Much like in film and television, reboots have become increasingly popular in the video game industry in recent years and given the nature of the gaming landscape, this trend makes a lot of sense. As a medium, video games have evolved at a much more rapid pace in the last few decades than film or television have over the same period, to the point where anyone making video games in the 1980s or even the 90s could have scarcely imagined how far technology would advance. This step up in graphical horsepower has resulted in a number of ambitious reboots over the series, as developers have taken retro series and transitioned them from 2D into 3D. However, this is only one type of video game reboot and really, any series installment that represents a “refresh” arguably earns the label.
With that in mind, it’s important that I mention that I’m playing a bit fast and loose with the term “reboot” in this article, as a handful of the games below are technically sequels and not a full retooling of their respective franchises. That being said, I feel like they represent enough of a departure from their predecessors to qualify as reboots, even if they don’t really fit the standard definition. Now that that disclaimer is out of the way, here are the 15 greatest video game reboots ever made!
15. Resident Evil 7
I debated whether to put Resident Evil 4 here instead but while that 2005 classic did indeed represent a pretty significant shuffling of the deck for Capcom’s iconic survival horror series, I feel like Resident Evil 7 was more of a refresh overall. Although there is a number in its title, Resident Evil 7 has very little connection to prior Resident Evil games. Gone are the campy villains and action-packed gameplay of the post RE4 era and in their place is a disturbing, claustrophobic haunted house experience that returns the series firmly to its survival horror roots.
The switch to a first-person perspective helps add to the creep factor, as the horrific nature of the backwoods Baker family reveals itself and gets under your skin (and it all gets even wilder if you play in VR). Stripping away almost every familiar franchise character and changing up the gameplay to such a significant degree was a risky gamble on Capcom’s part, but one that wound up paying off. RE7 was critically-acclaimed and sold well, which suggests that Capcom will continue with its new vision for Resident Evil when it comes time to release Resident Evil 8.
14. Star Fox 64
The original Star Fox for the SNES was a cool tech demo, but it wasn’t the most entertaining game from a pure gameplay perspective. Star Fox 64 successfully built upon the foundation of its predecessor by giving its colorful cast of anthropomorphic starship pilots full voice overs and a winning mix of spot-on shooting controls and clever, multi-path level design.
More than twenty years later, Star Fox 64 remains the pinnacle of the franchise, which certainly doesn’t reflect well on Nintendo, but at least proves that they put out a timeless game. Technically, Nintendo tried rebooting the franchise again in 2016 with the release of Star Fox Zero, but the game was so mediocre that hardly anyone really noticed. Perhaps we’ll never get another Star Fox that lives up to the N64 release but considering how replayable that game is even to this day, maybe that’s not as bad as it sounds.
13. Ratchet & Clank
Both a remake and reboot, Insomniac Games went back to the start when it came time to bring their lovable platforming duo to the PlayStation 4 back in 2016. A reimagining of the very first Ratchet & Clank released on the PlayStation 2, the new version applied everything Insomniac had learned in the nearly 15 years it had spent with the series to craft one of the purest and most enjoyable games in the long-running franchise. Insomniac correctly recognized that Ratchet and Clank’s first adventure hadn’t aged that well, both from a gameplay and story perspective (go back to that game now and you’ll realize that neither character were very likable), and did a do-over of sorts by delivering a game that had the same basic structure, but with updates across the board. New planets, weapons, and gameplay systems were introduced and it was all wrapped up in one of the most visually gorgeous games the PS4 has to offer.
12. DMC: Devil May Cry
Alright, you got me: Ninja Theory’s 2013 Devil May Cry also appears on our list of the biggest video game reboot failures. At first glance, calling DMC both one of the greatest reboots and a huge failure seems contradictory (and yeah, it kind of is), but it all depends on your perspective. If you’re a die hard fan of older Devil May Cry games who considers Ninja Theory’s title blasphemy – while also recognizing that the game was a bit of a sales disappointment – then yes, DMC can be called a failure. Personally, I recognize that DMC is quite different from its predecessors – and I say this as someone who adores every Devil May Cry besides the terrible second game – but still feel like it was a breath of fresh air for the series.
The best thing that DMC did is jettison the more archaic aspects of earlier tiles – bad camera angles and level recycling being the most significant – in favor of fun action gameplay, surprisingly good platforming sections, and a story that, while still super weird, went for something interesting with its whole mirror world, demons hiding among us presentation. Sure, there were problems with the new version of series protagonist Dante and the combat, while still fast and fluid, wasn’t as technically advanced as Devil May Cry 3 and 4’s near-perfect systems but if you set aside your fandom for the earlier games and accepted DMC as a bold new vision that tried to shake things up, there really is a lot to like about it.
