Monday, January 4, 2010

Defending the Re-release

by Daniel Bullard-Bates

There’s a long list of games that came out in 2009 that weren’t considered for any game of the year awards: God of War, Final Fantasy VII, and Metroid Prime among them. They’re all fantastic games, and deserving of praise, but this year wasn’t their first on store shelves. Instead of the hot new release, these games were resurrected for new consoles, offering a glimpse into video game history.

The re-release is often disparaged as a shameless cash-in on a publisher’s back catalog, but releases like God of War Collection and Metroid Prime Trilogy are more than mere products of greed. Video game re-releases allow gamers to experience the history of video games without buying older consoles or hunting down rare cartridges. At their best, a re-release offers more than the original did, whether that be updated graphics and gameplay or insight into the development of the game. Perhaps in the future, this will become something akin to the Criterion Collection for film: definitive remasters of classic games, prized for their quality and reverence to the source material.

The other appeal of re-releasing older games is giving a whole new audience a chance to experience them. As someone who only recently became invested in console gaming, this can be a very powerful motivator.

I never owned a Playstation 2, one of the most popular consoles of all time. I played some of the games, but always at a friend’s house. I held out on the Playstation 3 for a long time as well, but it wasn’t Metal Gear Solid 4, Killzone 2, or Uncharted 2: Among Thieves that finally got me to buy the system. I considered the Playstation 3 useless after backwards compatibility was removed. It was the announcement of the God of War Collection that changed my mind. Finding out that I could play these missed games told me that Sony had something resembling a plan to deliver that fantastic Playstation 2 content. Don’t get me wrong, the other games were appealing, but God of War Collection gave me hope that I would one day be able to play Shadow of the Colossus for less than a hundred dollars and an extra black box under my television.

I would consider my Xbox 360 considerably less valuable if I couldn’t play Jade Empire or Psychonauts on it, and the fact that I can play Super Metroid, Earthworm Jim and Beyond Good and Evil on the Nintendo Wii doubles the amount of time I spend with the supposedly casual device. This generation of consoles has been the first to really, thoroughly embrace the history of video games as much as their future. I think that Square Enix should probably be focusing more of their efforts on new games than they are on bringing every Final Fantasy ever made to the Nintendo DS, but I don’t mind companies taking some time to make fantastic old games available to us. And I still want that Playstation 3 re-make of Final Fantasy VII while we’re at it.

It hit me while I was playing God of War, marveling at some of the great design decisions and the intricate, incredible dungeon of the Temple of Pandora. It was new and familiar at the same time, and I could see how it spawned a whole category of action games at the same time as it drew on Zelda to create one of the most complicated dungeons I'd ever seen. I wondered how it was that I’d never played it before, and gloried in the fact that I finally could. God of War is a piece of video game history now, and while it may not be a long history, there are plenty of games worth revisiting.

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