There are so many classic games from the past that have become difficult for new players to experience. The farther away in time we get from these games’ releases, the more difficult it can get to not only get the game itself but also the extra hardware needed to play them. That alone is a major barrier that turns people away from playing games many consider to be some of the greatest of all time. And that’s not even taking into account dated graphics, controls, and mechanics.
Remakes offer a new generation a chance to experience some of the most influential games of the past, as well as give fans of the originals a brand new way to play them all over again. The best remakes take what made a game so great before and modernize it for the current audience without losing that magical spark. It isn’t an easy process, but here are the games that managed to pull it off.
As a small side note, we will only be including one game from each series rather than have, for example, three Resident Evil titles crowd the list.
- 1 Remake versus remaster
- 2 Resident Evil 2 Remake (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
- 3 Final Fantasy 7 Remake (PS4)
- 4 Black Mesa (PC)
- 5 Demon’s Souls Remake (PS5)
- 6 The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)
- 7 Spyro Reignited Trilogy (PS4, Xbox One)
- 8 Shadow of the Colossus Remake (PS4)
- 9 Star Fox 64 (Nintendo 64)
- 10 Ratchet and Clank (PS4)
- 11 Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS)
- 12 Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary (Xbox One)
Remake versus remaster
Before getting to the good stuff, we thought it would be worth it to quickly clarify what the difference is between a remake and a remaster so you don’t get mad that your favorite game isn’t on this list. A remake is a game that is built either completely or nearly entirely so from the ground up based on the original game. At a minimum, the graphics and game engine need to be completely different from the original to qualify. The best remakes take it a step further and either change up how the game plays in some way, adds new content or features, or a combination of the two.
Remasters are more like ports. If the game is unchanged except for higher resolution — not to be confused with new graphics, better frame rates, or other technical boosts — but is in every other way identical, it is a remaster. Think of collections like the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection or The Nathan Drake Collection. These are the exact same games, only given a little bump by being put on new hardware. These are still great and do a lot for keeping older titles relevant and accessible, but they are not considered remakes.
Resident Evil 2 Remake (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Let’s be honest: There are two remakes that, at least in the general gamer sphere, stand head and shoulders above the rest. The first Resident Evil Remake on the Gamecube was considered the best remake of all time at the time of its release, so it is only fitting that Resident Evil 2 Remake shares that same level of praise. Where the two differ, and what puts RE2 Remake above the first, is how the team managed to maintain the feeling of only just surviving and never feeling powerful or in total control when transitioning from the original fixed-camera perspective to a third-person one. As great as the original game was, the tank control scheme is just so foreign for gamers today that most wouldn’t give it the time or attention it deserves.
Fans of the original got a fresh way to explore the RCPD, with plenty of twists on the original to mess with their expectations, and new players got a masterfully-designed survival horror experience that played and looked phenomenal. Mr. X became a fan favorite, and even the standard zombies remain a joy (and terror) to fight. This game opened up the gates for future remakes in the series, with Resident Evil 3 Remake falling short of the high expectations set by 2, but all leading up to the (hopefully) amazing Resident Evil 4 Remake.
Read our full Resident Evil 2 review
Final Fantasy 7 Remake (PS4)
The only other contender that can match RE2 Remake‘s level, or even exceed it, is the long-awaited Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Just like RE2, this remake completely flipped how the game played from the original. No longer a turn-based, fixed-camera RPG, FF7 R is a fully-3D action RPG with a few unique twists that harken back to its traditional roots. This was a major risk for Square-Enix to take, but it paid off in a massive way. Even giving these beloved characters voices with more personality, especially the lead character, Cloud, was handled about as flawlessly as possible.
On a narrative level, Final Fantasy 7 Remake has major benefits and drawbacks. Without spoiling anything, the story of the original game isn’t followed exactly as it was told before. Not only are many concepts and characters expanded and fleshed out, but some events are new or even altered from the original. This game does only tell part of the story, not going beyond the city of Midgar, where the world really opens up. How the following parts, however many more there end up being, handles the rest of the remake may retroactively color how we feel about this first entry, but for now, it stands worthy of the legendary Final Fantasy 7 name.
