Feature: Resident Evil's Nintendo History

Undead on the big N, past, present and future

The claustrophobic darkness. The creeping undead. The hideous monsters. The Resident Evil series has brought such thrills and chills to our TVs since 1996, and it’s taken quite a unique path when it comes to Nintendo consoles. With the month of All Hallows’ Eve upon us, we decided to take a look at where the series has been and where it could go on the Big N’s platforms.

First Moans

Resident Evil first debuted on the Sony PlayStation, and for a long time, it seemed like it would stay there. Its emphasis on horror, use of video footage and mature content just didn’t seem like a match for the Nintendo 64, with its abundance of family-friendly games. How could Yoshi’s Story share a console with the Tyrant?

But in 1999, that all changed when Capcom hired Angel Studios, as well as a few other production companies, to port Resident Evil 2 to the Nintendo 64. With some programming magic, the team was able to compress the huge game and its many videos from its original CD format to a 512 Mb cart with only tell-tale signs of shrinkage. It also included surround sound support, additional documentation in the form of the EX files, new costumes and more. This was thanks in no small part to the series’ signature pre-rendered backgrounds, allowing great levels of graphical detail without the slowdown. And to keep the game from tarnishing the N64’s family-friendly image, players could change the level and colour of gore as much as they wanted.

Small-Screen Woes

With its foot in the door, Capcom settled on its next project for a Nintendo console – a completely new, original and exclusive story title starring Barry Burton. Unfortunately, the platform that the company chose was the Game Boy Color, which is not exactly known for its ability to create spooky ambience.

Resident Evil Gaiden featured top-down adventuring with first-person fight scenes that popped up whenever the zombies got too close, having you match up your attack button presses with a timed reticule. It tried its best within the system’s limits, but it was still widely criticised for unimaginative puzzles, bad audio and everything else you can imagine that could go wrong in transitioning Resident Evil to the handheld.

And let's not forget about the cancelled GBC port of the original Resident Evil, which Capcom put out of its misery before it hit store shelves thanks to a low quality experience. Just watch the video below and you'll know why this virus never spread.

REmake

The team hugely expanded the game world, incorporated health-affected running, revamped the voice acting and more for an experience that the company stated was 70% different from the original.

Capcom solidified its presence on Nintendo consoles with one of the most widely acclaimed titles in the series, a 2002 GameCube exclusive remake of the original PlayStation release simply titled Resident Evil. But this was no ordinary re-release. The team hugely expanded the game world, incorporated health-affected running, revamped the voice acting and more for an experience that the company stated was 70% different from the original.

New storyline elements, alternate endings and additional modes all made appearances, but one of the most memorable new features were the new and terrifying Crimson Heads. After killing a zombie, if you didn’t burn its body up with gasoline – adding yet another gameplay element – the enemy would re-awaken with more health and strength than ever before. And these weren’t witless stumbling creatures; they ran full speed at your character for a truly frightening experience.

The entire game spanned two discs and was considered by many as a must-have. It also whet fans’ appetites for what was to come – surely with this success, Capcom would at least remake Resident Evil 2 as well?

Looking Back, Leaping Forward

A few months after REmake came the second in a Nintendo-Capcom exclusivity deal, Resident Evil 0, a prequel that included the first co-op play of the series. Controlling two characters, Rebecca and Billy, you were to switch between them and trigger actions with one that would affect the others’ progress. It also featured a train, and everyone loves trains. While well-reviewed at the time, most remember this as a weaker entry in the series, with slow gameplay, a cooperative mechanic that arguably never reached its full potential and more. It’s still a decent phase of the saga, just nothing groundbreaking.

The third and final part of the exclusivity contract made a much bigger, bloodier splash. After almost ten years of top-down gameplay with claustrophobic tank controls, Resident Evil 4 put the camera behind Agent Leon S. Kennedy’s back, added a more action-packed sense of motion and evolved the series’ foundations into something brand new. It also traded in the moaning undead for a cult-like rural European sect.

Many took issue with the game’s severe departure from the established formula, but few could argue with the fact that this was indeed something truly special and terrifying. The only arguable downside is that while it was touted as a GameCube exclusive upon initial release, it's since seen life on eight other platforms. It changed the course of the series, revitalised a formula that many felt was approaching obsolescence and is still considered the favourite entry of many fans.

Ports, Ports, Ports, Spin-Offs, Ports and Ports

After a triple-dose of GCN Resident Evil goodness, excitement ran high in predicting what Capcom would put out next. Unfortunately, what followed largely failed to live up to expectations, and the very high bar set by REmake and Resident Evil 4 remained more or less untouched. This era also includes the co-op action-oriented Resident Evil 5, which, while a quality game, most agree takes things too far from its horror roots. That title never made it to a Nintendo console.

From this period, at the top of the barrel solidly rests Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition, which added Wii Remote motion-controlled aiming to the already fantastic mix and gave fans a worthy reason to venture through the nightmare again. Another interesting entry is Resident Evil: Deadly Silence, a DS port of the original Resident Evil that suffers by way of some dated design choices.

But beyond that, Capcom saw fit to port its existing titles as-is. Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis and Resident Evil: Code Veronica X were all nice to have on GameCube but felt like missed opportunities in the wake of REmake, while Wii releases of the GCN Resident Evil and Resident Evil 0 as part of the Resident Evil Archives series just felt a bit like overkill.

A number of non-numerical games of a different flavour have also seen life on Nintendo consoles, all of which make for quality titles but feel, to some, more like fun and entertaining stop-gaps before the next entries in the main series. That includes the Wii-exclusive rail shooters The Umbrella Chronicles and The Darkside Chronicles and the 3DS's The Mercenaries 3D, which took a bonus game from 4 and 5 and expanded it into its own single- or multi-player experience.

The Future of Zombies

After the action-oriented Resident Evil 5 failed to meet the horror quota of many of the series' long-time fans, news that the upcoming Resident Evil Revelations for 3DS will take the franchise back into the darkness was well-received. The game will see Chris and Jill explore a "supposedly" abandoned cruise ship, and footage suggests that it aims to find a balance between the more contemporary over-the-shoulder control scheme and the claustrophobic, spooky, zombie-filled atmosphere of Resident Evils of old. Colour us excited.

With the Wii U on the horizon, Capcom has a big opportunity to pull off something great.

But what's next for the franchise? With the Wii U on the horizon, Capcom has a big opportunity to pull off something great. For example, the old camera angle and the new movement style could coexist with some clever dual-screen utilisation. One way of pulling this off would involve going back to the original viewing method, which would no longer seem so restrictive if the player could use the tablet controller to look around. There's also the option of using an over-the-shoulder viewpoint for the handheld screen and a fixed-camera framework for the main display, or vice-versa. This is, of course, in addition to the more obvious improvement of relocating the inventory and map to the controller's touch-screen. And there's still plenty of time left in the 3DS's lifespan: given its current tendency toward remakes, perhaps we'll see a revamped RE2 after all, if not another Chronicles title or a sequel to Revelations.

What do you hope to see from Resident Evil down the line? Will you plan on revisiting any of these games in this most terrifying of months? Or will October 2011 prove the month that you finally see what all of the screaming is about and try a Resident Evil game for the first time? Tell us in the comments below!