What if you could raise the dead? What if, through sheer will, you could wish back into existence something once loved but now long lost? Well, there’s no reason the spirits of software can’t be resuscitated to spark joy anew in the gamers who once embraced these now-extinct franchises.
Remake them, remaster them, reboot them — just please resurrect these great games.
We all know Mark Hamill once saved the universe while waving a lightsaber in a galaxy far, far away. But did you know he also saved Earth by dropping a tectonic bomb on the war-hungry planet of Kilrah? Then he followed up those heroics by staving off a civil war through exposing the plans of a warmongering admiral played by Malcolm McDowell, whose character’s motivations preceded those of Call of Duty’s similarly minded General Shepherd by 13 years.
Wing Commander, a series that debuted on Microsoft Disk Operating System in 1990, helped shape space simulators and evolved into one of the most immersive, interactive sci-fi experiences with the release of “Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger.” The third entry into the series pivoted away from the pixelated space fights found in the first two games, replacing them with polygon-rich battles bookended by interactive, live-action video sequences that featured a branching plot with RPG-like decision-making. Hamill played the lead as Colonel Christopher “Maverick” Blair, the commander of a space fighter squadron in the final days of an enduring war against the Kilrathi, an alien race of catlike bipeds for whom war and conquest is sport.
The mainline series extended to five games, culminating with “Wing Commander: Prophecy” in 1997, but also produced numerous spin-offs. Those included the open-ended, open-galaxy “Wing Commander: Privateer,” in which players could play the role of a mercenary, trading, taking on contracts or pirating while totally ignoring the main plot, if so desired. Bethesda’s much-anticipated “Starfield,” releasing in 2022, figures to be a good approximation of that same “go wherever the solar winds take you” experience. Chris Roberts, who created the Wing Commander series, now has a new space-based MMO called “Star Citizen,” currently playable in its alpha state. — Mike Hume
In the early PlayStation era, voice acting and 3D storytelling was still in its infancy. But “Metal Gear Solid” and “Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver,” released in 1998 and 1999, respectively, opened our minds to new possibilities. While Metal Gear needs no introduction, it’s been 18 years since Raziel snarled his vows of revenge with a Shakespearean lilt.
The Legacy of Kain series started in 1996 with its titular character, who would later doom the world and incur the wrath of the soul reaver Raziel. It was a great series of stories of exploration, action and story. The modern God of War template is actually very similar to the Metroid-inspired open world of the Soul Reaver series. It was daring design, lifted by almost Witcher-quality writing. These games deserve remasters, at the very least. — Gene Park
Half-Life is the Shakespeare of first-person shooters. It spawned entirely new multiplayer genres and established the framework of how to build a single player campaign for the modern shooter. Virtually every shooting game on the market today can trace its ancestry back to Half-Life, somehow. “Counter-Strike” began as a humble mod of the first “Half-Life” back in 1999. The tactical shooter series has since become the premier esports shooter in the western world for nearly two decades, and the inspiration for its biggest rival, “Valorant” from Riot Games.
“Half-Life’s” single player campaign was one of the first shooters that didn’t start in media res. Titles such as “Doom” or “Duke Nukem” opened with a gun already in the player’s hands. When I played “Half-Life” for the first time, I was shocked to find myself in the shoes of Gordon Freeman, an unassuming junior scientist on his commute to work. Wait, isn’t this a shooting game? Where are the bad guys? Did I misread the box?
I scrambled around in my little monorail car as it slowly took me through the Black Mesa Research Facility, a top secret military facility which was not yet overrun by aliens (and wouldn’t be for at least another 30 minutes). Until then, I took in the sights, caught up with the security guards, annoyed my scientist colleagues and fiddled with the microwave in the break room. No other shooter had attempted this sort of mundane, scene setting storytelling before. Now almost every single-player shooter campaign has quiet expository moments like this, all thanks to “Half-Life.”
“Half-Life: Alyx” was not enough. Give us “Half-Life 3.” — Jonathan Lee
Golden Sun was a game series truly ahead of its time, experimenting with things like completed game save data transfers from the first game to its sequel, “The Lost Age,” despite both games running on the now ancient Game Boy Advance. That handheld, if you want to feel old, was created more than two decades ago.
The game centered around typical JRPG characters and tropes — a group of unlikely misfits banding together to save the world from destruction — but it’s the gameplay where this series truly shined. It had platforming puzzles courtesy of this world’s equivalent of magic, Psynergy, which allowed you to create large projections of your hands to manipulate the world’s environments in a psychic-like fashion. The game’s combat system also teemed with innovative customization thanks to a system where you equipped dragon-like creatures named Djinn to give you unique abilities and stat boosts.
