Smith: Remakes, Remasters and Reimaginings

Crash Bandicoot Final Fantasy A Xbox One controller. Photo courtesy of Pexels.com

My advanced age is showing, because it seems like everything — from video games to TV shows — are going retro.

Remakes have been a Hollywood standard since the industry became old enough to inspire nostalgia, and video games are no different. Lately, though, its seems as if video game remakes, remasters and reimaginings nearly outnumber original titles.

Whether that trend is overbearing or not (there are good arguments on both sides), it’s a sure bet every hardcore gamer has a favorite game they play over and over. Re-releasing classic games with nothing more than a texture upgrade ensures the experience will be nearly the same.

It leaves remasters and remakes, which aren’t nearly as identical as the terms would have you believe. Remakes — also known as reimaginings (in case you didn’t already have enough “re” prefixes), are rarer, more experimental beasts. We’re talking about games that take the basic concept and rejigger nearly everything, including graphics, controls, level design and story. The reimagining of the classic PlayStation title “Metal Gear Solid” as “Metal Gear: The Twin Snakes” for the Nintendo GameCube immediately comes to mind.

Remasters — such as the two I’m taking on today — are a lot less extreme, and a lot more likely to please their core audience. It’s often just a graphical overhaul, which can mean recreating the graphics from the ground up.

The two remasters I’m reviewing today — “Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy” and “Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age” — look notably better than they did decades ago, and each has been improved beyond the graphics. For “Crash Bandicoot,” it was a matter of tweaking the physics. For “Final Fantasy XII,” it’s minor overhaul of interlocking game systems I’ll never understand fully.

It doesn’t matter, though. I’m a huge fan, and digitally pre-ordered both so I could play them the night of release. It’s a good time be a PlayStation 4 owner.

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy

Long before “Temple Run” and other popular phone-based platformers, there was an Australian marsupial who did his best to become a mascot for the fledgling PlayStation console.

That was 22 years ago, and unlike “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Crash Bandicoot” wasn’t different enough from his competitors to take the world by storm. But he did have one advantage over his fellow mascots — three dimensional, forward scrolling action.

Considering the game was released in 1996, it was a big deal at the time. Games had been mostly two-dimensional at that point, and the 3D revolution wouldn’t take hold until the release of “Tomb Raider” and “Mario 64” that same year. “Crash Bandicoot” was a small part of that.

This remaster includes not only the first “Crash Bandicoot” game, but its two sequels released in successive years — “Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back” and “Crash Bandicoot: Warped.” I was a big fan of the original, but by the time the sequels came out, I thought myself too mature for such kiddie games.

Now I can’t get enough of them.

While the titular character comes off as a goofier “Sonic the Hedgehog,” the tough-as-nails gameplay more closely resembles the more recent “Donkey Kong” games. The only weapon at Crash’s disposal is a spin-move and jump, and the three-dimensional platforming can make it difficult to land correctly — especially considering the lack of depth perception while moving forward. There are plenty of side-scrolling levels as well, but the 3D still is in effect there, too, leading to unintentional deaths by wandering too close or too far away from the screen.

Just like “Donkey Kong,” it often goes beyond difficult into hair pulling frustration. Checkpoints are few and far between, and I’ve spent upwards of two hours on one level, dying over and over again.

Surprisingly enough, the games may be more difficult than when they were first released in the late 1990s. Since the gorgeous graphics have been redesigned from the ground up, the bottom of Crash’s feet have been rounded to reflect that. The original version of Crash was made of nothing more than flat polygons (including his feet), and unfortunately, these rounder versions tend to slip off the side of platforms.

I usually stay away from overly difficult games, but there’s something about the rhythmic nature of platformers that brings out the best in me.

Three-and-a-half out of Four Stars

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

The nice thing about “Final Fantasy” games is they feel completely different from one another — aside from familiar themes, sound effects and music.

That’s why, at times, “Final Fantasy XII” doesn’t feel like a “Final Fantasy” game at all. First released for the PlayStation 2 back in 2006, it more closely resembles a role-playing spin-off of “Game of Thrones” — a full five years before the show started. The books that provide the foundation of the show were released much earlier, however.

Set in the the warring, medieval land of Ivalice (which some will remember from “Final Fantasy Tactics” and “Vagrant Story”), this iteration of the series mostly veers away from the fantastic, colorful world of other “Final Fantasy” games. Instead, it features a dark, washed-out brownish look that’s deceptively attractive, and royal politics dominate the upper end of the story.

The biggest departure from the series is the automated combat, which seems stagnant at first. Much like an MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online game), all you have to do is get close enough to a baddie and let your party do the work. But as you gather more party members and learn more abilities, you must program each character to take certain actions. If you have a healer, it’s just a matter of setting them up to heal anyone who falls below a certain percentage of health.

This turns into a complex menagerie of interlocking systems that would be far too complicated to manage on the fly. The joy comes in watching these systems work to your advantage, giving you control of multiple characters in real time. Unlike the other entries in the series, there is no turn-based combat, so overall management is the way to go.

There’s a reason people are playing this game 10 years later. It can take more than 200 hours to do everything, and at least 50 to do the bare minimum.

Though it is not nearly as made-over as “Crash Bandicoot,” the game looks better than ever thanks to the high definition facelift. There’s been quite a few tweaks to the automated combat systems, and there’s even a button to make everyone run twice as fast.

I had just met my wife when I started playing “Final Fantasy XII” a decade ago, so I’ve got a lot of fond memories tied up in this title. It remains one of the best role-playing-games ever produced for a console, and is one of the few games I feel compelled to play again.

Three-and-a-half out of Four Stars

Will Smith is a reporter for The Hawk Eye, a GateHouse Media Company in Burlington, Iowa. His column is printed each week in the Sunday edition of The Hawk Eye.