‘Remake’ Vs. ‘Remaster’ – What’s Your Definition?

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It’s obvious, right!? Metroid Prime Remastered is a remaster, natch, Return to Dream Land Deluxe is a fancy port, and Skyward Sword HD and Luigi’s Mansion 2 HD are obviously both, er, HD remasters? Although Wind Waker HD was more of an HD remake. Probably. What’s Thousand-Year Door again?

To explore this noodle-y issue, Team NL sat down for a chat to find out if we could find the Nintendo Life Definition…


Gavin: Okay then, let’s start broad with our general ideas. How would you define the difference between a remake and a remaster?

Ollie: More often than not, I’m quite happy to go with whatever the developers deem it to be – they should know better than most, right? But without such information, a remake for me is generally something that has been completely reworked from scratch, so none of the original code or assets from the original release remain. A remaster, on the other hand, is the original game ‘beefed up’, enhanced with prettier visuals, refined gameplay – stuff like that.

Alana: That’s pretty much where I fall – I think the phrase ‘rebuilt from the ground up’ summarises how I feel about remakes best. I think of a remaster as a fresh coat of paint, whereas with a remake you rebuild the whole house. Weird metaphor, but that’s the best way I can visualise it.

Jim: I’ll go three-for-three and agree once again. I’m not very technically minded when it comes to game code and the like, and I am sure that there is more to a remaster than just a ‘simple’ facelift, but in my mind, if it looks basically the same and it plays basically the same, it’s a remaster. ‘Remake’ feels like it needs to bring something a bit more substantial.

Gavin: My rule of thumb used to be that if you could take a cutscene or an opening screen and lay it on top of the original and it was essentially the same (maybe with some added widescreen, better resolution, etc), it’s a remaster. What sort of features would you expect to see in a remaster, as opposed to a remake?

Alana: At the bare minimum? ‘HD’. At least nowadays. There are lots of examples of pixel smoothing that I really hate, but that seems to fall under that umbrella of ‘brushing up the visuals’. It needs to look cleaner, polished up, to some degree. Otherwise, it’s just a port, right?

Gavin: Ha, Alana was the first one brave enough to say the ‘P’ word! The rabbit hole awaits…

Alana: You can be a remastered port or just a port!

Jim: I’d echo Alana and maybe add some soundtrack tweaks too. It’s no bare minimum (heck, it’s still not that common), but if the visuals are getting a fresh lick of paint, it’s always nice to hear the audio get some love. Anything more technical and we are getting into the other camp.

Ollie: It depends on how old the original is. If someone were to ask me what I’d have liked to see in a remaster of The Last of Us Part II, I would have shrugged and said, “Haven’t the foggiest, mate.” But if we’re talking pre-2005, then yeah, HD visuals, maybe a boost to the frame rate if it’s needed. Some quality-of-life improvements are always welcome; modernised control schemes, save states, etc.

Gavin: Maybe some scrubbed-up textures. It’s tough when you get into the nomenclature and what publishers call things and the inconsistency there. We’ll come back to that in a second. Obviously, Paper Mario TTYD is the Nintendo game of the moment, and they’ve called it a remake, is that right?

Jim: That is right. I have been calling it a remaster for months, but noooo, Nintendo had to go and officially label it otherwise.

Alana: I called it in between a remaster and remake in the preview, but then went full remake for the review. And using Gavin’s criteria, it does initially feel like a remaster – the layers are very similar. But I was going through GameCube and Switch screenshots prior to the review going up, and the visual changes are honestly staggering. There’s a huge step-up in quality between 2004 and 2024’s releases that Intelligent Systems has to have rebuilt most of it.

Of course, it feels the same to play, and there are some quality-of-life features, a couple of new things in the post-game. But the visual and musical glow-up goes beyond what we’ve seen in say, Dark Souls: Remastered or something like that.

Wind Waker HD
Image: Nintendo

Gavin: Getting into other Nintendo examples and touching on the ‘HD’ tag, how would you say TTYD compares to something like Wind Waker HD? Would you personally class that as a remake?

Ollie: Nope! With Paper Mario, I think the series has always had a pretty timeless art style, so the distinction between remake and remaster was always going to be tough. But looking at TTYD on Switch in motion, I can definitely tell that it’s been done from the ground up. With Wind Waker, Nintendo did a remarkable job with the visuals, but it’s still the same game through and through.

Alana: Yeah, Wind Waker HD is still the GameCube game underneath, animations and all. There is new rendering and lighting on Wii U. TTYD is a totally new engine – it’s not just re-rendered visuals and lighting. There wasn’t really any lighting in the GC version, and the detail was pretty minimal. I wouldn’t be surprised if it uses The Origami King’s engine.

Gavin: WW HD did have other tweaks, though, changes to the Triforce Hunt, GamePad integration, etc. It’s such a fine semantic line between these things! For me, the recent Wizardry remake has made me start doubting my previous criteria. In that, the Apple II original is literally (and optionally) visible onscreen, running beneath all the new things Digital Eclipse built on top of it. The OG game is there, with all the modern code plugged in, and yet I don’t think anybody would say it isn’t a total remake. This is where the lack of knowledge about exactly how code and underlying logic are employed makes lines even fuzzier. Something like the Resident Evil remakes are much easier to label. [Editor’s note: Since we spoke, I was reminded of the brilliant Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap from Lizardcube, another example of a totally transformative facelift that still featured the original game running beneath. What a marvellous game that is! Anyhow, back to the chat…]

View original source here.

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