How Do We Determine When HD Remasters are “Worth It?”

The devil is in the PS2-blurred details.
HD Remaster

With today’s news of a new Okami HD remaster making its way to Playstation 4 and Xbox One soon, the question today has been in the air just as much as ever. It’s one with an answer that has changed as console cycles have gone on and on. It’s one whose relevance has seldom shone as it now does. Do we need HD remasters? If so, why? If not, how condescending can we be about it in Facebook comments?

Well, okay, tiger. Let’s try to reel it back on that last bit.

This cycle has seen far more than it’s fair share of HD remasters and ports. Some have been loved and well-received revitalizations of classics, like last month’s Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (admittedly more of a full remake than a simple upgrade). Others have been fun ports with DLC included, but have seemed a little less necessary. Last Autumn’s Bioshock Collection springs to mind. Some come and go seemingly without anyone noticing. Did you know that there was a Darksiders II remaster? It’s true. They called it Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition, and it was almost indistinguishable from the original version.

But here’s the thing. To some degree, HD remasters are selling well. Well enough that the dang things keep on coming out, at any rate. I would argue that Okami HD is actually among the more necessary, but we’ll come back to that. What determines whether an upgrade-port-o-rama is worth it or not is a little more nuanced than just how many people will instantly feel old when reminded of how long ago it came out.

HD remaster
You might think that if I were going to bring up a Naughty Dog property other than the aforementioned orange weasel-monster, it would be Uncharted. And no wonder. Last year’s Nathan Drake Collection was a huge deal. And to be fair, everything I’m about to say about The Last of Us Remastered also applies to ol’ Nate’s super-pretty adventure three-pack.

The Last of Us Remastered, though. The original version of Naughty Dog’s artistic folk song of a zombie shooter/stealth game arrived in 2013 as the swan song to the Playstation 3. A console with an extremely rocky life cycle, the PS3 had earned itself a higher reputation than it started out with, to be sure. And, between both of their flagship series of the generation, Naughty Dog was arguably the single biggest part of that. But be that as it may, at the end of the day the Playstation 3 still didn’t have the install base the Xbox 360 had built an empire by having. The Last of Us was a critical darling, and seemingly almost everyone with a PS3 bought it. But that still just wasn’t the same as the number of people playing games on other consoles.

The kicker is that another number bigger than the Playstation3’s install base was that of the Playstation 4, just a couple years later. It’s no secret by now that the Playstation 4 has done gangbusters over the Xbox One or the Wii U (a more relevant statistic at the time, I know, I know). There were way more people playing on the newest Playstation box by late 2014 than had ever bought The Last of Us on Playstation 3. That meant new people to market an upgraded version of the game to! Many of them were likely hoping for such an upgrade so they could catch up on some of what they missed.

This is true even more so for The Nathan Drake CollectionUncharted 4‘s release last year was a big deal, but was clouded by the number of people who would potentially play it who weren’t actually familiar with Nate’s previous adventures. As it turned out, Uncharted 4 was  a game that can work just as well standalone as not, but the fact remained that many players were happy at the chance to catch up. And there are those, too, who were big enough Naughty Dog fans to buy new versions even if they had already played the old. Shout out to you, people who did that. I know you exist because I exist, and I’m one of you.

To keep with the Naughty Dog examples, then, Okami HD is in a camp more similar to that of the N. Sane Trilogy. It’s a remaster of something older, brought somewhere new. But Okami HD is also in the same camp as the recently-announced PS4 version of Shadow of the Colossus, in that it’s already gotten the upgrade treatment once before.

In fact, both come from very similar origins. Both were Playstation 2 games, and both had levels of graphical fidelity and ingenious art design that outdid the consoles on which they ran. Okami got a Wii port, sure, but that wasn’t exactly an upgrade. But then the ICO and Shadow of the Colossus HD Collection came to Playstation 3 in 2011, followed closely by Okami HD in 2012. In both cases, the touch-up was good enough that the games in question could have likely been passed off as originally having been made for the third generation of Sony systems, rather than the second. And now, in 2017, both are getting their HD treatments bumped up once again.

I’m actually a little less thrilled about it in SotC‘s case. Sure, the game is beautiful and a great time, and it sounds like some gameplay changes are being implemented that might make it feel like a bit more of a full remake than a port. We’ll wait and see on that one. You can stretch the same point we’ve already hit on, though. Plenty of people either still haven’t played the game, or never played that first HD remaster.

And really, that’s even more true for Okami. When Okami HD was released in 2012, it only got a physical release in Japan. Everywhere else, the revitalized vision of Clover Studio’s final brushstroke got a shot in the foot as far as sales went, as the localization was a digital-only affair. Okami has needed this ever since. Not only have many people either not played the game in HD or never played it at all, they may not have played the quietly-released remaster only available on the last-gen console that lagged behind until the very end.

So how do we determine when an HD remaster is worth the gaming public’s money? Well, part of it comes down to fan demand, to be sure. If more people liked the Prototype games, the Prototype remastered 2-pack might have made some kind of splash. Just a ripple, even. It also has to do with accessibility. Sometimes, a remaster is just another way of making a game more widely available to those who might want to play it. And sometimes, like in the cases of both Okami and Shadow of the Colossus, it comes down to taking the beautiful work done to make a piece of gaming art visually stunning, and bring that stunner to the next level.

Jay Petrequin started writing at HeyPoorPlayer in the summer of 2012, but first got his start writing for It's Super Effective, a Pokemon podcast that happened to be a reflection of two of his biggest interests: pocket monsters, and making people listen to him say things.

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