Best of 2012! A Resident Evil? Nintendo’s History of Survival Horror

A look at the Big N’s rocky road with survival horror, and what this means for Wii U.

By Bradly Halestorm. Posted 01/01/2013 15:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

Thus, a generation would go by, and Nintendo would fall out of the survival horror race, conceding to their arch nemesis. Then the new millennium hit, GameCube was ready for action, and the Big N wanted to win back some of those folks who had jumped shipped in the previous console war. So upon release of the Cube, we were handed several survival horror titles, and one of them happened to be a little known gem called Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem.

Now, anyone who’s played this game can probably agree with me when I say what a bizarre little title it was. Seriously, this was survival horror all right, but it was unlike anything people had ever seen before. From famed developer, Silicon Knights, Eternal Darkness really did embody the definition of horror. Though it was much more akin to something like Silent Hill as opposed to Resident Evil in terms of its pure psychological subtext, Eternal Darkness was an M-rated adventure that shocked and captured niche gamers’ hearts thanks to its delightfully deranged story and cast of characters.

Regrettably, it wasn’t a commercial triumph despite its critical success, and I’d like to believe this was due to a multitude of factors, not limited to poor marketing, bad cover art, an ambiguous name, and gamers’ unfair comparison to other successful survival horror franchises. But part of me knows it’s because the people who would normally eat this type of game up weren’t playing GameCube. They were fully engaged in an adulterous affair with their Xbox and PlayStation 2s. You can’t tell me that Eternal Darkness would not have been a bigger success if it was released as a multi-platform title…

But that didn’t stop Nintendo. They were determined to show gamers they could deliver the goods for this genre, and so GameCube received several exclusive Resident Evil titles. Capcom churned out the fantastic Resident Evil: Remake, Resident Evil 0, and then re-released Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3, and Code Veronica X all on Nintendo’s blackbox of fun-loving goodness. Sadly, though, it was all in vain, as gamers seemed to take a “too little, too late” attitude, and insisted that they had already played most of those games on more “mature” systems like the PSX, DreamCast, or PS2– not to mention the gaming industry at the time didn’t have the same hoopla of re-make madness as most of them were still pumping out original IPs back then, but I digress. It wasn’t until Resident Evil 4 was released exclusively (at the time, anyway) for GameCube that people’s ears perked up and they began to take notice.

Resident Evil 4 Screenshot

As many will be aware, Resident Evil 4 put Nintendo back on the map for survival horror. Fans flocked to their dust-covered machines– or rushed out to buy new ones– just so they could play Capcom’s irrefutable masterpiece. Resident Evil 4, though dropping many of the series’ conventional means of play, won over so many gamers that I’d like to believe numerous people thought Nintendo had something to do with it. After all, for the longest time RE4 was only available on GameCube, and I think people started cutting the Big N some slack in this regard. Of course, this building reputation would be destroyed years later by Wii’s undeniable mountain of shovelware, but for the time being, gamers (and Nintendo) had confidence in themselves that the company who paved the way for gaming was back in the saddle and a serious contender in the survival horror world of games.

At this point, Nintendo should have taken the ball and ran with it when Wii launched. Initially it looked positive: Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, Darkside Chronicles, and Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition kicked things off to a strong start, and then… there was nothing. Wii, suddenly overrun with games meant for families, became an arid void for gamers wanting to satisfy that very particular survival horror itch, and Nintendo once again slid back into the shadow of their former self. It didn’t help that miserable games like Ju-On: The Grudge, Obscure: The Aftermath, and Calling managed to scare even more gamers away, but even excellent titles like Cursed Mountain and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories were merely too late for the party. The perception that Wii was anything but a machine designed to fulfil that horror need was insurmountable, even if it was a complete misconception.

Of course, another factor playing its part here is the fact that the genre itself has been steadily declining over the past few years. Wii wasn’t the only console lacking these titles, you know– no one had any, and as fans have begun to need more action-orientated games to maintain their attention, these games have gone on life support across the spectrum. This, coupled with Nintendo’s difficulty to sustain any kind of decent audience for these games, makes it clear that there’s a real problem with the genre’s survival going forward (see what I did there?).

Nevertheless, Nintendo has always fought an uphill battle on this front. They have worked hard to convince fans that they have the good stuff for all kinds of gamers, “core” included, but while I think Nintendo is often unfairly criticized in this area, I can’t deny that they have never been known for providing fulfilling survival horror games. But with their newfound focus on reclaiming the hearts of hardcore gamers, and with Wii U coming out the gates with what looks to be an excellent and whole heartedly true-to-form survival horror game, I’m optimistic that their previous trials and tribulations can be amended.

ZombiU screenshot 2

Nintendo has an opportunity to revive the genre here, simply because no one else is trying to. With more and more developers seemingly being struck down with Michael Bay syndrome, focusing their efforts on hard-hitting action and big explosions, Nintendo’s console can be a place where gamers come to indulge in the more methodical side of horror– the visceral, humanistic side that requires thought, planning, and serious guts to make it out alive. ZombiU encompasses all of that, and to that end, seems to also capture the very essence of why we fell in love with Resident Evil all those years ago. And let’s not forget the GamePad either, which also presents us with a unique instrument that only adds to the tension, atmosphere, and immersion of a post-living world. It really does feel like a proper survival tool, yet again showing us that we have to work to survive; it’s not just run and gun.

So while the latest Resident Evil 6 looks like a decent enough game, I don’t think we can really call it a survival horror game any more. ZombiU, on the other hand, is a survival horror game through and through, and thus the ultimate question now becomes: can Wii U be the system that resuscitates an entire genre? I think it can, but it’s not a guarantee. It’ll take hard work, a conscious desire to revitalise this dying genre, and a library of games that know and understand how to use all Wii U has to offer to create a dynamic experience not replicated anywhere else. In the end, I suppose we’ll find out whether there’s any truth to these hopes in just a month’s time…

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