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Original Tomb Raider hits iOS. But are modern remasters killing nostalgia?

I’ve been a bit spoilt recently. Two of my all-time favourite games have received remastered iOS conversions, one via a free update and the other for a Tier 1-tastic 69p. I am talking, of course, about Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and Tomb Raider I (as reported by CVG News). But there’s a but.

Why would I be sad about having two of my favourite games made better and then tucked neatly into my pocket so I can play them wherever I go? Well, it’s the enhancements that have given me a cause for consternation.

For starters, both games add in extra content that wasn’t in their original iterations. Tomb Raider gets two new levels that were always intended to be in the game but had to be added in a re-release in 1998 (apparently solving the mystery of that damn cat statue—how many hours did I waste in 1997 trying to work that one out?).

And then, of course, there’s the now-infamous Hidden Palace Zone from Sonic 2, lovingly restored to full working order. It was actually present in the ROM of the original retail game, only with most of its graphics and collision detection stripped out and its presence only visible if you had a cheat cartridge. The iOS/Android remaster contains a new, official version of Hidden Palace Zone, which turned the old garbled mess…

…into a playable level.

Awesome, right? Well, yes. But it removes a mystery fans have been poring over for more than 20 years. Suddenly, it’s no longer a mystery. Yes, we get to play the level, but it’s just another level. It isn't particularly pretty, nor does it visibly give Sonic the ability to become Super Sonic. So now we don't have to wonder any more, which takes away some of the fun.

And that sweeping removal of all imagination is exactly how I feel about the remastered Tomb Raider. The iTunes description proudly states “We’ve not messed about with it, so it’s the full, unedited, unadulterated experience”. Unedited, eh? Well, I beg to differ. The new textures are gorgeous, yes. But there’s something lost in the translation. Remember these skulls in the original?

Crude textures that I assumed were there to give the impression that this shrine’s walls are adorned with human remains. OK, now here’s the same spot in the new remastered version:

Oh. They’re not actual skulls at all. Closer inspection reveals they’re carvings in the wall. Now, call me pernickety, but this is not simply an up-rezzed texture. It’s a new texture, with grey wall clearly visible between the skulls. And it gives the environment a completely different feel. It's not as scary, for starters. To be honest, I feel a bit robbed.

And that’s the thing with imagination, isn’t it? Tomb Raider has maintained its aura of mystery and awe because it has always been so crude. When your mind is having to fill in the blanks, it can make such workmanlike 3D wonderful. You willingly make the leap because you’re totally absorbed in what it’s trying to do. It’s not the same when everything is pixel-perfect and you can see exactly what the artist intended and all interpretation is removed.

How would the art world feel if Da Vinci’s notes for the Mona Lisa were discovered and it turned out it was in fact a playful self-portrait after all, which explained that enigmatic smile? The mystery would be gone. Wouldn't everyone feel just a little bit robbed?

That’s how I feel about these remasters. I love the conversions’ technical prowess: The frame-rates, the new save systems, the removal of all graphical compromises. But sometimes the rough original can't be beaten. Like Jimi Hendrix’s wholly imperfect take of The Wind Cries Mary that he taught the band and recorded in a spare 20 minutes that ended up being the one used for the record, sometimes a slicker version is actually inferior.

In fact, continuing the Hendrix analogy, what if a recording surfaced of The Story of Life (the song Jimi was writing the night he died)? Nobody's ever heard it as we only have the words. Maybe it's better that way. I don't think I could deal with hearing a pin-sharp recording that just set it to the 12-bar blues. That's what this Tomb Raider conversion feels like to me. So even though part of me is overjoyed my favourite old games are back and better than ever, I still think maybe some things should just be left alone.

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16 comments

  • adibo - April 12, 2014 4:17 a.m.

    I realy want to have the fist Tomb raider on Android, it would be great to play it on tablet or big smartphone like galaxy note 3 http://galaxynote-3.com/acheter-galaxy-note-3-au-meilleur-prix/
  • bee2005 - January 4, 2014 11:03 a.m.

    The game looks stuck on cell phone, too many buttons on the screen...
  • Relayer71 - December 20, 2013 8:08 p.m.

    Come on, look at the size of those "skulls" in the original. Too big to be human skulls!
  • db1331 - December 19, 2013 8:56 a.m.

    You can tell this TR plays like absolute shit just by looking at those buttons on screen. The original was clunky even with an actual controller. It would be a nightmare trying to play it like that. So once again, like all phone gaming, it's neat that you CAN do it, but you really shouldn't.
  • Rhymenocerous - December 19, 2013 8:49 a.m.