Read our full Final Fantasy 7 Remake review
Black Mesa (PC)
It’s hard to understate just how influential Half-Life was on gaming when it came out in 1998. It helped modernize modern FPS design, narrative, artificial intelligence (A.I.), and puzzles like no other game had done before. Heck, it even spawned a ton of amazing mods that turned into their own franchises, like Team Fortress and Counter Strike. It was the game that put Valve on the map, leading to the even more popular sequel and the invention of the biggest PC marketplace of all time in Steam.
Black Mesa is a fan project that began in 2012, looking to remake the original release on the Source engine. After getting approval from Valve to make it a full product, the game was released in early access in 2015 and finally finished in 2020. Beyond a much-needed facelift, Black Mesa included new puzzles, better A.I., more story elements, and a complete rework of the original Half-Life‘s final chapters. The Xen levels in the original were considered to be the only downright bad parts of that game. It was ugly, boring, and just not fun to play. Black Mesa completely remakes the ending of the game into something worthy of a game of that level.
Demon’s Souls Remake (PS5)
When Dark Souls hit cult-classic status and evolved into a mainstream hit, the series had already gone multiplatform, so anyone who wanted to could go back and experience this new style of game. Demon’s Souls, the true origin of the formula that Dark Souls would iterate on, was not so fortunate. This game was locked on the PlayStation 3, which severely limited the number of people who could go back to see where the Souls formula really began.
Fast forward three Dark Souls games and one Bloodborne and Sekrio, and the hunger for anything and everything made by FromSoftware remains at an all-time high. It was the perfect opportunity for Sony, who owns the Demon’s Souls IP, to have the talented team at Bluepoint games remake the game for the launch of the PlayStation 5. And boy, does this game take full advantage of that new hardware. Aside from looking stunning, minor quality-of-life improvements were made, a new fractured mode added in, and even a few new secrets tucked away for players to discover. Bluepoint knew not to mess with what made that game special, though, and didn’t touch anything related to timing, difficulty, A.I., or story.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)
The Zelda franchise, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say Nintendo in general, is no stranger to remasters. It is slightly more rare to see a full-on remake from the big N, but that’s exactly what we got with Link’s first handheld title in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. Originally a Gameboy title, which also saw a remaster in the form of the DX release, this game was a kind of mini Link to the Past, but with a much stranger narrative filled with unique characters and dungeons.
It took more than two decades, but this cult hit of a game was finally remade in a charming new art style for the Nintendo Switch. The combination of the console being handheld and playable on the big TV is perfect for honoring the legacy of this once black-and-white, two-button game. Now brimming with color and personality, new collectibles, and even an experimental dungeon creator, Link’s Awakening came back to show the world that a smaller 2D Zelda experience can still be fun. If only it ran a little better and wasn’t so expensive, it would be an instant recommendation.
Read our full The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening review
Spyro Reignited Trilogy (PS4, Xbox One)
We could’ve put both this and the Crash remakes on the list, but we decided to give this spot to the Spyro Reignited Trilogy instead. Both remade three classic PS1 platformers, but Spyro just holds up much better. For one thing, the new graphics and animations are top-notch. Every world from the originals feels more alive and fun to just be in than ever before. Coming from the flat, warped textures of the early 3D era, this remake feels like technology finally caught up to what Spyro was always supposed to look like.
It is a testament to the gameplay that not much, if anything, had to really be changed for this platformer to feel satisfying to play three console generations later. Running, breathing fire, and gliding all hold up great. Compared to Crash, where the whole running toward the camera thing never really felt great, Spyro’s entire trilogy is just a more satisfying package from start to finish. Hopefully, this remaster will lead to a revival of the series in the same way we got the great Crash 4.
Shadow of the Colossus Remake (PS4)
Back again are the masters of the remake, Bluepoint Games, with their first remaster of a beloved and highly-regarded game. Shadow of the Colossus was clearly pushing up against the limits of the PS2 back in the day. The game world was massive and lonely by design but suffered from repetitive and low-quality textures. Each of the Colossi essentially had bosses, levels, and puzzles all wrapped up into some of the most massive creatures ever seen up until that point. Fighting them was a thrill unlike anything else, even when the frame rate chugged to keep up with the action. Wander, the main character, also had a few odd choices when it came to controls.
