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Welcome to the Survival Horror

The History of the Resident Evil Series on Nintendo Systems

by Pedro Hernandez - March 19, 2011, 12:56 pm PDT

The Resident Evil legacy has spread on Nintendo systems as wide as the T-Virus.

In technicality, the first incarnation ever of the Resident Evil series saw a home first on Sony’s PlayStation console. However, if you look back at the history of the franchise as a whole, its inspiration lies deep within the existence of the Famicom (as the NES was known in Japan). The game in question is Sweet Home, released in 1989.


A simultaneous release with the movie of the same name, they tell the story of an investigative news team who decide to enter the Mamiya household, which is rumored to be haunted, in order to find frescos. The rumors soon turn into a horrific reality as they must survive the wrath of the spirit of Lady Mamiya and the dangers of the mansion.

The Famicom title has often been dubbed the great grandfather of survival horror games, employing many tricks that would later become synonymous not just with the Resident Evil franchise but the genre as a whole. Players must balance their characters, because once they are dead, they are dead for good. Using their skills evenly and navigating through the mansion were some of the highlights of the gameplay. Sweet Home is also notable for being one of the goriest Famicom titles in existence, featuring scenes of bloody dismemberment and characters melting into nothingness.

Sweet Home laid the horrific path that Resident Evil would proudly follow

Shinji Mikami, the creator of the Resident Evil series, was commissioned to design a game that would be similar to Sweet Home in theme, setting, and gameplay. The ambitious project combined the zombies of George Romero’s movies and the haunting atmosphere of Sweet Home, giving birth to Resident Evil. The game features S.T.A.R.S members investigating mysterious murders taking place around the fictional city of Raccoon City. One night they are attacked by a group of rabid dogs that send them running towards a mysterious mansion. As they explore it, they soon uncover that it is inhabited by zombies and other genetic mutations, all part of a conspiracy created by the pharmaceutical corporation Umbrella. Not only must playable characters Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine  expose the truth to the world, they must escape the mansion once and for all.

As previously stated, the first Resident Evil game was released for the PlayStation. This was due to the system’s ease of development as well as its disc system that allowed developers to extensively use voice clips and full motion video. Due to the restraints of the Nintendo 64 hardware, the system wouldn’t see a Resident Evil game until years later.

The Gameboy Color wasn't enough to hold Resident Evil's ambitions

That’s not to say that Capcom didn’t try to bring the first Resident Evil game onto a Nintendo system. Oddly enough, one of the first experiments in porting Resident Evil was a failed attempt on the Gameboy Color. The handheld exclusive title would have re-created the PlayStation original, right down to in-game cutscenes, short voice samples and more. The game in its preview form was visually stunning, but several hurdles such as glitch-ridden gameplay prevented it from seeing a worldwide release.

A graphical update made the original Resident Evil that much disturbing to play

In 2001, just after Nintendo unveiled the Gamecube to the world as the successor of the N64, Capcom surprised everyone by announcing a system-exclusive remake. This was part of an agreement Nintendo had with Capcom that would yield many titles, some of them Resident Evil games. While the story and gameplay remained largely the same, Resident Evil gained a stunning visual upgrade that upped the haunting aspect and disturbing atmosphere. It also presented gamers with upgraded voice acting (one of the most infamous elements of the original title) and cutscenes. In Capcom tradition, the remake was re-released on Wii as a direct port with Wii Remote functionality as part of the “Resident Evil Archives” collection.

What was once an impossibility became a reality with Deadly Silence

Despite a failed attempt at a handheld Resident Evil game on the Gameboy Color, that didn’t stop Capcom from giving it a second try with the Nintendo DS. With the system offering far better technical capabilities, Capcom released Resident Evil: Deadly Silence in 2006. A port of the PS original, Deadly Silence implemented several uses of the DS’s technology, most notably the touch screen for first person knife fights. It also gave players the chance to play the original game untouched or the expanded version which included puzzles and levels, also created with the DS technology in mind.

With the great success of the first Resident Evil game, Capcom quickly got to work with the sequel. With a release in 1998, Resident Evil 2 surpassed the original game in terms of horror and challenge as players took control of Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield and survived the zombie infestation in Raccoon City. The sequel quickly garnered critical appraise from fans and the media alike thanks to a story that was more intense and gameplay that kept the tension intact but with some improvements in its core mechanics.

