Gaming's grittiest reboots

Metal Gear Solid

The series: Technological limitations and a young audience meant the first few iterations of the sneak-em-up series played like a thinkier cousin to Gun.Smoke or Commando. For all its dense backstory, the last 8-bit entry, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, is still chiptunes, primary colors and goofily-named antagonists.

The reboot: Newcomers took to the series' Solid relaunch with gusto, welcoming its comparatively down-to-earth take on black-ops shenanigans. For longtime fans, the feeling was one of finally realizing what Hideo Kojima had been going for all along.

Above: That is to say, self-referential haranguing interspersed with occasional gameplay 

Dark 'n' edgy additions: Few elements were actually added per se – it was more a matter of finally being able to present the core notions with some degree of realism. That said, it's important not to overlook MGS' contributions to the field of jarring, confrontational videogame nudity.

Above: Games = art. Debate settled 

How'd that work? Browse the blurbs of titles released in the last decade for mentions of “realistic tactical-ops gameplay” or “stealth-based sneaking sequences.” Add to that most of the stubble-faced, gravel-voiced assaults on the notion of “anti-heroism” committed in recent years and MGS' influence becomes clear.

Kane & Lynch: Dog Days

The series: “Wait a minute,” you say, “Kane & Lynch's entire raison d'etre is being overbearingly grim.” That's true (and what, you're too good to say it in American?), but compared to Dog Days, the original Dead Men was Fun With Dick & Jane.

The reboot: With the first title somewhat overshadowed by controversy, Eidos' hard work promoting Kane & Lynch looked like going to waste. With a globally-recognized brand waiting to be leveraged (that's boardroom-talk for “they talked it up until we'd all heard of it”), it was a matter of reviving our interest. Solution: make it even darker!

Dark 'n' edgy additions: Lynch, kitted out in a sweat-stained wife-beater, grunts profanely through multiple instances of rape, torture and murder (sometimes committed by him), shown through a grainy handicam lens presumably wielded by an invincible sociopath.

Above: Buddy-buddy moments provide welcome levity 

How'd that work? The gratuitously nihilistic tone is arguably closer to what Dead Men was aiming for all along. But just as the central gimmick – the handheld perspective – is so impressive that you can't stop noticing it as an effect, so the game's relentless grimness becomes a hindrance, rather than a pathway, to immersion. That and it's like five hours long.

Zork Nemesis: The Forbidden Lands

Above: In the old days we made our own fun. If we let anyone else do it, this is what they came back with 

The series: “Your greatest challenge lies ahead and downwards,” taunts the oddly-specific blurb for the original Zork: The Great Underground Empire. A more fitting warning for newcomers to the long-running text-adventure series would be “Your greatest challenge won't even have pictures until the eighth installment.”

The reboot: Having failed to set the world alight with the newly-graphical Return to Zork, the series quickly hit the grim-rebirth button that was so close to hand throughout the 1990s. Nemesis! Forbidden Lands! This ain't your daddy's Zork, etc.

Dark 'n' edgy additions: Not content with adding “human sacrifice,” “premature burial” and “collecting dismembered corpse-parts” to the series' scope, Activision attempted to keep things stylish by including classically artistic depictions of the human form within the game. Ratings officials responded by slapping a “partial nudity” warning on the box.

Above: As you can see, it was basically Playboy: The Mansion for the hidden-object crowd 

How'd it work? Well, you're not playing Zork nowadays, are you? The series that enjoyed an early heyday never made a successful transition to modern, multimedia gaming, but you can hardly fault them for making a grim 'n' ghoulish bid for continued relevance. It was 1996: that was just what you did.


  • 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.

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