Author: Jed Pressgrove

Metroid Dread Review or: Why Do We Play Metroid Today?

by Jed Pressgrove

“Why” … what does that word mean? I forgot.

– Henri Dickson, in the 1965 film Alphaville.

The moving walkway. You stand to save energy. You walk for what feels like superhuman speed. The convenience almost thrills you. Why toil when you can do next to nothing?

The original Metroid, released in 1986, was like being lost in a labyrinthian airport. It could dampen your mood for days, raise the question of why you bother playing. Uncaring, ruthless, and maddening, Metroid didn’t promise fond memories. It wasn’t cool, but cold. Samus, the protagonist, left no hints about her impressions of her purgatorial fate. No voices guided her. Caution was paramount.

During my last session with Metroid Dread, I felt the conveyor belt effect. I traveled between three settings like a wealthy American millennial in Europe without obligation. I gained three new abilities in around 15 minutes, which brought to mind the satirical comment on gaining power in Guacamelee 2. I received health and ammo bonuses almost every time I killed something — if by some unholy luck I didn’t, I could thrust Samus’ arm into one of the numerous statues that fill depleted meters like no-cost gas stations. A computer named Adam told me what to do and what to expect next. First class. Sky miles. Comfort plus. Might as well have been a private jet.

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Why play Metroid Dread on the Nintendo Switch?

Not only is Metroid not going anywhere, but I’m pretty sure 2D Metroid isn’t going anywhere either.

More than anything else, Metroid Dread feels like going back to a place of comfort after a long time away.

I can’t think of a 2D game that feels better to control.

The typically stoic Samus has a lot more swagger in her step this time around.

I’m not a speedrunner, but the open design of ZDR seems to offer plenty of potential to optimize and exploit the game.

With a magnetic sense of style and atmosphere, Dread puts the Metroid series on the right path, maintaining the ideals of the original games with modern sensibilities and technology.

It’s a game that looks at what people enjoy about this enduring formula—exploring a convoluted space with interlocking architecture and being rewarded for carefully studying and exploiting that space—and goes “OK, what would make you happier?” 

Metroid Dread perfects the Metroidvania formula.

A magnificent deity told me to play Metroid Dread and spread the good news.

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What a time it was when one could enter “Justin Bailey” as a password in the original Metroid to take control of a more powerful and more scantily clad Samus.

The motivation for using this password varied:

  1. A lot of gamers had a fetish for cheating back in the NES days. The Justin Bailey password felt like cheating.
  2. Showing the trick to one’s (presumably ignorant) friends garnered cool points.
  3. You wanted to give yourself another opportunity to spread and buy into the myth that Justin Bailey was the name of someone important to Metroid’s development.
  4. The game was difficult and exacting. The password provided relief, an alternate reality to the constipated search for upgrades in a demanding maze.
  5. Did I mention Samus showed more skin?

What if we could enter “Justin Bailey” as a code in Metroid Dread? Why would we use it?

Samus today already feels more like a privileged superhero than a tough bounty hunter (particularly when we acknowledge the ongoing Smash Bros. series). In Metroid Dread, she can put Usain Bolt to shame before bursting into the air like Superman. She can infinitely chain together jumps that have destructive power when she collides into enemies or certain ceilings and walls. She can dash forward and backward with blinding speed. She can build up an arsenal of missiles that would make Iron Man nod. By the time she acquires all her abilities, the player should feel like a god, as if the ultimate Justin Bailey code has been initiated.

Contrast this with Metroid Prime. Even with all the upgrades, the situation remains bleak and frustrating unless the player rises to the challenge. Recall the late room in Prime where one must ascend by jumping on a series of small platforms as Metroids — sporting different colors and thus requiring Samus to manually switch to different weapons for maximum effectiveness — pester the heroine, sucking her life away or, worse, causing her to take a demoralizing fall to the floor, a forced restart to the precise hopping. It takes will and accuracy to pass such a test with only a double jump, and this is without speaking of the preceding boss or the incoming final battle, both arguably more trying than the platforming section.

Metroid Dread doesn’t understand how to make history like Metroid Prime — how to burn itself into the collective player’s heart, how to prod the collective player’s imagination. The intention of Metroid Dread, notwithstanding the tone of its title, is to please.

—- – — – —- —

“I wonder if I can parry it,” I said to my 43-year-old friend’s 27-year-old roommate as I, a proud 37-year-old, fought an optional boss in Elden Ring, which should be called Dark Souls 6.

Did anyone see the gaming world’s obsession with parrying on the horizon? If only these parry worshipers had been around during the 1990s, when artful but unpopular fighting games like Weaponlord and Street Fighter III strayed from convention and demanded that the audience learn a tricky defensive mechanic.

Why play Metroid Dread on the Nintendo Bitch? To parry, to go Will Smith on something, of course!


Here’s how innovation works for undying franchises: include an idea that isn’t new to video games but can be marketed as a fresh feature for the series. Many gamers eat up this bastardized, dishonest sort of creativity. In this case, Metroid Dread steals well-worn concepts from the survival horror genre with its inclusion of EMMIs, gangling killer robots that slink about like ravenous animals. EMMIs are indestructible (at first) and can murder Samus in one hit, demanding the heroine to avoid being detected or, if detected, to run away until the machine loses track of her or, if caught, to execute a perfect parry during a quick-time event to stun the robot.

Although Metroid Dread adopts survival horror conventions, it fails to produce tension, much less dread, with its counterfeit suspense. The EMMI encounters suffer from predictability: EMMIs are relegated to demarcated zones and even show up on the in-game map. Bye bye to the notion of getting caught off-guard. The pointlessness of Samus’ cloaking ability further confirms Metroid Dread’s forced trendiness. I rarely, if ever, had to cloak the heroine to advance in an EMMI zone. And fear not if an EMMI executes Samus. The game will respawn the bounty hunter right outside of the EMMI zone, where you can dust yourself off for another exciting time with a rote trial-and-error sequence.

The EMMIs mostly provide an excuse for Metroid Dread to indulge in 2.5D shenanigans. EMMIs can be annihilated by a special cannon that Samus can only access and use when confronting EMMIs — how’s that for a contrivance? (One must destroy a Central Unit, a sitting duck of an adversary, to activate the cannon.) When Samus utilizes the cannon, the game switches to a tortured 3D perspective, demanding the player to line up a laser light on the target’s head. After you obliterate the EMMI’s helmet, a fully charged shot to the head ends the robot’s existence. The climactic scenario is always the same: run away from the EMMI until you can stand about a screen’s length from the robot — which, thanks to a pandering design choice, moves slower and behaves more idiotically when Samus has the cannon — and then blast away within the goofy camera angle.

– — – — – – – — – — — – –

you really shouldn’t can’t you be more objective people have been waiting on this sequel for decades the EMMIs provide a nice change of pace the game is quite challenging some of the best boss battles of all time you really shouldn’t the parry is well incorporated Samus has never felt better finally we get some voice acting that doesn’t suck and that carries dramatic weight the bosses are boss you really shouldn’t developers work extremely hard you are just judging us for enjoying something this game wasn’t made for you watch your tone Samus moves with grace at last you really shouldn’t the polish reminds me of the hard work behind games what’s wrong with the mechanics you are a contrarian the bosses will make you think twice about your skills you really shouldn’t the story is actually intriguing and if you pay attention to the lore you must not like Metroid the game isn’t broken so what’s the problem you are miserable you really shouldn’t did you even get past the halfway point the bosses remind me of how hard developers work day in and day out you probably are getting paid by an opponent of Nintendo you really shouldn’t

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About seven hours into Metroid Dread, I finally experienced anxiety during a battle with the stupidly named boss Experiment No. Z-57. This creature takes up the center of the background, recalling the classic third-stage boss from Contra III: The Alien Wars, and unleashes sweeping claw and beam attacks, the latter of which demands some nifty jumping for Samus to avoid getting burned by the lethal pink goo on the ground left behind by the foe’s projectile vomit. The most ingenious part of the fight occurs after the player launches an all-out assault on the monster’s appendages: from the extreme right end of the screen, fans unleash artificial winds that will push Samus into a boobytrapped wall if she doesn’t sprint. While Samus runs in place, waves of bullets glide toward her, leaving only tight windows for her to fit through to avoid damage. The player must utilize the heroine’s ability to string together spinning jumps to pass through these narrow passages unscathed. As some have remarked, this section of the boss fight evokes Flappy Bird’s emphasis on undulating evasion.

Outside of this twisted battle and the final villain, the bosses are pedestrian in Metroid Dread. The major bosses bleed out plenty of health and ammo, limiting the possibility of a “How can I ever get past this?” type of mental block. The developers should be ashamed of the mid-bosses, which don’t put up much of a struggle and return for flaccid and monotonous follow-up bouts after their unsuccessful first appearances. Throughout these encounters, I never ran out of missiles, as one can greatly increase Samus’ missile capacity with minimal exploration.

