With the original Resident Evil, its prequel and Resident Evil 4 all arriving as separate digital releases on the Switch eShop, survival horror fans have a bumper helping of the seminal series’ back catalogue to enjoy on-the-go. North American and Japanese gamers (tough luck, Europe) also have the option of getting two of those games on a physical cartridge. Well, sort of.
While Resident Evil 4 will remain digital-only, Resident Evil Origins Collection brings together the original game (in its HD ‘REmake’ guise) with the prequel, Resident Evil 0 – the same physical pairing that occurred when these ports were originally released on other platforms a few years back. Putting aside the question of whether two of something is really a ‘collection’, the immediate issue for anyone purchasing the cart is that it actually only contains the prequel – you’ll need to download all 14.4 gigabytes of Resident Evil using a code in the box.
That’s right; Capcom’s pulling the same shady trick it did with the Revelations Collection, so 0 and the original Revelations are currently the only Resident Evils with a physical release on Switch in spite of what it says on the box, so bear that in mind if you’re hoping to save system memory space.
If there’s a silver lining to this Capcom-shaped cloud, it’s that you have time to delve into the prequel and – perhaps – gain a new appreciation for it while the game you probably bought the cart for is downloading. In direct comparison to the original, it is the weaker game, but in the context of the wider series – with a finite number of ‘classic-style’ entries before Resident Evil 4 switched the formula – its reputation as an also-ran requires reassessment.
Resident Evil 0 is an attractive, nail-biting romp that remains interesting even when it’s not quite hitting the high notes of its predecessor(s). With a story that fills gaps that never really needed filling, this probably isn’t the best entry for non-fans to start with, but arguably provides a gentler ‘onboarding’ than the original game by virtue of its initial setting. Simply put, it’s tough to get lost on a train. Switching out a labyrinthine mansion for the 3:10 to Umbrella Corp. lets you find your feet with combat and inventory management before you’re set loose in the mansion. No, not that mansion. That one’s still downloading...
Following Resident Evil 0's tight train-based opening, the following areas offer solid on-brand gameplay and there’s plenty of traditional puzzling and combat to enjoy, provided you're down with its old-school mechanics and a little monotony. Puzzles are suitably nonsensical; the series is built on 'B-movie' sensibilities and has never been overly concerned with things like ‘logic’, so criticising it for being silly is missing the point. You should be aware, though, that 0 takes the series' particular brand of nonsense and really runs with it.
Escaped convict Billy Coen and rookie S.T.A.R.S. member Rebecca Chambers are decent enough company for the ride as they team up to fight through a variety of undead enemies – some familiar, some new, some undeniably silly. The game was sold on its co-op mechanic, but in practice, it isn’t as revolutionary as you might think. The second character often functions purely as another facet of your inventory to manage and switching between characters isn’t radically different from using just one.
REmake still downloading, is it? In that game you stash your gear in trunks for later retrieval – these don’t exist in Resident Evil 0 but items can be dropped and picked up later. You’ll spend a lot of time in the menu screen managing your resources, just as you do in the original – exchanging, dropping and combining items. Unfortunately, there’s no touchscreen support in either title on Switch – a missed quality-of-life enhancement that we hoped to see given the price point of these rereleases.
Both games share dual 'tank' and analogue controls. Classic controls feel clunky in a modern context, but non-tank input introduces its own problems. Say the camera is positioned at the start of a corridor; you push up and see Billy’s back as he moves away. Cut to the opposite end of the corridor with Billy now walking towards the camera, but you’re still pushing up. He’ll continue in the same direction until you let go of the stick, at which point it resets to the new perspective, meaning you have to pull back on the stick to continue moving in the same direction.
When areas get more complicated and your view shifts more frequently, it’s easy to find yourself flailing back-and-forth between views, with zombies descending on you. There’s some comedy to the frustration and panic, and the analogue controls let you avoid incoming threats more adeptly than the original tank inputs, but it’s a perfect example of how these games stubbornly refuses modernisation. Finicky item detection gets irritating, too – you can be standing right next to an object and repeatedly fail to pick it up. New players might feel like they’re fighting ‘the game’ as much as the undead.
0 is presented very cleanly and actually looks sharper than its sister game, boasting improved fire effects and other visual enhancements. The motion of the train causes objects to roll in some carriages – a small detail, but one that stands out in after the usual static environments of the series. Players have the option to play in the original 4:3 mode should they chose – the aspect ratio of the original remakes.
From a gameplay perspective, Resident Evil 0 is very much more of the same and is a less successful take on the template, despite some interesting ideas and fun moments. If you fall into the camp that prefers the pre-RE4 style, though, this is a solid ‘one of those’ and worth (re)investigating, especially if you’re invested in the lore. The Leech Hunter and Wesker Modes which open up upon completion offer a fun respite after the toil of the main campaign, too.
*Notification pops up* Ah! Resident Evil has finally downloaded. Affectionately known as 'REmake' in its GameCube guise, this HD version is essentially the same wonderful ‘paint-over’ we saw seventeen (count ‘em) years ago following the exploits of Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine as they search for the remnants of S.T.A.R.S. Bravo team in the Arklay Mountains and come across a creepy mansion.
The game expertly balances your resources to elicit a feeling of dread that you won’t be able to deal with the next menacing threat; that you’re operating at the very edge of your abilities. Key-slot puzzles that might otherwise be elementary turn epic as you traipse around the mansion with limited inventory slots and limited faith in your skills, searching for a crest or clue you’ve overlooked. Horror fiends will love every dreadful minute.
The expectations of series veterans are cleverly subverted at certain points. Preparing yourself for a jump scare you remember from the original (or, perhaps, the Nintendo DS version), you might find that nothing happens, and just when you relax original director Shinji Mikami throws a curveball to keep you on your toes. The game still looks pretty phenomenal on Switch, with handheld mode again helping to soften and blend all the elements of the image. Character animation is noticeably simpler than you might expect these days, but considering the comical incongruities the controls introduce, those quirks must be accepted as part-and-parcel of the experience. On the whole, Resident Evil is still an extremely effective exercise in survival horror.
It’s got its foibles, though, and they form the very fabric of both games in this collection. Their mechanics have aged terribly in many respects, but the aged and obtuse bits can't be extricated without making a completely different beast. Those systems are integral - like the verb menu of a classic adventure game - and can't simply be stripped out or streamlined. The way games treat inventory management, movement and aiming has evolved dramatically over the years, and while the old ways aren’t necessarily ‘bad’, they are certainly unfashionable right now. Give it a decade, though and perhaps they’ll be back in vogue.
The first Resident Evil remains a classic of the genre. In many ways it is – and can only ever be – a product of its time, though. Even when tuned and honed and buffed to perfection, it has its own idiosyncratic personality and ways; change them and you change the game. Series veterans will know what to expect, but new players should prepare themselves for a schooling in game mechanics which have largely fallen out of fashion. The same applies to Resident Evil 0, and while the original game is the obvious draw here, the prequel deserves another look, especially for fans who skipped it. Both games look great on Switch and the ability to play on-the-go helps alleviate some of the frustrations inherent to their old-fashioned systems, giving them the best possible opportunity to win you over in a modern context. Capcom's shady cart-based practices aside, there’s ultimately no better way to sample that original survival horror formula in 2019, provided you’ve got the stomach - and the space on your system memory - for it.