Resident Evil Gaiden: The Second-best Resident Evil game set on a boat!
Resident Evil Gaiden / バイオハザード外伝
Developer: M4 Limited
Publisher: Virgin Interactive (PAL) / Capcom (JP & NA)
Initial Release: December 14th 2001
Resident Evil Gaiden is an interesting little game for the Game Boy Color but it wasn’t the first Game Boy Color version of Resident Evil that was developed. Originally, Capcom approached the newly formed British developer HotGen to assist in bringing Resident Evil to Game Boy Color & they got pretty far into development before Capcom decided to pull the plug on a project.
HotGen’s Resident Evil was pretty much a scene by scene port of the original PlayStation game and was really impressive how much the managed to fit on such a small 4mb cartridge. Scheduled for release around autumn 1999, Resident Evil GBC was delayed until March 2000 where it was unfortunately cancelled by Capcom. The official reason for cancellation Capcom gave was they were “not confident that the product would have made both consumers and Capcom happy.”
Currently, there are two prototype versions of this game online, I’ve played both and I can say Hotgen did a really good job. Both versions are playable up until the lab section of the game. Track down a ROM online and flash it to a cart to play on real hardware. The only reasons I can think of for the cancellation is either not being able to fit the rest of the game onto the cartridge or Capcom deciding to not put out the same game on the Game Boy Color when there’s already the superior PlayStation port out there.
Resident Evil Gaiden
Late 2001 see’s the release of Resident Evil Gaiden, we can safely say at this point the series was blowing up in popularity, or more precisely had already blown up. Fans were hungry for more Resident Evil and a lot of the fan base were upset that they didn’t get HotGen’s 2000 port.
So far, every Resident Evil game had been a hit with the last game released in the series being the excellent, although somewhat camp, Resident Evil Code Veronica. This was a time where Resident Evil Zero and Remake where being shown off in the media and future looked bright for the series, perhaps the development of Remake lead to the cancellation of HotGen’s port? We’ll never know.
Capcom approached M4 Limited, yet another UK based developer, to take the helm putting together Resident Evil Gaiden. This time Capcom afforded M4 a couple of big names from the Resident Evil team, Series creator Shinji Mikami served the team as an advisor & Code Veronica’s director Hiroki Kato was Gaiden’s writer.
With two series veterans, like Mikami and Kato on the team, you’d be expecting something pretty interesting. Sadly, this isn’t the case and the story of Resident Evil Gaiden is a little disappointing leaving more questions than answers.
You play as Barry Burton, a former STARS member, who is tasked with finding Leon S Kennedy aboard a ship called the Starlight. Leon was investigating reports of a new Umbrella developed Bioweapon (B.O.W) aboard the ship before going missing. It is up to Barry to find and rescue Leon and assist in finding any information of any B.O.W.
Upon arriving on the Starlight, it is soon clear that there as been a T-virus outbreak and there are hordes of zombies everywhere. While searching for Leon, Barry runs into a girl called Lucia being attacked by a B.O.W, after a small confrontation, Lucia effective becomes a party member from that moment onwards and they go to look for Leon together. I will not say much more about the story in case you want to experience it for yourself, but let’s just say there’s a rather predictable ‘Plot twist’ and the ending is quite confusing, completely establishing itself as non-cannon.
Resident Evil Gaiden does not fully try to emulate tradition RE controls, the game is played in an isometric style switching to first-person for encounters, which feels almost a bit like getting into battles in the older Dragon Quest games. Zombies roam the rooms and corridors of the Starlight and will shamble towards you as you’d expect from a Resident Evil game. If an enemy grabs you or manually attack the enemy using your gun to aim at them you’ll trigger an encounter with that enemy, sometimes even more if they are in range!
During this First Person ‘battle’ mode you have to stop the sliding bar in the centre of a target, it’s kind of hard to explain but if the bar is in the middle of a target you will do critical damage making your enemies easier to take down. The further away a Zombie is when the encounter begins the smaller the hitbox window will be, as the encounter progresses the Zombie will get closer until they can inflict damage.
