Video games have been around for over 40 years now (depending on what game/system you think came first), which means there are a lot of games out there. Many of them are super old, of course, but as Hollywood (and especially Disney) has found out, it’s sometimes a lot easier to just remake a classic than it is to create a whole new product.
Remakes, remasters, and re-releases of older games are now so common that it can be really hard to tell the difference between the three of them. Some people even use these terms interchangeably, but we at TheGamer are here to set the record straight. Some games are remakes, some are remasters, and some are just re-releases. But then again, some can be all three. Let's look at what makes each category distinct.
A re-release is the most basic form of recreating an older game for a new generation (either in terms of people or hardware). Re-releases typically have the most minimal changes from the original game and are often just the original code made to run on modern hardware through the use of an emulator.
There are tons of re-released games out there so we’re not going to even bother listing examples, but these days you can usually find them in digital storefronts for modern consoles. Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Store Arcade are great places to find older games that have been re-released. The Wii and WiiU’s Virtual Console was perhaps the best example of re-released games out there as it provided a ton of older Nintendo games to play on a modern console.
Remasters are the next step up in the legacy gaming hierarchy. Remasters generally take an older game and update the code to run on modern hardware, often imparting graphical tweaks and other gameplay improvements along the way.
It's pretty easy to identify a remaster as most of those games even have the word "Remaster" in the title. Others will have something like "HD Edition" or something similar to mention the fact the remastered game will now have high-definition graphics. A big selling point of remasters is games that previously couldn't support modern screen resolutions now being played in high-definition or 4K, often with enhanced textures and lighting as well. These games are still recognizable as the original titles, but it's also obvious how they've been enhanced.
Examples include Final Fantasy VII Remastered, Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, Resident Evil 4 Ultimate HD Edition, StarCraft: Remastered, and Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection. All of these games (or collections of games) are older titles brought to modern hardware with graphical and minor gameplay updates.
The best of the best in retro gaming are remakes. Instead of grabbing the original game’s code and trying to update it to work on modern systems--either by emulation or updating the game’s original engine--remakes create a whole new game from the ground up using the original as a blueprint.
As games (and their audiences) mature, remakes are becoming big business. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and remaking an older game can grab sales from older gamers as well as younger ones that never played the original. Since remakes are made for modern hardware, they’ll look just as good as any other modern game--often so you’d have no idea it was a remake unless you played the original.
Besides merely updating the graphics and sound for modern hardware, remakes will often take the most liberties with the original source. Resident Evil 2 revamped the entire game's camera system so that it has little resemblance to the original but most consider it to be a vast improvement. Final Fantasy 7 Remake will also bear little resemblance to its classic JRPG roots, but will still use the original game as a template.
Other examples include the upcoming MediEvil, System Shock 2, and Command & Conquer remakes. Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes is another good example of a remade game, using the original PlayStation's Metal Gear Solid and updating it for the Nintendo GameCube.
Sometimes a game can hit all three categories at once. Super Mario All-Stars was originally a remake of the first three Super Mario games on the Nintendo Entertainment System for the SNES. It was originally released in 1993 but then got a slight remaster in 1994 with the release of Super Mario All-Stars + Super Mario World (which included the SNES game with an updated sprite of Luigi). Then, 16 years later, Super Mario All-Stars was re-released on the Wii Virtual Console for an entirely new generation to enjoy, or for an older generation to enjoy again.