I question publications like Polygon that describe the bosses as “brutal” in a world where From Software titles enjoy massive popularity. The statement that every boss “presents unique challenges” smacks of disingenuous hype given the obscene number of Chozo Soldier skirmishes. None of the bosses rival the multi-level insanity and ever-shifting weak points of the Diggernaut from Metroid: Samus Returns, released just five years ago. Metroid fans appear to be as forgetful as my 92-year-old grandmother.

The most unappealing part of the bosses is the junctures where one must tap buttons during telegraphed moments of shoehorned cutscenes to deal damage or a final blow to an opponent. I never expected the Metroid series to blandly copy Resident Evil 4, to champion lazy, isomorphic action over mood and atmosphere.


I played Metroid Dread because I want to believe in Metroid. Despite not being as popular as The Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Bros., the Metroid saga has illustrated the potential of pop video games as much as any series. The 1986 original is the loneliest of platformers. Metroid II: Return of Samus, with its emphasis on hunting, demonstrates how a sequel can put players deeper into the shoes of a character. Super Metroid symbolizes bigger and better. And Metroid Prime redefines the very notion of perspective in multiple ways.

It’s thus unfortunate Metroid Dread takes after the 2017 remake Metroid: Samus Returns, which trumpets the lie that modern technology and design trends automatically translate to superior experiences. Moreover, Metroid Dread’s story — which builds up to a risible and trite “You’re my daughter” revelation before the concluding fight with Raven Beak — resembles a half-assed salute to the wannabe cinematic aspirations of the video game medium.

These are not the most troubling points. That people have unironically referred to Metroid Dread as a Metroidvania underscores the ultimate problem: Metroid has devolved into an imitation of an imitation of itself.

Dissecting the origin of the term Metroidvania highlights the scam some people are promoting with their praise of Metroid Dread. The clumsy phrase gained popularity after the release of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which many suggest was the first Castlevania that combined the non-linear exploration of Metroid with RPG features. This false history lesson receives its most appalling exposure in Wikipedia’s Metroidvania entry: “However, Symphony of the Night distinguished itself from prior non-linear platformers via the incorporation of console role-playing elements with the means for the player to improve their character’s attributes through an experience system.”

The first issue is obvious: Symphony of the Night, released in 1997, wasn’t the first game that married Metroid’s non-linear progression with experience points. It wasn’t even the first Castlevania to do this; see 1987’s Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest.

The second issue relates to the tendency of gamers and critics to overemphasize mechanics and lose sight of the emotional meaning of pop games. Metroidvania conveys nothing about what the original Metroid achieved emotionally. Symphony of the Night’s legacy is excessive content — the fake ending, the upside-down second castle, the staggering array of items (many of them pointless) — whereas Metroid’s place in history has as much to do with how people feel (confused, hopeless, isolated) while they play the game as it does with anything else.

As a production associated with the deception behind the Metroidvania movement, Metroid Dread can’t live up to its title. Its feeble understanding of dread boils down to its restrained survival horror homages and Empire Strikes Back esque plot twist. Its world — a nonlinear realm that nonetheless pushes the player in logical directions for the streamlined completion of a primary campaign — continually reveals its developers’ fingerprints so that the main sense we have throughout the game is that the whole thing was worked on. And its heroine is little more than a slick avatar, a superstar skin.

– — — – — — — – –

Dear Adam,

I am not faced with overwhelming power. I am not helpless. I am not backtracking. I am not disturbed. I am not concerned. I am not searching. I am not stuck. I am not lost. I am not pondering. I am not alone.

I am enslaved to the ring of a seven-letter word.


Jetboard Joust Review (Switch) or: When Dreams Reappear

by Jed Pressgrove

“It’s not been vivid for years, because I’m not having a nervous breakdown. That’s when you get these really vivid electric dreams that are probably in their own way your subconscious trying to save your sorry ass. If only we paid as close attention to our dreams since the Pleistocene period as we have the global economy for the last 20 years. But the global economy is supposed to be relevant, right? Well, fuck the global economy. Why should we discard a third of our lives?” – Jim Harrison, in an interview with Salon.

After the end of each stage, the background devolves into a pixelated blur teeming with anxious energy. Even when a text summary appears — showing the number of individuals saved and the number of coins earned — and even after the summary is replaced by a between-level upgrade menu, the background continues to bug out, but without being a distraction. It’s like the subconscious of the average human being, trying to pipe up and say this is not real and here is what’s real. Jetboard Joust reminds me games could once be likened to dreams (as opposed to constantly updated downloadable lifestyles). Dreams with odd details. Dreams with absurd logic. Dreams that only take over our lives for moments, their echoes in our minds afterward being as sweet as, if not sweeter than, the act of playing them.


More than 30 years ago, Skateboard Joust came to the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, and Amstrad GX4000. Developed by a youngster named James Closs, Skateboard Joust is a single-screen action game that hasn’t gotten much attention over the years, which makes it all the more interesting that now, a little over 20 years into the new century, one can play Closs’ sequel, Jetboard Joust, on the Nintendo Switch (or on one of the overglorified, overpriced wannabe PCs that people call game consoles).

Unlike its predecessor, Jetboard Joust is a horizontally scrolling shooter that follows in the footsteps of 1981’s Defender. Jetboard Joust’s hero, who rides a souped-up hover board, must battle waves of invaders while protecting innocents from abductors. If kidnapped, the innocents transform into aggressive brutes that hunt the protagonist. A level ends when every foe dies. Battle takes place along a horizontal plane that acts as a loop when the player flies off the edge of a displayed map — fly off the right side of the map and one immediately appears on the left side of the map, and vice versa.

If you’ve not played Defender, it’s possible you’ve run across one of its many children, like Sega’s Fantasy Zone (notable for its exuberant tone and pastels) or Housemarque’s Resogun (a flashy update of the superior arcade classic) or even Stargate, also known as Defender II. With this legacy in mind, Jetboard Joust might seem like a Defender clone that’s late to the party, especially given that Skateboard Joust didn’t concern itself with traditional shooting. But Jetboard Joust is no mere imitator. Because of the design of the jetboard vehicle, there’s a sense of gravity to the hero’s movement which separates Jetboard Joust from Defender’s more straightforward flying. If one stops moving the analog stick on the Switch controller in Jetboard Joust, the hero’s position inches downward. If one changes directions, momentum must be rebuilt. The jetboard is subject to minute directional influence.

Except when one performs a joust, which comes with the freeing, momentary feeling that the game’s laws of physics no longer apply. During this maneuver, the jetboard achieves its own version of warp speed, turning itself into an unstoppable bullet that can, if leveled up, annihilate many enemies upon impact. As the jetboard inflicts major damage to everything in its path, the hero jumps and performs a forward flip so that he can land on the board at the end of its vicious propulsion.

A version of this exhilarating technique first appeared in Skateboard Joust. As RealGenericDemon shows in his video, jousting is the primary way to obliterate enemies in Skateboard Joust, and so the player has unlimited jousts. But in Jetboard Joust, the player can only perform a limited number of jousts, as the game would have zero challenge otherwise. This mechanical twist helps ensure the sensation of an outstanding release — the jousts in Jetboard Joust are cathartic and orgasmic, even when poorly aimed with no threat extinguished.


At their best, video games exist in our lives as fantasies and nightmares, rather than addictions that have a sort of logical add value and turn us into another statistic (“Why yes, survey, I do spend on average 40 hours a week playing this particular online game.”). Hours played doesn’t matter with great games. Lesser games require as many of our hours as possible because there’s nothing special about them when we don’t play. A great game maintains a place within us, however modest, as we go about our days doing other things. Contrary to what the industry tells us, we need time away from games for them to be special. Call it the truth of the arcade.

We should welcome games that haunt us long after we’re done with them. That is when we are the most alive. That is when our souls are trying to tell us something is very right or very wrong or both.

When the final level of Castlevania: Bloodlines uses the concept of graphics against us — splitting the screen into three parts and thus scrambling our perception of the avatar and the space it moves through — we should celebrate that surreal discombobulation after we turn off the game and continue our day, perhaps while we curse our inability to progress through the challenge.

Similarly, when that specific alien in Jetboard Joust emits a blaring sound that conceals the cries of our friends being ripped from the earth — those annoying meowing whines, not unlike the baby’s yelping in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, that we learn to take as signals to spring into heroic action — we should cherish how confounded that noise makes us, yet how aware we become of our vulnerability and impotence. A nightmare within a fantasy.


The hero’s method of violence in Jetboard Joust doesn’t have to involve bullets. The most interesting weapons deviate from the shoot-’em-up mold. Take the Gravity Hammer, which brings about devastation with a circular attack. If an enemy finds itself within the appreciable radius of the hammer swing, it will go for a ride, as the hammer drives its targets downward after a successful connection, slamming them into the ground. With proper timing, the hammer can obliterate or at least profoundly injure several invaders at once.

Then there’s the Rotovator. This huge spinning saw blade, which extends outward for a brief period, injects an eye-to-eye brutality into the game in the same way that the chainsaw makes Doom more up close and personal. The Rotovator sounds like nasty anger when engaged. It gives one an intimate (but purely abusive) bond with those it traps in its savage cycle. That same bond can backfire, holding one in place as whatever fiend eats away the hero’s health faster than the blade can deliver victory.

