Top 5 best and worst video game remasters
The art of a video game remaster is trying to capture the essence of the original, whilst making visual and QoL improvements to justify the price tag. After all, it’s still the same game, but it doesn’t always work out to be for the best. Here are our picks for the best and worst remasters.
The difference between a remake and a remaster is fairly small but distinctive; a remake changes elements of the original game, but a remaster just mostly gives the source material a shinier gloss of paint. Yet, some developers manage to pull them off brilliantly, and some are transparent cash-grabs that don’t fool consumers.
We’ve sifted through the increasing number of remasters in video games and picked out the top 5 best and worst examples, with some that pay clear reverence for the source material – and some that should be avoided at all costs.
5. Kingdom Heart HD 1.5 + 2.5 Remix
The concept of mixing Disney characters and serious Final Fantasy characters in a dark story sounded like a crazy concept, but Square Enix managed to pull it off on the PS2. Twice.
Not only that, but when the games were first brought to the PS3 in their upgraded form, they looked tremendous. The KH 1.5 and 2.5 Remix games also included several other Kingdom Hearts spin-off titles and subtle improvements were added to the main games that made them more accessible to players.
4. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Remastered
Arguably the most important Call of Duty, ever, Infinity Ward’s 2007 shooter dispensed with the tired World War 2 era and introduced players to a more contemporaneous conflict. CoD4’s campaign is still incredibly memorable and Activision took a bold step in having the game be remastered in 2016.
The game looked extremely polished and perfectly captured the feel and fun of the original. It lost marks for forcing players to buy Infinite Warfare to own it when it first came out, but it gained some back for adding in the extra multiplayer game modes that we had all come to love from newer iterations.
3. Spyro Reignited Trilogy
Everyone’s favorite purple dragon made a triumphant return in 2018. The original PS1 trilogy of Spyro games had been remastered with proper 4K visuals, and the already vibrant and imaginative worlds in Spyro were even more spectacular on PS4 and Xbox One.
Some of the game’s best aspects were universally applied to all three games here and other quality of life improvements were added too. One slight downside is that the new “dynamic” versions of each level’s music were underwhelming, but at least players had the option to revert back to the original music if desired. Also, some of the clunky platforming was left practically untouched, a positive and a negative, but it was worth it to run around and torch hooded men carrying eggs again!
2. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2
If you say the words “childhood” to any gamers who are in and around their 30s, there’s almost an assurance that they played the Tony Hawk franchise at some point. Neversoft’s skateboarding phenomenon was popular with players, but also with critics with the first two games being some of Metacritic’s highest-scoring games ever.
So when Vicarious Visions brought back the first two games in 2020, nostalgia ensued. One of the standout features for the remasters is the decision to include many of the tricks and mechanics introduced in later games. This meant the basic gameplay of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 now had the likes of the revert and manual, as well as the spine transfer.
The games were missing some songs and load times were still a pain (at least until the next-gen upgrades), yet it didn’t matter. After years of unsuccessful sequels, Tony Hawk had flown again.
1. Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy
The most famous bandicoot in history takes our top spot as the successful nature of the N.Sane Trilogy likely contributed to other entries on this list making a comeback. Not only that, but seemingly everyone has played Crash Bandicoot at some point in their lives, meaning this remaster eventually led to a whole new Crash title off the back of its popularity.
The lovable, goofy, orange marsupial was restored in all of his former glory as Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, and Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped were all remastered. The N.Sane Trilogy is a pretty much spot-on re-imagining of the three games that, like Spyro, unified some of the games’ best qualities.
All three games now had trials and auto-saving. The brutal difficulty of the original games was also retained with some levels proving to be just as difficult in 2017 as they were in the late 90s. In short, it’s the perfect package of platforming goodness, with a bow of nostalgia on top.
5. Super Mario 3D All-Stars
Super Mario 64, Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy are three of the finest games ever created. Each game is amongst some of the most distinguished in history, but Nintendo’s laziness didn’t do them any favors here.
Capitalizing on the 35th anniversary of Mario, Nintendo decided to package all three games together in a full-price deal. However, a notable lack of any new upgrades to the gameplay, a clear minimal graphical improvement through limited emulation was obvious, and 3D All-Stars deciding to include Super Mario Galaxy 1 and not 2 was a baffling omission.
The games are still absolutely fantastic, but as a remaster, bizarrely a time-sensitive one, it could’ve been so much more.
4. Silent Hill Collection
The authentic horror and sheer terror of Silent Hil 2 and Silent Hill 3 were practically lost for most fans with the 2012 remastered collection. A combination of poor design choices, communication issues with Konami, and a misleading title led to disappointment amongst loyal players.
Not only did the ‘collection’ consist of just two games, but numerous issues soured the experience. The game’s spooky aesthetic was lost on release as updated visuals made fog less thick and intimidating. Furthermore, script changes were not reflected in the subtitles, leading to an undercooked presentation. Overall, this really didn’t tick the boxes of a Silent Hill Collection.
3. Crysis Remastered
When people talk about how far games have come in terms of graphics, Crysis was busy setting the standard way back in 2007. “Can it play Crysis?” was a popular meme used to determine if a game could even come close to the visual dominance of the FPS game.
2020’s remaster fared so much worse than its original counterpart because not only does it add nothing new, but its graphics are worse if anything. The game debuted with a myriad of issues and technical difficulties that quickly mounted. Screen-tearing, frame dips and drops, and muddied textures brought dishonor to a game that had originally become a trendsetter in the graphical department.
On the plus side, the Xbox Series X version was much better – check out our review for more.
2. Mafia II Definitive Edition
Upon its original release, Mafia II still wasn’t lauded as a true great, but fans adored its story and characters. It was like a fully playable Scorsese film that oozed class.
It’s a shame then that Mafia II Definitive Edition falls foul of classic remaster mistakes. A less-than-impressive frame rate that will dip to shockingly low numbers, marginally updated graphics, and an ungodly amount of glitches, some of which were game-breaking.
A quick YouTube search will generate countless compilations of Mafia II blunders that turn this emotional gangster drama into a laughing stock.
1. Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition
It genuinely boggles the mind that Rockstar Games’ name could be attached to something of such low quality, but that’s the case here. GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas birthed sandbox games and cultivated Rockstar’s legacy over many years.
But Grove Street Games merely took the mobile ports of the three games and gave them minimal treatment to meet the requirements of the current hardware. The resulting product was three legendary games that resembled a shadow of their former selves. San Andreas’ rain gave players headaches, the Rockstar logo was somehow created incorrectly, and even basic remaster features like Performance Mode, were broken on release.
Just like Mafia II, YouTube is currently home to a sea of GTA Trilogy compilations showing the full extent of the game’s incomplete state. Rockstar have assured players that the game is being worked on and updated, but the release of Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition was as bad as it gets for us.