This week it's time to take a trip back to the 80's (or maybe very early 90's) to talk about an 8-bit game you'd love to see remade as a modern game. Perhaps there's a game that's conceptually sound that could do with an HD remaster, or perhaps it's a game whose basic idea could spawn a brilliant, brand new game in its own right.
As you ponder your choice, here's Team USG's selection of 8-bit games they believe are perfect fodder for a contemporary makeover.
I've just reviewed a remake of a classic Falcom game, so why not another? Legacy of the Wizard for NES was, unbeknownst to American kids of the '80s, the fourth entry in the company's breakout series, Dragon Slayer, and that makes it ripe for reinterpretation.
In theory, I really enjoyed Legacy. It fell very much into the exploratory platformer niche that I love so much, though I wouldn't exactly call it Metroidvania — progress depends somewhat on acquiring tools throughout the adventure, but for the most part it comes down more to knowing the strengths and skills of your different party members. You can play as five different heroes in Legacy, the entire Drasle family, and each brings different abilities to the table. The father's game becomes something of a block-moving puzzle adventure, while the "dog" can travel safely through monster-infested areas. They explore a vast, interconnected, and often confusing world in their quest for legendary artifacts that will allow the son of the family to slay a dragon with an enchanted sword.
It's a cool concept, but dear god is it unfriendly. The labyrinthine dungeons aren't just confusing, they often force you to poke around and experiment with trial-and-error tasks that, if failed, set you back considerably and force you to slog through things. There's also a somewhat frustrating mechanic in which enemies randomly drop health, magic restoratives, keys, and cash… but they tend to drop the items of which you have the fewest. This doesn't seem so bad at first, but it means that the more you adventure and wear through your health and magic resources, the more likely those are to drop… meaning it becomes increasingly difficult to stock up the other resources. This amounts to lots and lots of grinding.
With a few small tweaks, Legacy of the Wizard could be remade into something playable even by today's standards. Some retooling of the resource mechanics would be a huge help, and the simple inclusion of a minimap that tracks interactive elements (like, say, bricks that vanish when you walk over them and send you into earlier parts of the maze) would greatly reduce the frustration of the game. Add some prettier graphics and music that… actually, don't touch the music. It's perfect the way it is. And that's all it would take to make Legacy of the Wizard into a fresh, contemporary adventure.
I played my nomination on the C64 back in the mid 80's, although it first appeared on the British BBC microcomputer. It's called The Sentinel (also known as The Sentry in the US) and it's a 3D puzzle game unlike anything I'd seen before - or since come to think of it.
The game comprises 10,000 procedurally generated 3D levels that look like mountainous checkerboards, and the objective is simple: enter each level as a "Synthoid" and absorb the Sentinel that presides over the highest point of each level. To do this, the synthoid must traverse the landscape and reach a point where it can see the square the Sentinel is standing on, whereupon it can absorb it and move onto the next level.
Yeah. The game is a little esoteric, but bear with me. There are objects dotted around the level that the Synthoid can also absorb and then remake as boulders which it can stand on. It's this juggling of resources that makes the game challenging, since oftentimes the only way to move around the level is transferring boulders from place to place. Providing a threat is the Sentinel itself, which slowly rotates as the player moves. If the Sentinel can "see" the square the player occupies at any time, it's game over.
The Sentinel is a surreal game, and while it's slow and steady, it has a real brooding menace about it, since you're up against a target that constantly forces you to move - and not always in the direction you want to go.
I absolutely loved it - but the problem is that these days the painfully slow rendering of each screen position makes playing the game pretty frustrating. I'd love to see the game brought up to date with a classic mode that plays exactly the same as the original, but perhaps also featuring a realtime option that takes advantage of today's tech to render levels dynamically so that they can be played on the fly.
I really think a re-release of The Sentinel would work, as there's simply nothing else like it. It doesn't sound like a particularly exciting concept, but as puzzle games go, it really is as good as it is out there.
Honestly, if I had to choose one series for a HD remake, it'd be Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden. Many of the other games I could mention - Mega Man, Metroid, Castlevania - had had other remakes more recent than the last time the classic Ninja Gaiden touched down. That means it's time for Tecmo to revisit one of the classics that put it on the map.
Tecmo did jump back to Ninja Gaiden in a different form with 2004 revival on Xbox. the problem with the revival is it traded on the name and difficulty, but changed the overall gameplay. Instead of a tense platforming affair, the second Ninja Gaiden trilogy was more about action combat, fighting small groups and tough bosses. It was all about crazy combos.
Classic Ninja Gaiden is the an amazing game, combining precision platforming and timed attacks to achieve success. It doesn't play nice and it doesn't hold you hand at all. Once you get to level 5, Tecmo's developers simply decided that you were ready for anything the game could throw at you. Level 6-2 remains one of the hardest gaming levels I've ever played. Who here hasn't jumped at the wrong time, gotten hit by a flying enemy, and fallen into a pit? Let he who is without death cast the first stone.
If someone was being particularly charitable, I'd love to see them remake all three ninja Gaiden games with improved hand-drawn graphics and animated cutscenes. In fact, let's get some new character designs from Square Enix' Roberto Ferrari; he has the right mix of Eastern and Western art styles to pull off the look I'm going for. Build the levels in 3D, like Capcom's Strider 2, and I think we'd have a winner.
In the course of brainstorming for my contribution to this piece, I scrolled through a bunch of NES games, trying to find inspiration. The truth is that the best of the NES has already survived to the modern era in one way or another. Even Mega Man's legacy lives on through Mighty No. 9. The rest probably wouldn't translate very well anyway. Unless, you know, you really want Marble Madness for the PlayStation 4.*
* I'm not including Master System and 8-bit computer games because I'm not really familiar with them. Alas, I did not own a ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 growing up.
For the sake of argument, though, I'll pick Blades of Steel—a delightful arcade hockey game from the days when everyone played sports games, not just a crazed subset. What it lacked in licenses it had in fun. And yes, there was fighting, too.
I choose Blades of Steel simply because there's not enough competition in the sports game space at the moment. In the past few years, the once vibrant hockey sim space has boiled down to EA's NHL series, with little in the way of fresh competition on the horizon. The situation is dire enough that sports fans are willing to embrace almost any fresh blood, even undercooked retreads like R.B.I. Baseball.
Out of all the different sports out there, hockey seems the ripest for an upstart contender simply because the genre translates so readily to videogames. There's no intricate playcalling or timing, just passing and trying to shoot the puck into the net without getting checked into the boards. I think Blades of Steel could be a very enjoyable 4-player multiplayer game for that fact alone, succeeding where other remakes like NBA Jam have failed.
At this point, I'll take what I can get. And sports games could do a lot worse than a remake of Blades of Steel.