Preserving the Classics: How Gaming Re-Releases Need to Improve
I am a fan of cinema and a firm believer of the preservation of classic and obscure films. The Criterion Collection DVDs and Blu-rays are gifts from the movie gods with cleaned up picture and audio, a slew of extra content, including commentary, behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews. Even individual movie cases and pamphlets are recreated with dazzling artwork and pages of interviews and photos. It not only creates a definitive version of the particular film, it also allows a film to find a newer audience and avoid fading into obscurity.
With the hundreds of films being released every year by Criterion, most of which have not been seen or reproduced since their original release dates, it’s an exciting notion to be able to watch these films on the highest quality available and share them with a new generation of film buffs.
Video games have also been through a retro revitalization, with the re-release of previous generation games in HD Collections. God of War was the first series of games to start the trend, and now it seems that every major franchise from last generation is receiving the re-release treatment either in a collection or as a single, digital download.
On paper, this is a great idea. Take a beloved game or series, spruce it up with some HD upscaling, sell it as a single release through XBLA or PSN, or package them in a series and sell them as a collection. After all, who wouldn’t want to play their favorite games again on their modern gaming console of choice? It’s nothing new. It’s been done hundreds of times before. Just ask Doom and Pac-Man.
The problem lies in both the execution and the content -- or in some cases, lack of content.
The words "movie collection" bring to mind a pristine box set with the series lined up in order. It's visually appealing, organized, and a nice way to keep a favorite series in one place.
Using the latest release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection as an example, what was in the collection was not the problem, it’s what was missing that became so unavoidably obvious. The collection featured three games: Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance; Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence; and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. All three versions came with most of the additional content originally included (with some exceptions), were enhanced with a new control scheme, and were presented in HD resolution. It's an excellent re-release with the exception of missing content. MGS 2, MGS 3 and Peace Walker were included, but the game that started it all, the original title that put the MGS series on gaming radars everywhere was missing. The original PSX classic was no where in sight.
When a movie collection is released, it allows new viewers to watch the series as a whole, from beginning to end. It would be insane for the first title to be missing, the one that sets up the characters and establishes the world. Should the same not be applied to story-heavy games as well? Is the first MGS so irrelevant to the story that Konami decided to simply omit it? I don’t think so. Whatever the reason behind the omission, it is a glaring blemish on an otherwise pristine release. It’s also a trend that other collections seem to be following without second thought. The newest Silent Hill collection contains the second and third game in the series, yet lacks the first and the fourth entry. So what if the first game was released a generation before? If it's important to the story and the overall mythos of the series, why leave it out?
The recently announced Rachet and Clank re-release also falls victim to this in a different way. The series contains the first three games but omits the offshoot, Deadlocked. Granted, you could argue it was far removed from the main story, but that's beside the point. A collection should be just that -- a collection. Even the lesser-known or less popular entries deserve the chance to be included and not cast aside like an unwanted bastard child. If the Alien quadrilogy could do it, so can Rachet and Clank.
Another issue with re-releases is the removal of content or the complete change of certain elements in the game. The recent re-release of Crazy Taxi on XBLA and PSN is a prime example. The release featured the same levels, gameplay and characters as the Dreamcast and arcade original. The glaring omission came in the form of the soundtrack. Sega was unable to obtain the original songs used in the original release, instead substituting a generic sounding punk rock soundtrack. Arguably, one of the most important features of the original was the blaring soundtrack by famous bands. Granted, there are many legal issues and factors that need to be addressed when bringing back old soundtracks, but it does not lessen the empty void the omission leaves behind. With word that the Jet Set Radio re-release will also lack certain songs from the original soundtrack, this seems to be an ongoing trend.
Missing content from a game is even worse -- and much more noticeable. The Splinter Cell HD Collection for PS3 contained all of the previous generation’s titles on one disk: Splinter Cell, Pandora Tomorrow, and Chaos Theory. They were all present, but had so much missing content it diminished the point of a re-release altogether. The two titles that featured multiplayer had the entire section stripped from the game. The game also lacked options in controls. Like getting your stealth action on with inverted controls? Not in this collection.
It's understood that some developers simply don't have the time, legal rights, or resources to include all modes and options into a re-release. It’s unfortunate in bringing games to this generation that casualties are sometimes unavoidable. However, when a game lacks something as simple as control options, that is entirely unacceptable. You do not need an entire development team to port over and test something as simple as a control option. What makes it even worse is the Splinter Cell series used to carry weight in UbiSoft’s catalog. It used to be one of its most treasured franchises. It’s sad to see this collection is the result of all the hard work that went into making these titles playable on modern consoles. If anything, it makes publishers appear lazy and generally unsympathetic toward the titles of yesterday. A re-release should be a celebration, a chance to experience the genesis of a genre mainstay, or a chance to revisit an influential work in the video game medium. Instead, it comes across as a cheap and dirty way to exploit nostalgia and the trust of gamers in order to gain profit.
Gaming re-releases need to have a set standard, an example for all others to follow. Super Mario Brothers All Star Collection is a great example of a near-perfect re-release: four NES titles, all with perfect controls and graphics. It even includes a booklet and soundtrack as a bonus, something never seen in re-releases. It was clear that Nintendo cared enough about its star character to give him a collection of games worthy of the plumber’s legacy. Granted, it could have been an even better collection if the SNES, N64, and GCN titles were included, but for a collection that promised four NES classics, it delivered most satisfactorily.
There are good compilations that treat their games, characters, and franchises with the respect they deserve. Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection included arcade ports and behind-the-scenes video with developers. The Treasure re-releases of Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun not only included the original titles in HD but also included new modes and options for a new generation of gamers to fall in love with. Even the MGS collection, with its glaring omission, still was an excellent release featuring a vast majority of extras and new control options for modern consoles.
Any franchise worth its salt should have the right to a decent collection. There are legions of fans who have fond memories of playing these games. In an age of gritty, realistic, combat-focused games, it is a fantastic and almost therapeutic option to return to the simpler games of our youth. They're more than good times glued to a TV screen; they're an important part of the gaming medium, and like any work of art that helps to pave the way, they deserve to be remembered and preserved in the best way possible.
If publishers are going to continue bringing back their franchises and games of yesterday, they needs to start treating them like the classics they are remembered as and show some respect.
Stop thinking DVD bargin bin, start thinking Criterion Collection.