Gaming's grittiest reboots

Thanks a bunch, Christopher Nolan. Ever since Batman Begins took the universally-reviled cinematic bastardization of a cool character and redrew it in the drab colors and long shadows of The Dark Knight Returns, the “gritty reboot” has been back in fashion. In Hollywood-speak, the term's a nice way of saying “we've screwed this up, can we have a do-over?” Of course, games being a forward-looking sort of medium, players have been wise to this trick for years now – and we're still suckers for it.

Whether it's a deeper-'n-darker sequel or restarting from scratch, rejigging your series with a darker palette and more distorted guitars is a great way to draw attention to what might otherwise be just more sequel-abuse. But how well does it work? From a player's perspective, a gray coat of paint is hardly going to turn gameplay upside down... but from a “cataloguing the tricks they'll pull to sell a new installment” standpoint, dark reboots are just gravy.

Shadow the Hedgehog

Above: Note how everything including Sonic is brightly colored and appealing 

The series: Iconic blue blur leads growing cast of mannish cartoon animals across meadows, jungles, deep blue somewheres, and miscellaneous standard platforming environments with a delightfully inordinate number of loops and speed-ramps.

Above: Note how everything that isn't Shadow is on fire or dead 

The reboot: Mohawked black-and-red mutant wears out his frown-muscles while striding grimly through the same sorts of areas. Only now they're dark, on fire, and look like the set of a 1980s sci-fi flick.

Above: Those tires don't look like a smooth ride. Doubtless Shadow would assure you that's how he likes it 

Dark 'n' edgy additions: At one time, the idea of “Sonic, but with automatic weapons and a bitchin' hog” would have made for a fine April Fools' prank. But when your series is as emblematic of the law of diminishing returns as the Sonic titles, you'd try anything too.

How'd it work? Many grudgingly admit that somewhere along the way – be it the DS iterations, Nintendo crossovers or Sonic 4 – the Sonic series has come some way toward making up for past mistakes. But ask players exactly when the franchise grew the beard, and few will point to Shadow.

Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within

The series: The dank oubliettes of PoP got a rare brighter-than-usual 3D makeover with Sands of Time, garnering Jordan Mechner's Arabian knight no end of critical and commercial goodwill. One of the best bits: the uncommonly eloquent, sensitive hero, who could kick an ass or two but wouldn't make a big macho deal out of it.

Above: Play some Stainpool or Drownd or whatever-have-you for maximum pained authenticity 

The reboot: Having negotiated an Aladdin-esque sand-and-sandals fairytale, the Prince's next challenge was a dark-fantasy realm seemingly designed to encapsulate as many cliches of snarling, Axe-stinking teen-male angst as possible. Best get to broodin'!

Dark 'n' edgy additions: Having grown his Douglas Fairbanks bob out into a greasy mop – all the better to grimace through! - the Prince proceeded to crank the nu-metal and don a Final Fantasy-worthy amount of leather straps and buckles.

Above: The trouble with establishing shots is you only get one. Here's the first thing you see of Warrior Within's best-characterized villain 

Fights with antagonist Shahdee – a metal-clad ass with the nominal suggestion of a woman attached – stemmed largely from tiffs over eyeliner privileges.

Above: As you can see, no contest 

How'd it work? The reborn Prince of Persia remained fun enough that a ton of angst couldn't ruin the fun. But the reasoning that a good thing can only be made better with darker colors and more snarling was cynical laziness that few players fell for.


  • QWERTYCommander - November 22, 2010 12:25 a.m.

    Waiter, there's too much spam in my comments section.
  • soren7550 - November 21, 2010 1:56 a.m.

    I'm a wee bit surprised that CoD4 and/or CoD:WaW wasn't included.
  • Genericpenisjoketista - November 20, 2010 9:47 p.m.

    ...Guys, uh... Does Devil May Cry ring a bell? This reboot is going to be gritty as shitfuck if we, the fans, can't have it stopped in advance.
  • Romination - November 20, 2010 8:26 a.m.

    The irony is that we ARE playing Zork still. It's in BlOps.
  • nikrusty - November 20, 2010 8:12 a.m.

    Nice...article and yeah Bomberman really looks bad ass, i remember playing with a friend in it's cute form on SNES emu on PC. But dang that ass is just distracting in the pic!
  • Aletheon - November 20, 2010 5:21 a.m.

    @Yeager Agreed. Jak 2 is my favorite of the series. Amazing game.
  • Aletheon - November 20, 2010 5:19 a.m.

    Metal Gear does not belong
  • Yeager1122 - November 20, 2010 3:35 a.m.

    I absolutley love jak 2 still have it and play it from time to time.
  • BrunettePride - November 20, 2010 1:53 a.m.

    Angel of Darkness was AWFUL!! I was so disappointed!! But yeah, great article. :D
  • GamesRadarJuniorWildlifeEditor - November 19, 2010 7:14 p.m.

    Solid article.
  • DreamWeaverPL - November 19, 2010 6:03 p.m.

    You seem to not understand the word "REBOOT". Also, calling Shadow the Hedgehog one of the grittiest... Are you seven-year-old, or what?
  • hester2 - November 19, 2010 5:55 p.m.

    I loved Advance Wars, but the rest of these were pretty disappointing games. Also, Commander Keen!
  • CongratulagentAgentTHEAgentAntista - November 19, 2010 5:52 p.m.

    Congratulagent Agent! You've unlocked black hair and a Limp Bizkit album! Go on and break shit, agent.
  • sleepy92ismypsn - November 19, 2010 5:39 p.m.

    @Mrsuitman I like Sly better than Jak so now that we have The Sly Collection and we know Sly 4 is on the way, I'd like to see a Jak collection and a new Jak game for PS3.
  • zonic505 - November 19, 2010 4:26 p.m.

    Really, no mention of Bionic Commando? & totally agree on Spyro. I remember the PS1 games were happy & colorful, then when it hit next-gen, it suddenly got more serious.
  • Asloveszuko - November 19, 2010 4:19 p.m.

    I would've added the Spyro series, it went from running around colorful worlds flaming up gnorks to an angsty storyline in the trilogy.
  • philipshaw - November 19, 2010 4:06 p.m.

    Great article,I knew Jak 2 would be on here. Beat it again last night and despite it being completely different to the first game, I think it's just as good if not better than the first game
  • Pyrovizard - November 19, 2010 11:52 a.m.

    I don't see why people hate on POP:WW it was an awesome game
  • CitizenWolfie - November 19, 2010 9:41 a.m.

    "2003 – a story of conspiracy, murder and a globe-trotting academic, obsessed with ancient mysteries and wrongly suspected of a grisly Parisian murder, captures the public consciousness. The work in question? Dan Brown's contentious novel, The Da Vinci Code." 1996 - a story of conspiracy, murder and a globe-trotting tourist, obsessed with ancient mysteries and wrongly suspected of a grisly Parisian murder, is loved by a cult audience. The work in question? Charles Cecil's point n click adventure game Broken Sword. Seriously, sometimes the wrong games get overlooked.
  • CH3BURASHKA - November 19, 2010 9:16 a.m.

    Outstanding article, chap! I'm trying to think of some, but none are coming to mind, and those that do are sequels, not reboots.

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