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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.

40 comments

  • tareq - November 18, 2010 8:25 p.m.

    This is great!
  • gamingfreak - November 18, 2010 8:42 p.m.

    Good list, but some of these aren't reboots.
  • Tenfey - November 18, 2010 8:57 p.m.

    So when do we get a edgier GamesRadar?
  • shadowreaper72 - November 18, 2010 9:24 p.m.

    I like it when some games go for the darker side of things but it aint for all games. Some games are just meant to be bright like sonic or bomber man and games like pop and advance wars were supposed to be dark all along. P.S I really loved POP Warrior Withins music
  • haipayazoo - November 18, 2010 9:27 p.m.

    Dear Tom Goulter, You have completely forgotten (or never heard/played) Conker's Pocket Tales to Conker's Bad Fur Day.
  • Alakasam342 - November 18, 2010 9:36 p.m.

    kiss me baby one more time oops I did it again I played with your heart I'm glad Beethoven composed this song and Toxic
  • MrSuitMan - November 18, 2010 9:55 p.m.

    Jak II = one of my favorite games of all time. C'MON NAUGHTY DOG! JAK AND DAXTER PS3 ALREADY !!!
  • pizzasmellslikechrisantista - November 18, 2010 10:10 p.m.

    Fire emblem: shadow dragon. All the gameboy fire emblems were colorfull and charming, shadow dragon was the ugliest, greyest game I've ever had the misfortune of playing.
  • batmanboy11 - November 18, 2010 10:14 p.m.

    Good list.
  • EnragedTortoise1 - November 18, 2010 10:36 p.m.

    I see that Scott Pilgrim reference. :D Also, wasn't this an earlier list or something? This concept sounds familiar..
  • Imgema - November 18, 2010 10:38 p.m.

    Zelda - Majora's Mask
  • NightCrawler_358 - November 18, 2010 10:52 p.m.

    Great article, but maybe it should be grittiest sequels/reboots. Also I agree with Majora's Mask. May i suggest Driv3r? Star Wars Republic Commando? eh? ehhhh?
  • BishopofHippo93 - November 18, 2010 11:11 p.m.

    I'm not sure I quite agree with Metal Gear. I don't really think of it as a reboot, but, as you said, as a realization of Kojima's original dream. I didn't know about Duke Nukem, though. I guess the other games don't really get a whole lot of time in the spotlight. Also, I agree wholeheartedly about Advance Wars. I miss the brightly colored tanks and soldiers!
  • Fuzunga - November 19, 2010 12:35 a.m.

    Wait a minute... bomberman is a robot!? MY CHILDHOOD!!!!!
  • Link555 - November 19, 2010 1:07 a.m.

    They did that to Bomberman, worst reboot ever in a games series.
  • FanofSaiyan - November 19, 2010 1:07 a.m.

    Hoorah! Another tip of the hat to Jak & Daxter! I was expecting Ratchet: Deadlocked to be on the list... guess not.
  • Tomgoulter - November 19, 2010 1:15 a.m.

    @haipayazoo: On the contrary, my dear fellow. I wrestled long and hard with the decision as to whether or not to include Conker's Bad Fur Day, deciding eventually that as Pocket Tales nowadays exists solely in the context of "remember that piece of crap that happened before Bad Fur Day?," that the list could do without that one debatable entry. However, thanks for the mention.
  • Spybreak8 - November 19, 2010 2:35 a.m.

    With the voice of George Foreman ->by golly I think it's got it!
  • FauxFurry - November 19, 2010 3:59 a.m.

    How could you guys overlook Rygar: the Legendary Adventure? Oh,you didn't mean Gritty as in Grainy? Never mind,then. Ninja Gaiden was the more gritty Tecmo reboot,anyway. As for that comment under that last Metal Gear Solid picture,most of the enduring works of art out there are little more than naked muscle-bound men with the names of religious figures attached to them to give them an added air of legitimacy,so if Johnny was revealed to be named after John the Baptist or say,Stubbs from Grand Theft Auto was said to be an incarnation of Eros,then games could be said to be art without question!
  • jmcgrotty - November 19, 2010 8:12 a.m.

    Decent enough list for what it was, but I also can't get past the fact that sequels don't mean "reboots". While I won't go back and look at every entry again, off the top of my head, none of these were "reboots". Yeah, I know that is petty of me.

Showing 1-20 of 40 comments

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