Shadow of the Remake: How to do a Game Reboot

While there is no sign of remakes vanishing from the entertainment world anytime soon, the typical reaction when we hear a beloved movie, game, series or whatever is getting re-imagined is one that involves cringing and groaning.  This is not without good reason, either, as there have been an unfavorably large percentage of excrement that exists within the not-so-wonderful world of remakes.  Some of these remakes might not be inherently bad, but just unnecessary.  Did we need a completely new DMC instead of making a Devil May Cry 5?  Did Spiderman need to start over just because Spider Man 3 was an inferior film to the first two?  What in the world happened to Castlevania during the PS3/360 generation?  And just reading a plot synopsis for Terminator Genisys makes me want to travel back in time to prevent a screenplay from being written.  And on that note, any remake of a Schwarzenegger film that involves anyone who isn’t Schwarzenegger should never get greenlit.  HD remakes of standard definition games are nice, but remaking a PS3 game into PS4 is summarized best by South Park: these graphics look about ten percent better.

I have accepted that remaking, rebooting, remixing, rehashing, and regurgitating all over popular things from the past is not going to end.  Stopping them is a battle that is an exercise in futility and not the hill I wish to die on.  Instead I am going suffer from a temporary delusion of grandeur in which I will use my position of game journalist to provide a public service announcement in hope that someone who matters will not only read but take it into consideration.  Shadow of the Beast, both the 1989 and 2016 versions, are both good games from their respective eras.  I enjoyed the 2016 version a lot.  Looking at some other viewpoints after I published my review, the game seems to have gotten mixed reviews.  I am setting out to change anyone’s opinion of the game.  I thought it was well done and what I liked and thought what could have been better are covered in my review.  However, as far the reboot treatment is concerned this was a prime example of how that should be handled.

First off, the 1989 Amiga game is fondly remembered by many people but it is not on some pedestal.   It was in that sweet spot where enough people remember it fondly to generate interest in the remake, but not at the level where the remake is going to cause uproar of slaughtering a sacred cow.  No one should have enough hubris to look at a universally beloved classic and say you know, the original Super Mario Bros. was alright, but let’s redo the game through my vision.  While extremely dated by today’s standards, that was considered the pinnacle of gaming at one point.  Shadow of the Beast was a good game for its time and in some regards could even be considered cutting edge, but series hasn’t been touched in over 20 years.  For being such a random choice, it actually makes sense to be considered a good remake candidate.

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After selecting the game, I would bet my next paycheck from this website that the development team was composed of hardcore fans of the original game due to the amount of care that went into respecting the source material.  This was not a straight forward remake of the original game with shiny new graphics.  This is a brand new game that uses the Shadow of the Beast lore that heavily references the original.  The development team went to great lengths to create a new world that would not only feel familiar to fans of the original but also recreate the same sense of wonder the 1989 version provided.  The original was fun, but why it stands out in my memory is the level of creativity that went into its artistic design.  Like any game from 1989 the graphics are not impressive by today’s standard, but it was one of the most unique looking games of its era and visually has always stood out in my memory.  Reflecting on other games from that era, is Shadow of the Beast better than Castlevania III or Ninja Gaiden II?  Most people I think would say no, but strictly on a visual level the game’s unique look and bizarre world made a bigger impression on me than those other titles, which I can say I spent much more time during my childhood with the aforementioned NES titles.

The design of this game is a mix of new and p;d.  Certain things I remember from the original such as the giant floating eyeballs and giant hands rising from the ground made their way into the new version.  The first level is a great contemporary recreation of the appearance of the beginning zone in the original.  The game world is a new one to explore, but it is filled with enough familiar elements made it feel at home under the Shadow moniker.  The different environments of each level vary greatly from each other, but manage still feel interconnected as part of an alien world.  The same level of care went into the game’s soundtrack, the new musical score is not a remixed soundtrack of the original but the influence is apparent on immediate listen.

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Keeping with the original, the new version kept with the series side scrolling roots.  Most 2D games these days are either tournament fighters or retro titles, so seeing a 2D game with this level of production was a nice change of pace in addition to paying homage to the series’ roots.  Certain other elements from the original found their way into the game as well.  Navigating through the dark unless you seek a light source makes an appearance in both games, as well as a certain special weapon and accessory.  I am not trying to spoil what those are for those who have not finished the two games, but they should be self explanatory when you get them.  While the new version is populated with some new creatures and boss battles, familiar enemies do make an appearance with a modern make over.  The use of a special weapon against one reimagined boss in particular was especially appreciated, not only because of showing homage to the source material but also because the development team was able to incorporate its use into the new combat mechanics.

To truly show appreciation for the source material, there is not much more than can be done beyond including the original game with the remake.  Including a simple port of the original as a bonus item would have been enough, but they actually go a little further than that.  Original artwork can be unlocked, as well a video of someone playing the 1989 game to completion which does help illustrate how short a lot of the older games actually were once you sunk enough hours into them to master them.  For those of us lacking the patience or time to do so, an infinite life cheat can also be unlocked.  The original game’s soundtrack can be unlocked and set to play as the accompaniment for the new version.  It is as if the development team, while obviously hoping that we enjoy their take on the classic, wanted everyone who played it to be able to experience the original that inspired their attempt at recreating the game in their vision.

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The 2016 Shadow of the Beast may not end up on too many best of 2016 lists based on the critical reception it has received.  It is still a worthwhile game, and I would especially recommend it for fans of the original series.  Regardless of whatever shortcomings the game may have, it is a great example of how a remake should be approached.  It is a new imagining of a world that doesn’t just rehash what came before it.  The team created their own game, but did so this with the utmost respect to the source material.  Elements of the 1989 game are seamlessly incorporated into the new adventure and the original game included along with the means to easily see the game in its entirely is included almost as if the developers want to show the level of care that went into paying homage to the classic version.  If other franchises were given the remake treatment this one was shown, remake might not be such a dirty word.