Nintendo Remakes Remasters
Image: Nintendo Life

With official word that a Nintendo Switch "successor" will be announced before April 2025, there's really no debating that Switch is in the twilight of its years. We're well into Year 8 now, and we're being served up a series of remakes and remasters of old favourites while Nintendo's premier teams focus on brand-new games for the brand-new system.

First-party-wise, in the last six months we've had Super Mario RPG, Mario vs. Donkey Kong, and the Nintendo-published Another Code: Recollection — and we also got Kirby's Return to Dream Land Deluxe, Advance Wars 1+2, and Metroid Prime Remastered last year. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is launching today, with Luigi's Mansion 2 HD arriving next month. If you're a sucker for new versions of old classics, you've been like a pig in mud on Switch and elsewhere over the last couple of years.

And before that, too. Switch has been a haven for ports, re-releases, remasters, and remakes since launch, and we've had a deluge of Deluxe versions that sometimes blur the line between those related terms. It's easy to get into a semantic argument, even if you've got clear in your mind the difference between a standard port, an enhanced port, a remaster, or a full-on remake.

It's obvious, right!? Metroid Prime Remastered is a remaster, natch, Return to Dream Land Deluxe is a fancy port, and Skyward Sword HD and Luigi's Mansion 2 HD are obviously both, er, HD remasters? Although Wind Waker HD was more of an HD remake. Probably. What's Thousand-Year Door again?

To explore this noodle-y issue, Team NL sat down for a chat to find out if we could find the Nintendo Life Definition...

Gavin: Okay then, let’s start broad with our general ideas. How would you define the difference between a remake and a remaster?

Ollie: More often than not, I’m quite happy to go with whatever the developers deem it to be - they should know better than most, right? But without such information, a remake for me is generally something that has been completely reworked from scratch, so none of the original code or assets from the original release remain. A remaster, on the other hand, is the original game ‘beefed up’, enhanced with prettier visuals, refined gameplay - stuff like that.

Alana: That’s pretty much where I fall – I think the phrase 'rebuilt from the ground up' summarises how I feel about remakes best. I think of a remaster as a fresh coat of paint, whereas with a remake you rebuild the whole house. Weird metaphor, but that’s the best way I can visualise it.

Jim: I’ll go three-for-three and agree once again. I’m not very technically minded when it comes to game code and the like, and I am sure that there is more to a remaster than just a ‘simple’ facelift, but in my mind, if it looks basically the same and it plays basically the same, it’s a remaster. ‘Remake’ feels like it needs to bring something a bit more substantial.

Gavin: My rule of thumb used to be that if you could take a cutscene or an opening screen and lay it on top of the original and it was essentially the same (maybe with some added widescreen, better resolution, etc), it’s a remaster. What sort of features would you expect to see in a remaster, as opposed to a remake?

Alana: At the bare minimum? 'HD'. At least nowadays. There are lots of examples of pixel smoothing that I really hate, but that seems to fall under that umbrella of 'brushing up the visuals'. It needs to look cleaner, polished up, to some degree. Otherwise, it’s just a port, right?

Gavin: Ha, Alana was the first one brave enough to say the ‘P’ word! The rabbit hole awaits...

Alana: You can be a remastered port or just a port!

Jim: I’d echo Alana and maybe add some soundtrack tweaks too. It’s no bare minimum (heck, it’s still not that common), but if the visuals are getting a fresh lick of paint, it’s always nice to hear the audio get some love. Anything more technical and we are getting into the other camp.

Ollie: It depends on how old the original is. If someone were to ask me what I’d have liked to see in a remaster of The Last of Us Part II, I would have shrugged and said, “Haven’t the foggiest, mate.” But if we’re talking pre-2005, then yeah, HD visuals, maybe a boost to the frame rate if it’s needed. Some quality-of-life improvements are always welcome; modernised control schemes, save states, etc.

Gavin: Maybe some scrubbed-up textures. It’s tough when you get into the nomenclature and what publishers call things and the inconsistency there. We’ll come back to that in a second. Obviously, Paper Mario TTYD is the Nintendo game of the moment, and they’ve called it a remake, is that right?

Jim: That is right. I have been calling it a remaster for months, but noooo, Nintendo had to go and officially label it otherwise.

Alana: I called it in between a remaster and remake in the preview, but then went full remake for the review. And using Gavin’s criteria, it does initially feel like a remaster – the layers are very similar. But I was going through GameCube and Switch screenshots prior to the review going up, and the visual changes are honestly staggering. There’s a huge step-up in quality between 2004 and 2024’s releases that Intelligent Systems has to have rebuilt most of it.

Of course, it feels the same to play, and there are some quality-of-life features, a couple of new things in the post-game. But the visual and musical glow-up goes beyond what we’ve seen in say, Dark Souls: Remastered or something like that.

Wind Waker HD
Image: Nintendo

Gavin: Getting into other Nintendo examples and touching on the ‘HD’ tag, how would you say TTYD compares to something like Wind Waker HD? Would you personally class that as a remake?

Ollie: Nope! With Paper Mario, I think the series has always had a pretty timeless art style, so the distinction between remake and remaster was always going to be tough. But looking at TTYD on Switch in motion, I can definitely tell that it’s been done from the ground up. With Wind Waker, Nintendo did a remarkable job with the visuals, but it’s still the same game through and through.

Alana: Yeah, Wind Waker HD is still the GameCube game underneath, animations and all. There is new rendering and lighting on Wii U. TTYD is a totally new engine – it’s not just re-rendered visuals and lighting. There wasn’t really any lighting in the GC version, and the detail was pretty minimal. I wouldn’t be surprised if it uses The Origami King’s engine.

