The Games That Won't Be Remade
When Sony announced its PlayStation Classic last September, there was an immediate, focused stream of critique centered on its included games. While a number of them were legitimate missing pieces from the Classic’s lineup (whither art thou, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Final Fantasy VIII), several fall into the sports and racing genres that greatly grew during that generation.
Games made with licenses—be they sports team and player names, music, or the names and likenesses of real cars and places—advanced in both realism and stature during the 32-bit era. Compared with Nintendo’s perpetual re-releasing of canonically important NES and SNES games on contemporary systems, or collections from Capcom, Namco, Sega, and SNK, sports and racing titles are almost never repackaged for modern audiences. Capcom made Street Fighter and Mega Man collections; what about EA Sports putting out a Madden NFL collection? How can such popular games remain in the past?
Sony’s Gran Turismo series is the top-selling first-party franchise on PlayStation, but not one entry in the series has been remastered—or digitally re-released. Imagine Nintendo leaving Super Mario Bros. in the past—impossible, right? People would howl if 2017’s Crash Bandicoot collection had suffered the same fate. But even flawed attempts are better than most sports games get. The Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series thrived on PlayStation, but even the one attempt at a remaster was a poor re-creation and not a full update. EA Sports’ annual games sell in incredible numbers, but the only attempts to re-create old-school magic are made via additional modes, not re-releases or resurrections of the original games.
I don’t believe there’s a conspiracy to keep these sports and racing games down. The reality is much harsher: those previously mentioned licensing rights. The PlayStation Classic has Ridge Racer Type 4, which features polygonal, fictional cars racing on 3D circuits dotted with equally virtual billboards and advertisements. Gran Turismo had similar features, but the cars were modeled after real-life makes, and the advertisements were for real brands and manufacturers already in the game. The Tony Hawk games featured real brands, skateboarders, and music tracks which would require a great deal of heavy lifting to re-license. Look at the work Harmonix has done to keep Rock Band running—and the licensing issues they faced within the same console generation! The classic EA Sports ouvre would face all of the above problems and more, including deals with the hundreds of athletes who appeared in each game at their original release dates.
It’s pretty easy to see why F-Zero or Ice Hockey gets re-released and Gran Turismo and NHL ‘94 haven’t.
With video games maturing as a medium, and the discussion of how to access and preserve old games gaining traction, leaving entire genres behind to be forgotten impacts how a console is remembered, and portrayed.
It’s admirable that the critics of the Classic mentioned the Tony Hawk and Gran Turismo snubs, but the critiques fell on deaf ears at Sony and the lineup was left unchanged. Meanwhile, Nintendo Switch Online offers a perpetual, growing digital library of retro titles. But if Nintendo branched out from the NES to the SNES (as is rumored as of this writing), the same problem emerges. The SNES canon would, to me and many others, be incomplete without influential, heavily licensed titles like NBA Jam, Madden NFL, or NHL ‘94.
Compared with film, TV, and music, the video game industry is realizing the need for preservation much earlier in the medium’s development. This is an advantage to those of us who grew up with and love games: companies have realized the business of updating and repackaging old games has legs, and where the original rights holders slip up, we as fans have more tools at our disposal for preservation (up to and including emulation, which really is a key tool for preservation). But to ignore entire genres just because licensing makes bringing them back out is difficult? That won’t sit with me. Games in these genres are top sellers, culturally influential, and resonate with a wide swath of fans. To ignore them while preserving others is unfair.