11. Fallout 3
The early Fallout games were top-down RPGs with a dedicated fan base but when Interplay Entertainment went bankrupt and closed down series developer Black Isle Studios in the early 2000s, it looked like Fallout 3 would never see the light of day (Black Isle was in the midst of developing the game when they were shut down). Bethesda Softworks, best known for the Elder Scrolls RPG series at that time, stepped in, bought the Fallout license, and began developing a new version of Fallout 3 from scratch. Fans were naturally worried about how the game would turn out given the change in development duties but when Fallout 3 was finally released in 2008, Bethesda’s version blew everyone away.
Set in post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C., Fallout 3 took the first-person perspective of its most recent game, The Elder Scrolls IV: Obilivion, and crafted an immersive, gigantic RPG experience that shared the same tone and style of the earlier games but in a much different overall package. Fallout 3 won numerous game of the year awards and made the series a mainstream hit. Although Bethesda’s most recent title, Fallout 4, was a disappointment in certain ways, it’s clear that the series remains in good hands and I personally can’t wait to see how Fallout 5 turns out.
10. X-Com: Enemy Unknown
The X-Com series began life as a PC game called UFO: Enemy Unknown. Released in 1994, the game’s intense turn-based strategy action earned it a dedicated following and a number of sequels over the rest of the decade, but the franchise went on a long hiatus until Firaxis Games’ 2012 reboot Enemy Unknown. Enemy Unknown earned high praise from critics and fans alike for both giving reverence to the older games while also modernizing X-Com’s more archaic systems, such as streamlining soldier movement and actions, and winning, intricate map design. Really though, the best thing that can be said for X-Com: Enemy Unknown is that it filled a long-standing void in gaming: strategy gameplay with consequences, and it’s no surprise that the reboot has already received a large expansion and proper sequel.
9. Ninja Gaiden
Challenging, fast-paced 3rd person action games were all the rage in the early 2000s thanks to games like Devil May Cry and God of War. Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden also fit this description but unlike those other games, this one was actually a reboot of a long-running franchise. The early Ninja Gaiden were great 2D action-platformers on the NES, but Team Ninja’s 2004 reboot, simply titled Ninja Gaiden, showed everyone that the series could successfully make the jump to 3D.
Team Ninja spent five years developing Ryu Hayabusa’s first 3D adventure and it showed, as the game sported impressive visuals and a deep combat system built around fast-fluid movements and attacks. It was also a very difficult game that demanded quick reflexes and practice, as Ryu could be quickly chopped up by regular enemies if the player was off their game. The Ninja Gaiden reboot spawned two sequels, but 2012’s Ninja Gaiden 3 represented a vast decline in quality compared to the other two; so much so that the series could arguably use another reboot to get back on track.
As you’ll see with a few other games on this list, when a publisher puts out a reboot with an identical title as that franchise’s debut game, you know it’s the real deal. Such is the case with Bethesda’s 2016 DOOM revival, which took on the same name as the 1993 original in an effort to refocus the brand return the franchise to its roots. Of course, first-person shooter design has changed dramatically since 1993, so the team at id Software couldn’t just re-release a carbon copy and call it a day.
Instead, id essentially adopted a design philosophy that posed the question “What would Doom look like if it were released in 2016?” and ran wild with it, crafting a delightfully violent, action-packed shooter that put the emphasis on player empowerment, The reboot gives you dozens of awesome weapons to murder demon spawn with and throws you into thrilling combat arenas where constant movement, brutal takedowns, and just generally adopting the persona of a nigh-unstoppable space marine are essential for survival. Proof that DOOM still has a place in the pantheon of great shooters, this is a reboot that was hard for any old school shooter fan to resist.
7. Wolfenstein: The New Order
As already mentioned, id Software’s DOOM reboot was touted by many as one of 2016’s best games and a model for how to resurrect a classic franchise, but it’s easy to forget that developer Machine Games did the exact same thing two years prior with 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, which remains one of this generation’s best first-person shooters. Featuring a retro-style design with a modern polish, Wolfenstein took a risk by not featuring any multiplayer whatsoever, but it ended up being the right decision. Machine Games focused entirely on crafting an engaging single player campaign and what a campaign it was! The New Order was old school in all the right ways, with returning protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz able to switch between about a dozen different weapons and single-handedly take on hundreds of Nazis over the course of the game’s 16 chapters.
And while the story isn’t award-worthy by any stretch, it’s still very engaging, thanks in large part to its alternate history setting, in which the Nazis have already won World War II and now control Europe. Further proof that retro design sensibilities can be successfully married with modern conventions, Wolfenstein: The New Order proved so successful that it spawned a sequel that was just as good, with 2017’s Wolfenstein: The New Colossus digging even deeper into the original game’s alternate vision of a world overrun by the Nazi regime.
6. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
You could put Ocarina of Time in this slot as well for being the first 3D Zelda game, but I feel like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the franchise’s most significant reboot moment to date because it not only reinvigorated the Zelda brand, but pushed the open world genre forward as a whole. While every Nintendo-produced Zelda game has achieved a level of quality many series can only dream of, it was clear by 2011’s Skyward Sword that the series was becoming a bit formulaic and needed a reset of some sort. Enter Breath of the Wild, which helped move millions of Nintendo Switch consoles in March 2017 thanks to its expansive reinterpretation of the series’ traditional setting of Hyrule and a level of freedom nearly unmatched in similar video games.