This actually works really well, and I was impressed by the mechanic. You still have to preserve your ammo and healing items, luckily you can run past most encounters in the game which does feel very Resident Evil!
Resident Evil Gaiden does really feel like a true RE game, you have to conserve ammo by carefully avoiding enemies where possible, there are a plethora of items to find and use aboard the Starlight including fuses, key cards and all that fun stuff. The game, in true RE style, has you doing a lot of backtracking and you will get to know the map like the back of your hand, eventually.
Progression in Gaiden is usually a case of searching an area for a key or key card to explore a little further. This type of gameplay is 100% Resident Evil and very satisfying when you realise you have a whole new area to explore.
Being a late Game Boy Color game, Resident Evil Gaiden benefits from the developers knowing the ins and outs of the hardware. Graphically the game is quite impressive, colours are bright where they need to be without being garish, however, by today’s standard you’ll probably want to be playing with a backlight Game Boy Color or something like MiSTer as some of the dark areas can be very hard to make out on the original screen.
Character models are well done and are a great size proportional to the Game Boy Color’s small screen, which is a pet peeve of mine. Graphically the game is somewhat similar to the great Metal Gear Solid Ghost Babel, also on the Game Boy Colour. Enemy design is very good although a little repetitive and this game actually has some gore and blood, on the Game Boy Color!! The models used in the in-game ‘cutscenes’ and battles are high quality and are some of the best I’ve seen on the console.
In terms of music, Resident Evil Gaiden is great. It actually sounds like Resident Evil, which for an 8-bit console is impressive. The game has a good mix of slower, spookier ambient music & higher energy stress music when there are more zombies on screen. This type of dynamic music really does help keep things fresh and is a nice touch.
Resident Evil Gaiden has its share of flaws, first, the plot gets little be silly near the end, I don’t quite know what happened with the writing, but this is one of the reasons the game has received such a mixed reception among critics. Another is the controls, on the whole, they work fine but at times they feel a little clunky, in the menu, for example, I have to consistent urge to press ‘B’ to go back, but you need to press select. I fully understand this is a personal gripe and I am sure most people will be perfectly fine.
Save Points: Gone are Ink Ribbons! This seems like such a weird chose, especially with a handheld game where battery life might be an issue. Resident Evil Gaiden uses a check point style save system, this takes away one aspect of the original games but it’s not a deal-breaker.
One last hang-up I have is the music that plays during the cutscenes, it’s the same song every time and sometimes you enter these scenes in quick succession, Like 20 seconds apart. This music is loud and can be quite jarring when compared to the more subtle music used throughout most of the game. Once again, this may be a personal issue, but I did find it very annoying.
Resident Evil Gaiden is a good game released a little too late into the Game Boy Color’s life, the Game Boy Advance had already been out well over 6 months when Gaiden finally released.
Resident Evil Gaiden is a must-play for any Resident Evil fan, even just a little curio. It’s really nice to see what can be done with a stripped-down version of a RE game. Gaiden takes around 4 hours to beat which, for a handheld game is perfect and doesn’t outstay its welcome.
The developers have taken a 3D game series successfully converted it 2D with minimal drawbacks. You still try your best to avoid enemies and conserve item, You still collect items and keys to progress and you still manage your inventory, switch between weapons as you run out of ammo; These are very Resident Evil mechanics and surprisingly work very well on the Game Boy Color.
It’s also very strange to see how many things have been taken from this game for use later in the series. The setting on an infested ship appeared once again in Resident Evil Revelations and Barry escorting a young female character was pretty much half of Revelations 2.
I wouldn’t say Resident Evil Gaiden is a ‘classic’ and I may never play it again, but as a technical showcase, it really is something nice. If you are interested in a somewhat different Resident Evil experience, then give Gaiden a try!