Adventure Game Remakes – The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
The recent years have seen the resurgence of many classic adventure games through crowd-funding and remakes instigated by either veterans of the industry or, in some cases, by loving fans of these games within major companies. Monkey Island, Broken Sword, Leisure Suit Larry and now, most recently, Gabriel Knight have all enjoyed updated reinterpretations of their classic titles. And still to come, we have the updated version of Grim Fandango.
What’s also notable is how differently each of these remakes have approached the classic games. At the same time, there is a pressure to release something new, but at the same time there is a pressure to retain as much of the original game which was so popular to begin with.
In this blog I’m dissecting some of the creative choices made by the companies…
Addendum: The two most recent episodes of White Devil Podcast (#10 and #11) dealt with adventure games. If you are a fan, I recommend listening to them.
Monkey Island Special Edition – Same game but shinier!
What I personally consider to be the progenitor of the current wave of adventure game revivals were LucasArts’s Special Editions of the first two Monkey Island games. However, they are an oddity in the sense that unlike some of the more recent remakes, the Special Editions were not crowd-funded or even officially promoted by the series creators (all of whom had left LucasArts a long time ago). Instead, we have the very brief rule of Darrell Rodriguez as the company CEO to thank for these projects and his ambition to revive many of the forgotten LucasArts IPs.
The Monkey Island Special Editions were probably the most loyal reinterpretations of the classic games in question: they literally ran on top of the old game engine. In other words, no new content was added or removed from Secret of Monkey Island, but the game got new snazzy art-work, a true instrumental soundtrack and a full voice-over. This is what I would call the “Super Mario All-Stars” treatment and it’s definitely the best way to go if you’re worried about fans being upset by any changes made to the game. However, it perhaps shows a slight lack of ambition with absolutely nothing new added to the game, apart from a close-up of the dog and the voice-cast.
Indeed, the fact that LucasArts brought back the voice-talent from The Curse of Monkey Island and Escape from Monkey Island is probably this remake’s saving grace. Because as awesome as the 16-bit renditions of the 8-bit Mario games were on the SNES, I would still prefer the originals because apart from flashier graphics and sound, the game is still exactly the same. With Monkey Island 1’s Special Edition at least I felt that the voice-acting added a lot to what was originally a very quiet game. The new art also greatly improved on the experience (though to be fair, Secret holds up surprisingly well for what was originally a 16-colour game) and the knowledge that the game goes through every important plot movement just makes it feel very fulfilling. I genuinely enjoyed the first game’s Special Edition.
With Monkey Island 2, however, we had some rather unfortunate sloppiness, which seems ironic since you would think that remaking a game would instantly give you a chance to improve on the flaws of the original. While feature-wise MI2’s Special Edition was head and shoulders above the first (creator commentary, voice-acting in old graphics mode etc.), the actual touch-ups themselves were a lot less flattering mainly because of the abundance of bugs that were in the initial release. The PC crowds luckily got a patch to deal with them, but it’s annoying that such obvious problems got into the finished product to begin with.
Over-all though, the Special Editions were a good effort. Though MI2 lobbed off an entire game mode (the Lite-mode, which no-one plays) and censored a few instances of accidental product placement, they maintained maximum loyalty to the game. However, there’s a nagging feeling playing these games that LucasArts could have been bolder and, for instance, could have added a few more cutscenes and polished up the look even more, since new animation cells covering the 256 colour version’s sprites just typically made everything look much choppier than it needed to.
Double Fine’s Grim Fandango is also going to honour traditions and actually build upon the original game, but that game has the advantage of pre-rendered cutscenes and far more technical flexibility, so I feel the game isn’t going to suffer from this treatment as much.
Broken Sword – The Age-appropriate Director’s Cut
Broken Sword also celebrated a return to prominence with the crowd-funded fifth game coming out this year, but in the build-up to it, Revolution Software did some deals with Ubisoft to bring the first two games back in a more flashy manner. I wont say much about the Broken Sword 2 re-release since there wasn’t much changed from the original game, but what Revolution instead did with the first title of the series, The Shadow of the Templars, was quite interesting.
Instead of just touching up the graphics (which for a 1996 game actually hold up really well), Charles Cecil decided that the remake should include some brand new material. Broken Sword Director’s Cut included completely new scenes, not part of the original game, where you got to play as one of the series protagonists Nicole Collard (Nico has been playable since the second game of the series). It was an interesting way of Revolution to try and expand on what was already a very fascinating game. In addition, George’s segments got new and interesting puzzles which were definitely a welcome addition.
However, these additions also seemed a little extraneous in the greater scheme of things. While Nicole’s new chapters were interesting they unfortunately stole the attention away from George from the beginning. I really loved George’s opening narration in the original, so now it felt a bit odd that George steps into the scene much later. Also, while they couldn’t add the new puzzles any other way without completely rewriting parts of the game, the way the new puzzles become centred onto a single-minded view also felt a little artificial. But this definitely seems like I’m complaining unnecessarily. The truth is, I’m happy Revolution decided to add something new to the game since the original already had such vibrant graphics, great story, mostly solid voice-acting and a great soundtrack. Also, with Broken Sword being definitely on the easy end of the spectrum as adventure games go, these new puzzles took me delightfully by surprise and I was finally getting stumped, but in a good way, in a Broken Sword game.
However, one change I felt was completely against the very nature of the game and the main reason I still prefer the original. Apparently, Revolution wanted to reach out to a much younger audience than what the original Broken Sword was intended for and this led to some rather glaring omissions and flat-out censorship. In the original game, George could die at numerous spots, sometimes rather gruesomely. In the Director’s Cut, these deaths are removed through the courtesy of George simply automatically doing whatever action in the original game saved his life. I could understand if this was done to give inexperienced players a softer landing into the series, but in light of all the other censorship, it comes off as oddly and disturbingly self-aware effort to lower the game’s age-recommendation.
What I’m talking about specifically are two scenes of violence in the game not directed at George. In one scene, blood on a guy who gets driven over by a sports car was intentionally removed while in another, a scene where a character originally got a dagger thrown through his throat, now gets shot cleanly while a handgun is clumsily animated into another character’s hand. Somehow, these omissions make me dislike the remake more because they don’t seem at all necessary and, in fact, hilariously contradictory to what people usually associate with director’s cuts.
The one good thing about the remake is that most online market-places now also offer the gory original along with the Director’s Cut and I think this is fair since I feel people will be missing out on some iconic moments otherwise. I do appreciate Ubisoft’s effort of bringing a timeless classic like The Shadow of the Templars to players’ reach with this release, but it’s annoying in my view that the changes seem to clash so dramatically with the original content.
Gabriel & Larry – Sierra challenges traditions
Surprisingly, the company that has been the most daring in their revisions of classic games is the company that perhaps used to drag behind on innovation of the genre. Sierra as a company has only recently come back to life, but the old creators have maintained active and crowd-funding is mainly what has been bringing these games back. It’s interesting for me that both the Gabriel Knight and Leisure Suit Larry remakes have actually changed the most from the original games, but on further contemplation this is hardly a surprise. Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers was released at the end of 1993, also at the tail end of Sierra’s traditional 2D point-and-click games. Reviving the engine would have required way too much work and even the optimised re-releases of the original game don’t run so smoothly. And the first Larry was technically a product of the late-80s, but even the more popular VGA remake falls into that sad mold of obsolete game technology.
Gabriel Knight has taken a dramatic steps by turning the characters into 3D (though maintaining the 2D comic-book art and backgrounds), the game has added new segments and new locations but retains the story of the original. It’s about as dramatic of a refurbishment as you can get without losing the essentials of the game and for this I would definitely applaud Jane Jensen’s crew. However, the game has some awkward additions and changes that still make me prefer the original. I haven’t played all the way through it yet, but one can understand my disappointment expecting to hear Tim Curry, Mark Hamill and Jim Cummings and getting instead a bunch of imitators with varying degrees of success in their imitations.
Larry Reloaded though blew the bank. It might be that the simple nature of the original game made it ripe for more daring additions, but honestly, the game has benefitted greatly from all the additions, from the voice-over (with Jan Rabson returning as Larry), to the better graphics, but also the simplified gameplay and additional puzzles. Also, the game doesn’t hold back on the original frivolous deaths (although the game now lets you continue from the point before you died) and keeps the same level of juvenile humour which made the original so lovable.
Amazingly, I actually fell in love with this new version and would almost go so far as to say it’s the best version of the game. There’s still a lot of charm in the VGA original and some in-jokes that were sadly dumped from the Reloaded version, but the Reloaded version’s additions don’t feel forced or artificial. The only bad thing I can honestly say about Reloaded is that it might actually now suffer from overt sexualisation, but with everything in the game being so tongue-in-cheek to begin with, it all feels strangely appropriate too.
I think Larry Reloaded has actually succeeded the best in reviving an old classic and there’s a lot here that I think similar projects could learn from.