While a Nintendo DS follow-up game out in 2010, the franchise has remained silent ever since. Tantalizing promises of a return only exist in small pockets, like a cameo from the main character Isaac as an assist trophy in the Super Smash Bros. series. — Jhaan Elker
Hip-hop is the dominant music culture. Video games are now easily mainstream. There is no better time to reintroduce the Def Jam concept of throwing a bunch of real-life rappers and culture-adjacent pop figures into a bar and having them smash pool sticks and beer bottles over each other’s heads while dodging fighting game martial arts super moves.
Fighting games have struggled to find an audience with their sometimes confounding, precision-based controls. The Super Smash Bros. series shows there’s an appetite for fun brawls and melees with simple controls, which Def Jam games had, particularly in “Def Jam: Fight for NY.” Just imagine the hype cycle for future downloadable content for this revamped series. Imagine Nas vs. Lil Nas X. Better yet, imagine Pusha T vs. Drake. — Gene Park
The nice thing about a Lego Island reboot is that it can be virtually anything. The original two games distinguished themselves with colorful open worlds, peppered with buildings pulled from Lego play sets; half the fun was just exploring that world and trying to break it. (If you wanted to crash a car into a generic Lego pedestrian, the car would break apart and rebuild itself after passing over your target. If you tried skateboarding onto train tracks, a superhero would fly down and whisk you away. That never stopped me from trying.)
Today, that could be the foundation for any number of games: a survival game like “Minecraft,” a social/life simulation like Animal Crossing, an MMO like “Club Penguin,” even a “Fortnite” style battle royale, if we’re really thinking outside the brick. Then within that, you can accommodate the original titles’ many minigames: arcade racing, jousting, pizza-making puzzles, etc.
Truthfully, the feeling I have for Lego Island is a general sense of nostalgia, not reverence for any particular mechanic or feature from the franchise. What I want is a game that feels like Lego Island used to feel: bright, whimsical (in madcap, sometimes adult ways) and full of opportunity. Sort of like the toys themselves. — Mikhail Klimentov
From Software hit the big time with its Souls genre of games. Many forget that the studio used to pump out all kinds of great action titles, including “Otogi” and its sequel. Both games were visual masterpieces of ancient Japanese lore, brought to life through character action games about delicateness in devastation. The executioner Raikoh’s movements would be swift and sudden, yet his hair and armor would trail in ways that gave off a sense of flow.
Like “Dark Souls,” these were also difficult, punishing games. But developers these days should embrace this given the popularity of many challenging games. There’s an audience for this brutal ballet to return. The last battle of the second game is among the heavens, against the moonlight and a nine-tailed fox god, and that alone should catch your interest. — Gene Park
Man, whatever happened to “Club Penguin?” I remember in fifth grade, circa 2005, most of my classmates and I would crowd into our computer class to open up this MMO and walk around as little, cuddly penguin avatars across some glaciers and icy terrain. We would throw snowballs at each other, burst into dance and follow other penguins into their igloos. The game had a group chat, where people would regularly type “lol” and “stop following me.” Most users had a string of numbers in their names, but that didn’t take away from the cozy feeling of playing this game, which really was a virtual world, and a place between home and work. At one point, the game was so successful, with over 700,000 paid subscribers and more than 12 million users, that Disney purchased it for a valuation of $700 million, with half paid upfront.
Unfortunately, by 2017, most of the user base had grown up and left, and kids and teens had other options like “Fortnite” and “Roblox” to turn to. Gone were the days when you needed to log into a browser app and click through screens to get to different parts of a frosty world; instead, kids could enjoy three-dimensional, immersive worlds. “Club Penguin” shut down its servers in March of 2017 as users danced and waddled amid tearful goodbyes, sending heart emoji. The game briefly pivoted to a mobile app called “Club Penguin Island,” where users’ progress did not carry over, until that app was also shut down in 2018. “Waddle on,” developers wrote in a farewell message.
Brief fan revivals on private servers, with names like Club Penguin Rewritten and Club Penguin Online, were copyright struck by Disney and taken down in 2020. — Shannon Liao
It’s tough to say whether Deus Ex is dead, exactly. The last main installment of my beloved stealth series came out in 2016, with the somewhat disappointing “Mankind Divided.” Things looked to be over when Deus Ex developer Eidos Montreal was owned by Square Enix, but Eidos belongs to the churning maw of Embracer Group now, and there have been rumors the series could see a return. I try to maintain hope, but it always feels like a longshot, especially when immersive sims seem to be a niche interest, despite being — if you ask me — the best genre.
The series’ original creator, Warren Spector, has said Deus Ex might be a little too real in today’s conspiracy-laden world, but I think we could all use the comfort that comes from knowing that when things seem darkest, there’s always a sneak-able vent nearby. In the meantime, I still have that half-finished no kill/no detection “Human Revolution” run to return to. — Riley MacLeod
The Castlevania series is so historically significant that, along with Metroid, the term “Metroidvania” was coined to describe the entire genre of games that they helped influence. After the original “Castlevania” trilogy on the NES, which was fantastic in its own right, the 1997 release of “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night” on the first PlayStation helped established a few hallmark characteristics that still stand the test of time — demanding 2D platforming, a rewarding emphasis on nonlinear exploration and bombastic, inventive set pieces. Konami took that formula and ran with it, creating subsequent genre masterpieces on the Game Boy Advance and the Nintendo DS such as “Aria of Sorrow,” “Portrait of Ruin” and “Circle of the Moon.”