The highly beloved sequel made history as the first Resident Evil game to grace a Nintendo system

Much like its predecessor, Resident Evil 2 was first released on the PlayStation. But unlike the first game, the sequel eventually made an appearance on the N64. This happened on Halloween of 1999, making it the first time the series had a presence on a Nintendo system. What was impressive about this release is that it surpassed the technical obstacles the previous game could never take on, featuring surround sound, the original FMV intact, as well as all of the voice acting.

When Capcom announced the exclusivity agreement with Nintendo in 2001, they promised that all of the Resident Evil games would appear on the Nintendo systems. Resident Evil 2 was released once more, this time for the GameCube, in 2003. The game, however, was just a direct port of the original PS game, lacking the visual and gameplay enhancements the first Resident Evil game got on the GameCube.

A rare look at the N64 version of Resident Evil 0

Right after the release of Resident Evil 2 on the N64, Capcom announced that they were working on an N64 exclusive game that would be tied into the storyline. Titled Resident Evil 0, the game starred Rebecca Chambers and newcomer Billy Coen, a former United States Marine convicted of murder. The two of them are left stranded on a train filled with infected zombies and creatures. With the N64’s successor, the GameCube, on the horizon, though, development on the game was halted, and then moved to the GameCube. Using the same graphical style of the Resident Evil remake, Resident Evil 0’s main claim to fame is that players could take control of both Rebecca and Billy and alternate between them in order to help them survive. Resident Evil 0 was later ported to the Wii and included as part of the “Resident Evil Archives” collection.

Players returned to Racoon City in order to experience Jill's side of the story

In 1999, Capcom released the third game, titled Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. It took place once again on Raccoon City, but players instead took control of Jill Valentine from the first game in a side story separate from the Resident Evil 2 storyline. Once more, the game saw its first release on the PSone, avoiding the N64 completely. The GameCube, however, saw a direct port in 2003, unchanged much like Resident Evil 2.

Claire Redfield embarks on her own adventure in Code Veronica

Throughout 1999, Capcom kept teasing the release of the fourth Resident Evil game, Resident Evil: Code Veronica. Being different from the norm, however, this game would be an exclusive release on the Sega Dreamcast. The teaser trailers saw Claire Redfield in a prison island, fighting off zombies in stunning graphical detail. The Dreamcast release hit shelves in 2000. Due to the demise of the system early on, Capcom ported the game to the PlayStation 2 in the form of Resident Evil: Code Veronica X, bringing it back to the system line that saw its birth. In 2003, Code Veronica was finally released on the GameCube. The version released was the updated PS2 version.

Many changes later, Resident Evil 4 became an instant classic

During the announcement of the Resident Evil remake as a Nintendo exclusive, Capcom mentioned the fact that the fifth Resident Evil game, known today as Resident Evil 4, would be a GameCube exclusive. Throughout the years after its initial announcement, Capcom released many trailers, showing many changes to the gameplay and its settings. The Resident Evil 4 that we know today was finally released at the beginning of 2005. Starring Leon Kennedy from Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 4 saw a significant change in gameplay mechanics, switching from the tank like controls of previous titles to a third-person action game system that provided smoother aiming. The story was also different, dealing away with the traditional zombies and presenting us with infected villagers that were faster, smarter and deadlier.

Resident Evil 4 became the critical darling of 2005, labeled as one of the best improvements the series ever saw and was commercially successful. But as tradition would dictate, that same year Capcom ported the game over to the PS2. In 2007, Resident Evil 4 returned to a Nintendo console, the Wii. Released as a budget title, Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition featured updated controls that made use of the Wii Remote’s functionalities, as well as the special content originally seen on the PS2 version. Many marked it as being the definitive version of the game to own.

Such infamous was this game that it was discarded out of the series' canon

There were several spin-off games released exclusively on Nintendo systems. Perhaps the most infamous of all, Resident Evil: Gaiden was released exclusively for the Game Boy Color in late 2001. Starring Leon Kennedy and Barry Burton, one of the main characters from the first game, Gaiden took place aboard a luxury cruise liner. The title was critically panned and was seen as a commercial failure. Gaiden is also considered to be non-canon in the entirety of the Resident Evil storyline.

Players experienced the classic stories through an exciting new perspective

When Capcom announced Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition in 2007, they also announced a brand new game designed exclusively with the Wii in mind. Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles was an on-rails shooting game that explored the previous stories in the series while adding alternate scenarios within the plot. Gamers were wary of it as previous spin-off titles were of mixed quality at best. When Umbrella Chronicles was released gamers and critics were surprised by the quality of the title and how well it told the story. Umbrella Chronicles features levels based on Resident Evil, Resident Evil 0, and Resident Evil 3, along with a new scenario taking place in Umbrella’s Russian headquarters.

The sequel featured less stories to cover, but they were expanded upon significantly

A year later, a sequel for this game was announced: The Darkside Chronicles. It was eventually released in 2009. Just like its predecessor it retells key story elements in the Resident Evil saga through new scenarios. This time around, Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica were the featured games. The events were tied together with a new scenario starring Leon Kennedy and Jack Krauser that took place in South America.

The allure of the Nintendo 3DS attracted not one but two Resident Evil titles. The first of these is Resident Evil: Revelations. Based on early preview footage, gameplay will be similar to the recent games, such as Resident Evil 4 and 5, except that the camera will switch to a first person perspective when using a weapon. The prowess of the 3DS allowed Capcom to develop the game using the MT Framework engine used on their HD titles, making sure the handheld title looks and feels just like its recent console brethren.

The second 3DS title is Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D. The game is a multiplayer effort based on the multiplayer modes in Resident Evil 4 and 5. The objective behind the game is to defeat as many enemies as possible before the timer runs out. Capcom has confirmed that Mercenaries 3D will feature co-op online multiplayer, and many characters from the franchise, including Ada Wong, Barry Burton and more, will be playable.

The Resident Evil franchise may not have seen birth exclusively on a Nintendo system, but its legacy quickly spread like the T-Virus it so famously features. Whether it’s a re-telling of a classic story or a brand new side to the Umbrella conspiracy, Nintendo players experienced the joys and horrors of taking down zombies and monsters in many forms and mediums.



OblivionMarch 17, 2011

Was the series ever that scary? I've heard the first three are, but I guess that sort of thing is subjective.

My first experience with the game was with the GC remake, which I rented. I hated it so much that it led to me ignoring all the praise of RE4 until I played a friend's copy of the Wii version.

pandaradoxMarch 17, 2011

The unfortunate part of Resident Evil is that you had to be there at the time of the game's release.  These games have a hard time standing the test of time because the stuff introduced in each gets copied, compromising originality and the experience.  When I played RE 1 on the saturn, I was thoroughly impressed with the danger of the game and it's great sense of atmosphere.  When I went back to play the remake, it only held it's own because I had the perspective of the first game to relate back to and those feelings were still very much engrained in me.  If you weren't there, you simply missed out.  This is why RE 4 probably resonated with you much more because it's not as old.  It's the whole great conversation and whatnot that can skew the context that each iteration needs to be taken in. 

NWR_pap64Pedro Hernandez, Contributing WriterMarch 17, 2011

I remember watching the first Resident Evil game being played around and I'll be honest, I thought it was pretty disturbing and scary. It was the first game of its kind for me. I mean, that first zombie you see in the first game actually impressed me. Note this was before zombies were EVERYWHERE in the media, so the rarity of the creature made it that much fascinating and disturbing to watch.

I didn't have a PlayStation, but I did have a Gamepro subscription so I learned a lot about the series. I finally managed to play the third game thanks to my cousins, and it was really fun. The game startled me, but I still had fun.

The problem, I think, the RE series has now is that zombies are no longer scary. They are now overused to the point where they are no longer appealing. I think it was smart of them to change them for RE 4.

ShyGuyMarch 17, 2011

RE4 had the Regenerators, which were their own kind of disturbing.


NWR_pap64Pedro Hernandez, Contributing WriterMarch 17, 2011

Quote from: ShyGuy

RE4 had the Regenerators, which were their own kind of disturbing.


It also had some of the most disturbing deaths in any game to date. :O

TJ SpykeMarch 18, 2011

Like with insano, my first time playing a RE game was with the GameCube remake (and that was because of how great EGM made it sound). However, I liked the game and found it really fun.

