When writing my review for Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy I found myself at an impasse. Do I focus on what the remastered changed or combined both the changes and the source game it derives from? Ultimately, I opted for only focusing on the changes brought about by the remaster; I later realized, this is impossible. By reviewing a remaster, you have to both accept the updated content and the original source material, with all the ups and downs it entails. It is simply impossible to completely separate both aspects and there in lies the duality—as well as the trouble—when reviewing a remaster.
To Focus Or Not To Focus
The real question when it comes to reviewing a remaster, is which position do you take? Do you split down the middle, giving both the changes and the source material equal weight? Or do you favor the source material over the changes? Perhaps you favor the changes made over the source material? All are equally valid and all come down to preference but can affect one’s rating widely. Not to mention they are as hardly cut and dry as I presented above.
I personally take the position that it is best to focus on the changes rather than the source material. While the source material is important since it is the foundation of the game that the remaster is built upon, it is exactly because of that, that I choose to give it less value. The original game has already been judged, existed, and had its time to be analyzed. To do that again would be redundant and slightly unfair due to the different time it is being released. The updates and changes provided in the remaster have not been reviewed and are the main focus on this main release, subsequently, so should the review. This mindset, of course, has its own set of drawbacks.
When focusing on mostly on changes, you end up ignoring the game itself. Theoretically, you could end up giving a remaster of a poor game a good score because the remaster itself is done well. This clearly hasn’t happened yet, but there its certainly possible depending on how strongly you hold on to that mindset.
Focusing on the source of the remaster more than the changes gives a different perspective when it comes to a review. One of the main advantages is being able to compare a game of the past to the present, seeing if the original concept still holds up after all these years. This leads directly to the second advantage, not being blinded by the remaster. Sure, the remaster may provide fantastic changes, but if the aging game underneath is still plagued with its original creation problems, you surely wouldn’t want to review the game highly.
This back and forth between both aspects of a remaster is why the duality in reviewing remasters exists, and why it can be so difficult.
Regardless of if your favor a side or split evenly down the middle, you still have to accept the dual nature of reviewing remasters. One side simply can’t be ignored; this obviously creates difficulties. Lets take for example a more complicated recent remaster, Resident Evil HD REmaster. For those unaware, this is the remaster of the remake of the original Resident Evil (complicated, I know). In the remaster a few changes were added, there was now widescreen support, 1080p resolution, and new optional controls. All great additions in their own right, but bring in many questions on how to judge the game itself.
How important is the gameplay considering it’s an existing game already? If it reaches a certain level of quality, does it get a pass? A weighted score? How much does this apply to the remaster? If the remaster is at least as good as the original, does it game the same score? or a lower score?
All these questions and much more must be asked and will be asked, whether you are aware of them or not. The worst part is, none of them have clean cut answers and each answer you find, someone else will find a different one. This makes dealing with the duality of reviewing remasters practically a paradox, both aspects are almost to the point of counter-intuitive while also being required, meaning in the end, it’s up to the person to decide where exactly they stand on the issue because there is no single answer.
Reviewing remasters is a complicated and messy endeavor that puts the stance of the reviewer in a uniquely paradoxical situation. Does the remaster take priority? The Original? Neither? How does one judge something with these conflicting aspects? There is no simple answer and it ultimately is in the reviewer’s hands to decide how those questions are answered—but even then—the questions are still up for debate and different interpretations.