Whether you're looking back on childhood classics or remembering long-forgotten gems, everyone loves a good remake/remaster. These best of yesteryear allow us to revel in the memory of past glories, either by faithfully recreating classic experiences or by making subtle efforts to modernise things for contemporary audiences. This year has been a truly great one for fans of nostalgia, and here are five of our favourite trips down memory lane.
5. Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition - Ensemble Studios, Forgotten Empires, Tantalus Media, and Wicked Witch - The Ensemble Studios original remains a favourite with veteran strategy fans, as proved by the success of the 2013-released HD edition of the same game. Now, however, Age II is back once again having undergone a much more comprehensive overhaul and update, and while that means saying goodbye to all of the existing player-made content from the HD version, the quality of this new update makes that a sacrifice worth making.
In terms of what's to like about the Definitive Edition, let's start with the lovely graphics. It's clear that passion has been poured into the pixels and everything has been brought to life with plenty of style. It looks modern and retro at the same time - it's what your mind remembers the original looked like, although it's startling just how much things have improved if you look at them side-by-side. Then there's the huge range of content included in the package, with loads of official campaigns to play through and a sandbox mode with a healthy number of gameplay variables to tinker with. There's so much game here, and while some of the core features are starting to show their age, the whole package feels surprisingly fresh, all things considered.
4. World of Warcraft: Classic by Blizzard Entertainment - Few games can boast the sort of lasting impact that World of Warcraft can lay claim to. The MMORPG is still the one to beat in its field and the game manages to retain a strong community thanks to regular content updates and a succession of major expansions. This year, however, Blizzard decided to change things up and instead of looking ahead to the future of the franchise, the studio looked the past and returned to the place where it all began back in 2004.
This version of the game recreates the Warcraft universe as it was before the MMO's first major expansion, The Burning Crusade. Whether or not players agree with the changes made in subsequent updates, nobody can argue against the appeal of returning to the experience as it was before Blizzard started on a 15-year-long iterative process that will likely continue well past 2020's Shadowlands expansion. In Classic players were able to reacquaint themselves with friends and foes on both sides of the Horde and Alliance divide, experience gameplay mechanics as they were back in the day with a content rollout designed to mimic that of the original, and revel in the nostalgia that comes from being reunited with old friends.
3. Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled by Naughty Dog, Vicarious Visions, and Beenox - After the Nsane Trilogy brought us Crash Bandicoot in remade form, fans were asking for Crash Team Racing, and it didn't disappoint when it arrived this summer. Sporting the same shiny visuals and iconic characters, there was a ton of flavour in this remake of the classic kart racer, which some say even rivals Mario Kart (we won't get into that debate here though). It brought back the weird and wonderful races, challenges, and locations and kept up Activision's reputation for quality remakes, making it feel like a modern product at the same time as a nod to the past.
Part of what made it so engaging is the sheer amount of content in there, including a campaign packed with tons of challenges, as well as regular updates and unlockables to keep you hitting the track and chasing high scores. That's without even mentioning the multiplayer, as you can compete with your friends locally or online, as is the case with any good racer. Whether we were playing alone or with buddies, we had a great time revisiting this gem, which updates the racing mechanics to feel modern and responsive while retaining the essence of what made it great in the first place.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening by Nintendo EAD and Grezzo - 20 years on, Nintendo has released Link's Awakening, the remake that hasn't been dubbed a remake. Bringing in a new story for Link, he is no longer tasked with saving Zelda but instead has to save himself and find a way off the island he's trapped on. With a host of memorable characters who all add to the story in some way, this new and improved adventure is one that all franchise fans should try.
The new art style gives the game a retro-modern feel; the characters are reminiscent of old-style chibi toys and the top-down camera view keeps the game looking the part. Link's Awakening has also had improvements in the gameplay from other similar titles, having X and Y buttons free to be mapped to items it allows for the flow of combat to be much smoother and less clunky, plus there's no more menu-scrolling to assign a pair of boots. Another feature that this game added which we felt was an incredible feature was the Chamber Dungeons, a dungeon crawler-esque inclusion with custom maps that adds an extra layer of fun and replayability to the game that will see many coming back for more. Link's Awakening is a hugely enjoyable remake that doesn't stray too far from its roots while keeping things fresh and fun.
1. Resident Evil 2 - Capcom and Capcom R&D Division 1 - After 21 long years, fans got to revisit the famous Raccoon City as police officer Leon S. Kennedy and student Claire Redfield, joining them on a mission to escape the city once it has been overrun by zombies infected by a terrible virus. Arguably the biggest remake in this list, Resident Evil 2 saw overhauled graphics as well as revisions to a number of the game's iconic gameplay features. Gone are the days of clunky fixed camera angles, for example, as we finally get to experience this classic adventure from an over-the-shoulder perspective.
The remake allows players to choose between two difficulty settings; standard, which lets players save as often as they would like in safe rooms, or there's the much more challenging hardcore mode which requires players to find 'ink ribbons' to be able to save the game, similar to how it worked in the original. The overhauled visuals and gameplay made Resident Evil 2 an absolute pleasure to play once again, and the multiple options in terms of playable characters meant that replayability was baked into the experience, encouraging repeat players.
With some incredible work on the audio-visual side of things cranking up the tension to 11, Resident Evil 2 blew us away by mixing in just enough new scares to keep us on the edge of our seats throughout. Despite being reverent to the first game and respecting its legacy, Capcom included enough innovations and alterations to ensure that even veterans of the original had a thrilling time during their return to Raccoon City.
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