A house of the dead

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It’s worth making this clear before we delve any further: Yes, this is that Resident Evil running on Nintendo’s Famicom. And yes, it’s about as official a product as a gold-effect “Rolex” briefly seen hanging from the inside of a snap-close briefcase held by a man who only accepts cash and will definitely not be there to accept any returns if you come back tomorrow. This rampant disregard for copyright law puts this particular release in exactly the same legal boat as many other wildly ambitious fan games and imaginative total conversions, and in that respect is neither more remarkable nor despicable than any other work taking another company’s logos or beret-wearing STARS operatives and using them for their own entertaining purposes.

What makes this de-make so special is how incredibly accurate to the (non-Director’s Cut) PlayStation original it is. I know that’s a bold claim to make about a game that seems to have created all of its locations from one grey and orange tileset, but the truth is this gets so much right you could follow a guide written twenty five years (!!) ago for Sony’s console from beginning to the end, cradle to grave art room puzzle and all, and if you’re of the speedrunning persuasion you could more-or-less follow your usual route through from the carpeted mansion hall all the way to the helipad. The same enemies are roaming in the same halls they always did (various limitations mean certain monsters, for example the famous window-shattering dogs near the beginning, are already running around the corridor rather than appearing without warning), you can still find green herbs in the corner near Richard’s poisoned body, the right keys are hidden in the correct guardhouse bathtubs, and if you want a gem for the tiger’s eye you’ll need to push the statue off the balcony onto the dining hall floor below, same as always. The fixed perspective – almost every room within the Spencer mansion is viewed as if the camera is facing north, aligning itself with the map screen – has caused a few understandable bits of furniture reshuffling along the way; for example the lone fireplace on the far wall of the dining hall is effectively invisible when the room is viewed like this, so the wooden crest you’d normally find hanging over the mantlepiece is placed in an alcove near the grandfather clock instead. Even with these adjustments it’s mind-boggling to think the developers of this de-make (“Waixing Computer Science & Technology” are credited in-game as well as on the physical items I have) were able to recreate these frequently complex spaces so convincingly – there’s the serum in the save room under the stairs, there’s the computer in the bioweapon lab awaiting a password so simple my phone demands something more secure just to let me view amusing cat GIFs on Twitter.

Even with all the skill in the world there is still only so much the NES can do in anyone’s hands and so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to learn there are some features only notable by their absence. Easy and Hard difficulties are available, but no matter what you select Jill is the only playable character, leaving Chris as a side character to be rescued (and by extension this choice scrubs Rebecca from existence). The other significant change is to the battle system: What’s here is a simplified version of Resident Evil: Gaiden‘s first-person shooting, aiming marker whipping back and forth across the screen and all (the zombie sprite should look overly familiar too). It’s… mostly functional, even if almost every enemy looks like they were created during someone’s first ever session with MS Paint (during someone’s first ever session with a computer, in some cases). The music is also what I will charitable describe as “present”, neither attempting to recreate classic Resident Evil tunes nor making any real effort to enhance the game’s mood. It’s disappointing, especially when you remember the same hardware can also produce Sweet Home‘s spine-tingling soundtrack, but Resident Evil’s already suffered worse and come through the other side so it’s more of a missed opportunity rather than a game breaking screw-up.

The good news is the climactic Tyrant battle on the helipad has been retained (although they’re now represented by a slightly edited zombie sprite – which is infinitely preferable to the made-from-scratch art used for other bioweapons), however the memorable boss battle against giant snake Yawn has been replaced by a spider living in the hole where the Moon Crest resides (meaning you can’t avoid fighting them – which also means Jill always collapses from her poisonous injuries after leaving the room) and completely absent for what should be the rematch in the music room (the hole in the floor you need to go through is already there when you enter), and the giant spider “Black Tiger” normally lurking in the caves has been replaced by a few less intimidating arachnids. It is a shame – I’m especially fond of completely ignoring the scuttling poison-spitter in favour of destroying their door-covering webs and then never seeing them again – but for all that’s obviously missing this unofficial de-make still has a wider range of more interesting enemies than Resident Evil VII managed in one big-budget game and handfuls of paid-for DLC (Molded? Again?! And their spawn point has once more been deliberately engineered to block off wherever I’m trying to get to? Wooo~). The sharks are still swimming around the guard house basement (and the room they’re in has clear flooded/drained states too – I was impressed by that), as are the crows in the art gallery, the SODDING DOGS in the courtyard, the deadly green-skinned Hunters roaming the mansion on your return from the guard house, and even the mostly-harmless little snakes on the path outside after you’ve used the crank to drain the water too.

This is clearly not a replacement for the original, or even a facsimile on the visual level of the Game Boy Color’s cancelled port, and to make matters worse it’s not even close to being scary either. It’d be easy to reel off a list all the places this is off and call it a day, but I feel to do so would be a failure to recognise both the hard work put in by the NES team as well as the strength of Resident Evil’s map and puzzle design. This mansion of mystery and the laboratory hiding underneath are so tightly designed that regardless of the presentation used so long as everything’s where it’s supposed to be and works as intended you’re guaranteed to end up with at the very least a well designed adventure game. Resident Evil could work just as well as an interactive FMV experience. It could even work as a text adventure (oh now there’s a thought!). And yes, it does work as a NES de-make even with bits of Gaiden clumsily grafted on to plug the gaps.

3 thoughts on “A house of the dead

  1. Oh how interesting that they decided to use the Gaiden battle system to make this work better. I was really impressed with what they managed to replicate in the GBC prototype but wonder if that could have gotten finished if they actually had the senes to compromise where it was needed.

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  2. Imagine a world where official “de-makes” weren’t just relegated to April Fools jokes, but actual (download-only if need be) releases.

    Like

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