Another standout is the Poison Pump, which leaves behind gaseous clouds that slows down and drains the life out of attackers who fly into the gas. A tool for those who wish to be more defensive and diabolical, the pump works especially well against the aliens that abduct your friends. Abductors move straight up, just asking for a cloud of gas to wait above them.

These same weapons can and will be used against you by malevolent forces. I commend Closs for this most irritating element. Imagine a Contra where one must face the spread shot. Imagine a God of War where three demons from a long distance wedge boomerang axes into your body with startling accuracy. What was once cool becomes exasperating when the shoe’s on the other foot, as when a rival in chess pins your knight to your queen or king, or when you run into a screen in basketball, losing a precious step with a sharpshooting opponent.


To not dream is to lose sight of purpose and possibility. But the game industry, in its all-consuming greed, doesn’t give a flip about our imaginations as artists, critics, or audiences. Everything must be rational, objective, scalable, and upgradable. Games are to be the stuff of our lives, not the stuff of our dreams.

As such, video games have evolved into online services in the 21st century. These services reflect a scheme of the larger tech industry, where we’re supposed to think of tech as a permanent, indispensable extension of our bodies and personalities. The pernicious business model behind online games attempts to remove the potential for artistic failure or critical interpretation. That is, if a part of an online service offends some people, or if some aspect is half-baked or unfinished, the developers can release a patch. If baby needs pacifier, baby gets one. Artistic conviction and execution have been replaced with public relations and the appearance of good intentions. And the gaming press — a lapdog’s lapdog — has allowed the corporate interests behind online games to call into question the very point of criticism. Reviewers gave up when they started asking, “Are our reactions to newly released games valid given the reality of patches?” A better question: Why should people pay for or play unfinished games while they serve as unpaid testers?

Jetboard Joust, for all its admirable qualities, still exists within the wretched ecosystem set up by unholy computer nerds. My Switch keeps telling me I should install a patch for Jetboard Joust, but I don’t comply. I hang onto the original dream of the older James Closs. I will not discard it.


What’s a modern game without resource management? Probably a more focused affair that doesn’t mindlessly replicate some version of that numbers game we have to play in real life to keep a roof over our heads. But I’ll give Jetboard Joust this much: its weapon degradation and repair system ingeniously demands kinetic artistry.

Weapons can be repaired if the player spends money on upgrades between levels, but there’s a better way of keeping one’s weapons in good condition. Any enemy that rides a jetboard will drop what is curiously labeled an “armor” bonus. If collected, the dropped item will slightly restore a weapon’s constitution. The more of these bonuses you can snag, the better off your weapons will be, and the less money that needs to be spent on repairs.

The catch: these bonuses must be snatched quickly. After a board-riding villain dies, the item drops to the ground and takes a short single bounce into the air before falling off the screen and being lost to that infamous 2D video-game hell that we all know about but have never seen. The bouncing aspect, coupled with the trickiness of rebuilding momentum when one switches directions on the jetboard, inspires a scrambling brand of play that can lead to breathtaking saves. Eyeing these precious power-ups in their floaty grace while attempting to execute efficient routes toward the bottom of the screen brings to mind the frantic lunacy of juggling the different-colored bells in the 1985 vertical shooter classic TwinBee. Somewhere Eugene Jarvis smiles as Jetboard Joust forces one into a breathless, Neanderthalian desperation.


It’s not unlike finding yourself in the middle of a mess that you feel monumentally compelled to clean up because if you don’t the whole world will see and you will be exposed as a fool never to live down the chaos associated with your clumsiness and idiocy and you will never get the stench of your own shit off your hands and everyone will remember your silly naked body, too.


As in Spelunky, Downwell, and an embarrassing number of other recent games, Jetboard Joust involves a level-by-level descent toward more dangerous predicaments, such as a fight with a giant fish that will utilize awkward hesitations like a crafty boxer before rushing forward like an autonomous battering ram. Similar to the loop of Hades, the player chooses a path toward a particular randomized stage based on the upgrade that would await them. In Hades, this system turns players into junkies who need “just” one more hit — the ability to know beforehand how you can level up the protagonist in mere minutes proves to be an irresistible enticement to keep descending.

But Jetboard Joust’s path selection allows for more long-term planning. On the level select screen, the player can study how the routes branch out all the way down to the floor of a given world. Every juncture features an emblem that represents a different bonus, such as an extra joust or new weapon. This quasi-omniscient view should encourage careful decisions. At first glance, one might be tempted to head down an immediate path to the right because of a single attractive upgrade, but one would be better off taking the less sexy path to the left, as completing the level in that direction would open up a longer route leading to multiple rare bonuses. Jetboard Joust’s constant alternation between strategic contemplation and devilish aerial action creates an otherworldly groove of forethought and instinct.


I stare at the level select screen. The slow pounding of drum and bass transfixes me more than it should, as my reality outside of the game lacks such a trusty beat. After about five minutes of doing nothing on the screen, the music halts. I hear the dull hum of fast tapping. It sounds like a busted machine unable to scan anything despite manic effort. Is this panic-inducing audio the intention of James Closs? Or is it a mistake, a glitch that can be smoothed out if I accept the downloadable patch the Switch keeps informing me about? The answer doesn’t matter. The din complements the dreamlike state the game puts me in, functioning as an unanswered wakeup call.


Final Fantasy VII Elongated

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: This is the final essay of a seven-part series on game remakes. Check out the rest of the series here.

Video games — they once resembled dreams stitched together by sorcerers and madmen. This was still the case when Final Fantasy VII became a phenomenon in 1997. That sixth sequel impacted the presentation of turn-based combat forever with a camera seemingly possessed by a restless demon. As players transitioned from screen to screen in Final Fantasy VII, they never knew from what angle they would observe a new segment of an expansive world. The combination of crude polygons and pre-rendered backgrounds further cemented the unorthodox nature of the game’s visual style, as evidenced by the moments when one, in attempting to locate the path forward, would have to stare at the screen for a bit or perhaps fidget about in order to identify a stray piece of debris over which the avatar could traverse. Even at its worst, Final Fantasy VII transfixed me like a beautiful nightmare. If escapism is the only goal of video games, Final Fantasy VII extended a surreal vision that could sweep us away from our cares on Earth.

Final Fantasy VII Remake, on the other hand, has the ever-present stench of reality and conservative logic. The very design of it reminds us that, in this era, big games must fit into big trends in order to make the most profit. The camera, the most revolutionary part about Final Fantasy VII, is the most predictable aspect of Final Fantasy VII Remake, because the game intends to be more like a typical 3D action title. Now we, the players, wield significant control over perspective, as demanded by recent tradition. Gone also are the strange makeshift pathways of the 1997 original — the predictable trails of Final Fantasy VII Remake scream that they were put in place by a game development company, as opposed to sparking our imaginations about the idiosyncratic characteristics of the dystopian setting. And without the dynamic framing of the original, a warehouse looks like just another warehouse, a sewer looks like just another sewer, and so on.

Even though random encounters where two parties stand on opposite sides of the screen were a long-established staple of RPGs by 1997, Final Fantasy VII made every battle appear like a thrilling riff of a larger operatic conflict, with its ever-shifting vantage points and the unmistakable melodramatic flare of Nobuo Uematsu’s theme. But for not insignificant stretches of time, combat in Final Fantasy VII Remake struck me as disposable, familiar, emotionally inert. Before I started Final Fantasy VII Remake, a friend told me the game’s action recalled the work of Platinum Games. I found his comparison fitting but also a bit charitable during the first 10 hours of my time with the remake, as I spammed a rolling attack and triple slash technique with Cloud, obliterating most obstacles without having to think. The traditional turn-based system of Final Fantasy VII was never that mindless or soulless for any extended portion of the experience, but the modern audience has been conditioned by the game industry and the lapdog press to put up with a game that takes 10 hours to have a semblance of strategic depth.


For decades, the game industry has propagated the notion that more hours equals more epic. As a remake of one of the most epic RPGs of the 1990s, Final Fantasy VII Remake finds comfort in this widely accepted lie, for the lie allows Square Enix to cling to a simple type of PR. That is, the public, in all likelihood, won’t accuse Final Fantasy VII Remake of being less epic than its predecessor. What took five hours in Final Fantasy VII takes, at a minimum, 30 to 40 hours in Final Fantasy VII Remake. Nevermind that Final Fantasy VII Remake holds the dubious distinction of rivaling the pretension of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit film trilogy, which transformed a 300-page children’s book into an eight-hour cinematic endurance test. In the 21st century, content is everything, and everything is content.

Let us count some of the ways that Final Fantasy VII Remake is needlessly longer:

The principal characters don’t shut the hell up. Simply put, if you gleaned from Final Fantasy VII that Barrett (who still evokes racial stereotypes) loves his daughter and hates corporate power, you will really glean from Final Fantasy VII Remake that Barrett loves his daughter and hates corporate power. Key to my irritation here is that I don’t know these characters any better than I did before. They’re just more garrulous. Final Fantasy VII’s terse dialogue — epitomized by Cloud’s self-centered, apathetic style of communication (“It’s not my problem”) — carries greater psychological force.