NWR_pap64Pedro Hernandez, Contributing WriterMarch 18, 2011

The next page of the feature is up, Andy Goergen remembers his experience with the Resident Evil Remake:

RazorkidMarch 18, 2011

When I was in high school, I didn't know anything about this game. I remember watching my friend play the first RE during a sleep over on playstation and it scared the crap outta me. For one, the graphics were incredible at the time, and I've never played or watched a game up to that point which was intentionally trying to scare you!

Also, I too miss being able to seclude myself and just get lost in hours upon hours of gaming (breaking only to eat and go to the bathroom).

oohhboyHong Hang Ho, Staff AlumnusMarch 18, 2011

I don't think the RE games have ever been scary. Startling yes, disturbing yes, cool yes, but never scary. The last time I saw something scary on TV was back when I was 5 and saw bits Aliens. I don't doubt it would be scary for people with much weaker mental constitution.

There is a game I have, but I don't play. It's called Penumbra. I watched a LP of it and quite frankly I don't want to play it. Not because the gameplay is bad or graphics are terrible. I dread the helplessness and isolation that game instills the player. I wouldn't even call it survival horror, just plain Horror. There are extremely limited ways to fight back which don't even exists in the sequel. In a way, it is the ultimate stealth game, but you have to run most of the time. You have to break your instincts as a gamer that you can just kill everything or you can always fight back.

That said, I don't ever want RE to be like that. It's not what RE is about. RE always has fight or flight, but has always leaned heavily towards fight.

RazorkidMarch 18, 2011

Yeah, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is like that. It's from the same developer and is a game that just terrorizes you the whole way.  I mean you are keyed up! And of course, there is no combat (the best element to make any game 10X scarier).

NWR_pap64Pedro Hernandez, Contributing WriterMarch 19, 2011

The next page of the feature is up, the history of the RE series on Nintendo consoles, written by me:

TansunnMarch 19, 2011

What are these "multiplayer modes in Resident Evil 4" you speak of? 

And why do the screenshot thumbnails, except for the first one and the last two, bring up pictures of kittens when clicked?

NWR_pap64Pedro Hernandez, Contributing WriterMarch 19, 2011

Are the pictures of kittens from Nintendogs + Cats? If so, yeah, the HTML coding I used had those pictures. Regarding the RE 4 multiplayer mode, I meant to say the "Mercenary Modes", though I could have sworn there was a Mercenary mode that had some form of multiplayer. I;ll fix those as soon as the page itself goes back to normal.

There will be multiplayer in the 3DS version of Mercenaries. Boy, do I WISH RE4 Mercs had multiplayer.

TenserMarch 19, 2011

Great read Pedro.

Sweet Home is an excellent game. I've completed it three times myself and it really shows the roots of Resident Evil. One of the notes near the balcony even loosely translates to the mansion as a house of residing evil.

Anyone who enjoys difficult, exploration base, old-school RPGs should check it out.

pandaradoxMarch 29, 2011

Quote from: oohhboy

I don't think the RE games have ever been scary. Startling yes, disturbing yes, cool yes, but never scary. The last time I saw something scary on TV was back when I was 5 and saw bits Aliens. I don't doubt it would be scary for people with much weaker mental constitution....

...That said, I don't ever want RE to be like that. It's not what RE is about. RE always has fight or flight, but has always leaned heavily towards fight.

Interesting way to look at it.  It's not necessarily weaker mental constitution.  I grew up watching horror films and thrillers of the sort.  My father would wait for tense moments and randomly yell to scare us (note: he's a good father, just a joker too).  So naturally, I became calloused to the genre.  The great thing about video games is that they ask you to forfeit yourself in light of the game's protagonist.  One of the biggest appeals of a game is to become someone else and not just passively experience that.  You get to be Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine.  Your responses are now theirs and you are in charge of their lives. 

If anything, this is asking a stronger mental constitution...

RE wants you to fight, that's how it's designed.  While it tries to intimidate and scare you, it gives you the ability to fight back, which is unique given that horror films bank on the feeling of helplessness as characters run and as the audience can only watch.  Jason would be a lot less scary if you were put in control of the characters and given multiple retries and weapons to fight back with.  That sense of empowerment is important for the series.  It's Survival. It's your imagination that changes the game.  Weaker minds would have trouble getting into it.  Accepting the reality of the game.  That is what makes RE fans come back.  They choose that world.

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