What Kind of Remake is That?

What Kind of Remake is That?

The current age of media is, for better or for worse, obsessed with capitalizing on nostalgia. Recapturing positive memories from our early years can be a powerful feeling. Video games are a relatively young form of media, and the art form has matured along with many of the kids who grew up playing them. Because of this, it’s no surprise that the owners of some of those childhood franchises are eager to cash in on some of that nostalgia by bringing those experiences or characters forward into the modern age with modern technology. The manner in which that is done can vary wildly, and there can sometimes be a bit of confusion about what term most often applies to what type of product. This short glossary can hopefully help keep things straight but given the looseness and inconsistency of some of these terms, specific games may fall into different definitions based on differing opinions.

Re-Releases: Ports and Emulation

These are typically as straightforward as they come. It’s the exact same game with some basic work done to make it run on newer or different hardware. If they are not converted to code native to the target hardware (a port), they may have some sort of compatibility layer that recreates a virtual environment of the original console or allows the game’s original code to translate into something usable by the hardware it’s running on (this is essentially what emulation is). Many times, companies with a large catalog of older games will release compilations of their back catalog on each new generation of consoles. The goal isn’t to update them or make them look modern. It’s just to make an old game playable on your current devices, pretty much exactly how you remember. Emulators may have some external features, like being able to rewind the game state, but the game itself is the exact same as its original form.


  • Nintendo Switch Online NES and SNES Apps
  • Wii / Wii U Virtual Console games
  • Pretty much any compilation of old Sega or Turbografx games


At their core, Remasters are usually the same game as the original, but recompiled and optimized to run natively on the target platform. They often come with new features and enhancements designed to take advantage of the more powerful hardware. This may include touched-up or higher-resolution assets, new modes, and maybe all the DLC released for the original versions packed in. There may also be some tweaks and quality-of-life enhancements to rectify complaints with the original releases. They are often marketed as the “definitive edition” of a previously released game. Sometimes, an entire series or trilogy will be compiled into one release. In some cases, developers will port the game into a newer version of the engine or a different engine entirely. Usually, a good remaster is a relatively low-budget upscale of an older game that will play exactly how you remember, if not better, and look a bit crisper too.


  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Remastered
  • The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection
  • Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection
  • Sly Cooper Collection
  • StarCraft: Remastered
  • Sonic Colors Ultimate


This is where things start to get a little fuzzy, as even developers can’t seem to settle on consistent terms for what their game is supposed to be. The term “remake” is pretty broad, and some of the other definitions could be classified as a type of remake. But as it seems to be most understood, a true remake aims to faithfully recreate the entire game (or games) from scratch, but with modern graphics, UI, and features. They may look and possibly feel entirely modern, with new models and textures, more responsive controls, and additional bonuses. The art style may change, as the assets may have to infer and literalize new detail that wasn’t present or possible with the original graphics. A new dimension may even be added when a 2D sprite-based game is remade with 3D graphics. In other cases, the technical quality may be relatively close to the original, but the novelty comes from the game running on a handheld. A version of what was once a cutting-edge, home console game can now be brought with you in your pocket. Dialogue and music are likely largely unchanged, but voice lines and songs may be re-recorded in a higher quality. But the framework, level design, and core experience remain mostly unchanged.

Some quality-of-life tweaks or improvements may be made across the board, but the core game aims to be mostly the same with a modern coat of paint. To make it easy to distinguish from the original at a glance, some publishers will slap on some kind of term (usually a pun) relating to the game’s subject, such as “Reignited”, or “Rehydrated”.


  • Shadow of the Colossus (PS4)
  • Crash Bandicoot N’Sane Trilogy
  • Spryo Reignited Trilogy
  • Demon’s Souls (PS5)
  • Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated
  • Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2
  • Super Mario 64 DS
  • Star Fox 64 3D
  • Pokemon: Brilliant Diamond / Shining Pearl


This term is less commonly used by official sources, as the games may simply be titled “remake”. But many use it to describe new games that maintain the name, spirit, and broad story beats of one specific older game, but may have entirely new or different gameplay systems, vastly different level design, and an altered or expanded story. These can vary wildly in their approach and how much they differ from the source material and are usually high-effort products to create. Most often, it’s like taking another crack at making the same game over again, with modern tools and design techniques that may not have been possible when the original game was in production.

