Recently I was heavily focused on The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, figuring out the focus for what would become our preview of the title. From a personal perspective it's proving to be a lovely experience replaying the GameCube / Wii title, and it is by most definitions a solid remaster. The graphics are improved a decent amount, perhaps a little more noticeably than in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD due to revamped textures and the diverse visual styles of the games, and it has some nice touches that should keep fans happy.
Meanwhile, in occasional snatches of gaming time not currently devoted to previews and reviews, I'm continuing a slow playthrough of Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, which was one of my 'Christmas' games that I planned to beat over the long-gone Holiday season; the other one was Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. Needless to say I haven't had the chance to fully beat either yet (I'm halfway through Uncharted 2), but it's not lost on me that nearly a third of my boxed PS4 retail games are remasters, with The Last of Us Remastered being part of the bundle when I bought it and Metro Redux being a particularly good bargain bin purchase.
By simple mathematical probability - more games, more third parties - the PS4 / Xbox One has had a real glut of remasters, yet plenty of them have seemed barely worth a shrug of the shoulders; may I present God of War III Remastered. Nintendo has been more hesitant of reeling out older games for a spit and polish, and just recently I argued that, in the generation to come, the company can better exploit its history for more remasters.
Yet The Legend of Zelda has been somewhat exempt from Nintendo's hesitant flirting with the remaster trade. The releases to date have certainly made sense and have evidently tapped into fan demand - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D utilised the fact the 3DS could support improved visuals of N64 titles, providing that combination of improved graphics and other enhancements to gameplay and controls. Likewise The Wind Waker HD did the same, though the impact of a sharper resolution isn't as pronounced in cel-shaded visuals - as mentioned above - as can be the case elsewhere. All three of those releases seemed to be well received: Wind Waker HD had its own hardware bundle and has sold 1.69 million copies at last count, while online buzz was joined by strong sales for the two 3DS releases.
Yet while I remember a lot of excitement among eager Nintendo fans for those releases, I'm simply not picking up the same degree of enthusiasm for Twilight Princess HD. I don't think that's a reflection of the work Tantalus Media has done with the Wii U iteration, as it's an excellent - likely definitive - version of the game. So what is it that makes some remasters the talk of fans and a commercial success, and has other projects that seem similar in approach head towards release with limited buzz?
To start with Twilight Princess HD directly, I think there are a few factors against it in terms of popular opinion. For one thing, general morale seems rather low - unsurprisingly - around Wii U, which only some promising upcoming releases can even hope to improve; the infrequent release slate and some disappointing Holiday arrivals have contributed to that. Another issue, and one specific to this remaster, is that it seems rather tacked on as a release, with a lingering suspicion - perhaps not a fair one - that it's a title brought together to simply fill a gap and start the Zelda 30th Anniversary celebrations. Also of issue is that while Wii U owners had no way to enjoy The Wind Waker on the system prior to its HD release, those with the original Wii version of Twilight Princess - of which there are plenty as it launched with the system - can enjoy the fuzzier Waggle Edition on their current-gen system at no extra cost.
Another problem for Nintendo has been the messaging and implementation around amiibo. Of all its franchises that perhaps shouldn't be dabbled with in the amiibo space, Legend of Zelda is right up the top, perhaps with Metroid. Online, at least, many fans of the franchise weren't exactly delighted to see an amiibo figure with the game, along with support that includes access to a new Challenge area and shortcuts to items. The fact is that all of these features can easily be ignored for a more 'classic' experience, but that logic won't easily shift discontent at amiibo being in the same sentence as The Legend of Zelda.
Finally, and a factor that tallies with the comment above about accessibility to the game through the Wii U's backward compatibility, I think many are questioning whether they want to spend $60 on this remaster. It may improve the visuals rather handsomely and add nice features, but these extras alone don't seem to be seizing the day. Of course there is some enthusiasm, and sales may ultimately prove me wrong, but I'm seeing a lot of "I don't want to buy this at that price" remarks.
So, what is the recipe for remaster success? Accessibility, or lack thereof, is a big part, along with the fact a game needs to be top-notch and therefore worth a double dip. Wind Waker HD did represent a chance for some to experience it for the first time, likewise 3DS owners could see what the fuss was about with the N64 classics. For those that played them before, a combination of improvements and a one-shot chance to enjoy the games on that specific hardware surely played a part.
That's been a strategy for other hardware manufacturers too. Sony plugged the Nathan Drake Collection as a chance for PlayStation newcomers to enjoy those three games for the price of one, and also see them in shiny 1080p at 60fps rather than 720p and 30fps on PS3 - again, improvements allied to opportunity. Yet when remastering games from just one generation ago value is important, whether through bundles (hardware and/or in terms of multiple games on the disc) or aggressive retail discounts. So, for example, I've always believed a Metroid Prime Trilogy HD priced at $40-50 would have taken off in a big way, but instead we got the Wii Virtual Console download on the eShop for half that price - which sold brilliantly at an even lower introductory price.
Gamers ultimately seem to want bang for their buck with remasters - not unreasonably, either - especially those based on games only a few years old. Some re-releases in this generation have seemed rather aimless in terms of value and meeting a demand, with the likes of Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition being strange arrivals. In some cases they're quick cash-ins that only a small audience actually wants.
Nintendo's also shown, however, that Virtual Console re-releases - with only the most basic of work in terms of download manuals and VC settings - can drive a lot of interest. EarthBound was a good example, as it was a rare but much-loved game that many had only played in ROM form or many years ago on SNES. Then we have the upcoming Gen 1 Pokémon games, which are falling on the franchises' 20th Anniversary and even have their own 2DS / New 3DS hardware bundles. Aside from local wireless replacing link cables they're pretty much the same games, as Virtual Console releases typically are, yet they have their own heavy marketing campaign and hardware.Those releases are, potentially, one of the easiest wins Nintendo's had in a while. Why? Because they're classics that have never been officially released as downloads up to this point.
If value, demand, level of improvement, 'definitive' features and general buzz are all factors, it seems to me that Twilight Princess HD - at the very least - is generating the least excitement of this gen's Zelda remasters. Nintendo's in an odd position where it's trying to leverage it as part of the IP's Anniversary, yet Wii U and 3DS owners have been merrily indulging in series remakes for a few years. All the while other key franchises haven't been afforded the same treatment, so there could be frustration and sense of over-saturation at play when some simply shrug and say they'll live without it.
That seems a pity, and time will tell whether Twilight Princess HD (and its amiibo edition) can shift over a million copies, to give it a generic target that'll at least bring it into the Wind Waker HD ball park. Its pre-orders have led it quite high in the 'best sellers' list for Amazon, as one example, so perhaps it will do the job at retail.
Some of the disgruntlement directed towards it, however - related to pricing, its inclusion of amiibo features and so on - will provide valuable feedback to Nintendo. It wouldn't surprise us if remasters and high-demand Virtual Console re-releases are key parts of the company's strategy for the next generation of hardware. Alongside success stories we've had re-releases barely mentioned by Nintendo in its sales summaries - we suspect the New 3DS-exclusive Xenoblade Chronicles 3D sold limited numbers - and both scenarios have lessons to teach.
Sometimes a brand isn't enough on its own when asking fans to cough up another retail-sized chunk of change.