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Gaming's grittiest reboots

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Duke Nukem 3D

The series: We're talking about games whose central tenet is “muscular lunk shoots things in nuclear hellscape:” Commander Keen this ain't.

Above: The games go out of their way to establish the distinction 

But, the setting aside, they're pretty upbeat: clad in Last Action Hero red 'n' denim, a heroic Duke indulges in no vice darker than the occasional can of cola.

The reboot: “Time to kick ass and chew gum,” Duke snarls early in Duke 3D, the first of many shamelessly-pilfered catchphrases. That's the new Nukem: stumbling the line between pastiche and imitation like a middle schooler's notion of “badass” and never really making it clear whether it's meant as parody.

Dark 'n' edgy additions: Oh, plenty – provided your notions of “dark” and “edgy” came from John Stamos' character in Full House. Pig-faced aliens in cop uniforms provided a rebellious visual pun, and dodgily-pixellated strippers provided... dodgily-pixellated stripping.

Above: Of course, dedicated fans only played Duke 3D for the articles 

How'd it work? The audience for Duke Nukem 3D was a young, iconoclastic one with a crap sense of humor. They might as well enjoy a knowingly juvenile FPS about a muscular doofus who shoots aliens and cavorts with strippers – it's not like the same audience would be clamoring for that schtick forever.


Above: Oh right 


Jak 2

The series: Spiky-haired everyhero and backpack-dwelling everysidekick traverse platform-heavy everyland on collect-'em-up everyquest, in the game that launched a thousand “[Guy] & [Sassy Smaller Guy]” franchises.

The reboot: A convoluted hooey of a plot sees the eponymous hero imprisoned, effed up by genetic experimentation and taking on a passel of angst – and a chunky little nu-metal chinbeard – in the process. Thus begins a story that's half grim revenge quest, half underground-resistance war saga, and all tonally shocking surprises for fans of the original.

Dark 'n' edgy additions: Whereas the original Jak utilized fruity-tooty environmental magic, the sequel's grimacing guerilla has learned that change comes from the barrel of a gun. To that end, regular Jak solves problems by shooting them in the face, and “dark” Jak – who shows up when regular Jak collects enough “dark” power-ups – excels at face-ripping close-quarter combat.


Above: “He's actually a pretty nice guy, we're going to get brunch sometime.” 

How'd it work? Naughty Dog's earlier flagship, Crash Bandicoot, had done great things early in the PS1's cycle – later sinking in a shallow pool of stagnant repetition. By turning the Jak series on its head, the company may have denied those games the ubiquity enjoyed by the Crash titles, but they also showed that the new property wasn't about to become another lazy sequel-farm.


Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness

The series: 1950s – matinee serials present budget tomb-raiding adventure for audiences who can't afford theater; much popcorn sold. 1980s – Steven Spielberg pays winkingly pulpy tribute; sequels ensue. Late 1990s – Lara Croft recreates the same schtick, now with boobs; meet the World's First Digital Superstar.

The reboot: 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. Oh, and also Tomb Raider gets a PS2 sequel covering much of the same ground, but nobody cares because the game is pants.


Above: Bears and dogs are replaced by skinless horrors from beyond the bounds of human ken, which conveniently behave much like bears and dogs 

Dark 'n' edgy additions: Serial murder, black magic and Biblical ephemera form the backbone of Angel of Darkness' story, a warmed-over patchwork of alternative history that adds little to the archeological-thriller genre (apparently there is such a genre now). Besides that, it's business as usual, but with more ritual murder and a lamentable dearth of bear attacks.


Above: Body-mangling man-traps were a secret feature only available in unpatched first editions 

How'd it work? Most players couldn't be bothered finding out whether or not the grimmer-than-usual atmosphere was any great improvement over the earlier games: so plagued was Angel of Darkness by bugs and control issues, few bothered to stick it out.

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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.

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