In March of 2002, Capcom released Resident Evil on the Nintendo GameCube. Following a fruitful lifespan on the rival PlayStation, it was certainly jarring to see Jill Valentine and company making their debut on Mario’s little purple lunchbox.
Despite critical acclaim, the title fell short of its sales targets, setting off a domino effect that would change not only the course of Resident Evil games, but the survival horror genre as a whole.
With its twenty year anniversary fast approaching, it seemed the perfect opportunity to take a look back on this exquisite Jill sandwich.
The genesis of this remake came down to a few factors. As part of an exclusivity deal with Capcom, Nintendo had scored the rights to RE titles past and present. Leaping directly into the fourth entry may not have allowed this new demographic to familiarise themselves with what made these games so popular, and hence, the PlayStation trilogy would be released on the GameCube first.
Shinji Mikami, the director of the original title, felt that the blood soaked romp through Spencer Mansion hadn’t aged well, and elected to remake the game instead of porting it directly.
What started as a humble effort to maintain many of the original concepts would grow into a much more dedicated effort, with change of life tweaks that made the game more modern and accessible. After a year of development, their project was completed and Resident Evil rose again in glorious, Crimson Head fashion: faster, meaner and stronger than ever before.
The critical praise was nearly universal. Shane Satterfield of Gamespot stated, ‘anyone with a penchant for the macabre will be blown away by Resident Evil’ while IGN’s Matt Casamassina urged that ‘every gamer — whether you’ve played the original or have never heard of the franchise — should pick this up for their GameCube’.
Alas, many of the reviews have been lost to the passage of time (twenty internet years equating to approximately a millennium, in the real world), but the game holds Metacritic ratings of 91 and 9.2, for critics and user scores respectively.
Of all of its qualities, its visual prowess was perhaps the most lauded. Though we have achieved near photorealistic graphical fidelity in 2022, I would posit that the sixth console generation was the last one that made truly groundbreaking strides from its predecessor.
To wit, Resident Evil does not look like a twenty year old game, it has just aged that damned well. Compare that to games that had been made twenty years prior to its release, and you’re taking in the digitised landscapes of Donkey Kong Jr., Pitfall and E.T. the Extraterrestrial.
Yes, I’m referring to that E.T.. We’ve come a long way in a short time.
Despite its many impressive attributes, one thing it was not was a sales juggernaut. Mikami would reveal to IGN’s Jose Otero that ‘the Resident Evil remake is actually one of my favorites of the series too. But it didn’t sell very well’. That figure, 1.35 million, equated to half of the PlayStation original (2.75 million), while the sequels had performed even better; 3.5 million for Resident Evil 3, and a staggering 4.96 million for Resident Evil 2.
The catalyst for this misfire could come down to several factors. Perhaps there wasn’t enough market demand for a remake to a six year old game. Maybe the general failure of the GameCube itself was the culprit, with lifetime sales of 21.74 million units shifted paling in comparison to over 155 million PlayStation 2s. Coincidentally, that makes the latter the bestselling console of all time.
The most damning notion, however, was that the formula was outdated and at risk of being left behind. This was the consensus among its creators, with Mikami confessing in the IGN interview, ‘because of the reaction to the Resident Evil remake, I decided to work more action into Resident Evil 4. Resident Evil 4 would have been a more scary, horror-focused game if the remake had sold well’.
As it turns out, his intuition wasn’t unfounded, with 2005’s Resident Evil 4 selling 1.6 million units on the GameCube, and later, an additional 2.3 million on the PS2. RE4’s mechanics took a tectonic shift from the established fundamentals, replacing the tense feelings of hopelessness with raucous, violent thrills.
And that’s where we’ve been ever since.
The gaming industry is a vastly different beast today than it was in the early 2000s, and modern Resident Evil games routinely sell in a fashion that dwarfs the efforts of yesteryear. When remakes for Resident Evil 2 (2019) and Resident Evil 3 (2020) were finally released, they followed in the footsteps that have by now been well established: Claire, Leon, Jill and Carlos are no longer the fragile underdogs they were in their initial entries, and the ‘survival’ aspect of survival horror almost feels token nowadays.
The Resident Evil 3 remake, as of the time of this article, has sold 4.9 million units, while Resident Evil 2’s remake has netted 9.3 million units, putting it behind only Monster Hunter: World and Resident Evil 7 in Capcom’s all-time bestsellers.
Would a more traditional Resident Evil title come close to these figures in 2022? It’s doubtful, and more importantly, there’s no point in even risking the venture to find out.
Looking at the Resident Evil remake through a lens free of nostalgia, peer pressure or genre affinity, I can proudly confess that it has been one of my favourite gaming experiences of all time. Previously, I had only dabbled in Resident Evil 3 during my youth, frustrated by the control scheme and yearning for a more streamlined experience (how ironic that these childish conceptions would preface the very changes I would later abhor).
This Resident Evil revelation — pause for laughter/mild disinterest — comes fresh off of attempting the game for the first time last year, as part of my Twitch channel. And though I did struggle occasionally due to some puzzles that were too obtuse for my feeble brain, for the most part, I was enamoured.
I felt helpless, panic-stricken. