What’s Up With All the Video Game Remakes?

If you follow video games as a hobby, the idea of older games from your childhood just getting (essentially) shot-for-shot remakes regularly is probably just something you understand. Honestly, you probably like it a lot. This kind of phenomenon is pretty unique to video games as a medium, though. It’s not like we remake/remaster books, and most of the time when movies or TV shows are remade it’s more of a remaster so it’s in HD. Here’s a good example of the shot-for-shot remake not taking in film; Psycho was remade in 1998 essentially shot-for-shot and everyone hated it. So what’s up with all the video game remakes?

Making New Stuff Is Hard

We’re going to kind of gloss over this one, because it’s not unique to the interactive medium. If you’re at all tuned into “things that are being made for our entertainment,” you’re aware of how everything that comes out now is a sequel or spin-off to something else. It’s not just you, the popularity of sequels continues to increase over time for obvious reasons—they make money. Over half of the top 25 grossing movies in 2014 were derivatives after all. Since the 2010s, the use of sequels in film has become a key method of managing profit as the costs of making things continues to balloon.

That’s all to say launching new intellectual property is riskier, and big corporations don’t really want to take that risk. 

Ok, but sequels and remakes aren’t the same thing.

Yeah, sequels and remakes aren’t the same, but video games as a medium are far younger than film so studies on how the film industry has become increasingly reliant on sequels are the closest analogs we have. Also, the fact that there are like four Resident Evil remakes (1 through 4) with more on the way, and the fact that The Last of Us was released three separate times speaks for itself. There’s also the prevalence of remasters, which aren’t full remakes from the ground up. 

But this is the part where we loop back to the initial thing that sets video games apart from film. Unfun (or fun) fact, it comes down to “a unique way to monetize your nostalgia that movies can’t capitalize on as easily.” On the less unfun front, though, is technology. A lot of games, especially older ones, are bound by the limitations of their time. Remaking an old game can have a far more transformative effect on the experience than remaking a movie. You might remember Resident Evil 4 (2005), which was remade in 2023. Back in 2005, you probably remember this fun quirky thing called “being unable to move and aim at the same time.” So you can imagine how that has a much more transformative impact than “we made it look nicer.”

The less fun part

Notice how almost every video game needs an online connection now, even if you want to play alone? 

Well beyond being super annoying and another step in this whole “we don’t own anything anymore” digital world we live in, it’s created a whole new issue of game preservation. The obstacles to game preservation differ from film, where one of the main obstacles is the literal decay of physical media—it’s also why that remake of Psycho we mentioned at the beginning failed. One of the big criticisms levied against it was that people could just… watch the original 1960 version. 

Not so with video games. If you’re at all tuned into game preservation, you might have immediately started screaming “Metal Gear” at this post. There’s a reason, the franchise moved 58 million units from its inception in 1998 through 2022. While there are more than five games in the series, we’re just going to stick to the five Metal Gear Solid games for the purpose of this discussion. 

If you have a current-gen console, you cannot legally get access to the first four games in the series. You want to play Metal Gear Solid 4 (legally)? You’re going to need a working PS3, which was superseded by the PS4 in 2013 (which has since been superseded by the PS5 in 2020), and production of all new units ceased in 2017. 

This isn’t even uncommon; the shutting down of the Nintendo eShop in 2023 made almost 1,000 unique games permanently inaccessible. But we could go on. This is why Nintendo resells old games at full price; there’s no other legal way to get access to them. Remakes come as an extension of that (albeit a more charitable one).

See if you know your movie remakes here.