Remasters are fickle little things. They've given new players a chance to experience the great games of yore, but the quality of the original product doesn't always stack up to modern expectations. Even games from a couple of generations ago can often enter the contemporary realm with archaic mechanics and creaky concepts that were once considered groundbreaking and innovative. Almost three decades on from its original release, that's the reception that awaits the classic action-platformer GODS and it rises once more as – wait for it – GODS Remastered.
Back in 1991, GODS was a revelation. And that’s not even the sound of rose-tinted hyperbole. These were the early days of video games, a wild frontier where the constraints of tapes, floppy disks and cartridges were giving us plenty of forgettable pap. But amid the games lost to time and bargain bins, a crack team of programmers and designers from the UK offered a shining beacon of quality. Having already made waves with shoot-em-up Xenon II: Megablast and cyberpunk sports sim Speedball II, The Bitmap Brothers now turned their attention to the humble side-scrolling platformer.
Taking Greek myths and legends as their creative inspiration, the duo created something truly unique at the time. In the shoes of an unnamed hero (blessed with huge muscles, naturally), you'd explore various locations across Greece as you attempted to save your lofty deities in exchange for your own entrance to godhood. What made it stand apart was the strength of its AI, which would adapt to your skill level and move to intercept your position, as well as the pace at which it doled out puzzles, exploratory sections and boss fights. Success was no longer about predicting patterns, but knowing the limits of the hero's jumps and how best to use each ranged weapon in a given level. Even the music was glorious, especially that opening title theme. It was, and still is in many ways, a brilliant landmark in gaming, but 28 years is a long time for any classic to remain unscathed.
With developer Robot Riot Games on board, GODS Remastered arrived on other platforms last December, and so now it finally makes the odyssey-like journey to Nintendo Switch. The result is something that certainly looks remastered, with new HD graphics, 3D models and new level assets aplenty. There's an extensive new soundtrack as well, and you can switch back to the old look and sound of the game – in true retro remastered fashion – with a simple press of the right analog stick. The problem is that's where the significant changes end. Those modern updates are only skin deep, and nearly 30 years on, some of those unique design choices begin to irk more than they impress.
Part of GODS’ charm was always its difficulty. In 1991, the stiff character movement and basic combat model – where you’re effectively throwing blades across the screen like a stripped down side-scrolling shooter and jumping and ducking until the enemies in front of you are finally dead – were so common in practice they were practically acceptable. But if you’re picking up GODS Remastered for the very first time, you’re unlikely to appreciate the brilliance of its level designs and the challenge of its random enemy movements and simply chalk it up to dated mechanics. Unwieldy controls and stiff character movement were just par for the course in the early ‘90s, but even those who did play the original will discover this classic has not aged well.
However, look past the ravages of time and some of the things that made GODS so lauded can still be found and appreciated. Its intelligent incorporation of environmental puzzles still offers a genuine challenge – especially in the latter two areas – and you’re going to end up scratching your head in frustration before you punch the air in glee as you finally open the correct door with a lever that’s long eluded you. Solving these puzzles will also increase your score and bag you extra cash, which enables you to buy better weapons and items in the shop in-between areas. However, the part of the game that removes any overpowered weapons or items from your inventory before taking on a boss is still there, so don’t think stockpiling certain gear is a viable tactic. Because it still isn’t.
GODS Remastered is an odd remaster. The brand new visuals help give this incarnation of Ancient Greece a far more agreeable presentation with a proper lighting system, some much-improved character models and a soundtrack that helps do justice to the unforgettable original. But peel away those cosmetic changes and you’re left with a once brilliant action-platformer that has not aged well. Compared to the side-scrolling platformers that followed – including Metroid II: Return of Samus, which came out later that very same year – GODS’ groundbreaking approach to AI and premium presentation quickly went from innovative to a creaky old fossil. This remaster is faithful in its desire to retain the meat and bones of the original, but that’s also its undoing.