Throwaway characters are treated like figures of intense fascination. Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie have expanded roles, yet they don’t translate into something more than another guy, a joke, and a female horny for Cloud, respectively. In particular, it’s embarrassing how the game struggles to give Wedge purpose. In one preposterous scene, we are to believe that Wedge, a non-threatening individual in every respect, intimidates two soldiers to the point where they open a gate that they’re supposed to guard with their lives.

Numerous segments of the game force the avatar to walk. One of the silliest things about contemporary games is their insistence on taking away the player’s ability to run while certain narration occurs, as if the mechanical restriction somehow deepens one’s sense of immersion or one’s appreciation for the storytelling. Final Fantasy VII Remake employs this constraint so frequently, so gratuitously, that a significant amount of time could have been saved by eliminating or amending every such sequence. (Also note the bizarre scenario in which we can only take slow steps as Aerith when she attempts to save Marlene. Here, the mechanical limitation clashes with the supposed dramatic urgency of the moment, raising the following questions: “Does Aerith actually want to save Marlene in time? Or is she just an imbecile?”)

Cloud’s mental instability is comically, tediously overstated. In its first five hours, the 1997 original contains instances where Cloud appears to experience either flashbacks or hallucinations, but these jarring segments are spaced out so that you can almost forget that they even happened until the next one springs up. This restrained approach builds gradual intrigue. Final Fantasy VII Remake spoils the concept, however, by liberally peppering the proceedings with TV static to depict Cloud’s mental status. This cliched, risible visual technique would only be acceptable during a show-and-tell session for an elective course at an unaccredited institution of higher learning. Furthermore, the incessant Sephiroth references are overkill at worst and fan service at best. None of these scenes have the sobering, mysterious effect of the theatrical angle from which we witness Cloud succumbing to the attack of a ghost version of himself in the &$#% Room of the 1997 original.

Obligatory fetch and extermination quests have been included to check a box. Planescape: Torment and The Witcher III have proven that we can do much better than Final Fantasy VII Remake’s side missions, none of which lingered in my mind after I completed them. More insulting than the banality of these quests is the “mommy says” patronization of Tifa. “It’s all right,” she tells Cloud. “All you have to do is do good work. It’ll all pay off, I promise.” Of course, some desperate fan might defend the inorganic busywork as an illustration of Cloud’s mercenary status, as if any intelligent person would need a plethora of dime-a-dozen sidequests to understand that part of Cloud. The quests’ primary purpose is to reinforce the marketing illusion that Final Fantasy VII Remake is “bigger” and “different” than its predecessor.

Scenarios are stretched out for no good reason. Earlier I implied Final Fantasy VII Remake is cut from the same cloth as The Hobbit film trilogy. Indeed, transforming the cross-dressing episode from the 1997 original into a bloated series of events — which includes a multi-stage arena tournament (reminiscent of an entire chapter in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door), an anti-climactic meeting at Don Corneo’s mansion, and an over-the-top dance number — reeks of Peter Jackson syndrome. Or how about the expanded train graveyard level? There, we are treated to a laughable, unnecessary tale about ghost children that just want to play with someone (a far cry from Final Fantasy VI’s ghost train story, which homed in on the tragic grief of the knight Cyan). We also get to see a tired sexual fantasy in motion: Tifa and Aerith hold onto Cloud’s arms in fear. The fantasy is amplified by the fact that Cloud proclaims his lack of interest in ghosts and doesn’t want to be touched by either woman. The classic chauvinistic tautology says that men shouldn’t care about the lowly concerns of women, who, paradoxically, throw themselves at men that much more when men don’t care. While the 1997 original featured a love triangle of sorts, it wasn’t as regressive as the Tifa-Aerith-Jessie fan club in the 2020 revision, where Cloud is almost like John Holmes in a 1970s porno: a man wanted by all.

Upgrading weapons is presented as an activity of cosmic proportions, rather than as a simple submenu. Do we need a sort of mini-tribute to the sphere grid of Final Fantasy X just to take advantage of skill points? This criticism might seem petty, but I loved the economy of the 1997 original’s menu system, where windows open and close with efficiency, where I don’t have to wait for an extra screen with complex imagery to modify equipment.

Boss battles are overused and overstuffed. A number of bosses are quite inspired in Final Fantasy VII Remake. I’m thinking of adversaries like Eligor, who brings gravity to an otherwise perfunctory level; Arsenal, who, more than any other opponent, requires timely character switches in a memorable duel of attrition; and Tonberry, a classic WTF foe from the 1997 original that becomes a greater annoyance. Other high-profile battles should have been deleted or made more concise. The Hellhouse, for instance, is part of the cross-dressing quest, which worked much better in its shorter, quirkier form in the 1997 original. I found Sephiroth underwhelming — he never defeated me despite his multiple forms, and I merely reused strategies that proved fruitful against previous bosses. The greatest offender, though, is Whisper Harbinger. I don’t see the appeal or accomplishment in beating the same crap over and over again in multiple overblown phases. The battle also involves unskippable cutscenes, which is unforgivable whether one survives or not. Certainly, when one locks horns with a physical manifestation of destiny itself, one should expect a huge conflict, but Whisper Harbinger is a candidate for the most monotonous boss battle in history.

I could go on about more, like the awkward, poorly designed bike-riding mini-games, or the longer distances between locations and how, to avoid the utter boredom of on-foot travel, the player must pay for Chocobo rides. But I now want to conclude by focusing on a provocative thematic thread in Final Fantasy VII Remake, an idea that had incredible moral and political potential.


As with other elements mentioned above, the introductory Mako Reactor mission is lengthier in Final Fantasy VII Remake. But the extension is warranted, particularly after Cloud is separated from Avalanche. Here, through Cloud’s eyes, we can grasp on a more personal level the human misery caused by Avalanche’s actions as a political group. This is where Final Fantasy VII Remake’s more grounded depiction of Midgar and lack of a dreamlike aesthetic can register as an artistic advantage.

The 1997 original suggests more than once that Avalanche’s violence should raise moral questions. If you speak to a youngster outside the Seventh Heaven bar, the person mentions that innocents were killed due to Avalanche’s mission. Another notable observation occurs before Jessie’s death, when she says, “Because of our actions … many … people died … this probably … is our punishment.” The problem is we don’t see much suffering after the Mako Reactor explodes, so we are allowed to acknowledge the philosophical dilemma without feeling uncomfortable.

This is not the case in Final Fantasy VII Remake, where the increased number of NPCs hammer home the consequences. There is injury, traumatization, confusion, hopelessness, and a general feeling that Hell has come to Midgar. Frankly, I was stunned. At the time, it seemed the “Remake” phrase in the title was partially referring to a more visceral confrontation with the sociological ramifications of a revolutionary’s fantasy. I wondered, “Where will the game go from here?”

The answer is that Final Fantasy VII Remake, unlike Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta (forget the movie!), goes on to pay less attention to the lives destroyed by the explosions and such, and Avalanche stumbles upon a rather easy way to brush aside the suggestion that what they’re doing might be immoral. After the plate drops on Sector 7, Tifa begins to suffer from guilt about the lost lives. “It was us,” she says. “We did this.” Later, Barrett puts an end to this kind of self-reflection when he says, “But if we stop now … they’ll never let us live it down.” The heroes’ ultimate justification is that even if they are wrong and need to rethink their strategy, they can’t let the corporate powers that be spin the narrative. Additionally, none of the Shinra villains are people that we can identify with. They’re one-dimensional monsters, and players are supposed to feel righteous as they defeat everything in their path in the closing chapters.

To my even greater disappointment, the game’s main storytelling achievement ended up being more about a promise regarding possible deviations from the established mythology of the 1997 original. Because Cloud and company defeat destiny itself — the very thing that presumably controlled the events of the 1997 original — we learn that characters like Biggs, Wedge, and Zack don’t have to die like they once did. I’m sure this revelation has Aerith fans drooling over the prospect of Aerith avoiding that fatal blow from Sephiroth. My reaction, however, to Final Fantasy VII Remake’s conclusion was “That’s it? A sort of comic-book retconning is supposed to be impressive?”

So now, after the elongated version of Final Fantasy VII’s first five hours, we are all supposed to wait, like good little consumers, on the fulfillment of a promise that things can be different in Final Fantasy VII Remake. But I must ask: Why does anything need to be different? And does “different” even mean “worthwhile”? Any remade art must answer those two questions. Final Fantasy VII Remake, as a whole, could make us wait years for the answers. I find that monumentally ridiculous.

Resident Evil 2: Faking the Remake

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: This is the sixth essay of a seven-part series on game remakes. Check out the rest of the series here.

The more I reflect on my experience with 2019’s Resident Evil 2, the less I consider the game a remake of the 1998 original and the more I think of it as a sequel to Resident Evil 4.