It’s a shame that Konami, a once prolific and revered publisher, has let the series lapse entirely after attempting a reboot with “Lords of Shadow” in 2010. We’re hoping that like Nintendo did with “Metroid Dread,” Konami will awake from its slumber and breathes new life into this classic gaming franchise. — Joe Moore
“Epic Mickey” was supposed to be the start of a new chapter for Disney, the first step toward leaving its mark on video games the same way it had on animation. In one of his darkest stories yet, Mickey is whisked off to the Wasteland, a desolate home for forgotten cartoon characters and rejected concepts. It’s ruled by Oswald the rabbit, a character that starred in some of Disney’s first hit cartoons but was later replaced by Mickey following a copyright dispute with then-distributor Universal Studios.
Each area of the Wasteland is themed to different Disney amusement parks or merchandise and includes plenty of nods to classic cartoons from the company’s expansive catalogue of intellectual property. Originally developed for the Nintendo Wii, its gameplay centers on motion controls where players, as Mickey, use a magic paint brush to fight enemies and manipulate objects with either paint or thinner, which influence a morality system. A sequel, “Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two,” added two player co-op and fleshed out the world more. It released alongside the spin-off “Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion,” an homage to Sega’s ‘90s series of side-scrolling platformers starring the mouse.
Epic Mickey was initially planned to be a franchise with a trilogy of mainline games and several side projects, including a racing game and a “Duck Tales”-inspired spinoff featuring Donald Duck, reportedly in the works. However, shortly after the sequel’s release in 2012, Disney shut down the series’s developer, Junction Point Studios. While the original “Epic Mickey” earned critical and commercial acclaim, after its release, Disney began to pivot heavily toward licensing its IP out to third-party developers given the success of “Disney Infinity” and the game’s accompanying toy line at the time — though that success didn’t last long. The Epic Mickey franchise has been gathering dust in its own Wasteland ever since. — Alyse Stanley
Dark Cloud is one of the rare instances when a series mashes together several different game genres — namely dungeon-crawling, city-building, and action role-playing — and somehow it all just works.
In typical JRPG fashion, you team up with a crew of unlikely companions to take down the evil bad guy threatening to destroy the world. What sets Dark Cloud apart is that after you’ve had your fill of slaying monsters, recruiting party members and looting dungeons, you return to an empty town. That same evil bad guy literally razed everything to the ground. The villagers, buildings and landscape features have all been tucked away into magical orbs called Atla that are scattered throughout the dungeons you clear. Once placed outside, they can be used to rebuild the destroyed areas.
Configuring the area plays out like building a miniature diorama, one that you can then explore in full scale after you’ve finished setting up all the pieces. Once you’ve placed a villager, they’ll start puttering about the town and making requests about the specific location of their home: that it be on the riverfront, or close to the general store or far away from a neighbor they can’t stand. To progress to the next destroyed area, you’ll have to satisfy all these requests, which turns the city-building mechanic into a sort of puzzle as you try to figure out what configuration will make everyone happy.
The series only had two entries, “Dark Cloud” in 2000 and its spiritual successor, “Dark Chronicle” (released as “Dark Cloud 2” in North America), in 2002. But it’s clear that this niche PlayStation series left a lasting impression. More than a decade later, there was enough demand that Sony ported both games to the PlayStation 4. So there may still be hope yet for a revival. — Alyse Stanley
Released in 1998, “Parasite Eve” was the first mature-rated game by Square Soft (now known as Square Enix), and it was notable for starring a female lead named Aya Brea. Eventually growing into a trilogy of games, the series started as a sequel to a sci-fi horror novel by Hideaki Sena.
With the revival of the Resident Evil series for the modern world, the Parasite Eve games are ripe for some kind of renewal as well. Sure, it’s then-new brand of psychological horror may have seemed strange to PS1 players at the time, but today’s audiences are primed and ready for any games where tough women can fight their spiritual and manifested demons. The game’s battle system kept Aya within the environments she explored — as opposed to jumping into a dedicated combat mode — making the experience so much more immersive as a narrative horror experience. Square Enix today wouldn’t have to give it the whole Final Fantasy remake treatment, which would be far too expensive. But its moody Manhattan story deserves an update.
Maybe I’d just love to see that opening blind date in Carnegie Hall gone wrong again, and why not? Next to “Final Fantasy VII,” it’s one of the more memorable openings acts to a video game, and more people should see it. — Gene Park
Illustrations by Hannah Francis. Design, art direction and development by Joe Moore. Design editing by Rachel Orr.