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The risky business of video game reboots

This post has not been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.

It’s no secret that when a long standing series of video games is reformed and reiterated (often by a new development team) that a certain amount of community backlash is to be expected. Opinions certainly differ on whether or not an outrage of the magnitude shown towards some situations in particular is really appropriate, but it goes to show how truly risky and rather dangerous it is to reboot a franchise, not only to the series itself, but to the reputation of its developers in the eyes of die-hard, loyal fans who have grown to love the series and what it stands for.

Of course, not all reboots are this disastrous, but there have been enough of these occurrences to reinforce the community’s negative expectations. What exactly is it that determines whether or not a reboot will win the hearts of the fans of be shamefully exiled to an island of shame? There are a few key factors to be taken into account.

  • Knowing when a reboot is necessary

Many would agree that rebooting a franchise is probably not always the most logical direction to take when planning development in a new installment to a long standing series. About 50 percent of the time, it appears as though a reboot is highly unnecessary, leaving fans questioning the mindset of the series’ developers. From the view point of a die-hard fan, it would be more beneficial if a series were to simply continue what was started and build onto an already successfully developed canon and mythos.

Naturally, when an existing universe that fans have grown to love is reiterated in a different fashion, jumping to the defensive is completely understandable, even if certain niches of the community take more drastic measures than others. However, there is in fact a time when a series loses its appeal and it is in fact necessary to revitalize interest in it, despite an existing canon with an extensive mythos.

new-tomb-raider

Take Tomb Raider for example. Once a highly popular series of action-adventure video games throughout the mid-to-late 90’s, the series suffered from quite a few mistakes later on in its lifespan. Sooner or later, attention towards the series shifted over to the likes of Uncharted, where the sub-genre of adventure gaming was being utilized more effectively. With this being the case, it is more than appropriate for Tomb Raider’s development team to consider rebooting the series as they have, as this decision has the potential to help pull the series out of obscurity and revitalize the interest of the community and gaming critics alike.

  • What determines the fans’ reaction?

Perhaps the main deciding factor in what determines the fans’ reaction to a reboot is the amount of changes and liberties taken by the developers and the elements in the series of
which these changes pertain to.

Look at it this way: if this were a new Star Wars sequel, it would make perfect sense to bring the Jedi to new locations, battle new adversaries, and form new alliances. However, how would Star Wars fans feel if, in this new installment, the Jedi’s light sabers were replaced with Japanese Katana swords, the setting of the series was changed from futuristic space to a Steampunk themed dystopian Earth, and the main villains were changed from the Sith, to Soviet Russia? See where I’m going with this? When planning to reboot a series, change is expected and often has to be accepted, but this all depends on which exact aspects are the subject of these changes, and how drastically they are altered from their previous state.

For example, take the latest installment the Devil May Cry series…DmC: Devil May Cry. Yes, the game was quite the success in the review department and garnered much praise 220px-DMCNewDantefrom critics. I won’t lie; the game is in fact quite enjoyable. However, the amount of fan backlash regarding the drastic alterations to key elements of the series’ existing canon was almost overwhelming. No, it’s not all about Dante’s (the hero of the series) hair being changed from its iconic white color to a typical brown. The fan outrage stems form the contrast in almost every aspect of their hero’s character when compared to his classic counterpart.

Personally, I along with the majority of gaming media enjoyed the overall gameplay and atmosphere of DmC, as both of these aspects remained reminiscent of the previous installments to the Devil May Cry series. The reworked story was also quite enjoyable. Though it was a rather drastic departure from the existing one, the new story offered a bit more depth than the former.

Still, I can’t help but side with the fans on the judgment of the “new and improved” main character. Not only is his iconic white hair gone without a trace (which is, admittedly, the least of our worries), but his overall personality has gone through a less than satisfactory transformation. He who was once a humorous wise-cracking demon hunter, is now a cynical and – in all truth – quite snobby, cliché angst ridden young man. This new iteration of Dante simply does not deliver on the level of his classic counterpart, this being the primary instigator of the animosity targeted towards this reboot of the Devil May Cry series. The title itself is not a bad game in general, but many of the series’ die hard fans may find it quite difficult to see past the liberties taken by the new writing team. In fact, there is a point in the main storyline of DmC, where this is directly referenced (see below), and many fans have in turn taken this as an insult, considering the nature of which it was presented.

What many loyal Devi May Cry fans saw as a slap to the face from DmC’s developers

  • An example of a successful reboot

Before we conclude, it’s only fair that we take a look at one of the more successful results in rebooting a franchise. Mortal Kombat, released in April of 2011, was perhaps one of the
most successful video game reboots in recent history.

The Mortal Kombat series emerged onto the arcade fighting game scene during the mid 90’s to an overwhelming amount of praise from gamers and critics alike, and even proved to be a worthy opponent to the highly successful Street Fighter series which was at the peak of its popularity at the time. Once the 3D era kicked off in the early 2000’s, the series was put through quite the awkward transition. While the release of Mortal Kombat 4 (being the first entry to the series with 3D graphics, though on a 2D axis) was moderately successful, the entries following – those being Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance and Mortal Kombat: Deception – were less than satisfactory for fans of the series as well as many fighting game enthusiasts due to lackluster controls and the direction of some of the series’ classic characters, not to mention the amount of uninspired new combatants (or Kombatants) to the series’ roster of fighters.

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At this point, it was clear that the once successful Mortal Kombat series was in dire need of new direction. In 2011, the newly formed Netherrealm Studios answered back with a revitalized version of Mortal Kombat’s first 3 installments which proved to be quite successful and in fact ended up rejuvenating interest in the series and saving it from fading into obscurity.

So what was it about Mortal Kombat (2011) that kept it from suffering the same fate as many of the unsuccessful reboots of the past? What made this reboot so successful was that, in retrospect, most – if not all of the major changes made to the formula were made for the better. Stale and uninspired characters were taken back to the drawing board and given the appropriate make-over, the control scheme was vastly improved from the clunky and restrictive state it was last seen in, and the overall theme and atmosphere of the series was left in tact. In fact, many of the positive changes made were direct responses to what fans of the series had been asking for quite some time. In the end, the reboot of Mortal Kombat was successful because of proper timing and developers who knew exactly where change was needed, and were able to tell which aspects of the series were better left untouched.

  • Conclusion:

Tomb-Raider-Screenshots-tomb-raider-reboot-31061254-1280-720

The fact that not everyone can be pleased is a fact that many fans as well as developers have to take into account when rebooting a series, but it undoubtedly works in developer’s favor to keep in touch with where exactly a certain amount of change is welcome.

Change in general has to be accepted in the end, but drastic changes to what fans know and love is more often than not a recipe for disaster. At times, new ideas and improvements to a series are welcome; developers simply have to be sure that they aren’t attempting fix what isn’t broken.

If done properly, if a certain amount of consideration is taken, a reboot to an existing franchise can be quite successful when the timing is appropriate.


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