In a years-old tweet that is now unavailable, critic Zolani Stewart said, “Everything is Resident Evil 4.” Those words, perhaps sarcastic, have reverberated in my head since I read them. In cumulative terms, I have spent entire days playing through Resident Evil 4 on a variety of difficulty settings; topping my high scores on all four levels in The Mercenaries, the unlockable Resident Evil 4 mini game; running through the abysmal Resident Evil 5 with a variety of friends; and striving for the biggest combos, again with different friends, in Resident Evil 5’s The Mercenaries mode. Additionally, I have completed Leon’s quest in Resident Evil 6 and dabbled in the campaigns for Chris and Jake. On top of that, I have analyzed and tested countless third-person titles that mimic Resident Evil 4.

We are what we play. I’m now hardwired to be relaxed, confident, and comfortable when I play a game that evokes Resident Evil 4 and its innumerable children. 2019’s Resident Evil 2 was like getting on a bicycle. I shot, outmaneuvered, and outfoxed my various opponents with little trouble or fear. I was predestined to feel good about what I was doing. Resident Evil 2 doesn’t remake so much as reuse, rechew, reheat, reapply, reissue, retread, reemploy, recall, reecho, rebottle, recopy, reload, redeliver, recite, reacquaint, reiterate, recirculate, regurgitate, reduplicate, reexpose, reinsert, remanufacture, repackage, and resell.

Despite Resident Evil 2’s faithful dedication to the basic style of Resident Evil 4, not one moment in the game came close to generating the tension and shock of Resident Evil 4’s introductory village setpiece. Resident Evil 2 borrows from Resident Evil 4 without understanding why the latter was a show-stopper. An over-the-shoulder perspective and pinpoint aiming must come with pressure on the player. When he directed Resident Evil 4, Shinji Mikami grasped this simple concept and, in turn, threw everything and the kitchen sink at us. But when Capcom produced Resident Evil 2, the company lacked Mikami’s principle, and instead oversaw a pandering, slow-paced affair that wouldn’t intimidate a nincompoop.

In her review for Kotaku, Heather Alexandra senses this misstep. “It is easy—too easy—to feel powerful in Resident Evil 2, as both the cameras and controls encourage a confident push forward that the original did not always compel,” she writes. “While the Racoon Police Department is dark and foreboding it never feels as harrowing as it did in the original.” As Alexandra remembers, 1998’s Resident Evil 2 operates like a merciless vice grip, subverting the expectations of anyone who had conquered the first Resident Evil, crowding the screen with zombies. 2019’s Resident Evil 2 is more akin to a middle-aged creep with a thin mustache and deep pockets who sprints over to massage our egos. “You can do this, see?” the smarmy creep reassures us. “You’ve played Resident Evil 4 and a thousand other games like it. Why not one more, for old time’s sake?”

Later in her review, Alexandra loses me. She argues the expanded role of Mr. X in 2019’s Resident Evil 2 propels the remake into “brilliant and horrifying” territory:

Like getting chased by Jack Baker in Resident Evil 7 or enduring the ever-possible ambushes of Resident Evil 3’s titular Nemesis, there’s a great sense of disempowerment that comes from being plagued with an implacable foe. Resident Evil 2 almost uniformly empowers the player elsewhere, but that changes whenever Mr. X is around. Knowing that there is no safe spot, knowing that he will find you and you will need to deal with him is panic-inducing. While he sometimes can feel more like nuisance than menace—especially when you simply want to finish a puzzle—his inclusion and the execution therein helps elevate Resident Evil 2 to a genuinely terrifying experience. When it lands its punches, Resident Evil 2 hits like a champ.

The fact that one knows Mr. X will come ruins what made him notable in 1998. In the original Resident Evil 2, Mr. X inexplicably appears in a subsequent playthrough after the end credits roll. In 2019’s Resident Evil 2, he pops up in the initial playthrough like a fact of life. A surprise turns into a gimmick. That’s not hitting like a champ. That’s telegraphing like an amateur, especially when we don’t have to contend with awkward 1990s survival horror controls and shifting camera angles.

Mr. X never touched me in the new Resident Evil 2. And that’s because ideas like Mr. X don’t work in a game that strives to be Resident Evil 4 more than it wants to match or surpass 1998’s Resident Evil 2. We shouldn’t allow Capcom, which should face criminal charges for its commitment to unoriginality, to cheapen the meaning of remake.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly suggested Shinji Mikami helped produce 2019’s Resident Evil 2. This error has been fixed.

Remembering The Wretched Firewatch

Note: This is an open letter to Chris Bateman at international hobo. All replies are welcome.

Dear Chris,

More than a year ago, you responded to my 2016 review of Firewatch with a letter titled “A Tale of Two Walking Simulators (1): Firewatch.” Before I respond to your thoughts on my review and Firewatch itself, I must say that nothing between 2016 and today has convinced me to stop hating the term “walking simulator.” I don’t believe it’s an acceptable descriptor, as you suggest. I believe it’s an abomination similar to Metroidvania (which gives too much credit to Castlevania), roguelike (used by, for the most part, people who have never played Rogue and thus don’t know what it’s “like”), shmup (toddler’s gibberish), and Soulsborne (what did Bloodborne even accomplish that warrants this reference?). The only game I’ve played that follows the implications of “walking simulator” is Manuel Samuel, a comedy in which the player controls the individual legs of a contemptible rich snot.

At the same time, I realize you are more interested in the games that get the clumsy label rather than the clumsy label itself. I, too, admire Proteus, which I called the ninth best game of the 2010s. Dear Esther? Not so much. I wasn’t fond of Gone Home, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and What Remains of Edith Finch for various reasons. But I do try to recognize titles in this genre that don’t receive the attention they deserve. On that note, if you haven’t played Cosmo D’s brilliant games — Off-Peak, The Norwood Suite, and Tales From Off-Peak City Vol. 1 — they come with my highest recommendation. If only those games, along with Proteus, could steal the spotlight from inferior critical darlings.

I appreciate your complimentary tone about the conclusions in my Firewatch review. I appreciate it all the more considering that I don’t think the review is one of my stronger articles. I still feel the review’s proclamations in my bones, though. While I agree with you that Firewatch’s subject matter is less juvenile than that of your average “recycled action movie,” Jake Rodkin and Sean Vanaman’s handling of the subject matter doesn’t strike me as that mature, especially with the loony Vietnam vet stereotype tying everything together. The game doesn’t really confront anything outside of the lurid elements of its farfetched plot. It makes references to early onset dementia because the creators were too scared to depict it (“It is impossibly hard,” the text-heavy introduction impotently declares). It teases sexual chemistry between two people because the creators lacked the basic inspiration to showcase human interaction. The dialogue demands our attention when we play, but there’s no meaningful takeaway from the words.

Not unlike extravagantly detailed settings in big-budget releases, the “beautiful world” in Firewatch is a distraction from the game’s fundamental lack of humanity. Notice, too, that we can go on about the pretty colors and pretty trees and so forth, but we have trouble answering this question: what does the setting communicate? As we both agree, it’s relentlessly artificial. I would argue it’s far worse than a national park in the United States. If you wander from the prescribed paths in Yellowstone, you might end up on an animal’s dinner menu. In Firewatch, there is no danger, there is no wild, there is pretty imagery that fails to convey why people find the natural world spiritually rejuvenating.

The camera mode in Firewatch is an insult. Do we have nothing better to do than take fake pictures of fake woods with a fake camera and show them off on social media, the fakest of all communities? According to the creators of Firewatch, we should marvel at the fakeness because it is there to be consumed and recorded and gawked at. But again, I ask, what does it mean? What are the artists trying to do?

My best guess is they were setting the table for nihilistic shock value, which is the very card Rodkin and Vanaman played in The Walking Dead. The beautiful world — the one we were encouraged to fetishize with the camera — goes up in flames. Cue our emotional devastation. That is, if we’re not keen about the tricks that Rodkin and Vanaman like to pull. If we have any exposure to the masterpieces of “literature, theatre, or film” (to borrow your examples), we will likely stop caring about the characters and story in Firewatch once it goes off the rails into risible B-movie territory, well before the disastrous finale. So our main attachment to Firewatch ends up being the pretty woods, and boy, do they burn well, says Rodkin and Vanaman.

This is why it would have been a critical failure on my part to overemphasize the beauty of Firewatch’s setting. I would have been selling the crud that Rodkin and Vanaman want everyone to swallow. My issue as a critic in this context has little to do with the possible aesthetic glory of a “walking simulator” and everything to do with my distaste for charlatans who wouldn’t understand Mother Nature if a moose attacked them as they gazed at a mountain in Montana. If you want aesthetics, play Proteus or Off-Peak. If you want to watch trash burn, play Firewatch.


Jed Pressgrove

Having It Both Ways in The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: This is the fifth essay of a seven-part series on game remakes. Check out the rest of the series here.

You can solve the problem with the touch of a button. This is the everlasting refrain of the tech industry and a concept that has informed video game design, from the charming erasing methods in Mario Paint to the infamous “Press F to Pay Respects” prompt in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. The notion has special relevance for game remakes because of its role in 2009’s The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition. By pressing a button in The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, the player can swap between the pixelated graphics of The Secret of Monkey Island and the hand-drawn visuals of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition.

What does having this ability mean, ideologically? At first glance, it seems that tech has made our world better again. With the touch of a button in The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, we can:

  1. Table any complaints we might have had about The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition failing to match, preserve, or otherwise acknowledge the aesthetics of the original The Secret of Monkey Island.

