Having loved games since childhood, there are many games I wished would get a sequel, remake or port. Apparently, I made those wishes on a monkey’s paw.
If you asked me what games I wanted remade a decade ago, I’d list a few beloved titles: “Sonic Colors,” “Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter,” “Pokemon Pearl” and “Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga,” plus at least one Mega Man game. Within three years, all five received a sequel, remake or port – at a high price.
“Sonic Colors” made me a Sonic fan with its adrenaline-fueled gameplay, vibrant visuals and electric soundtrack. Unlike other Sonic games, “Sonic Colors” was a Wii and DS exclusive, so hearing that it would be ported to modern consoles with “Sonic Colors Ultimate” excited me. I couldn’t predict that a port of one of the best Sonic games in years would become one of the worst Sonic games ever.
Obviously, Sonic is no stranger to bad games, or even bad ports of good games, but one has to wonder how “Colors Ultimate” got this bad. Between broken gameplay sections, worse lighting, terribly remixed music, cheaply added features and glitches that make the game unplayable and unwatchable, “Colors Ultimate” is the latest of many punching bags for the Sonic series.
Sonic can get back on his feet, but the same cannot be said for the Drawn to Life series. When I discovered “The Next Chapter,” I loved the mechanic of drawing my own protagonist. The lively pixel art and unforgettable soundtrack resonated with me as some of the best presentation of any game I’ve ever played. Its abrupt ending left little room for sequels, though I always had hope.
The Drawn to Life series was created by 5th Cell, a developer famous for the equally fantastic Scribblenauts series. However, 5th Cell has essentially been dissolved by parent company Warner Bros., with each of its franchises split between different companies. While Warner Bros. retains Scribblenauts, last seen with the mediocre “Scribblenauts Showdown,” Drawn to Life met a much darker fate.
I thought “Drawn to Life: Two Realms” would never exist, but perhaps it shouldn’t have, as it was my least favorite game of 2020. While the pixel art was good, platforming levels were replaced by half-functioning puzzles with star ratings designed for an iOS port. Don’t get me started on its generic soundtrack. A series as creative as this deserved better than a cheap mobile cash grab.
Although I wished for all of these, I expected one remake regardless. Every few years, Game Freak revisits previous Pokemon regions with the current generation’s engine, adding features, character redesigns, story content and fantastic remixes of some of the industry’s greatest soundtracks. Players can transfer Pokemon from past games into remakes, including newer Pokemon created after the original games.
It was only a matter of time (and space) before “Pokemon Diamond” and “Pokemon Pearl” had their turn, and Sinnoh region enthusiasts finally received “Pokemon Brilliant Diamond” and “Pokemon Shining Pearl,” releasing Nov. 19. Thankfully, early impressions have been positive, but compared to the gold standard of the Johto remakes, there are caveats.
Previous remakes incorporated content from their generations’ enhanced versions, including “Pokemon SoulSilver” adapting Suicune’s story from “Pokemon Crystal.” “Shining Pearl” faithfully adapts the original Sinnoh games – more specifically, there’s almost no new content. Additionally, because of Game Freak’s decision to exclude certain Pokemon from all future games, only the 493 Pokemon available in Generation IV can enter “Shining Pearl.”
Losing this content hurts Sinnoh, since the original games were vastly improved by their enhanced version, “Pokemon Platinum.” While some “Platinum” content returns, like its quality-of-life changes and forms for certain Pokemon, “Shining Pearl” excludes some of its best improvements to the pacing and story. The remakes offset this with merits even “Platinum” didn’t have, but they’re sidegrades rather than upgrades.
As the world’s most profitable IP, Pokemon games have immovable deadlines. Game Freak alleviated this by outsourcing to small developer ILCA, but this only placed pressure on a different team. If the day-one patch containing half its file size says anything, “Shining Pearl” had troubled development. The music suffered the most; although the final version has wonderful remixes of Sinnoh’s legendary soundtrack, press previews contained ear-grating MIDI placeholder songs.
Side note: why did these three games struggle with their predecessors’ amazing music? What made Tomoya Ohtani, one of many composers who ensures even the worst Sonic games nail the soundtrack, slap random instruments over one of his best works and call it a remix album? How did David J. Franco go from his hidden gem “The Next Chapter” soundtrack to “Two Realms,” which lacks his iconic style?
Thankfully, one wish was worth it. “Mega Man 11” brought the series forward aesthetically and mechanically – and yes, the soundtrack rocks. Unfortunately, before its release, fans suffered through “Mighty No. 9,” a Kickstarter spiritual successor led by character designer Keiji Inafune. He offered fans hope during the franchise’s hiatus, and failed spectacularly because of his hubris.
Inafune repeatedly added Kickstarter stretch goals, including additional console releases. Instead of developing one version and porting it to other platforms, he targeted a multiplatform release, dividing developers’ attention. “Mighty No. 9” received several delays in one year, eventually releasing as a mediocre game obscured by various glitches. For all the platforms Inafune promised, the 3DS and PlayStation Vita ports were never shown.
TT Games could break this pattern. Their track record has been consistent since “Lego Star Wars: The Video Game” redefined Lego games as arcade-style beat-em-ups with slapstick humor and triple-digit character rosters. They built upon this formula in “Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy” before combining both games into “The Complete Saga,” which is often considered the best Lego game and one of the best licensed games ever.
As a remake of “The Complete Saga” with added content from Disney’s canon, “Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga” will come full circle, bringing the game that created the arcade beat-em-up formula to modern Lego games’ open-world style. (It’s like poetry: they rhyme.) Unfortunately, TT Games has the opposite problem of ILCA: whereas “Shining Pearl” had immovable deadlines, “Skywalker Saga” has been delayed two years beyond its original release window.
Delays are usually good, and I’ll wait as long as necessary if it means healthier working conditions for developers. However, if “Mighty No. 9” is any evidence, multiple delays potentially means development trouble, especially since “Skywalker Saga” has added PS5 and Xbox Series X versions to its massive platform list. While it looks far better than “Mighty No. 9,” trailers have shown very little gameplay outside of cutscenes.
Perhaps the real curse was “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” which I’m not just saying because it’s objectively the worst Star Wars film. TT Games uses early production materials to adapt upcoming movies. Following constant rewrites, Disney delivered “Rise of Skywalker” materials late into production. Designer Ryan Roper described adapting this film as “the most fun I’ve had and the most miserable I’ve been whilst working on the game.”
Viewing these examples together, a pattern emerges. Profit-seeking measures harm not only games, but the people creating them. Immovable deadlines, crunch, multiplatform development, low-budget cash grabs, shuttering small studios – any combination of these raises red flags. Audiences and developers want remakes to provide meaningful experiences, but companies care more about selling products than creating art or treating employees like humans.
It’s okay to wish for more of your favorite games, and this shouldn’t stop you from wanting the “Kirby Air Ride” sequel we’ll never get. However, while bad remakes suck, bad working conditions are worse. When we wish for remakes, we’re wishing for art that will impact us like the original. That art shouldn’t come at the price these developers are cursed with.