    The Tomb Raider Re-release is already inferior due to the screen being pretty much COVERED by UI controls. Also, much of the enjoyment of the game stems from the atmosphere and sense of isolation.. Which doesn't really work playing on your phone on the way back from work, with that lunatic bloke (who always seems to catch the train at the same time as you) staring at you. I'll stick with my cherished PS1 version, thanks.
  • CitizenWolfie - December 19, 2013 5:58 a.m.

    I'm sure others have probably mentioned this by now but it'd be great if these upgrades (in terms of graphics at least) had an "original" setting like in the Monkey Island remasters. Earthworm Jim HD even went one better by including the original difficulty level (which I can no longer cope with despite finishing the original!). But I know what you mean, generally it's nice to have a graphical upgrade if it keeps in fitting with the originals (again, Monkey Island). But sometimes I find them a bit off-kilter, such as the Broken Sword Director's Cut having all newly-illustrated characters for certain cutscenes and dialogues. They look nice and all, but considering the same artist is responisble as from the original it's odd that George Stobbart now looks like a background extra from Watchmen instead of the lovable and cartoony goof that he was circa 1996.
  • rxb - December 19, 2013 4:54 a.m.

    Congratulation Towelly, your officially old. I too know the feeling of annoyance when old beloved things are remade and 'improved'. Truth is though is a remake of anything is winding you up just avoid it. And yes you are pernickety.
  • Shigeruken - December 18, 2013 7:03 p.m.

    Mobile remakes and remasters are awful. A touch screen just isn't precise or fast enough for me to play a game like Worms, Sonic, or Tomb Raider with any enjoyment. At first I was all for the idea, having my favorite games on my phone seemed like fun to me. But it's not. It's just not possible for me to get any real enjoyment out of a game with touch based controls that isn't turn based. It makes everything feel like it's a 99 cent experience.
  • CUFCfan616 - December 18, 2013 4:07 p.m.

    A re-release will stand up only if the gameplay is strong. Sonic remasters will be played more because the gameplay in that style of game hasn't really changed and you can still get a fair bit of enjoyment out of it. With Tomb Raider though, action adventure games have come on leaps and bounds since 1996 and the game will seem limited in what you can do which will affect your enjoyment levels.
  • FoxdenRacing - December 18, 2013 2:49 p.m.

    I'm of two minds about it. On one hand, it's a usually 'good enough' way to get one's hands on old games that are difficult or impossible to find without having to spend hundreds or thousands collecting everything required to play. Given the option [and reasonable pricing], I'll always seek out the real deal on legacy hardware, but sometimes you don't get a choice. On the other, I hate hate hate attempts to 'complete' or 'modernize' them, and on top of that I've yet to meet a mobile/tablet conversion I've liked. A sloppy touchscreen that can take at most 2 inputs [which in turn cover up the screen!] cannot compete with a gamepad or KBM. Probably the best of the second type is SF2 Turbo HD Remix. The soundtrack was amazing [and bringing in OCremixers was brilliant], the HD sprites were beautiful, and the 'Remixed Control Scheme' aside, it was true to the original in every way. They only thing they did with it was take advantage of the more powerful hardware.
  • codystovall - December 18, 2013 1:54 p.m.

    If you mean killing nostalgia as in, questioning was this game ever really good, then yes
  • Shoal - December 18, 2013 10:24 a.m.

    Yeah, when it comes to a remaster, I think the toggle option for each individual upgrade is the only way that you're going to be able to please everyone while staying true to the original at the same time.
  • Sy87 - December 18, 2013 9:57 a.m.

    I never saw it that way. I'm always wanting a remastered, well build from scratch with modern tech, games of older games I love. Though now that I think about it. If the spiders in Resident evil look good, like really good, I may not be able to play it. I guess pass should be left alone at times don't know. Interesting thought though.
  • Shoal - December 18, 2013 8:36 a.m.

    I was very disappointed recently when I saw that the models and textures in the Perfect Dark re-release on Xbox Arcade were upgraded to higher texture and polygon resolution. It actually took away from my desire to play it. However, that said, it's a tough call sometimes on remakes. There can be elements of the original game that were just broken or bad in an annoying way rather than a charming one, and remake fixes that. Maybe developers of remakes should add an option to toggle tweaks/upgrades? Maybe each upgrade could gets its own toggle?
  • GR_JustinTowell - December 18, 2013 8:46 a.m.

    I completely agree. An 'original textures' toggle on Tomb Raider would be awesome. Monkey Island's remake did it perfectly - switchable at any time with one button press. I'm not saying some remasters aren't amazing, as Sonic CD and Daytona USA were handled pretty perfectly. But as soon as you start fiddling with major features like the texturing, I think there's always going to be a reaction.
  • hester2 - December 18, 2013 10:01 a.m.

    I've never been a big Halo fan (not a knock on the series, I just suck terribly at the games), but I loved the idea they had with the CE remake to switch back and forth between graphics.

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