  2. Make immediate comparisons between the original and the remake — imagine the time you can save as you form your own evaluations of the original and the remake!(!!!)

  3. Show our grandchildren (if we ever have any) and our grandparents (if they’re not dead) how neat it is to switch between the pixelated graphics of The Secret of Monkey Island and the hand-drawn visuals of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition.

[The above list IS NOT exhaustive. If you have anything to add to it, please shoot me an email at Make sure to title your email with the following: “GAME BIAS READER’S SUGGESTION: List of Things We Can Do by Pressing F10 in The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition.” I may never read or notice the email if you don’t use that title.]

Here’s the upshot about the power of that button: if you don’t feel led to praise the remake’s visual, audio, and interface changes, you will feel led to praise the remake anyway because, as a nifty product, the button allows you to place aside any reservations about the remake with instantaneous access to the original. It reminds me of a 2016 video by James Rolfe, a.k.a. Angry Video Game Nerd, called “Star Wars – Are the Special Editions bad?” In this video, Rolfe analyzes various alterations that director George Lucas made in his “Special Edition” versions of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, and comments on how those alterations provoke arguments among Star Wars fans. Close to the 8-minute mark, Rolfe says the following (bolded emphasis is mine):

Anyway, the Special Edition changes are not all bad. It’s kind of a mix. If it were up to me, I’d keep some of the changes, but discard lots of the rest. It would be nice if we all had the chance to customize our own Star Wars movies. Want to keep Jabba [in Star Wars: Special Edition] but don’t want Greedo to shoot first? Imagine that: an interactive Blu-Ray edition where you get a menu, where you can check all the things you want, then sit back and enjoy your customized version of a classic saga.

As I listen to Rolfe chuckle like a gee-golly character from a 1950s sitcom, I must admit that at some point I do think, “It is nice we all have the chance to see both versions of The Secret of Monkey Island with the remake.” And when I compare The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition to something like Star Wars: Special Edition, I do consider the former more respectful of history and artistry, not to mention more accommodating for people, like me, who want to know what a piece of creative work actually looked like when it came out.

What if The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition had lacked the magic button? I would be writing a more dismissive article at the moment, chanting something along the lines of “How can you remake something that is a legitimate top 10 video game of all time? You capitalistic swine!” I would skewer the new graphics, pointing out that they’re inferior to the hand-drawn brilliance of The Curse of Monkey Island, that they merely look “clean” compared to the more expressive pixel-based visions in The Secret of Monkey Island. I would explain how the remastered organ music for the church scene sounds sanitized and less menacing. I would throw the remake a bone for having some of the best voice acting in video games, while also bringing up the fact that the writing is so outstanding that LucasArts doesn’t need to, again, copy what made The Curse of Monkey Island a great sequel.

It’s almost as if that button cheats us out of passionate reactions. I find the description of the game on Steam most telling: “Purists will also delight in the ability to seamlessly switch between the updated hand-drawn re-imagining and the original classic version.” Indeed, I’ve not noticed any purist movement to condemn The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition. This is not to say no purists have voiced their dissent. The most prominent and obvious purist is Ron Gilbert, who represents one-third of the holy trio (Gilbert, Tim Schafer, and Dave Grossman) that created The Secret of Monkey Island. Gilbert, unlike Schafer, argues classic games should be untouched just like classic black-and-white movies should be untouched. During an interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Gilbert takes no prisoners:

It’s true that you can often switch back to the original graphics … but that is also true of colorizing black and white movies. You can always watch the original, but that doesn’t make colorizing it any less of an artistic sin. Saying you can switch back to the original art feels like a cop-out.

That same Rock, Paper, Shotgun article has another provocative gem of a quote, but from the opposite side of the aisle. I can’t tell you who said this quote, as the editor of the article doesn’t appear to understand the importance of clear attribution. It would be logical if the quote came from producer Craig Derrick. In any case, below is the quote, with its most significant part bolded:

Once we started getting the original code up and running on the new devices, we discovered we could put the new art on top of the old and then transition between the two seamlessly. It was a perfect A-HA moment, a bit of a gimmick, a way for people to see the work we were adding and quite frankly the backbone of the entire project. I honestly don’t see why anyone remastering a classic game today wouldn’t use this idea.

That phrase resonates because it calls attention to the publicity angle behind The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition. The gimmick is related to the “sin” that Gilbert mentions. The gimmick washes one’s hands of blame (a strategy Pilate would endorse). The gimmick, most powerfully, nods to us when we talk about the critical necessity of holding onto video game masterpieces in their pure form. As a gimmick, the touch of a button doesn’t just amount to convenience — it justifies the advancement and use of tech, which, we are told, always has a potential solution for our troubles, practical or philosophical. George Lucas got it wrong. The “Special” in “Special Edition” should address more than technical details. It should put deep ethical cries about preservation on mute.

Rethinking My Stance on Remakes

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: This is the fourth essay of a seven-part series on game remakes. Check out the rest of the series here.

When I read my review of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D from six years ago, not only do I experience that writer’s pain that comes with recognizing the inferiority of one’s previous work, but I also find my article’s optimism for the remake hard to stomach. There is context for that optimism. The remake allowed me to play Majora’s Mask all the way through for the first time. The refashioned Moon, with its ever-present and twisted stare, stirred my anxiety throughout the game as I’m sure the original Moon would have. The remake doesn’t botch what makes the story of Majora’s Mask so affecting. But even considering these factors and others, there’s a nagging sense that my review failed to underline the disappointing reality about Majora’s Mask 3D.

Why did it take the hackneyed 3D gimmick for a game as fascinating as Majora’s Mask to reach a wider audience? Why does the remake water down the kinetic momentum one could achieve with Link’s various forms in the original (whether with Deku Link’s hopping or Zora Link’s swimming)? Why can’t there be a faithful translation of a well-regarded sequel within a storied, beloved franchise?

These questions and others didn’t cross my mind when I wrote the piece. On some level, my article dismissed the value of having an accurate port of Majora’s Mask due to my distaste for the blocky polygon aesthetic that characterized countless titles on fifth-generation consoles. This bias caused me to fall into a trap: I bought into the notion that newer technology improves old games. I threw, however inadvertently, history and artistry into the trash.


Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is one of my favorite games from the 2010s. It is a remake, but unlike Majora’s Mask 3D, it is a remake of a game, Fire Emblem Gaiden, that hasn’t been released in the United States. A devil’s advocate could excuse my enthusiasm for Shadows of Valentia based on the fact that I might’ve never gotten the opportunity to experience Gaiden. I also hold that the new components within Shadows of Valentia — from the rewind mechanic to the anime cutscenes — are, for the most part, well executed.

Still, I come back to the comments section of my review for Shadows of Valentia. Here, Ronaldo Villanueva, one of the most insightful game critics I know, tells me why his familiarity with Gaiden impacts his assessment of Shadows of Valentia. Ronaldo believes Shadows of Valentia has less strategic depth than Gaiden and backs up his contention with several examples.

It’s impossible for me to say whether I agree with Ronaldo. Gaiden remains elusive. But his hesitation to approve certain elements of Shadows of Valentia gives me pause, and makes me wish that the game industry cared more about broadening access to games like Gaiden, if only so we can have more provocative debates and a shared sense of the past.


Whether we’re talking about Majora’s Mask 3D, Shadows of Valentia, or Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey, many game remakes play it safe, notwithstanding their various tweaks to original works. They adhere to the basics. They admit their predecessors were special. They serve as proxies. They want to be seen as logical updates, not daring revisions. (Note, too, that even though my review for Slant says that Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey is “the ultimate version of a pop masterpiece,” the fact that I use the word “version” implies that, to some extent, I’m talking about a product, thus contradicting my goal as a critic to look at games as more than products.)

Shouldn’t a game remake actually remake more of the material? The best film remakes do, from John Carpenter’s The Thing to David Cronenberg’s The Fly to Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. The best cover songs do, from Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” to Linda Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou” to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” Not only do these examples in the film and music spheres implement a number of substantial changes to their inspirations (can you even imagine Franklin not spelling out the word “Respect” in her version of the Otis Redding tune?), but they also register as quintessential representations of the personalities and styles of the artists that brought the remade things to life. The best justification for a remake lies in the remake’s overall individual quality, as opposed to any gap that the remake might fill in a market.

This last point is especially interesting to ponder when we analyze the 1994 Game Boy remake of Donkey Kong (which I will refer to as Donkey Kong 1994 from now on). Donkey Kong 1994 is the greatest game remake I’ve played both because of how good it is and because of how much it distinguishes itself from the 1981 original. The first four levels of Donkey Kong 1994 follow the lead of Donkey Kong, but in a delightful twist, the rest of the game amounts to about 100 distinct levels that go far beyond the vision of the arcade classic. Mario is a much different animal in Donkey Kong 1994. Showing off acrobatic abilities that would appear two years later in Super Mario 64, Mario had never been as agile before the Game Boy remake. In addition to adopting ideas that we just don’t see in the typical Donkey Kong or Mario game (like needing to find and carry a key to a door to advance in every level), Donkey Kong 1994 includes a way for Mario to create temporary ladders, bridges, and springs, a proposition that could be as straightforward as it could be janky. All of these elements, and others I haven’t mentioned, lend an air of experimentation and surrealism to the proceedings. Playing Donkey Kong 1994 is like entering a parallel dimension and discovering what the weirdos in another reality get to experience instead of the original Donkey Kong. The game bucks trends, stimulates the imagination, defies expectations, conjures new history. It’s neither an improved version of Donkey Kong nor a chance for latecomers to see what they missed back in 1981. Donkey Kong 1994 shows us what a remake can be made of.

Super Mario All-Stars: Aesthetics Be Damned!

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: This is the third essay of a seven-part series on game remakes. Check out the rest of the series here.

We often praise Super Mario Bros. for its gameplay and forget about the power of its graphics. Take another gander at level 1-1. The pixel art, while not crude, is loud. There’s a roughness and hardness to the world. The ground seems impenetrable. The clouds look like they’d stop airplanes. Without this overall aesthetic of solidness, I doubt players would feel as empowered and elated when they shatter brick blocks. The abstract appeal of becoming a large Mario is to impose one’s physicality on ostensibly unshakeable matter. As you run through 1-1, the flat aspect of the visual style bolsters the everyman’s surreal fantasy. A fully grown Mario rivals the size of clouds and small hills.

The color palette in 1-1 is limited but effective. The unvarying blue is pleasing, welcoming. Along with the greens, the blueness provides a lively contrast to the drab mustard brown of the blocks beneath and above Mario. In other words, there is hope and fun to be had within the unbending, dull status quo.

Without the picture that 1-1 paints, level 1-2 would have far less visual and emotional significance. As a juxtaposition to 1-1’s vision of an exciting dream, 1-2 functions as a wake-up call to danger. The black abyss. The blocks and Goombas drained of their original colors. The coins, pipes, and Mario himself may retain their brightness, but in general the inviting hues of the previous stage become a distant memory in mere seconds.


If the first two levels of Super Mario Bros. demonstrate how sights inform feelings, then those same levels in the Super Mario Bros. remake from Super Mario All-Stars demonstrate how the game industry tries to anticipate and exceed consumer expectations. For the consumer’s sake, a remake shouldn’t change too much, particularly when it comes to holy gameplay, but the product should look new and exude contemporary logic. Let’s imagine for a moment what a consumer, as a consultant to Nintendo, might have said about the visuals of the first two levels of the original Super Mario Bros.:

There’s nothing going on in the backgrounds.

The ground looks like building blocks.

The color scheme is too simple.

It looks like Mario is as big as clouds.

There’s not much detail.

Everything looks hard as a rock.

In the Super Mario All-Stars remake of the NES classic, a type of order has been applied to the stages. In level 1-1, there are humongous, pillowy clouds — with patronizing smiley faces, no less — and towering hills in the background, so Mario can never look too big when compared to the features of the landscape. In the foreground, Mario and his enemies clearly travel on top of grass, and in case that’s not convincing enough, you can also observe brown soil. Every once in a while, Mario will pass by a patch of tall grass blowing in the wind. The original 1-1 resembles a dream, but the remade 1-1 resembles a bonafide environment that can impress boardroom fellows and unthinking spectators.

With level 1-2, the remake doubles down on its rejection of emotional potential in favor of more rational visual presentation. The pitch-black darkness is gone. Instead, the background recalls the aspects of a mine: a wall of rocks, wooden beams, clumps of vegetation, and lanterns. While the blocks and Goombas have a bluish-gray hue as in the original Super Mario Bros., the increased visibility of the stage provides a newfound comfort that lessens the sense that Mario has entered a very dark place. Because one can see as many details in 1-2 as one could see in 1-1, the contrast between the stages is severely compromised. As a result, the transition to 1-2 in Super Mario All-Stars registers as natural and normal and explainable. The uplifting tone of 1-1 is dampened, as opposed to being stamped out.


The most egregious aesthetic misstep in Super Mario All-Stars comes in World 8 of the Super Mario Bros. 3 remake. The original World 8, appropriately named Dark Land, is one of the most intimidating settings in video game history. Both the world map and the levels within Dark Land utilize black to an astounding degree, as if a shadow-spreading virus has infected everything. At one point in the segmented map, the player can only see Mario thanks to a spotlight. No Mario experience is as dread-inducing.

Super Mario All-Stars revises this unforgettable location. Call it Not-So-Dark Land. As with level 1-2 of the Super Mario Bros. remake, the darkness of World 8 is watered down. The evidence begins with the initial world map screen. In the original Super Mario Bros. 3, pitch blackness hangs around the fires that light up the paths that Mario must traverse. In the remake, the only black that can be seen is outside of the very frame of the map!

The remake’s failure is more obvious in World 8’s introductory level. In the original Super Mario Bros. 3, this level’s absence of light is so perpetual that you can’t distinguish the outlines of black objects like Bob-ombs and cannons unless an explosion occurs. In the Super Mario Bros. remake, a shadowy haze hangs over the top of the stage, but otherwise, you can see quite well. Check out the grass. Check out the soil. Check out the dormant volcanoes. No fear, no mystery, no inconvenience. The Bob-ombs have been made purple, for crying out loud.

From there, the remake’s World 8 interpretation, if you can even call it that, gets worse. Most levels are quite visible, raising the question of why Nintendo continues to bother with the Dark Land moniker. Due to an out-of-place background and heavy usage of the color green, a later stage looks like a jungle from a different world. In another head-scratching example, the remake retains most of the darkness in one level but destroys a strong element of dissimilarity by replacing white sand with yellow sand.

There is no credible artistic reason for these changes. Only two conclusions make sense to me. First, the makers of Super Mario All-Stars were deathly afraid of contrast. Second, the makers of Super Mario All-Stars wanted to make World 8 more approachable and digestible. Either explanation points to a lack of courage, if not a lack of appreciation for an all-time great platformer.

The Best Video Games of 2030

by Jed Pressgrove

While all the other game critics scrambled to play as many 2020 titles as they could for their usual lists, I decided to do something a little different this year — namely, time travel. I won’t bore you with the technical details of this endeavor, as I know all of you are thinking the same thing: “Really???? What about the games in the pipeline?!” Below are my picks for the greatest video games of 2030. I have seen the future, and it is good.

  1. Hellfight: Like a Rogue – If there’s one thing that Hellfight: Like a Rogue teaches us, it’s that there can be truth in advertising. This blistering release from independent developer Big Colossus Studios is a roguelike in which you fight your way through Hell. Of course, you will die many, many times, but that’s more than OK. Here, death acts as an informant to the player, unveiling the intricacies of enemy attack patterns, the wanted and unwanted effects of power-ups, and the tricks to avoiding devilish traps like spikes and bomb radiuses. More than anything, to advance through the lair of Satan, you will need to learn how to dash a bunch of times. As if the tantalizing action of Hellfire: Like a Rogue weren’t enough, Big Colossus throws in a cast of lovable demons who talk to the hero, Lucipher, after he messes up and gets killed. The character development and storytelling point to a universal truth: we’re all just big kids in a dark playground, flipping the middle finger to our dads and running over to mommy for wise words and protection.

  2. Final Fantasy VII Remake Remake – According to the Wikipedia of 2030, although Final Fantasy VII Remake was the most innovative remake of the greatest RPG ever, it left players wanting more after its last act. Square Enix initially flirted with the concept of remaking the remake, leaving audiences breathless across the world, but the creative team behind the project dissolved to everyone’s collective disappointment. But then, in 2029, it was announced that the first of 10 parts of Final Fantasy VII Remake Remake would be coming in 2030. I managed to get my hands on it, and boy, are you in for a treat in 10 years. Remember how Final Fantasy VII Remake translated the first five hours of Final Fantasy VII into 30 to 50 hours of content? Well, Final Fantasy VII Remake Remake turns the first five hours of Final Fantasy VII Remake into an 80-hour epic of moral ambiguity and carefully outlined traditional sidequests. The additional time with the characters reveals their innermost thoughts, as in the segment where Cloud, troubled by what could be called television static, follows Sephiroth through a labyrinthine alleyway for 10 hours, only to learn later that he actually walked three feet away from Barrett and the rest of the gang during a sort of brainfart that lasted a mere two seconds. And yes, while Barrett is a cartoonish stereotype as he was in Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VII Remake, this time around we can definitely see how much he really, really loves his daughter and really, really hates corporate power. So it all balances out.

  3. Animal Crossing: High on Life – On a sociopolitical level, 2030 was dreadful and frightening to behold on multiple fronts. As such, it’s nice that Nintendo cranked out this latest Animal Crossing sequel that, unlike previous entries, allows the player to engage in human-animal marriages. In a terrible year like 2030, this is what the doctor ordered. Similar to its predecessors, Animal Crossing: High on Life lets people get away from current events and turn their brains off in the late hours of the night and tend to their precious hamlets full of characters that look like toys that we used to play with when we were 2.5 years old. There was another neat thing that I noticed about playing Animal Crossing in 2030: you never knew when an affable Democratic politician in the U.S. would namedrop High on Life on social media. Despite the fact that the gap between the rich and the poor in 2030 seemed as wide as the distance between Pluto and the sun, all of this made me feel warm and bubbly inside.