Unlike past Zelda games, which essentially guided the player along through a series of dungeons up the inevitable final battle with Ganon, you could largely ignore the main quest in Breath of the Wild and opt to just go on your own adventure. Although some fans were not as pleased with the change in direction as others, Breath of the Wild has been largely championed as a masterpiece and one of the greatest Zelda games ever made. I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a pretty successful reboot.
5. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Prince of Persia began life as a well-regarded 2D platformer created by Jordan Mechner and released for the Apple II in 1989. After a few sequels, the franchise was eventually picked up by Ubisoft and Mechner was bought in to help create a reboot that ended up becoming Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Featuring a switch to a third-person perspective, Sands of Time took the precision platforming of earlier Prince of Persia games to the next level thanks to its wonderful mechanics (still some of the best wall-running I’ve ever seen in a game) and brilliant time-reversing mechanic, which allow you to correct fatal errors as you navigate the game’s hazardous environmental puzzles.
As if that wasn’t enough, Sands of Time also had a fun, if somewhat shallow combat system and an affecting story anchored by two charming leads: the overly proud, but heroic Prince and the strong-willed Farah. The Sands of Time was so good, in fact, that Ubisoft has not managed to release another Prince of Persia game since that lives up to it. Perhaps another reboot is in order?
4. Tomb Raider
Lara Croft has been one of gaming’s most popular heroines since making her debut in the mid-90s but by the late 2000s, the Tomb Raider series was running out of gas and in clear need of a refresh. Drawing inspiration from the Uncharted series – a franchise that itself owes a debt to the older Tomb Raider games – as well as a number of third-person action games, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics went back to square one with a full reboot in 2013. Featuring a young Lara on her first adventure, Tomb Raider was as much a survival tale as it was about exploring ancient tombs, as Lara must fight for her life and gain the skills necessary to survive after her and her team of explorers are shipwrecked on a remote island teeming with evil cultists. With fast and fluid gunplay, thrilling platforming, and light RPG elements,
3. Grand Theft Auto III
One of the most groundbreaking video games ever made, Grand Theft Auto III not only successfully “rebooted” the GTA brand by transitioning from a top-down to third-person perspective, but helped create the open world sandbox genre as we know it today. The Grand Theft Auto series had been popular in its original form on PlayStation, but it was clear that the games’ top-down perspective and the limited three-dimensional capabilities of the PS One hardware limited what Rockstar Games could do with their crime sandbox. With the move to the PlayStation 2 and the adoption of the RenderWare engine, Rockstar was able to move the series fully into 3D and never looked back.
While extremely dated by today’s standards, GTA III was a technical marvel upon release thanks to its large open city environment and free-roaming design, which meant there were hardly any load times once you were in and playing. Each successive main series entry would build upon GTA III’s foundation, but this is the title that took Rockstar to the next level and pushed the video game medium forward as a whole.
2. Metroid Prime
Following up one of the greatest Super Nintendo games ever made would be an intimidating task for any developer and the fact that fans had to wait an entire console generation to get a new Metroid game after the masterpiece that was Super Metroid only put more pressure on Retro Studios to deliver with its 2002 Nintendo GameCube title Metroid Prime. It also certainly didn’t help that many fans were not on board with the idea of Metroid being turned into a first-person shooter, so it’s to Retro’s credit that Metroid Prime turned out better than anyone expected it to be.
Taking the same design philosophy as Super Metroid and putting players into the boots of bounty hunter Samus Aran, Metroid Prime offered a bold new step for the franchise that proved hunting space pirates and exploring creepy alien worlds was just as thrilling in three dimensions. Much like Nintendo’s Mario and Zelda franchises before it, the Prime series is now just as well-regarded as the 2D Metroid games and it’s all thanks to Retro’s risk-taking first reboot.
1. God Of War
The most recent title on this list (and the one that inspired it, as a matter of fact), Sony Santa Monica’s God of War for PS4 is the new blueprint for how to successfully reboot a video game franchise as far as I’m concerned. Though each mainline entry in the God of War series received overwhelmingly positive reviews, they were clearly running out of ideas (and gods for protagonist Kratos to butcher) by the time God of War: Ascension was released in 2013.
Going back to the proverbial drawing board, the developers spent five years crafting a new adventure for Kratos that transplants the action from the Greek pantheon to Norse mythology while making fundamental changes to gameplay and story. It’s the latter changes that end up paying off the most, as Kratos’ aggression is toned down significantly as he is paired with his young son Atreus. Really, the game should be called “Dad of War,” as much of the focus is on the central relationship between father and son as they navigate a visually stunning world filled with all manners of mythological threats. A true masterpiece, God of War is arguably the greatest reboot ever made and a must-play for every PS4 owner.