video game remakes from the past few decades. Of course, these aren’t the only great video game remakes that have been released. If you have any that you like, share them in the comments below!