This is how not to do it.
I have a love-hate relationship with the remakes scene. On one hand, remaking an old game for new hardware is a chance to iron-out the problems and glitches that often plagued games from twenty-odd years ago and make them into something closer to the original designer’s vision. On the other, many games of yesteryear felt “perfect” to their fans and remaking them often unintentionally upsets the gameplay by subtly changing things like the speed or collision-detection making them feel like a bastardisation to the very fans they’re often aimed at. There’s also the question of “bloating” with some games that previously ran on a 3.5mz machine in about 40K of memory now needing 256MB RAM and a P1000 just to get started which begs the question “where did it all go wrong?”. Some remakes are undoubtably worthwhile, though, if likely to still divide people and I thought I’d suggest a few below, in no particular order.
Imagine’s 1982 survival-shooter was one of several good games the Liverpool software house released before succumbing to mediocrity, bad management, encroaching competition and eventually the bailiffs. This 2004 homage, by Peejay’s Remakes, adds trendy modern particle-based explosions as well as up-to-date graphics and sound whilst retaining the same enjoyable gameplay and clever scoring system. You can get it from the Peejay’s Remakes homepage
2. Manic Miner
A tremendous example of “if it ain’t broke…”, Andy Noble’s much admir’d 1999 DOS (ported to Windows and Mac some years later) remake of Matthew Smith’s seminal 1983 platform game barely touched the way the game played (there’s the option to have it move at the same speed as the Spectrum original if needs be) whlist beefing the graphics up to 256 colours (and thankfully not upping the resolution) and giving us an excellent new rendering of “In The Hall of the Mountain King” to accompany the jumping and key-grabbing. All we need now is for someone to do a similar job on the suberb, if sadly relatively-obscure, SAM Coupe version with its plethora of new screens and features… Manic Miner can be downloaded from its page on the Retrospec website.
3. The Ur-Quan Masters
Just one of the ships from The Ur-Quan Masters waiting to blow things up
In 1992, Accolade published Star Control 2, the sequel to Star Control a game that had enjoyed some success on the 16-bit machines and games consoles. Star Control 2 was released for a much smaller number of platforms (MS-DOS and the 3DO games console) which is a shame as it’s generally (rightly) held to be a far superior game to the original. Whilst Star Control was a mixture of strategy and Space Wars-style shooter, the sequel branched out further into an arcade-adventure which encompassed a collossal galaxy. Although there was a main story to follow involving freeing Earth from its extra-terrestrial overlords the player was pretty much at liberty to do what they felt like, visiting star systems and hoovering-up precious metals and minerals from planets as they saw fit. In August 2002, fans obtained some of the source code from Toys for Bob (the original programmers) and a fan-made port called The Ur-Quan Masters was released for a variety of platforms and is still being updated and tweaked. It can be found at this page here.
MicroGen’s 1984 arcade-adventure Pyjamarama (named after a Roxy Music song, of all things) was entertaining enough, if not the best example of the genre; but the 2005 remake is well-worth playing because it’s such a great example of what an latter-day homage should be. It manages to improve and update just about everything without putting a dent in the gameplay that made the original work. Download it and see for yourself by going to its entry at the Remakes Zone website.
5. Total Eclipse
In 1987, British software house Incentive released a game called Driller for a number of popular home computers and showed us the future. The game used an engine dubbed “Freescape” which allowed fully-navigable solid-3D landscapes. Although very much a precursor to modern 3D gaming, the relatively slow processing power of then-contemporary computers meant that the game was slow moving and both Driller and the Freescape games which followed it were more puzzle-based than shooter. It’s surprising it took so long for someone to remake a Freescape game and when they did, they decided on 1988’s Total Eclipse, a 1930s-set title based around a race against time to solve the puzzle of an Egyptian pyramid before the eclipse of the title ends the world. The fast processors and smooth 3D of modern machines means that Ovine by Design’s remake feels weirdly sedate and cerebral compared to what we’ve come to expect of first-person gaming but it’s worth playing not only for the fiendish gameplay of the original but the impressive atmosphere created by modern graphics and sound (including the unintentionally funny macho American bloke saying “Uhh, refreshing water!”) and the numerous “secret” areas that Ovine incorporated. It can be downloaded from its page on Ovine’s website.
6. Head over Heels
Retrospec’s remake of Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond’s famous 1987 arcade-adventure caused numerous ripples when it appeared in late 2003. Most were bowled-over by the successful retention of the look and feel of the original (even with the graphics redrawn in high-resolution) and the excellent new additions such as shadows (meaning objects are easier to locate in space) and a save feature cunningly utilising the reincarnation fish of the original; some, however, tutted at the apparent changes to Heels’ speed, the new doorways that jutted into the screen (unlike the “flat” originals) which changed the gameplay, the re-design of Castle Blacktooth, the divisive in-game tune and the loss of the “room entry” jingles. In spite of these problems, this remake is an undoubted labour of love and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the original even though some will doubtless feel it fails to supercede it. Make your own mind up by going to its homepage and downloading it.
7. Sir Fred El Remake
Sir Fred: Who art thou calling "Big Nose"?
As with Pyjamarama, this remake by Computer EmuZone of Made In Spain’s (a software house from, erm, Spain) 1986 arcade-adventure is less worth playing because the original was a spectacular example of the genre (although it’s not bad if you don’t mind the tough learning curve) and more because it’s such a good example of how to remake a game. The graphics have been completely redrawn and designed and stick more to the “idea” of the originals rather than the looks and the whole thing has a pleasingly 16-bit feel, as though this is a high-class Amiga version meaning it feels both updated and “retro” at the same time. Why not see what you think by downloading a copy.