Filed under: Features | Tags: Bionic Commando, Bionic Commando Rearmed, Bitmob, Punch Out!, Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix
(This article also appears over at BitMob. Should you lose your mind and decide to read it twice, you can find it here)
A quick glance at the flood of wistful reminiscences pouring into the Mobfeed reveals one thing; gamers are a nostalgic bunch. Give us a chance to write anything we want about videogames and we’ll jump at the chance to get all misty-eyed about ’the good old days’. I should know, I’ve indulged in a fair amount of it myself.
We are the first generation to grow up with games. It has been a part of our lives since before we can remember. Whether it’s the blocks and bleeps of the pre-8-bit era that first fired out imaginations, or the dawn of the PlayStation, gaming and our childhoods are inextricably linked.
It is possible that we may never recreate the excitement and wonder of the first game that got its claws in us. Like heroin addicts we are destined to keep coming back for more in an attempt to recreate the high of that first hit. But the rapid pace of technological progress can only just keep up with the rosy-tint of our memories.
Take a look back at the games that meant the most to you as a child. If it’s one that you haven’t seen in a while, you’ll doubtless be amazed by how bad it looks. I had this experience recently, while talking about the old Master System shooter, Fantasy Zone. Not the best game I have ever played, admittedly, but nevertheless one that I devoted many hours to as a kid and then promptly forgot. I remember it as a cutesy confection of brightly coloured, curvy wonder. Looking the game up after 20 years, it now looks like 3 year-old’s crayon drawing.
It’s a fact not lost of the games industry, with a growing rush to re-boot, remix, re-release and re-invent the games of our youth. As the gaming kids grow up and get jobs, the industry is falling over themselves to sell us back our childhood. It’s a seductive proposition.
But there are right ways and wrong ways of treating our revered classics. Projects like Bionic Commando: Rearmed and Super Street Fighter II: Turbo HD Remix get it right. They are the perfect way to address our gaming sentimentality. Developed (or rather, redeveloped) with genuine love for the original, these games are re-presented just they way we remember them. Perhaps my imagination has died since I was a child, or perhaps my memories are just completely skewed, but I remember SFII: Turbo looking exactly like HD Remix does now.
These games, and those that display a similar approach, are utterly respectful of their roots. They tidy up the visuals, refine the gameplay and only mess with what was broken in the first place. Think of it as preservation. This is how it should be done.
Punch Out!On Wii follows the lead of these two re-imagined classics. The visuals, the ‘enemies’, the music and the sound remain essentially thematically familiar, with just a few concessions made for the platform’s new control scheme. It doesn’t attempt anything ridiculous like facial damage health meters or boxing manager metagames that follow your career. It keeps things nice and simple, just like the original game did. As a result it’s rekindling old loves and creating new ones even as we speak.
But not all remakes/reboots get it so right. Some get it wrong. Some concentrate so hard on one element of gameplay from the original, or so hard on trading on a well-regarded title, that they forget what made it fun in the first place.
Take Bionic Commando. Despite the difficulties of implementing a functioning arm in a 3D world, Grin do a remarkably solid job. If the project was to be judged on that element alone then it would be considered a minor success. But the original was far more than a grappling gimmick.
By relocating a classic game in the realm of third-person shooter aesthetics and online-multiplayer, Capcom believe they have a recipe for commercial success, combining the love of the old with the lust of the new. But judged against their own remix of the original game, judged against Punch Out!, Bionic Commando is a failure.
The current iteration of the series is too much of a departure to be called Bionic Commando. It takes the central premise of the original and distorts it, stretches it so think it almost snaps. Sure it has some of the same characters, yeah it carries over a little of the first game’s legendary toughness, and of course it has the arm and the music. But it lacks qualities that its progenitor showed in abundance; charm, character and near faultless design.
This game isn’t Bionic Commando; it’s a focus-grouped ‘cool’ guy with inspector gadget’s arm. Call it something else Capcom, and quit fucking with my memories.
I will happily part with my cash for the games of my childhood to be polished up and squeezed down my broadband. I can’t help but be seduced by the promise of being beamed back to my carefree youth. But it needs to be done right, it needs to be done with respect. These aren’t merely ‘products’ or ‘franchises’, they are our collective gaming history. Please don’t mess them up.
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