What’s old is becoming new again. Video game companies are doing what movie and toy companies have been banking on for years. They have begun rebooting popular series in the hopes of making them new and popular again. Is it pandering? Sometimes. Is it opportunistic? Absolutely. Does it guarantee success? Not always. But what definitely happens is, it leaves us seeing the same concepts and ideas again instead of getting entirely new ideas. Is it getting to be too much? Well, it depends on the company and situation.
There have been more than a few recent situations where reboots have done wonders for the series. Tomb Raider and DOOM are two of the biggest successes. Square Enix went back to young Lara Croft for the most recent releases, which meant pretty much ushering in the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One era with a whole new Lara. It absolutely worked, because we had consoles unlike anything we had experienced before delivering Tomb Raider adventures we couldn’t have had on the PlayStation 2 or Xbox 360.
Likewise, the DOOM reboot worked too. In part, because it didn’t decide to try and keep going with builds that weren’t working. The game was announced in 2008 and didn’t get released until 2016. It brought back familiar situations, iconic enemies, areas inspired by classic levels, and solid multiplayer. It did things that were new and appreciated, all while saluting that which came before it.
But then, there have been many situations where trying to rely on reboots has led to unfortunate ends for companies. DMC: Devil May Cry created a Dante that was completely unlike the one folks had come to love over the years. The story differed greatly due to its alternate reality setting, even though it maintained the idea of having Vergil as a counterpart to Dante. Even Hideki Kamiya, the original creator, wasn’t psyched about the way it looked and played. It ended up being a one-off creation, not popular enough to inspire continued stories in that timeline.
Nintendo’s Star Fox series is another where reboots have faltered. The first Star Fox reboot was fine. Star Fox 64 was a vast improvement on the original Star Fox. It did a wonderful job of retelling the story. Then, on the Wii U, Star Fox Zero ended up being a retelling of Star Fox again. Even though Nintendo tried to dance around it, it was yet another reboot. And, thanks to unfortunate control schemes, it ended up being a complete fail. It tried to do the same thing all over again, only with minor changes, and did not work.
In 2018, even more reboots are coming. One is God of War, which looks amazing so far. It is showing a whole new side or version of Kratos. He is in an entirely new environment. He is in a new role, acting as a father to a young boy and helping him learn and grow. It seems to have potential. SoulCalibur VI is another reboot. Early videos show Sophitia and Mitsurugi younger than they ever were before.
By looking at past reboots, both successful and unsuccessful, we can get some theories on when things will or won’t work. If a reboot does a good job of actual reimagining a character and situation within its existing framework, as Tomb Raider does and God of War seems to do, it seems like it could be well received and do well. If it takes an existing property and significantly improves it years later, like DOOM and Star Fox 64 did, it also can work. But, if it significantly changes gameplay, the look of the game, or lore, like DMC: Devil May Cry or Star Fox Zero did, it can completely turn people off. If companies are careful, reboots can be appreciated and work, but companies that try to shake things up too much or reboot a property too often should rethink that decision.