Gavin: WW HD did have other tweaks, though, changes to the Triforce Hunt, GamePad integration, etc. It’s such a fine semantic line between these things! For me, the recent Wizardry remake has made me start doubting my previous criteria. In that, the Apple II original is literally (and optionally) visible onscreen, running beneath all the new things Digital Eclipse built on top of it. The OG game is there, with all the modern code plugged in, and yet I don’t think anybody would say it isn’t a total remake. This is where the lack of knowledge about exactly how code and underlying logic are employed makes lines even fuzzier. Something like the Resident Evil remakes are much easier to label. [Editor's note: Since we spoke, I was reminded of the brilliant Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap from Lizardcube, another example of a totally transformative facelift that still featured the original game running beneath. What a marvellous game that is! Anyhow, back to the chat...]

Jim: It’s the kind of thing that needs to be judged on a case-by-case basis, right? Okay, “needs” might be a little strong, but you get my point. A Zelda HD remaster falls on one side of the line, but a 3D remaster falls on another. Admittedly, adding another dimension sure sounds like a bigger job (again, my lack of game dev knowledge is shining through here) but it’s all in the same ballpark. The same can be said for Wizardry. I’m starting to think that there isn’t a definitive line between the two in the ‘How to Make Games Handbook’...

Gavin: Which is the reason why I ended up lumping all remakes and remasters into our reader-ranked Nintendo list. It's a fun discussion, but the line is fuzzy at best.

Alana: At least Digital Eclipse is nice enough to say “A full 3D remake” and “powered by the original source code”. The developer’s word, again, wins out, and even without it, just watching it… yeah, unquestionably, it’s a remake.

Ollie: Yeah, that’s why I said I tend to go with whatever the dev says, because you definitely have these one-off cases where the line is extremely blurred. To go with Digital Eclipse again, its Yars’ Revenge Enhanced game in Atari 50 is basically a remake, but you can flip back to the original 2600 visuals at the touch of a button. The difference is striking and, again, it kind of calls into question whether it’s a remaster or a remake or something else.

Gavin: With Digital Eclipse, I think that team prides itself on precision across the board, including accuracy around labels like this. Whereas with Nintendo’s melange of 'Deluxe' ports, 'HD's, etc, the labels feel more arbitrary or led by marketing. Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe for example: a Wii port? A remake? A remaster? You could argue any of those.

Let’s not, though. It’s quickfire question time! I say a game, you tell me what it is. Ready?

... Skyward Sword HD.

Jim, Ollie, Alana: Remaster.

Gavin: Correct. Maybe. Metroid Prime Remastered.

Ollie: Remaster.

Alana: Remaster - the animations are a dead giveaway.

Jim: Never heard of it.

Ollie: James Norman…

Jim: Okay, fine. Remaster.

Gavin: Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster.

Ollie, Jim: Remaster.

Alana: They’re all remasters.

Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster
It's in the name, right? — Image: Square Enix

Gavin: Are they though? Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition.

Alana: I mean, it’s not a remake - same deal as Metroid Prime, the animations are still from the Wii. Remaster.

Ollie: Yeah, that’s a good remaster, but still a remaster.

Jim: Remakster?

[*crickets chirping]

Gavin: Pikmin 1+2 on Switch.

Jim: Port minus the 7-Up lid.

Alana: Yeah, they’re ports - the Wii ones are remasters.

Ollie: Oh, ports? Interesting. I couldn’t say with this one, I’m not familiar enough with it.

Gavin: Super Mario 64, but Mario and some other assets have been swapped out for higher-poly models?

Jim: Super Mario 65? That’d be a remaster.

Ollie: This feels like a trick, because Super Mario 64 DS is a remake hahaha.

Alana: If we’re talking about the 3D All-Stars version, though… that’s a remaster, I think?

Ollie: Yes, I’d say so.

Gavin: Noodle-y! I’d go with straight port for 3D All-Stars. I don’t think we’re going to arrive at a concrete ‘NL Definition’ today, but we've done a good job of establishing how grey an area this is.

Super Mario 64 3D All-Stars
Image: Nintendo

Alana: This is where my brain starts throwing in new terms – enhanced version, definitive edition, extra special version, etc. Enhanced port, port, remaster – they all feel noodle-y when I say them out loud, but in my head I’m like, 'Okay, yeah, Super Mario 64 on Switch is just an enhanced port.'

Gavin: Steady on, you’ll start going into the Greek alphabet and dropping in semicolons in a minute. Can you imagine what Kingdom Hearts remake titles would look like!?

Ollie: ‘Re-Mars-tered’ though, amirite?

Jim: I, for one, am excited to see Switch 2 launch with ‘Mario Kart 8 Deluxer: Enhanced Definitive Edition - Extra Special Version!’

Ollie: Turbo.

Gavin: Final question. What is Capcom going to call REmake when they remake it?

Ollie: Brace yourselves… ‘Resident Evil’. Gasp!

Alana: Hey! Shall we talk about reboots now?…

Gavin: Aaaaand that's all we've got time for. Thank you, everyone!

Hmm, inconclusive, then. Sorry. Shades of grey, shades of grey.

But what do you think? Is there a clear line to be drawn - this far, no further? Does it really matter what we call them? Are you anxiously awaiting the arrival of 'The Resident Evil'? Let us know all that and more in the polls and comments.

Remakes, remasters, enhanced ports, regular ports - are these all clearly defined in your head?
Was The Wind Waker HD a remaster or a remake?