We’re not talking about remakes or new sequels here. We’re talking about actual retro comebacks in the manner Sonic Mania (opens in new tab) is bringing back 1995. Unlike Super Street Fighter 2 HD Remix, Duck Tales (opens in new tab) or Castle of Illusion (opens in new tab), Sonic Mania’s approach is to be simultaneously authentic and new. It’s faithful to the original games’ 16-bit look (indeed lifting entire sprite tiles). The music style is instantly familiar, only with greater fidelity. In short, it’s as though there was one more console generation of Sonic before polygonal 3D changed gaming forever. Like there was a Genesis 2.
But hang about. Why should this fan-pleasing approach to vintage gaming stop at Sonic? Here are the Genesis games we’d like to see return to modern consoles and how they would, could and indeed should be updated without spoiling what made them so great in the first place. They’ll probably never get made. But just imagine if they did…
Streets of Rage
It’s no wonder we named Streets of Rage 2 the best game on Genesis (opens in new tab) . Pixel art street punks smack each other with fists, lead pipes and baseball bats, while the 16-bit era’s best soundtrack plays in the background. But nonetheless, that game was squeezed into a now-tiny 16-meg cartridge. Remove that limitation but keep the graphical/audio style, and suddenly the prospect of a new Streets of Rage is mouthwatering. Imagine smoother animation for every move, or context-sensitive throws for every single piece of destructible scenery. You could jam a bruiser’s skull through the glass of a slot machine, making it light up and pay out cash! There could be new weapons, better voices, a hundred new enemy sprites for variety (sorry, Galsia, we love you really) and countless subtle environmental details… and if Yuzo Koshiro returned to make the soundtrack? Why, that would be the best thing ever.
We’ve had 3D updates of Road Rash, a 2D GBA modernisation and a whole decade of clamouring for an official sequel. But what we really need is a new 16-bit-styled version. Never mind RR3’s ‘digitised’ characters. It’s time to go back to hand-drawn pixel art. But instead of that jerky frame rate, sparse ‘forests’ of thin trees and log cabins that look like starter homes for guinea pigs, we could have rich, varied environments. The weird cat-howl soundtrack of the original could be blended into more high-fidelity rhythms. More combat moves, more weapons, cities full of pixelated pedestrians, online racing… there could even be local 4-player multiplayer with no loss of detail whatsoever, since the deliberately low-res images would still be higher-res than the Genesis when split into four on a 1080p screen. And hey – why not ramp up the violence to better suit modern audiences’ tastes? Imagine Natasha’s new pre-race advice: “Viper’s got a chainsaw. Grab it."
There was a sequel to Gunstar Heroes on GBA, which remains an enjoyable and technically impressive shooter. But its weapon system is nowhere near as good as the original’s mix-and-match set-up. Just imagine how spectacular a 2D Gunstar Heroes would be on modern hardware if it had that hybrid ammo system expanded. You could have hundreds of explosion sprites on the screen (at 60fps, of course). Homing, shot and explosive ammo could be bolstered with elemental rounds, enemy fire-splitting and even time-bending mechanics. Then you’d start combining them, resulting in a screen full of fractured fire arcs, swirling and searing in slow-motion while you deftly jump between the bullet-hell shrapnel and switch to your double explosive ammo to finish the job. It’s absolutely got to happen. Modern retro run-and-gunners - like Bro Force and Super Time Force - have been riffing on Gunstar’s excesses for years, so it’s about time the original took back the crown.
The Strike series died out too soon. If only the first 3D title had been made for PS2 instead of PS1, maybe it would have been more convincing and retained some relevance. Either way, the game doesn’t need polygons to be fun. A hand-drawn, 2D Desert Strike for modern machines would be amazing. Not least because the explosions could be more impressive or the environments, more detailed. But what is it that’s really offered by modern consoles? Online co-op play. Why not let a team of four players take on missions, exchanging tactics over headsets, while they seek to end the terrorist threat? Imagine how many childhood friendships could be rekindled playing that.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors
Top-down zombie killing with B-movie locations. A creepy soundtrack and kooky cast. Aggressive, gelatinous blobs that you can freeze with fire extinguisher. Lucasarts’ Zombies Ate My Neighbors is the perfect recipe for witty, knowing horror game, and was released way ahead of its time. There was a sequel of sorts already in the shape of Ghoul Patrol, but it wasn’t nearly as good, and missed a huge amount of the first game’s personality. A new Zombies Ate My Neighbors built with online co-op in mind would be immense. Oh… but Zombies was published by Konami, wasn’t it? The makers of PES and pachinko machines and NONE OF OUR DREAMS ANY MORE. Forget about it, kid. It’s Chinatown. Or something.
The modern NHL games are (*stifles yawn*) great simulations of ice hockey (*slaps face to wake up*), but there’s a purity in the series’ Genesis roots that hasn’t carried over into the modern versions. Even with the ‘Anniversary Mode’ in NHL 14, it just doesn’t have the soul of the early games it attempts to emulate. So why not take it back to 2D? What’s wrong with a three-button control scheme and little skaters made of squares? It could all be expanded with online play, trophies/cheevos (for smashing the glass behind the goal or pushing an opponent over the barrier into the sin bin)… there could even be a fully-fleshed-out fight system for when the action boils over into fisticuffs. Incidentally, don’t you ever wonder what happened to the little blonde crowd dude with the red T-shirt who used to come down and put his face against the Perspex in NHL 94? He’s probably in his early 40s now.
World of Illusion
Never mind the Castle of Illusion remake or the disappointing Power of Illusion on 3DS. Just one last time, imagine opening (or more likely downloading) a brand new, vintage-styled Disney platformer with all its ‘90s design traits intact. To see a little, pixelly Donald Duck getting angry when you stop pressing the controls, and Mickey Mouse serenely jumping through 2D clouds. That would be a game to savour.
Hopefully like Sonic Mania. Right? Guys?