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"Reboot" is a rather dirty word for some. After a decade heavy with grim 'n' gritty relaunches, who could warm to the notion of your favorite character donning shades and stubble for an incongruously hard-edged outing?
But "revamp" doesn't have to mean "turn up the brightness and shoo the kids away before playing this." Many franchises have only grown from the decision to book the protagonist in for a timely makeover. Here's seven series that have gone back to the drawing board and returned stronger than ever.
7. Dante (Devil May Cry/DmC)
Then: Half-demon mercenary Dante seemed to spring fully formed from the imagination of Capcom's Hideki Kamiya, eager to branch out into a more flamboyant variation on the Resident Evil formula. Sporting white hair, huge blades, and a variety of extravagant red dusters, the character represents everything Kamiya thought was quintessentially cool.
Now: Courting fan-fury, Capcom announced in 2010 that Enslaved developer Ninja Theory (Westerners, mind you!) would be making-over Dante for the series' next instalment. The scrappier Dante might have upset purists--but as we highlighted in our DmC: Devil May Cry review, the character brought fresh excitement to a long-running series.
6. Lara Croft (Tomb Raider 1996/2013)
Then: One of the most recognizable faces in video games, the angular Ms. Croft was an unavoidable fixture of the mid-to-late 1990s. Her shapely(?) visage adorned store shelves and magazine racks alike. Additionally, any article about sexism in gaming was bound by law to feature a scandalized shot or two of Lara's inelegantly prominent pyramids.
Now: Lara's come a long way from the wasp-waisted grave-robber seen on lists of ugly polygon "babes" of yesteryear. Besides now bearing a passable resemblance to an actual human woman, the new Croft's debut adventure plays up the character's growth and survival instinct to deliver one of the series' strongest entries--as you'll know from our Tomb Raider review.
5. Needles Kane (Twisted Metal/Twisted Metal Black)
Then: Twisted Metal has been featuring Needles Kane as a de facto mascot since the series' first entry. Better known by the sobriquet Sweet Tooth (actually the title of his recurring, demonic ice cream truck), the character's frequent costume tweaks served as variants on the John Gacy-esque "evil clown" stereotype. And that's why coulrophobes all hate David Jaffe.
Now: It may have been last year's Twisted Metal that rebooted the franchise, but Needles Kane himself remained largely unaltered from his previous appearance in Twisted Metal: Black. That game remodeled the scary clown as a more recognizably human psychopath, resulting in a look and attitude that were dark highlights of the 2012 game.
4. Prince of Persia (PoP 1988/The Sands of Time/PoP 2008)
Then: The original Prince of Persia famously bore a strong resemblance to David Mechner, brother of programmer Jordan--who used video footage of his younger sibling to rotoscope the game's hero. The resultant hero won acclaim and introduced players to the series' comparatively realistic take on platforming action.
Now: As of 2013, the Prince has been the subject of not one but two successful revamps: a faithful 3D rebirth in 2003's The Sands of Time, and a more magically-enabled reimagining in 2008's Prince of Persia. Well, when your series also includes one of the perennial entries on lists of Gaming's grittiest reboots, it's always nice to mix things up a little.
3. Donkey Kong (Donkey Kong/Donkey Kong Country)
Then: Plus-sized antagonist to a royalty-obsessed carpenter named Mario. Devotees may remember that our boy went on to suffer under the cruel everyman's lash, until freed by Donkey Kong Jr. in the game of that name. True pros know nothing would stop DK Sr.'s reign of terror, short of a kill-screen.
Now: Donning a dapper necktie which he wears as a proud badge of reconciliation with the status quo, the newly-heroic DK's rage-fueled abduction rampages are long behind him. When he's not engaging in sporting competition with his old red-capped nemesis, Miyamoto's original villain can be seen headlining series like Donkey Konga and King of Swing but he still pulls the occasional heel-turn, as in the Mario vs Donkey Kong series.
2. Raiden (Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty/Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance)
Then: Metal Gear is always good for fine-tuned gameplay, labyrinthine plot twists and the odd controller-hurling burst of frustration. Just ask players who got partway through the series' first PS2 iteration to find control shifting to this whiny, decidedly sub-Solid Snake longhair. Did you love the lengthy Codec angst-fests with his two-dimensional girlfriend? The openly stupid nude scenes? Oh, it was all gold.
Now: Eidos' Deus Ex: Human Revolution borrowed liberally from Metal Gear's stealth-action playbook, so it's only fair that the series steal a little bit back--such as turning to a lithe, cybernetically-enhanced badass for the protagonist of the latest installment, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Kitted out in extensive cyborg prostheses, the new Raiden expresses his limitless angst in the best way possible: through bouts of efficiently showy violence to put Solid Snake (or Adam Jensen) to shame.
1. Conker (Diddy Kong Racing/Conker's Bad Fur Day)
Then: Apple-cheeked cutesy-pie, introduced in Rare's Diddy Kong Racing and set for wholesome adventures all his own. The slingshot-toting squirrel delighted(?) young audiences in the 1999 Game Boy Color adventure, Conker's Pocket Tales, and a full-fledged N64 outing, Twelve Tales: Conker 64, was on the way. "A Rare game about a cute little animal on a fetch-quest? Wonders never cease," we all sneered.
Now: "Screw it," said the ever-inventive Rare, "let's scrap this character and turn him into a foul-mouthed young lout on the hunt for girls and alcohol." The result, N64 classic Conker's Bad Fur Day, was heavy on pop-cultural callouts and bawdy humour. Advertised in Playboy instead of Nintendo Power--and, sure, lots of fun to play--the game reminded players that Nintendo/Rare were still capable of surprising you.
Which character rebirths have impressed you? Which have fallen flat? Or, let's all talk about Bomberman Act: Zero in the comments.
While you're into new beginnings, have a look at 10 origin stories you didn't know you wanted. Or have a look forward at The 100 most anticipated games of 2013.