After remastering the game on PS3, Bluepoint was given the opportunity to present this powerful title the way we all remembered it in our minds. Graphically, there’s nothing else to say except that the forbidden land has never looked so beautiful. A minority of people think the new graphics lose the atmosphere of the original, but in our minds, it only enhances the emotions we originally felt riding our horse across the vast plains. A new control scheme was added, and all technical hiccups smoothed over, making this remake the definitive way to revisit one of the most artistic games of all time.
Read our full Shadow of the Colossus Remake review
Star Fox 64 (Nintendo 64)
The original Star Fox on the SNES was so ambitious that the cartridge itself had to have a special chip, called the super FX chip, installed in order for the game to even run on the hardware. Nintendo wouldn’t compromise in making the game 3D, and while it was technically amazing at the time, those basic polygon rigs of ships were far from ideal. The sequel famously was almost fully developed before the team abandoned it in favor of working on the much more powerful N64 hardware. But, for whatever reason, they also decided to remake the first game again rather than make a sequel.
Star Fox 64 is one of the classics of the console. It reintroduced Fox, Falco, Peppy, and Slippy, now with fully-realized and textured ships and voices, plus true 3D models and environments. Almost all the gameplay improvements came hand in hand with the new technology. Even just the controller having a joystick made piloting much more enjoyable. The same basic premise was established, only with more planets, branching paths, new vehicles, and a slightly more emphasized story. Star Fox Zero was sort of a remake of 64 again, attempting to reboot the series, but relied way too heavily on the WiiU gamepad controller for most players.
Ratchet and Clank (PS4)
Of all the major mascot platformers Sony had on the PS2, including Sly Cooper and Jak and Daxter, none were as successful as Ratchet and Clank. This duo had a successful string of games all the way through the PS3’s life cycle and then … nothing. The series went silent from 2013’s Into the Nexus all the way until Insomniac remade the first game for the PS4 in 2016, the longest time between games in the history of the series. With so many sequels and spinoffs under the name, and an attempt to push the characters into the mainstream with a movie tie-in, it only made sense to go back to the beginning and remake the original for new fans who might want to jump in.
Just like Spyro, Ratchet and Clank were always meant to be something of cartoon characters. The PS4 hardware not only gave the guns, weapons, and environments more life to them with more fluid animation and effects, but every character and enemy looked and moved as good as they did in the feature film. The only real fault with the game is that some parts of the plot rely on the player having seen the film, leaving it a little disjointed in certain places for anyone who only wanted to play the game.
Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS)
The Metroid series is a strange case study. On the one hand, it has made just as much of an impact on the gaming industry as other major Nintendo properties, spawning the Metroidvania genre and having a nearly perfect track record of games (if you ignore Other M and some spinoff titles). At the same time, the series has never sold so well that it was a priority to make new entries all that often. That made the announcement of a remake of the Gameboy exclusive sequel Metroid II: Return of Samus a very welcome surprise. Just like Link’s Awakening, Metroid II was an ambitious title that’s difficult to revisit because of the system it was released on.
Despite the Switch already launching earlier that year, this remake was still relegated to the aging but widespread 3DS system. The second screen was perfect for viewing the map without having to pause the game, but that’s not all that the new hardware improved upon. The game remained true to its 2D roots but utilized fully 3D models and environments, enhanced controls, new moves, power-ups, and abilities. It does stick a little too close to the original in terms of structure, leading to the game feeling a little repetitive at times, but it’s still an excellent adventure remade for modern audiences.
Read our full Metroid: Samus Returns review
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary (Xbox One)
This game is one of the most unique on the list because it is actually both a remake and a remaster. The original Halo was a flagship game for the Xbox but also ushered in a new age of first-person shooters on home consoles. It is hard to properly articulate just how massive this game was when it was first released. Even decades later, that original game is still solid. 343 Industries knew this but also recognized that a launch title from 2001 couldn’t visually hold up and lacked some modern additions players expected.
Instead of just remaking the game, Halo was made in such a way that players could toggle, on the fly, between the remade graphics and classic visuals. The classic style was still improved to be in HD and widescreen, but no other remake had ever even attempted to let players swap back and forth between the remake and remastered originals before. The only new additions, aside from the graphics, were some new terminals and skulls to find, achievements, and the ability to play co-op online instead of just in local split-screen. Halo 2 would get the same treatment when The Master Chief Collection launched later, but it all started with the original.
Read our full Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary review