Archive for the ‘Now & Then’ Category
Starting today the reboot of Strider hits home consoles and PCs as developer Double Helix attempts to capture the charm that came with the original’s dedicated cult following. When I try to look back at Strider - and yes I grew up playing every version from the arcade at my local bowling alley that was ported to the Genesis along with the completely different NES version – it’s hard to see what exactly needs to be in the new game. Still, there’s no denying the hardcore appeal of this unique and odd addition to classic gaming that justifies looking back for those that didn’t grow up with it.
If you haven’t played it, the original arcade version of Strider is all over the place. There are multiple languages, settings across the globe, massive mechanical ape bosses, and even lead protagonist Hiryu riding on a whale at the end. As one of the pioneer titles of Capcom’s new CP arcade platform – think of it as a cartridge-based cabinet that allowed quick swapping of games with only a few ROM changes – the graphics are indicative of the cartoon style all CP titles shared (ie: Ghouls’n Ghosts, Willow, and of course Final Fight). Graphics aside, the game is also noted for its crazy gameplay that features hanging from walls and ceilings, fighting massive enemies, and reversed gravity. To accompany this eclectic melting pot was an equally frantic soundtrack that covered all the bases from electronic progressive music to ambient classical style. While the soundtrack is uncredited to original composer Junko Tamiya (she also did the solid NES version of Bionic Commando as well as my personal favorite Sweet Home), the original versions of the arcade game didn’t feature the Aerial Battleship or Third Moon stages (replaced instead by the first stage music on a loop) so it can be deduced that someone went back and composed those additional tunes. While the game itself covers a scant five stages that will take the average person probably 60-90 minutes in total (pros can do it in half that time) the high difficulty and game design that was more indicative of home consoles was fresh. Instead of trying to rack up a high score or conquer a single mechanic over and over you were progressing through brutally difficult levels with the carrot on the stick being that provided you could afford to continue as many times as it took, you could see the ending. This is why most people who play it today will either set it to free play on the cabinet or emulator and also explains why the PS1 port flat-out gave you unlimited continues.
I remember playing it when I was about 10 years old and being blown away by the neo future envisioned in the story’s 2048 Soviet dictatorship, indicative of the continuing fear of Cold War oppression and Socialist/Communist popularity. Each sound effect, especially the signature slash sound each time Hiryu swings his sword, had a crisp edge and realism I had not heard before. It was even more impressive that some of these sounds made it into the NES port, which was a technical feat in its own regard. While the plot is very hard to follow, even today, only playing for a few minutes proved that Hiryu, the youngest ever high-tech ninjas known as “Striders”, was a force to be reckoned with. This is counter to the gameplay in that the extreme difficulty and new mechanics meant you would die quite a bit through even the most basic levels of the game. Few titles I’ve ever played master the art of both empowering the player and kicking their butt at the same time, which Strider did in spades. Each stage and even area of a stage was drastically different from the last and I will never forget the large-scale of each boss. Not only that but beating the boss did not always mean the end of the level, especially with regards to the massive gravity sphere that destructed the ship you are on when it was defeated, resulting in a frantic escape run before completing the level. Oh yeah, and there were massive cyborg interpretations of King Kong (large gorilla) and Godzilla (large T-Rex) as well. Sweet.
Unfortunately I have to admit that I think a title like Strider is a perfect example of a game you most appreciate if you grew up with it. In a wild development cycle that included three independent companies working on an arcade version, an NES version (who also happened to develop the simliar but different Ghosts’n Goblins port), and a manga in Japan, Strider was unlike most projects in video games at the time. Ironically enough the Metroid-style open world NES version of the game that directly connected to the manga were completely severed by the business decisions of worldwide business. A Famicom version of the game was never manufactured or released in Japan and the manga never saw its way to our shores (not to mention the language barrier that separated each medium), so in retrospect it’s one disconnected mess of a story. One thing all regions had in common was that the teens of the time were enticed by the arcade port and many of them picked up and loved the later Genesis/Mega Drive version that came as close to the arcades as we saw in the late 80s. Even more odd are the random sequels that share the franchise such as the horrid US Gold/Tiertex sequel Strider II (known as Journey From Darkness: Strider Returns in the US) that probably isn’t worth emulating. Capcom later fixed the issue by ignoring the licensed sequel and releasing Strider 2 to arcades and later in a near-perfect port to the original Playstation. While I wouldn’t say it changed the world, it was a cool take on the mechanics of Strider and the odd 3D graphics of the time. If you play any version, I highly recommend the Genesis port because it really comes with no caveat. With Grin’s 2009 project being scrapped and Double Helix’s recent success with Killer Instinct 3, here’s hoping that the reboot doesn’t disappoint. Look back near the end of the week for that review. Either way, what other game can you say ends with you riding the back of a freaking whale for no reason?
Growing up, I played Max Payne for the excitement I got out of the gameplay, that slow motion diving and shooting mechanic. It felt perfect when I was in my teens playing these games for the first time. It was over-the-top action fun. I wasn’t looking for realism or a great story, I just wanted to shoot things. The Max Payne games were a perfect fit with their smooth and methodical gunplay.
I’ve played through Max Payne 1 and 2 about four times each, always playing the second title just after the first. It isn’t hard to do. Each game is only about 5 to 6 hours long. If I wasn’t completing one of the games in less than 6 hours it sure as hell felt like I was.
Other things that kept me coming back were the locales. They’re iconic and memorable – a frozen New York City, a grimy subway station, a sleazy hotel, an old church turned gothic nightclub, just to name a few.
Even though the locales were iconic, the gameplay superb, and the playtimes short, the story of Max Payne was something I had never paid attention to. I haven’t played the first two games in years, but I recently went back and finished them again before playing Max Payne 3.
I originally had no intention of playing the first game again. I own the PC version of the second, but the original Max Payne came with Max Payne 3 as a digital download. Even though I bought Max Payne 3 used, the code was still in the box, unused. I got lucky. I’m so glad I replayed it.
There are no choices. Nothing but a straight line. The illusion comes afterwards, when you ask “why me?” and “what if?”
Max Payne used to be an NYPD cop, but when his family was murdered and he was framed for it, everything went to hell. As he attempted to destroy the people responsible, Payne discovered it wasn’t just a random drug-induced psycho murderer responsible. Forces more sinister, and a story much darker, destroyed Max’s once beautiful suburban ideal.
You probably hear a lot of people say, “Just skip [insert game title] and play the new one because otherwise you’ll get burned out.” This says a lot about a franchise if people think it better to skip entire installments because you might otherwise become bored of the series as a whole. It signifies not a bad game, but one that doesn’t innovate enough, in one way or another, between installments. I hear this sentiment about the Assassin’s Creed franchise a lot. I am now more enthusiastic about the Max Payne series than ever before. I champion for it now, not only for the gameplay and locales, but more for the plot and method of storytelling.
The Max Payne titles follow and adhere to one another as if they were one complete story, with each game referring back to its predecessor, including Max Payne 3. Going back and playing through the first two titles first had a vast impact on my appreciation for the series as a whole – I would not feel the same way had I not gone back.
“Punchinello was burning to get me. The feeling was mutual. He was trying to put out my flames with gasoline.”
The man who created Max Payne is Sam Lake. He wrote the script, he created the story, and he was the literal face of Max Payne in the original game. Lake’s studio, Remedy Entertainment, is responsible for developing the game – of which he also assisted in level design – and also created Alan Wake. (Notice their names sound similar: Alan Wake and Sam Lake.)
I have a newfound respect for Remedy, and especially Lake, that I even want to go back and replay Alan Wake. I’ve realized now, how genius Lakes writing talent is. It’s because I’ve grown up (sort of) that I can appreciate a good story, no a great story, when I see it.
Dialogue in Max Payne 1 and 2 is witty, raw, and drenched in noir style. Coupled with the voice of James McCaffrey, Max Payne feels like a living, breathing, and ultimately heart-broken human being. He’s not a caricature, but a real, sad person. I wish I could meet Max Payne and buy him a drin- er, maybe that’s not such a good idea.
Max is a deep character. His interactions with others and the world have weight and consequence. His emotions and attitude have merit. You want him to overcome the death and sadness surrounding him. I felt like I was Max Payne, feeling the stab of every horrible moment he felt, and truly sympathized with him.
All of this is accomplished through Lake’s ability to write, with the necessary help of McCaffrey’s ability to voice act, and McCaffrey’s deep voice to inflect at every opportune moment.
Whoever at Remedy chose to use comic strips as cutscenes had a brilliant idea that lent heavily to the atmosphere. Many of the characters aside from Payne are caricatures by design. This causes a superb effect that brings the entire world of Payne into a surreal comic book existence.
But not all is depressing and dark. Lake also wrote some extremely funny stuff, especially in MP2, that will have you chuckling and shaking your head. This lightens up the mood at the most opportune, sometimes even juxtaposed moments. For instance, there’s Dick Justice. Just saying the title makes me laugh aloud: Dick, Justice. He is a rip-off character, his story is Max’s as a blaxploitation television show seen at certain moments throughout the games on TVs and posters. Another is in reference to video games. At certain points Max’s inner monologue will refer to the HUD interface and feeling like he’s being controlled, like in a video game. Don’t forget about the Captain Baseball Bat Boy TV show, which is continuously referenced throughout the series. At one point in MP2, you go to a someone’s home that is littered with fan items. This guy even has a huge full-body suit of the main character, which he is wearing when you find him. If he takes it off: Kaboom! A bomb is strapped to it, triggered to go off if he ever removes the suit. Lake writes in such a way that approaches the fourth wall but never quite breaks it. It’s hilarious and ultimately damn good writing.
Like Alan Wake’s name is a reference to Alan waking, so is Max Payne’s name a reference to maximum pain. Something I have yet to see anyone talk about, even after many Google searches, is Mona Sax’s name. The first letter of the first name and the last letters of the last name spell out “Max”. On top of this, Mona Sax’s hideout is located at a fun house entitled “Address Unknown”. Yet another almost fourth wall breaking item named after the television show with the same name that mirrors Max’s paranoia throughout the second game. This meta-level is when I officially jumped onboard the “champion Max Payne” train.
Underlying almost every title and name in the game lies something deeper still: Norse mythology. A nightclub entitled Ragna Rock, a drug pivotal to the story is called Valkyr, and the company you storm is named Aesir Corporation. All of these reference mythological entities and locations in Norse Mythology. I had never recognized any of this until this latest playthrough of the games. The scope of the storytelling grew larger during every minute of playtime, as did my amazement of it.
Finally, the theme songs for the series are haunting and excellent to say the least. They raise the hair on my neck and bring me to a state akin to Max’s sad and angry isolation (in a good way).
“The storm seemed to lose its frenzy. The ragged clouds gave way to the stars above. A bit closer to Heaven.”
Games rarely have me feel this way, let alone gush about them with love. I feel this way about the original Halo and Mass Effect 1 to some extent, but Max Payne is now my favorite video game character of all time.
If you have never played Max Payne 1 or 2, or thought about playing Max Payne 3 without playing the previous two installments, you should go back and give the original two installments a try. Even if you’ve played Max Payne 3 but didn’t understand the main characters motivations and liked the gameplay, or only played the original(s) years ago, like myself, you should definitely consider replaying them. The stories are mature (in the true sense, not in terms of content), and the gameplay is also damn fun. You can complete both games in around 12 hours and then hopefully jump enthusiastically into Max Payne 3 like I did. All of the same praise I have for these two titles continues in the third game along with an amazing finish.
“I lied to myself that it was over. I was still alive; my loved ones were still dead. It wasn’t over.”
If interested, my review of Max Payne 3 will be posted in the blog at EZ Mode Unlocked within the next two weeks.
Now & Then is a series where we dissect the culture of a specific series or genre or compare an influential game from the past and how it holds up today.
It’s a bit wierd that American McGee (yes, that’s his real name as far as I know) was given an opportunity to be a Creative Director on this ambitious project, even moreso as an early project with EA. He began his career at idworking mostly in level design for many of the first person shooter series that I grew up playing: Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. He was fired from id for reasons not known and eventually ended up at Electronic Arts, where after a few sound design and writing projects he was given a large budget and the role of Creative Director for Alice. Why EA back then agreed to put his name as part of the title or allowed him to create such a vivid project (in the Quake III engine, for irony’s sake) is beyond me, but it was a solid and pivotal decision. American McGee’s Alice is one of the darkest, most twisted games I’ve ever played and takes the story begun by Lewis Carroll more than a century prior and turns it on its head. To be fair, Wonderland has never been a “normal” place, begot mostly of fantasy concepts and mind-altered states, but I never felt that violence, murder, and insanity were heavy themes. While the gameplay wasn’t spectacular even at the time, the imagery and graphics impressed gamers enough to sell more than 1.5 million copies.
As you play through the game, the previous history of a shooter level designer is more than clear: Alice is a clunky character and each level has tons of wasted real estate that I found in many shooters of the time. Interestingly enough, you don’t seem to notice or care as the sinister tale of Alice’s dead family in the hands of a house fire unfold and you travel deeper and deeper into her insanity. Along the way you will be greeted by evil versions of characters you probably grew up reading about or enjoying in Disney’s animated take. I also need to amend my “wasted real estate” description by stating that although no enemies or interaction happens in large parts of the level, they are definitely brought to life with plenty of detail. Couple that with a handful of so-so boss battles and you’ve got a game. American McGee’s Alice was the game every PC player had in the year 2000, but rarely did anyone beat it. I don’t recall cheat codes being in the game, and thanks to some wacky platforming it wouldn’t really matter anyway, not to mention the crazy mazes and extended final levels as you approach the queen. In fact, the final two areas are easily just as long as the rest of the game, so just when you think you’re at the Queen of Heart’s front gate, you’re only really halfway there. Alice’s mix of a strong story, gorgeous graphics, and violent world continue to make it a well-remembered game for the time, even if you have to adjust for the nostalgia factor.
A lot has changed since American McGee’s Alice premiered, although it doesn’t seem McGee has learned his lesson with the sequel – I almost wonder if he designs a few levels first and then tries to build a game around them. Putting aside his newest release, Alice does not hold up all that well. Like it or not, today’s gamers (even the ones who grew up with these titles) do not easily tolerate a limiting camera and the platforming delays and small ledges are aggravating. Fortunately the game allows you to save whenever you want at the touch of a button, which means you can literally save before each jump or turning the next corner, and in truth you may actually have to do at times. The down side to this is you become more focused on saving than you do with the actual game and it soon feels like you’re playing Mega Man 2 or Castlevania on an emulator – sure, you may beat the game, but you feel like you cheated to get there.
Not only that, the game is still freaking hard even if you do save with every move you make and cheat codes have definitely gone the way of the dodo, so regardless of whether you’re on PC or console, your online achievement provider will force you to beat it legit. If somehow none of these things I’ve mentioned discouraged you, perhaps the various maze levels and the fact that you can wander around utterly lost for hours may do the trick. There are plenty of walkthroughs for this game and although the 8 hour campaign may feel like a tiresome journey, realize that for $10 you’re getting a decent deal. In addition, plenty of those gamers that never finished it as a child may want to go back and prove they can best the Queen once and for all, which was definitely my draw. I also have to completement the music, which I never noticed before but I’m keenly aware of this time around. Most of the music is made up of percussion-like sounds from children’s toys, which I recently found out was written and performed by Chris Vrenna, better known for being the former drummer of Trent Reznor’s band Nine Inc Nails. It’s best to go into this game with an open mind and realize that by the time you want to quit, you’ll be just far enough along that you should proceed onward to the eventual end.
There is a charm to Alice: Madness Returns and it does an excellent job of taking a dated concept into the contemporary gaming space, but you appreciate it even more when you play the original Alice and see where these concepts were born. Sure, the big draws from more than 10 years ago have all gone from positive aspects to negative ones, but this title is far from unplayable. It just stands to show that while you may remember American McGee’s Alice as this creative masterpiece from your teenage (or in my case college) years, perhaps you glossed over some of the finer points that deterred you before. Keep in mind though, we rarely completed any of the games we played back then.
Midway must have known it had a hit on its hands with the original Mortal Kombat because no time was wasted creating the sequel. While most of us anticipated the home release of the first title, Mortal Kombat II (MKII) snuck into arcades and blew our minds. This game literally had it all – more characters, more fatalities/finishing moves, and more violence. For most MK series fans, myself included, this is considered to be the best and it’s one of the highest grossing video games of all time.
MK Meets its Match
The original Mortal Kombatwas an impressive fighter, especially for one that was developed with digitized actors in only 10 months, but creator Ed Boon wanted to do more. “[MKII] had everything we wanted to put in the original MK but didn’t have time for,” he said in an interview with EGM2 (issue 5, Nov. 1994). It does seem like there’s some truth to his claim, especially with the introduction of more stage fatalities, a second fatality for each character, and even joke finishers “friendships” and “babalities”. I’m not so sure the roster was an initial idea, nor was the background concepts of Outworld, but I can definitely see the Midway team wanting to break away from the perceived reality of the original. Not only was MKII the definitive version of the original concept, but it continues to be the template for which all other titles in the series are based on.
In the second installment, Liu Kang has won the tournament and Shang Tsung returns to his home dimension of Outworld, defeated. He begs his ruler, Shao Kahn, for another tournament, this time in Outworld. Kahn agrees and gives Tsung back some of his youth while Raiden gathers a new batch of fighters. As a result the cast of 12 characters is made up of half Earth realm fighters and half Outworld fighters. In addition, all backgrounds take place in the demonic realm of Outworld, giving a slight cartoon feel to the previous game. While the game was in development it was decided that the motion capture sprites would be replaced by chroma key implementation (an effect that allows multiple layers into a moving object). This technique resulted in more muscular and shiny looking sprites, which helped to remove the reality feel of the first. Finally with extremely violent fatalities and joke finishers the game gave a distinct “not too serious” impression on what originated as a very dark theme.
All of the original fighters were planned to be in the sequel, but memory limits claimed the deletion of Sonya and Kano and in their place Reptile and Mileena were added. For those that wonder why the same number of characters can take up less memory, these are all palette swaps with already existing characters and thus require much less space to implement. This also explains why secret characters Jade (a green palette swap with Kitana), Smoke (a gray palette swap of the various ninjas), and Noob Saibot (a shadowed black version of the ninja template) all originate with other characters. Extreme attention to detail was taken and this is clear with the inclusion of Kano and Sonya in the background of the Kahn’s Arena stage as well as plenty of secrets held within the game. We’ve already mentioned them, but each character this time around two fatalities, a stage fatality (used on the Tower for spikes above and the Pit II for cement below), a friendship that gifted the opponent in some way, and a babality that would turn the opponent into a crying baby. The Acid Pool level also had a way to uppercut enemies into it, however this move was specific to that level as opposed to stage fatalities that were specific moves for each character. Rumors of “animalities” sprang up with Liu Kang’s second fatality dawning a large dragon that bit the opponent in half, which may have later led to the inclusion of these finishers in Mortal Kombat 3. Each secret fighter had a specific way to fight them and they all posed difficult threats just as Reptile was in the original – side note: Noob Saibot’s name derives from taking creators Boon and Tobias backwards.
I still remember the day this first came out and in an instant dethroned the original Mortal Kombat as an arcade gem. No one touched the Mortal Kombat cabinet if MKII was there, even if it meant waiting in a long line. This also started the collecting and passing around of moves and fatalities – with the Internet not mainstream we actually had pieces of paper that we would bring with us to collect everyone’s moves – and was a true testament to word of mouth. While we all still picked up the original for playing at home, Midway had found a way to get us to the arcades just as often as before. As expected, when the game came to home consoles a year later, there wasn’t a video game system owner that didn’t want it and this time around Nintendo wouldn’t make the same mistake.
As was the case with the previous game, Probe would be responsible for the Sega ports including Genesis, Game Gear, and now 32x. Since the Genesis was expected to be the lead platform and the largest performer – remember that although the SNES version was technically a closer port, many gamers had opted to get a Genesis for the original and would then get the sequel on that console as well. This time around there was no blood code to unlock and tons of secrets were included in the game with everything from one button fatalities to the infamous “Fergality” (you could enable the “Oooh Nasty!” cheat and play as Raiden on the Armory and make Probe CEO Fergus McGovern appear). This version was faster performing than even the arcade version due to its strong processor and visual limitations, but the game did look rough around the edges. In addition several things like backgrounds, winning animations, and sound effects were cut or changed from the arcade version. For most gamers, though, this didn’t seem to matter as the game’s fighting mechanics were spot on and the six button controller closed the gap that some users of the first game complained about.
Probe’s 32x port was supposed to significantly improve the sound and visuals, creating a more complete version of the game, but after playing it I have to say it’s pretty much the Genesis version. A few sound effects are included and all the winning stance animations are now intact, but hardly worth it for the advertised improvements.
The SNES version did look and sound extremely close to the arcade counterpart, especially given that all the blood had returned to the game after lackluster sales of the original (in Japan the blood was changed to green and fatalities were performed in black and white). Not only that, but Nintendo was so scared of consumer backlash for the violence that the game had not only a large “M” rating in accordance to the ESRB, it also had a large warning label from Nintendo warning of the extreme violence. Although there were some bugs in the original release (you couldn’t face Noob Saibot, for example), they were fixed and updated by the second release window and I never heard any of my SNES friends complaining. For those of us in the Mortal Kombat gaming scene, this was the version to grab. Mortal Kombat IIon the SNES also broke the mold on how violent games on the console would be moving forward.
With Probe on board for both portable iterations and Nintendo laxing its rules on violence, there was a degree of brutality in each version. The roster was stripped by four fighters, obviously the palette swapped characters all making it into the game, and each character had one fatality and oddly enough a babality. Both the Gameboy and Game Gear versions were identical save for the addition of color, blood, and a few extras in the Game Gear version. Some of the fatalities in both versions were altered slightly to re-use animiations for the sake of storage space. For what they are, both games are an achievement on their respective consoles.
Interestingly enough, this game was also re-released on PC, Sega Playstation, and Sega Saturn a couple years later. While we did not get the Playstation version, most of the disc-based versions of this game were plagued with sound issues because Probe didn’t make the tracks into redbook audio (or CD tracks) and instead included synthesized data on the disc. Furthermore the game would completely freeze up with the MK dragon in the center as it loaded each character’s morph with Shang Tsung – the Sega Saturn version allowed you to pre-load a few characters before the match and it would also allow palette-swapped characters even if not selected, thus granting the player at least half the roster when selecting Shang Tsung. Aside from those minor hiccups, these ports are extremely close to arcade faithful.
You can also find this game on various other platforms like the Midway Treasures Collection Vol. 2 on Xbox, PS2, and PSP, as well as an unlockable for completing the PS2 title Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks. For a brief period of time a completely arcade faitful port was released on the PS3 as a downloadable PSN title, complete with online play, but it was removed once licensing with Midway expired. Now you can find the game in the download title Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection on XBLA and PSN, which includes the first three games all enhanced with online play.
This game was one of the first to be banned in Germany (we covered many banned games around the globe here), and Jax’s arm rip became one of the official bloodiest moments in gaming history by IGN as well as one of the goriest games of all times in an issue of EGM (1995 buyer’s guide). Another interesting controversy surrounded something that wasn’t even in the game: the rumored “nudality” or “sexality” that many spoke of as being an unlockable feature in the game. Now I can scoff that off as proposterous, but back in the arcade days when we were discovering different secrets left and right, it sure seemed possible.
Last week Mortal Kombat released for the Playstation Vita and while I was playing it for review I couldn’t help but notice that the series has not changed much since it first released. Normally this is a bad thing, but in the case of this series its strength relies on its simplicity. Mortal Kombat is a game all about beating the crap out of your opponent and then topping it all off with a finishing move that is extremely violent in nature.
I still remember the day that I saw the first Mortal Kombat arcade out in the wild. It was 1992, I was 10 and frequented the local roller rink where I could meet up with friends and play arcade games. Yeah, even in 1992 the roller rink was still alive and well in Chicago’s northern suburbs. At that time the arcade was dominated by Street Fighter II, a cartoon-like fighter from the geniuses at Capcom, but I wasn’t all that good at it and truthfully had little interest in fighters. That is, until I walked in and saw a new game that prominantly displayed the title “Mortal Kombat” in bright yellow letters. My first thought was how stupid it was that the word “combat” was misspelled, but then I noticed that the game used digitized realistic looking actors. Even more impressive was when the first uppercut made contact and a shower of blood erupted from the opponent’s face. I was intrigued.
The line was long to play the game and I would waste a good 30 minutes “quartering up” (a term that meant you would place your quarter on the glass bezel to signify your place in line). The game consisted of seven characters – two ninjas that shared the same costume with different colors, a guy that looked like Jean Claude Van Damme, a guy with a half-Terminator face (T2 had just come out), Bruce Lee, some chick, and finally a lightening guy with a ridiculous hat - you probably know the cast better by their actual names which are (in order of my descriptions): Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Johnny Cage, Kano, Liu Kang, Sony, and Raiden (misspelled Rayden in certain ports). I favored Kano and Raiden because back then I based it purely on what the character looked like, not how they played. Those first inital weeks were spent getting to know the game, utilizing all the moves that emitted blood, and learning the special moves. Then one day I saw a guy playing as Johnny Cage beat Sonya and when it said “Finish Her” (usually a cue to uppercut) and he put in some special move, the screen darkened, and he punched her head right off. As the stump spewed blood like a volcano, we all stood in absolute amazement and for the moment that guy was the coolest gamer I’d ever met.
Mortal Kombat has always held a special place in my heart because, lets face it, I was young and it was violent. Some say it doesn’t have the game mechanics necessary to be a true “fighter”, whereas others feel the fact that any skill level can have a chance is intriguing. Whatever the reason the game was responsible for taking at least half my weekly allowence. Then the big news came: Mortal Kombat would be receiving home console ports to the Genesis, Super NES, Gameboy, and Game Gear. Each game was to release holiday 1993 and it was unknown whether or not the blood and fatalities would remain.
Mortal Kombat was initially created by two men: programmer Ed Boon and graphic designer John Tobias. The two men wanted to create an arcade game where Jean-Claude Van Damme would run around and beat up bad guys (Bad Dudes?) and even toyed with a fighting game based on Bloodsport (Pit Fighter?). It turned out that Van Damme had been in talks with another developer, passed on the license, and that title never saw the light of day. Midway then asked that the team develop a fighting game that was to compete with heavy hitter Street Fighter II and with a one year or less development cycle. Mortal Kombat would successfully be completed in 10 months.
Starting out Boon and Tobias recruited John Vogel as another graphical artist and Dan Forden for sound design. The team would extend beyond this, but these four crafted the original members of the Midway team and would go on to gain quite a bit of fame in the early-to-mid 90s for their work on the Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam series. One of the first decisions made was to model Johnny Cage after Van Damme as an homage to the actor (complete with initials “J.C.”) and famously included a splits groin punch after the scene in Bloodsport. Ho Sung Pak played the screaming Liu Kang and ironically the final boss Shang Tsung (ironic because the cannonized plot has Liu Kang winning the tournament). Elizabeth Malecki played Sonya, Richard Divizio played Kano, Carlos Pesina played Raiden, and brother Daniel Pesina would round out the cast playing Johnny Cage, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Reptile. Goro, the sub-boss for the game, was a stop motion miniature because of his mutated look and four arms. While not many members of the development team made appearences in the first game, they would make subsequent appearences in sequels and a couple were even secret characters in the NBA Jam series.
Of all the things the development team struggled with, the name was one of the biggest. Discarded names included Kumite(sparring), Dragon Attack, Death Blow, and even Fatality. Eventually someone wrote over the word “combat” on Boon’s white board, giving the word a “K” in the title instead of a “C” and pinball designer Steve Ritchie, during a visit to Boon’s office, suggested the name “Mortal Kombat“. According to Boon, after that the name, “just stuck.” From that point on, the developers would tend to integrate “K” in for “C” for various words.
Mortal Kombat Komes Home
Mortal Monday, which was some Monday in the summer 1993, was the official launch day of Mortal Kombat on home consoles. There would be four versions, one for each home and portable console for Nintendo and Sega and none of them would have blood or fatalities. Well, that’s not exactly true, Sega wisely decided to include the one aspect of the game that people wanted but shipped with the blood locked away behind a code. At that time Sega was self-rating its games and gave Mortal Kombat an MA-13 (the game equivalent to PG-13) with the ruse that the rating was based on the “locked” version. There is not a gaming child of the 90s out there that can’t tell you about ABACAB (these are the button presses to unlock blood on the “code” screen) and DULLARD (button presses to unlock the cheat menu). Lesser known but still valuable was 212DU, the button presses for blood that was on the 3rd “code” screen in the Game Gear version. As a result, while I was enjoying ripping off heads and dangling spinal columns my SNES friends were looking at gray “sweat” blood and “finishing moves” that were pathetic.
While it was nowhere near as pretty as the SNES version, the Genesis version of Mortal Kombat clearly took home the prize for best port. It’s rarely discussed, but the speed for which the game moved also provided a benefit for Genesis owners, whereas the SNES version was sluggish and felt slightly delayed. Later on a port for the Sega CD was released, which took advantage of the extra colors and memory to create a version that looked much closer to the arcade. This version also had red book audio, which made for the wonderful soundtracks that CD-based games of this time often had, and Mortal Kombat was no exception. Unlike all other versions the blood was unlocked from the start and thus the game was internally rated MA-17 by Sega’s board, but also unlike all other versions the CD format brought with it load times each time Shang Tsung would morph into a new character.
Video Game Violence Heats Up
With the home version finally in place and most gamers in the country eagerly playing, it was only a matter of time before parents and governmental officials took notice. All of the graphic violence and digitized realistic characters would have been ignored had it not been for the game invading homes and kids were playing for endless hours. It was impossible to avoid – screams, blood, and decapitation was in front of every parent’s eyes. It was at that time that violence in video games not only came under scrutiny, but Mortal Kombat was instantly connected with every case the senators brought up. While historically the focus over video game inappropriation and violence likes to put Grand Theft Auto on the forefront, it was begun by Mortal Kombat and Night Trap way before that.
Another great aspect of Mortal Kombat was the various secrets hidden in the series. Back in those days it was difficult to confirm or deny any rumors you had heard and those that weren’t in magazines or early web sites could also be dominated by simple playground talk. I had friends who unlocked the power to play Goro in the Genesis version, performed a “nudality” and saw a naked Sonya in the SNES version, and even unlocked Ermac in the arcade version. None of these were true of course, but that didn’t stop people from making up whatever rumors they wanted to. It didn’t help that a lot of the true secrets and easter eggs were so off the wall that anything was possible.
You could fight against Reptile, a hybrid of Scorpion and Sub-Zero with a green costume, in the first game. It was no easy task: you had to be on the pit, shadows had to cross the moon (only one in six fights on the arcade version), you had to get a double flawless victory without using block and perform a fatality. If all of these things happened at once, you would get to fight Reptile at the bottom of the pit with a 10,000,000 point bounty on his head. He was brutally difficult and although the points didn’t really matter, it was a surefire way to get your initials permanently placed at the top of the machine’s leaderboard. In the console versions there were ways to glitch the game and create a green-coated fighter for the second player if they joined while you fought Reptile.
Some of the rumors were based on possiblities, like the Ermac being the rumored name of Reptile if the machine accidentally glitched from time to time on the arcade. The glitch would display Reptile as red instead of green and an internal counter would trigger and “ERror MACro” would be displayed. This lead to the idea that a fighter named Ermac could be unlocked and fought, but he never made an appearence until Midway created him as an unlock in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. There were obvious blood code rumors for the SNES version, but the only truth to that was a simple Game Genie code that would change the grey sweat to red, thus emulating blood, but nothing else changed. Electronic Gaming Monthly also put an April Fools prank out suggesting the unlockable fighter Nimbus Terrafaux in the Genesis version, complete with an altered image that fooled me for a few weeks.
As for all the other rumors, they rely solely in gaming urban legends. Several Mortal Kombat clones were released, all of which were terrible, that attempted to bring some of these rumors to light. Primal Rage was also developed by Midway and had similarities to Mortal Kombat, but only had controversy thanks to a large ape named Chaos that could throw up and urinate on his opponents. Time Killers removed most of the hassle of remembering fatalities and waiting for a win, instead allowing the removal of limbs through regular gameplay and generic finishers that dismembered the other player. Data East also created an unreleased arcade game called Tattoo Assassins that was nearly finished and exists in a fully playable version on MAME, that had multiple fatalities for each character and even the rumored “nudalities” that would stip the player down to nothing (no actual nudity was displayed). Even Naughty Dog’s first game was a horrid recreation of MK called Way of the Warrior, which existed only on the ultra expensive 3DO, but don’t worry you aren’t missing much.
There’s no doubt that this fighter was one of the definitive games of the early 90s, during a time where the genre was beginning to rule supreme. It’s not a particularly good fighter and its focus is more on button mashing than anything else, but it was that simplicity that made the game fun. Oh yeah, and a ton of blood.
Now & Then is different from both a retrospective and a review. It tackles games you probably already know and is a place for gamers to discuss these games. Below is an overview of a game’s presence in the market then and now. Authors of these articles share their personal experience, so we encourage all of you to do the same in the comments.
Last week The Simpsons Arcade Gamereleased on the PSN, the XBLA version coming out a few days earlier, and completed Konami’s classic beat-em-up licensed arcade series. For some reason media outlets decided to review this game - this makes little sense to me given that by definition the game will be outdated and any potential customer has already played it – but I know plenty of freelance reviewers that have amassed a decent collection of free retro games by trading a review for a download code. Although this is not the best arcade brawler on the market, even among licensed peers X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it’s probably the most popular. There’s a good reason for this, as Simpsons mania took America by storm at the beginning of the 90s, it was impossible to avoid the disfunctional family from Springfield, USA.
It was a completely different world in 1991 when this arcade game made its first appearence. Arcades still existed in abundance, the fighting genre had yet to gain momentum from Street Fighter II, which would release that summer, and you couldn’t enter a pizza joint, bowling alley, amusement park or theater without one. Previously two arcades had been staples to most of Chicagoland: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Capcom’s Final Fight. That was before some genius at Konami looked over potential arcade licenses and realized that of the most popular television shows out there, the animated format and family setup of the Simpsons would be perfect. Since the family contained five members, Maggie always being a side note in most episodes, that a four-player brawler could easily be crafted on the series. By this point the Simpsons was nearing the end of its second season and Thursday nights belonged to Fox. Bart, the foul-mouthed troublemaking son, was a favorite among pre-teens and equally hated with parent groups. Couple him with the other quirky members of the family – brainchild sister Lisa, moronic manchild father Homer and scratchy-voiced homemaker mother Marge – and you had a game on your hands.
This wasn’t the first time a Simpsons game had come out, but attempts at pathetic Bart-centric platformers (ie: Bart vs. the Space Mutants) failed in every way on home consoles. Little did Konami know that its decision to include the whole family as a single unit would allow for better marketing as the show aged into varying degrees of character focus. Series staples Mongomery Burns, Homer’s aged greedy boss, and his assistant Smithers would play the antagonists, as they did so frequently on the show. It came packaged in a bright blue four-player cabinet with a large 25″ monitor and different colors that corresponded to each player. No matter what arcade you entered, there would always be a crowd of players and bystanders attempting to save Maggie, Bart’s blue controls would always be taken and Marge would be ignored.
Given the circumstances of gaming and arcades at the time the phenominally short campaign – I usually clock in at about 30 minutes completion time – was never realized by most gamers. Back then arcades were slogs of bad guys intent on taking your quarters and it was nearly impossible to complete the Simpsons on even a few quarters, let alone one. Furthermore we arcade gamers usually refused to continue on someone else’s game, their progress was not ours, so we’d always start over from the beginning. As a result, no one ever saw the end and late levels like the Channel 6 news station were such new environments whenever my sister and I would reach it that we would die before reaching the samurai boss. Back then it was also customery for parents to come yank you away from the game when your pizza was ready, the game of bowling started or the movie was starting, so we couldn’t beat it even if we played a “perfect” game. In addition, the popular characters – in my neck of the woods it was Homer and Bart – would usually have broken joysticks or buttons, so you’d start a game only to find out you couldn’t jump. It was all part of the experience of the arcade and the Simpsons. It was a different time and I loved every second of it.
The Simpsons Arcade Game suffers a major flaw that all modern arcade ports have: it tries to make a retro-style title out of a quarter-chugging arcade. These games were never intended to be very skill-based and your urge to continue was supposed to drive you to cough up more money. Once you limit continues, increase difficulty or attempt to beat the game in one life you are trying to do something the game didn’t intend you to actually do. When this happens, especially in the interest of making a lengthy game out of something that isn’t, frustration or boredom result. Attempting to beat this game on one life (or 10 total on Expert) is a crash course in masochism and with endless continues you’ll rarely feel like beating it more than a few times.
Not only that, this port is an afterthought at best. Backbone has ported the game over, sans many of the functions and features they have included in other arcade ports, in a quick bare-bones version of the arcade. Even the screen side art, which is necessary for widescreen TVs that want to avoid horizontal black bars, is nothing more than a black outline of an arcade cabinet. Really? It’s nearly indistiguishable from no art at all. There are two options for graphics: sharp and smooth. Sharp takes the pixels from the original 288×224 presentation and giant-sizes them for 1080p (1920×1080) resulting in a bad version of blown up sprites from the mode 7 days. Smooth does what you’d expect, blends out pixels so it looks like the poor resolution blurry mess we all remember from the arcades, so be sure to keep that as your visual option. Even the inclusion of the Japanese rom does nothing more than change the scoring system and refill your life at the end of a level, nothing I feel lucky to recieve.
What I used to love best about The Simpsons Arcade Game was playing it with other people, which ended up being my sister most times. Now that I have the option to play with online strangers I figured it would be more fun but the interactions I’ve had are limited to silent people avoiding enemies to unlock an achievement or people who join and drop games like it’s a professional sport. Trying to get four people on the couch is not only difficult, but expensive these days as I don’t have four $60 controllers to spare. At a price point of 800 MS points/$9.99 it’s just expensive enough to be a tough sell for most of my friends. Thankfully this game was a free title on PSN+ and just like many of the retro titles before it (mostly Sega games), this is the type of free content I appreciate. It was a great nostalgic romp from days I have forgotten, but sadly even on my own MAME cabinet that provides an actual arcade as opposed to a virtual one, The Simpsons Arcade Game is best in short, infrequent doses.
Now & Then is different from both a retrospective and a review. It tackles games you probably already know and is a place for gamers to discuss these games. Below is an overview of a game’s presence in the market then and now. Authors of these articles share their personal experience, so we encourage all of you to do the same in the comments.
Technically the Resident Evil series has more Sega console lineage than what I and many other gamers regard as a Sony franchise. The original launched on the Saturn alongside the Playstation and although it took some time, enhanced versions of the second and third title appeared on the Dreamcast. Mind you, all three of the first titles still premiered on Playstation and were ported to Sega’s platforms. Code: Veronica was first announced and released on Sega’s Dreamcast and marked a significant change for the series. A mere one month after its February 2000 release date, the Playstation 2 had one of the worst launches in history with a vast library of titles no one wanted to play. To have Veronica on the launch list to usher in Sony’s new console would have been amazing. This wasn’t a case of Capcom turning its back on Sony, though, they had always planned on having named titles on non-Sony consoles, reserving numbered titles for Sony. Given that Sega co-produced the game, it was clearly a paycheck game to give the Dreamcast a strong exclusive library, but it also ended up being a great addition to the series.
Then: When the Dreamcast launched, the timing in my world was really lousy. Coming out at the beginning of my senior year in high school, I was swimming in a sea of amazing Playstation titles at bargain used prices. By then the Internet was more prominent and I had a subscription to Electronics Gaming Monthly (EGM) so I knew that the PS2 was around the corner with a DVD player and backwards compatibility with all my Playstation games. Even though the small $200 price tag of the Dreamcast was tempting, my college dorm would be screaming for a PS2. Furthermore, the controller was awkward and the library of games looked like a lot of arcade title ports, which had begun to dwindle and held little interest to me. I wanted longer, deeper experiences like I was enjoying with Parasite Eve and Resident Evil. Needless to say it was like a kick to the chest when Code: Veronica released as an exclusive title for the Dreamcast just before the PS2 launch.
To make things worse, the game was given high marks by all the major gaming publications and many were saying it was a return to form for the series. Technically it was a sequel to the second game and expanded on the Chris and Claire Redfield storyline. Even more tempting the game was huge, taking up 2 discs on the Dreamcast, which already had higher capacity than CDs. I loved RE3 and critics felt it was only okay, so needless to say I needed this game. Luckily for me (but not for Sega), the Dreamcast discontinued quickly and I was able to pick up the console plus Code: Veronica during holiday 2002 for around $100.
It was great, the pinnacle of the concepts that had been established before. You really felt isolated as you trudged an abandoned island where you found almost no survivors, zombies randomly respawned and you were trapped with huge monsters with no way to escape. This game was hard, much more than any of the previous games, which really only employed an occasional difficult hook. In Code: Veronica you were always on the verge of death with no ammo in tow; it was the only time in the series that I actually used the combat knife. After a brutal eight hours of play I finally overcame the impossible odds only to fall at the hands of Umbrella as Claire. I stared at the screen in disbelief, what the hell else could they cram on that disc? Then I was prompted for disc 2, which at that point had been completely forgotten, and began the second half of the campaign as Chris Redfield climbing rocks to aid his sister. A brief plot point from the beginning came rushing back as I began the even more difficult half of the game.
In the end it was just too much for me, having no easy access to a walkthrough, and I gave up on defeating the Ashford twins on that remote island. I wanted to cry when I walked into a GameStop not a month later and got propositioned to pre-order Code: Veronica X, a higher quality PS2 port. Not only that, there was a special bonus disc, Wesker’s Report, that came free with pre-ordered copies. This was my first, and definitely not last, experience with companies tempting me to re-purchase games I already owned for a meager upgrade in content. Never did beat Code: Veronica X either, this time quitting almost immediately following the Chris portion of the adventure.
Now: With the re-release in HD on modern consoles, I’m still reminded how much this title is the apex of a concept thought up in the second game. A fully functioning island with everything going awry and every nook, cranny and building could be explored. Sure, it was properly planned and the fixed camera angles remained, but credit should be given to creating a fully interactive island. Furthermore, this title is sparse in items and insane in difficulty – easily the hardest in the series – which makes your heart pound when you’re low on health, haven’t saved for 25 minutes, and getting chased by three dogs.
In hindsight, I can’t see modern gamers wanting to play this title in the least – hell, even my coveted Wesker’s Report DVD is rampant on YouTube. It harkens back to a time long forgotten and only if you had tracked the progress through each game would you appreciate Code: Veronica for what it accomplishes. Tank controls, fixed camera angles, large difficulty and sometimes unfair scenarios are just a bit too much when compared to all the the better options in contemporary survival horror. Still, if you can appreciate the series for what it does best or go into it knowing that the experience will feel dated, you can find a gem with this title. The story goes deep and helps expand on a plotline that I hope will be picked up at some point in the franchise. I now have a full walkthrough and I’m trudging slowly through the game trying to my best to not constantly consult the guide. I’ve died a half dozen times, gotten stuck once, and fully started over so far. How am I ever going to do this if I’m not even as good as I used to be?
- Release Date: February 3, 2000
- Consoles Released For: Dreamcast – all other versions are the enhanced Veronica X: PS2, Gamecube, PS3, Xbox 360
- While it was supposed to be the beginning of the spin-offs on non-Sony consoles, Code: Veronica is the only game in the series that builds heavily on the cannon without a true number in the title. Even more baffling is that most other spin-offs like Survivor, Dead Aim, and Outbreak all appeared on Sony consoles. Despite not being a numbered addition, most fans consider it the fourth installment to the series.
- Despite being named in the title, Veronica Ashford is actually a dead relative that doesn’t appear in the game. In addition it is revealed that the Ashford twins aren’t quite what they seem (but I don’t wanna give spoilers).
- The 50+ programming team of the first three Resident Evil games would eventually form Capcom Production Studio 4, which would be solely responsible for Resident Evil titles moving forward. Since then things have changed, but they were responsible for Resident Evil 4. Capcom Production Studio 4 was not responsible for the GameCube remake or Resident Evil Zero, that was actually Production Studio 3.
Now & Then is different from both a retrospective and a review. It tackles games you probably already know and is a place for gamers to discuss these games. Below is an overview of a game’s presence in the market then and now. Authors of these articles share their personal experience, so we encourage all of you to do the same in the comments.
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (RE3) gets the worst treatment within the series because it was released on the tail end of the Playstation cycle and as the third release in as many years (most people remember RE‘s re-release, the Director’s Cut, more than the initial release), there really wasn’t that much new brought to the table. Having said that, it was the most polished title on the Playstation and finally made the concept attempted in RE2 a reality. With a few slight tweaks, like the ability to flip a quick 180 and a much more agile Jill Valentine, RE3 felt a lot more like games of the time. Unfortunately with the diluting of the franchise via frequent releases and the fact that the game looked identical to the first two on the box, it just didn’t hold players’ interest.
Then: Resident Evil 3 released about a month before Halloween, my favorite holiday, in 1999 so naturally for me it was just as essential as costumes and horror movies. I was finishing my senior year in high school and had so many things on my plate with sports and theatre that even I, one of the largest RE fans, considered skipping it. That is, until I read the preview in Electronic Gaming Monthly that revealed Nemesis. As returning protagonist Jill Valentine was attempting to escape Raccoon City, you would consistently encounter a huge mutant opponent. Not much was revealed about Nemesis, save that he was a big hulk of a creature and had a rocket launcher strapped to his back. This immediately became a day-one purchase for me.
As much as I regret ditching my buddy Joel’s house party and taking a day off work unpaid, RE3 was totally worth the sacrifice. The game started you off in a similar background to the second title except that you were armed to the teeth, you had an infinite ink ribbon and plenty of moves at your disposal. Raccoon City felt like a playground with branching paths and alleyways as well as many buildings you could enter. Despite all that, your progress in the game was surprisingly linear, with only one way to eventually proceed. It was interesting to see characters from previous titles make short appearances, like Brad Vickers, the helicopter pilot from the original. Even though she was only dressed in a tube top and miniskirt, a costume choice I found ridiculous even in my testosterone-induced youth, Jill was spry. She could run, cut corners, turn around quickly, leap boxes, and shove zombies aside like you would expect from a true zombie outbreak survivor.
My favorite part of Nemesis was definitely Nemesis himself. His first appearance came at the police station, a staple from the second game, where you meet up with STARS member Brad for the second time in the game. Just as you think this will be a new possible teammate, Nemesis drops down and slaughters Brad like he’s nothing. The cutscene then changes perspective to Jill as the beast turns and mutters, “SSSSTTARRSS….” That’s the moment you see her “oh crap” face as the cutscene ends and you gain control of Jill as the giant lumbers over to you with two options: run or fight the monster. Those that had played previous titles knew that running from anything wasn’t a good idea – it was only a matter of time until you were cornered. So naturally I chose to fight the monster. I had a decent arsenal and plenty of bullets but no matter what I threw at him, Nemesis didn’t even stagger backwards. Then he pulled out his rocket launcher, the coveted one-hit kill weapon that ended the first game, and fired it right at me. Damn he had good aim. I missed taking the rocket full force but was definitely injured by the nearby impact. Then he charged at me, running incredibly fast and slammed me to the concrete. Now it was my turn to say “Oh crap,” and ran into the RFPD. Normally you would be safe there too because enemies didn’t move from area to area, but not moments later the game paused, I heard the standard door open/close, and there he was chasing me inside the PD! In no time flat I was pummeled to a bloody pulp and the horrid “you are dead” screen appeared.
That was when I learned a valuable lesson: Nemesis was not to be underestimated. For the first time ever I had encountered an enemy in the Resident Evil franchise that could not be killed. I had to run from this creature for the sake of my life. As the game progressed, Nemesis would make cameos at the worst times, almost like I was playing an early version of the sadistic AI director in Left 4 Dead. Capcom didn’t waste time varying the encounters either – sometimes you would have to run and escape to a safe location, other times you would find your path very much blocked and you would have to get the brute down for the count before moving on. Some may consider Nemesis to be cheap or unfair, but he was just another great way to integrate horror to me, especially now that I could kill zombies with the precision of a black ops field agent. With an ending that concluded the Raccoon City incident for good, it was bittersweet to think the journey was over (little did I know), but also very satisfying.
Now: If you have never played a classic Resident Evil title and wanted to give the tank-controlled originals a try, RE3: Nemesis is probably your best bet. Sure Code Veronica X perfected the formula, but it’s terribly difficult and long in comparison. On the other hand, this title has two difficulties, easy or hard (which any gamer who usually plays on “normal” pauses to contemplate for a few minutes) – easy is very accessible without being a breeze. I also like it because it requires the least amount of prior knowledge with the series; in fact, it can be played as a standalone title (but there are plenty of nods to the previous games). Given that you start off with unlimited ink ribbons, a huge arsenal and an agile new set of moves, it dodges that outdated feel without the ramped up difficulty of future titles.
Going back to it this week I am still reminded how much I love this iteration. Many people complain that there aren’t two campaigns, but in truth very little of any of the separate campaigns were very different. In Nemesis graphics and area design replace multiple campaigns and craft an overall lengthier story, despite the fact that there’s only one. Additionally your main enemy, the appropriately named Nemesis, is the best format of the Tyrant enemy that I have encountered. I know that RE2 is the most popular, but RE3 is clearly the best of the PSOne titles.
- Release Date: September 22, 1999
- Consoles Released For: Playstation, Dreamcast, Gamecube, PSN (PSOne title)
- While it is the third in the series, the events of the game take place just before and a few days following the events of Resident Evil 2.
- While in development, the team referred to the title as Resident Evil 1.9. I have been unable to find documentation on why they did this, but my theory is that producer Shinji Mikami was consistently upgrading and expanding on his definitive concept began in the first title.
- The second feature film, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is loosely based off RE3: Nemesis and is the closest game-to-film adaptation in the movie series. Unfortunately writer Paul W.S. Anderson appears to have taken the wrong portions of the game and integrated them into the movie, making a sloppy mess of the plot.
Resident Evil 2 (RE2) hit the market with a steep price; like other series favorite RE4, this title was scrapped and redone after it was more than 60 percent complete. In order to keep hype and demand strong for the series after the extremely popular original, the sequel began production one month after the release of Resident Evil. This first version, dubbed Resident Evil 1.5 by Capcom when production stills and videos released, featured a similar plot without crisscrossing paths. Leon was still the male protagonist and Elza, a motorcyclist college student, as an early version of what would eventually become Claire Redfield. Graphically the game was much uglier, looking the same (or worse) than the original, but only so that more zombies could appear on-screen. In 1.5 Umbrella had already closed down, the outbreak still occurred, and the police station looked a lot more modern. Players could equip different clothing, which changed their appearance (as did combat damage). There were also many more survivors for players to encounter along the way, some of which played new roles in the final version of RE2. Producer Shinji Mikami scrapped the project when it was near beta (60-80 percent completion) because he found gameplay and locations to be “dull and boring”¹. Originally the series was supposed to end with the sequel, but supervisor Yoshiki Okamoto wanted a more open-ended series. As a result Elza became Claire Redfield to connect to the first game and the plot was made more big budget movie style to get Capcom to the 2 million copy sales goal. Graphics were updated, adding more polygons to each character, and items were made much more scarce to increase tension and fear. Since it would miss the planned early 1997 release date, the Resident Evil: Director’s Cut and Complete Edition were released instead and included a demo of RE2.
Then: What I remember most about Resident Evil 2 was just how prevalent it was at the time. That game released on almost every console imaginable and with plenty of advertising behind it. It released in late January and thanks to my January 6 birthday I was able to get both RE: Director’s Cut and RE2 in a homemade bundle from Babbage’s as a present. I also owned a Playstation by this point so there was nothing holding me back from enjoying the next installment to its fullest. I even replayed the original, this time playing as Chris instead of Jill, and finally completing the game (I got the so-so ending).
Not only was this game the sequel, it had two discs, one for each character. Not knowing back then that the easy version of the campaign was the female’s, I started up Claire Redfield’s campaign. Since I was playing it for the first time along with everyone else (and didn’t yet use the Internet/newsgroups for walkthroughs) I remember being extremely frustrated with this title. Unlike the original, there was a scant amount of ammo and I wasn’t yet accustomed to dodging zombies, so I kept dying in the disorienting intro. I’m sure critics at the time applauded the fact that your overall futility mirrored the character’s situation for immersion, but I was ticked off that every time I died I had to restart the whole game, including unskippable in-engine cutscenes. The first game started you off with a typewriter and an ink ribbon; RE2 required you to run like hell for the first 15-20 minutes before reaching some sort of solace with the Police Department.
After reaching the Raccoon City PD, however, it was back to a familiar ground with an all new intriguing story. Graphically the game was gorgeous, generating great backgrounds and high polygon renders that felt like a well-deserved sequel. New enemies like the licker gave you a run for your money and the upgraded G-virus made the bosses and bigger uglies more mutant-like and horrifying than ever before. Still, the game had that familiarity that I was thankful for. RCPD was basically a bigger version of the mansion, complete with an underground passageway and subsequent lab, just like the original. Two campaigns and branching storylines also assisted in creating that similar but different feel. I also liked that the game ended with an obvious setup for multiple sequels. It was satisfying, especially since that cheap opening was the only truly unfair part of the game – of course this was solely the opinion of my 16-year-old self.
Now: Ironically enough, I find the love and hype surrounding this title to be very questionable, even for nostalgia’s sake. Back when I first got the game I merely completed the campaign for both Leon and Claire to learn the story, but I never touched the B scenarios and had no idea that Hunk and Tofu were unlockable characters. Even with those in mind, this game is little more than the next step to what Mikami was finally able to produce in Resident Evil 3: a scenario where you’re literally running the streets of an abandoned Raccoon City.
My only guess is that RE2 was offered on so many consoles – this was the only iteration to get a port on N64, which I still can’t believe - that it’s most familiar to the largest number of players. This campaign is predictable, short, basically the same path as the original and gets super easy at the end. It’s one of those games that can be very difficult if you don’t know what’s coming but boss battles don’t even have me batting an eye now that I know all the little tricks. Remember the first time you took on the big crocodile and he took thousands of hits to kill? Man was I ticked to find out that one flipped switch and a single bullet could end him quick and easy. To me, this game just feels too in-between so it doesn’t hold significance in any regard. Everyone was clamoring for a fleshed out remake after the original’s release but I can’t see why it’s necessary especially considering the sequels.
- Release Date: January 21, 1998
- Consoles Released For: Playstation, N64, PC, Dreamcast, Game.com (modified ver), Gamecube, PSN (PSOne)
- Pre-rendered cutscenes were created using stop-motion videos of action figures and adapting them to CG. Ada Wong’s figure couldn’t be created in time and for this reason she’s the only character not to appear in a pre-rendered cutscene.
- Ironically, given the circumstances of the original, Resident Evil 2 was given a more gory “game over” screen in the US and was also more difficult to prevent rentals of the title. In Japan you can’t rent games so it wasn’t a concern.
- Director Hideki Kamiya and Shinji Mikami apparently disagreed greatly on what RE2 was supposed to be. Mikami frequently tried to get staff to adjust the game to his liking before eventually deciding to go hands off of the title save for a once-a-month visit. This would result in the scrapped RE 1.5, although Kamiya was still director and Mikami still producer on the finished product.
1: Various sources have been cited in the past for Mikami’s comment, mine was found in an old copy of Tips & Tricks in regards to a Famitsu interview.
“You have once again entered the world of survival horror…”
Those famous words set up a genre that has undergone more definitions than probably any other in video games. Depending on your personal taste in titles, survival horror can mean different things but it was used first and defined by Resident Evil¹. This game was basically a haunted house brought to life and has spawned a series that many gamers, myself included, follow endlessly. Despite the direction of the series not holding well with fans of the originals and a slew of poorly made films, Resident Evil lingers on, if only in our nostalgic minds.
Then: It was 1996 and I was still clinging tightly to the 16-bit era, strolling into my local FuncoLand and asking to see the selection of Sega CD games. Up to that point, simply asking for that section revealed that you had the coveted $400 console powerhouse that so few 14-year-old gamers had at the time. I had traded a small fortune in Magic cards for mine, but no matter how many Funco employees warned me, I refused to believe that full motion video (FMV) titles like Night Trap and Sewer Shark were horrid. That is, until the Playstation came out.
I walked in and all of the back wall Sega Genesis/CDs were removed, completely replaced by new consoles: the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation. With staggering price tags of $400 and $300 respectively I had no chance of getting my hands on these consoles anytime soon. At the same time, I was intimidated by the introduction of polygons, titles like Virtua Fighter 2 and Battle Arena Toshinden looked daunting to control and complicated. That is, until I went back to the trade-in section where a screen displayed a group of marine-looking characters getting attacked by an unknown creature. Even more enticing, the situation was in FMV, a personal favorite of the Sega CD fans, and looked like a cheesy horror film. While the employee lazily looked up trade-in values for my pathetic stack of Genesis titles I asked him what the game was. His response said it all: “What? Resident Evil? It’s one of the first Playstation games. Basically it’s a horror game that drops you into a haunted house.”
He couldn’t have handed me the controller fast enough. I eagerly booted up the game and re-watched the opening cutscene where a group of police officers get attacked by what looked like disfigured dogs and end up in a spooky mansion. I was worried when the screen displayed those 3D polygons I feared so much, but the camera angles were fixed and the characters moved at a reasonably slow pace that I could control. I know this is probably a burden to most gamers today, but back then it was more difficult to grasp the concept of 3D space. I explored a blood smear and entered a back room only to find a zombie feeding on a body – the short cutscene amazed me with its detail and blood. Before I knew it, I was back in the action and the zombie was coming for me! I had selected Jill as my character because I’ve always chosen females as my gaming characters if available, and I did what most of us would have done in real life: I ran. My partner, Barry, was still looking over the blood smear in the dining room and I escaped into there for safety. Thankfully he pulled out a huge .357 Magnum and blew the zombie’s head clear off. I was sold.
At that moment the sales guy told me that I would get $22 in store credit and that my game time was up. I handed him the controller, scooped up my games and headed out the door. Back in those days it was always good to have a friend with rich parents and that friend in my life was Chris. It took a few visits and convincing, but eventually Chris took enough interest in Sony’s console to get one. Not two weeks later he was slated to go on vacation for the weekend and with a ton of begging he agreed to let me borrow the console – unbeknownst to him I had already traded in a slew of games and allowance to purchase Resident Evil on my own. That was the best weekend of my high school career that didn’t include dating. Resident Evil had it all – dogs jumping through windows, traps, and even huge sharks and snakes as bosses. Even the horrid voice acting and the famous “master of unlocking” line² aided in the true b-movie feel. Furthermore, it was difficult. As a console gamer, the concept of saving often, especially when you never knew what was coming next, was new to me. After stumbling upon a snake with only a handful of Beretta rounds and three shotgun rounds, I quickly learned my lesson. Sadly, Sunday evening came just a bit too fast and despite nearly 12 hours of persistent playing, Chris came home and I had to give back his Playstation before getting through the final lab.
It would be two more years before I was able to afford and pick up Resident Evil again, but luckily there were a few more games to enjoy at that time. I had long since sold my copy of the original game, wanting the later released Director’s Cut, and unable to get Chris to show any interest in the game. I purchased the Director’s Cut and RE2 in an in-store bundle at Babbage’s and spent an entire summer week, the one my girlfriend always spent camping with her family, surviving the various perils of Raccoon City.
Now: Resident Evil still holds a special place in my heart (as well as the hearts of many gamers who experienced this title like I did), but my opinion is shrouded in nostalgia. By the release of the second title, most games were taking advantage of the dual shock controller and offered moveable camera angles. Protagonists moved with a smoothness like that of Lara Croft, whereas the characters of Resident Evil were boxy, slow-moving, and unable to move with the versatility of their opponents. It’s pretty sad when you’re competing against a zombie for mobility or speed and losing. Still, I love the games, even today in all their blurry PSOne mess. For the newer generation the GameCube or Wii remakes are the way to go, bringing a slightly updated feel to the classic. I just don’t feel right playing a Resident Evil game without a Playstation controller, though, despite having beaten the game on every possible console/PC iteration.
As a history lesson, it’s a great glimpse into the progress gaming made at the time with the introduction of immersion and monster closets to intensify gameplay. If you were just hoping to replay a classic and you have never touched a title in the series, you will find Resident Evil hasn’t aged well at all. Limitations of the time were adapted to create a free flow for gaming, but it’s a tough and slow-paced road from beginning to end. Heck, you spend most of your time running from and shooting at creatures you can’t even see.
Resident Evil Fact Sheet
- Date of Release: March 30, 1996
- Consoles Released for: Playstation, Saturn, PC, GameCube, DS, Wii, PSOne on PSN
As you can see, the update on the GameCube was drastic and visually stunning.
- Director Shinji Mikami had previously done an RPG-like version of Resident Evil on the Famicom (NES) back in the 80′s. The game is named Sweet Home and never released in America (although a translated version is available for emulators).
- The Japanese version was much more violent and difficult. Scenes in the opening FMV were altered in America which changed the visuals to black and white, cut so many moments in the attack on Joseph that it’s impossible to tell what happens, and cuts a shot of Chris smoking. There were also random scares removed from the US version and none of the boxes are connected in the Japanese version (you have to return to the specific box you put items into). Many of these features were added to the US version in the Director’s Cut, save for the original opening (which was wrongly advertised on the box).
- Capcom released the Director’s Cut after the original concept for Resident Evil 2 was scrapped and they needed something to keep fans interested. In the Japanese release you could get the complete edition that allowed you to view video and screens from the canceled game, named Resident Evil 1.5, or simply purchase the regular version that released in the US and contained a demo of Resident Evil 2.
- In the GameCube remake several new plot points and areas were integrated into the mansion of the original. Certain puzzles were changed or removed completely while others remained unchanged. This version is still seen as the most definitive and most difficult of all versions.