  4. Sprinkler Repairman – It was good to see that indie devs could still throw a decent curveball a decade from now. In the delightful and socially conscious Sprinkler Repairman, you help middle- and upper-class households maintain the lifeblood of their lawns. The intuitive (read: very easy) puzzler gameplay is a blast for all ages, but more significantly, as you visit neighborhood after neighborhood, you observe how segregated the world is. Most of the families in Sprinkler Repairman live by families with similar characteristics. When the protagonist utters his final line, “Man, we are separated,” you can’t help but feel a tinge of regret, despite how fun and solvable the majority of the game is.

  5. Life As We Know It Is Over Part 2 – Based on the articles that I came across in 2030, Life As We Know It Is Over revolutionized storytelling in gaming in 2026. How? From what I could tell, the game had a nihilistic and apocalyptic plot, characters who put the T in Tragedy, and enemies that were a cross between zombies, vampires, and federal legislators. This material overwhelmed many a gamer, leading them to discover feelings that they never knew they had. Thus, Life As We Know It Is Over Part 2 was created as an attempt to top the emotional roller coaster ride that was Life As We Know It Is Over. Now, I can’t say whether this sequel was indeed better than the original, but I was moved by a scene in which Casey, a 20-something skateboarder-turned-revolutionary, compared the bloodsucking zombified vampire things to the American government of the early 21st century, right before putting a bullet in the brain of Jacob, a 40-something turncoat who, interestingly, was the protagonist for the first 15 hours of the game. My only question after seeing the closing credits of Life As We Know It Is Over Part 2 was whether the story was over or whether Life As We Know It Is Over Part 3 would peek its head around the corner in 2035.

  6. Smash Bros. vs. Street Fighter vs. Mortal Kombat vs. Tekken vs. Virtua Fighter vs. Samurai Shodown vs. Dead or Alive vs. Primal Rage vs. UFC Legends – This unbelievable gem has almost everything a fighting game fan could want. I say almost because right before I had to come back to 2020, I learned that Smash Bros. vs. Street Fighter vs. Mortal Kombat vs. Tekken vs. Virtua Fighter vs. Samurai Shodown vs. Dead or Alive vs. Primal Rage vs. UFC Legends would have a second season featuring new characters like Shigeru Miyamoto, Kind Akuma, Mike Tyson, and Raiden As Played by Christopher Lambert. Damn!

  7. Ori and the Lost Sack of Opioids – This delightful sequel takes the platforming genre to new heights, marrying in-depth exploration to passionate commentary on the anomie of humankind. The guardian spirit Ori finds itself traversing a bureaucratic modern world where everyone is looking for a way out through government-approved pharmaceuticals. As Ori backtracks through medical facilities, local pharmacies, wild college parties, and the human body itself, the player is able to grasp the logistical, political, and psychological complexities of the opioid crisis. A Metroidvania for the times.

  8. Gun Nut 2.0 – Ever wonder what it’s like to have to clean a 9mm Glock after you shoot a lot of stuff? Gun Nut 2.0 takes its 2027 predecessor’s basic VR premise to fascinating extremes. At one point, you have to visit store after store in a desperate search for bullets of a certain caliber, asking employees what day and time they think they’ll receive their next ammo shipment. In a groundbreaking twist, Gun Nut 2.0 even has built-in features to relieve cognitive dissonance for left-wing players who are against guns in real life but love to imagine themselves blowing crap (and people) away.

  9. Assassin’s Creed: The Great Depression – If you love history, you already know Assassin’s Creed is a gift from the gods. With a fidelity that recalls unforgettable literary classics like The Grapes of Wrath and Tobacco Road, Assassin’s Creed: The Great Depression highlights how cool it is to plop one’s self into a different place and time and slit throats like a bad MF. You can also freely enter Tour Mode and watch how people survived in the Dust Bowl. Attention to detail = empathy.

  10. Madden NFL 30 – This one deserves special mention for the “Life of a Player” mode alone, where every life decision can impact whether a particular player will enter and remain in the NFL. You start off as a soon-to-be draft pick who, among other things, must consider the potential consequences of broadcasting himself hitting a water bong on TikTok. If a team drafts you, the possibilities are endless. You can play your position well to land a big contract, only to stop putting forth any effort on the field after you get paid. You can throw your teammates under the bus after a reporter asks you what happened in an embarrassing loss. You can spend your free time being a role model, traveling to schools across the country to inform kids about the dangers of peer pressure and egotism. Madden NFL 30 captures everything that is inspiring and disappointing about big-name athletes, while also being incredibly dull as a football game in video game form.

Galaga ’88: When an Arcade Masterpiece Should Be Left Alone

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: This is the second essay of a seven-part series on game remakes. Check out the rest of the series here.

Galaga is the perfect pop game sequel. Though a fixed vertical shooter like its predecessor Galaxian, Galaga is a more exhilarating, dynamic affair. Single shots are a thing of the past. Enemies zip onto the screen in graceful sychronization as opposed to automatically being in rows. Bonus stages emphasize accuracy and provide a suitable break from the game’s kill-or-be-killed paradigm. The aesthetic of the main ship evokes the offensively minded X-Wing from Star Wars rather than the more passive Enterprise spacecraft from Star Trek. Most importantly, players can double their firepower by allowing a ship to be taken hostage and then freeing it. With all of these changes, director Shigeru Yokoyama produced one of the most beloved games of any era and made Galaxian a forgettable footnote in the history of shooters.

Galaga ’88 wants to be a superior version of the 1981 masterpiece. The title says it all. The reference to 1988 is not just technical acknowledgement of the approximate time of the release. The citation of the year is a way of telling us that the game is for people of a modern age with more sophisticated demands. As consumers, we go to a car dealership with the expectation that we will see the latest year’s offerings on the lot. Newer is sexier. Look at how the sports video game market persists.

Galaga ’88 must live up to the braggadocious implications of its title, to its suggestion that the mega pop hit Galaga has been reincarnated in a superior body. (Some might claim that Galaga ’88 is only a sequel, but this idea overlooks Gaplus, the 1984 follow-up to Galaga that didn’t reuse its immediate ancestor’s title.) The souped-up presentation of Galaga ’88 reveals the desperation of a development team attempting to top a lean mean classic. Now the player’s ship takes off from a futuristic platform, as if we need that continuity in a gallery shooter. Now the ship has to go into warp drive for the next stage to begin, as if a simple change of levels isn’t enough. Now imagery in the background changes, as if the modest space setting of Galaga wasn’t convincing. Now the bonus stages are referred to as “Galactic Dancing,” which is just about the corniest term one could use for such a thing, and become nauseatingly precious when the musical compositions by Hiroyuki Kawada add contrived levity to the proceedings.

Galaga ’88 is an attention whore that, despite all of its cute little bells and whistles, has never gotten the attention that Galaga has received over the decades. Perhaps that’s because greater simplicity reigns supreme in the arcade, but Galaga ’88’s new gameplay ideas also lack inspiration and creativity. As in Galaga, you can fuse together two ships for more bullets, but the dual ship in Galaga ’88 can be transformed into a triple ship. Although this concept might seem cool on the surface, Gaplus already had a tractor-beam trick that could triple one’s firepower and then some by adding enemies alongside the main ship. The other problem is that Galaga ’88 makes the triple-ship process overly simple: two ships can be selected, with the loss of one life, before the beginning of the first stage. This means the triple ship can be achieved quickly, and the increased bullet coverage turns the first few stages into a mindless shooting spree.

Another wrinkle in Galaga ’88 is the inclusion of scrolling stages. Let me repeat that with more truth. Another wrinkle in Galaga ’88 is the inclusion of utterly uninteresting scrolling stages. The enemies and obstacles in these segments don’t get my blood pumping at all, as their patterns and positioning pose little danger compared to the threats in Xevious, which preceded Galaga ’88 by a few years. The absence of a provocative power-up system, as in 1985’s Twinbee or 1989’s Blazing Lazers, also does no favors for the action here. Most egregiously, scrolling stages don’t fit the fixed-shooter formula of relegating the player to movement along a single horizontal plane. When you combine movement restrictions with perfunctory enemy encounters, you wind up with padding and zero emotional resonance. In this pitiful context, the entire point of having scrolling stages with a ship — to create an illusion of flight and momentum — is lost.

Even if Galaga ’88 is viewed uncritically, it still resembles an awkward, behind-the-times missing link between the fixed shooter and modern vertical shooter. There are bosses, but they move, spray bullets, and spawn minions in primitive and embarrassing fashion. There are branching paths, a la Darius and Star Fox, but they amount to a negligible sense of adventure. Consider this thought experiment: if Galaga ’88 had been the original Galaga in 1981, it would seem far ahead of the curve, born from the unusual whims of a mad game designer. Galaga ’88 wants us to imagine what could have been. As romantic as that proposition may seem, it requires us to disregard the history of video games so as not to notice that we’re looking at a bunch of wallpaper.