A good rule of thumb: a reimagining is always a type of remake, but a remake is not necessarily a reimagining.


  • Tomb Raider: Anniversary
  • Ratchet and Clank (PS4)
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake
  • Star Fox Zero (Sort of)
  • Black Mesa (Fan-made, Valve-sanctioned reimagining of Half-Life)
  • Resident Evil 2, 3, and (probably) 4 remakes


For longer running franchises, a reboot may be a cleaner fresh start than any of the other methods of bringing a franchise forward, especially if it is being handed off to a new development team. A reboot is not a direct remake of any one specific previous entry, but a collection of elements, ideas, characters, or world design may be reused or adapted from early titles. A reboot is an entirely new game that picks and chooses what to keep or adapt from the entire franchise, throws out the rest, and uses those to build something new from scratch. It may even fall into a completely different genre than the original. Story continuity is likewise abandoned and started fresh. Even if it has the exact same title as an older game, the rebooted game may be an entirely different beast tonally and gameplay-wise. The reboot is usually intended to be a completely fresh jumping-off point for the franchise. If the reboot is not enough of a success to warrant continuing in that direction, the property holder may end up going back to the original series, like what Capcom did with Devil May Cry 5, or UbiSoft with Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands.

If the new entry retains previous story continuity but makes it non-essential to enjoy the new game, you may have a Soft Reboot on your hands. These are games designed to draw a new generation of fans to an older franchise without alienating long-time fans. Everything that happened in the older games is still considered canonical, but is not considered “required reading” for new players to enjoy the new release. If story was never a major factor to begin with, the game may still be considered a kind of soft reboot if It’s still intended as a new jump-off point or a major refresh to the gameplay that doesn’t explicitly throw out and previously established narrative points.

Examples (Full Reboot):

  • Turok (2008)
  • Prince of Persia (2008)
  • Bionic Commando (2009)
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown
  • DmC: Devil May Cry
  • Tomb Raider (2013)
  • Star Wars: Battlefront (2015)
  • Doom (2016)
  • Prey (2017)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)
  • Kao the Kangaroo (2022)

Examples (Soft Reboot):

  • New Super Mario Bros.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  • Assassin’s Creed: Origins

Something In-Between

Certain games are difficult to cleanly categorize at all.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is a strange case that looks and plays like a straightforward remaster in its classic graphics mode. But with the press of a button, the whole game can swap into a modern graphics mode with every single model and texture swapped out for a high-detail version. It appears to be a full remake, but with the classic mode’s assets pulled right out of the original game and designed to look identical.

Many formerly Wii U-exclusive games have been ported to the Switch, but can’t really be considered remasters since the Switch is not all that much more powerful than the Wii U. They tend to be more of a lateral move on a technical level. But many of them are not exactly straight ports either, because they often include considerable amounts of brand new content and adjustments. Nintendo seems to have the right idea by calling some of them “Deluxe” versions.

The GameCube remake of the original Resident Evil not only walks the line between remake and reimagining, but it was also remastered and brought forward to pretty much every new console going forward.

Silent Hill HD Collection was intended to be a straightforward remaster, but the development team only had access to incomplete code bases for Silent Hill 2 and 3, which meant that they had to rebuild large portions of the game from scratch.

Does Any of This Even Matter?

While much of this is just a silly little exercise in semantics, clarity is very important when marketing a product. If the customer can tell exactly what type of product they are buying, that will help them to manage their expectations and make an informed purchase. While the gaming community and industry are not 100% consistent in the terms they use, hopefully these examples and descriptions will help you determine what exactly that game you’re looking at is. There are a bunch of upcoming remakes that, at the time of writing, do not have enough official details released to fully classify what they are or how much they will deviate from the originals. This includes releases like The Last of Us Part 1, Pac-Man World: Re-PAC, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Remake, and the Resident Evil 4 remake. Since this trend of remaking games in one way or another is still continuing, being able to distinguish between different types of products might be a good skill to have going forward.

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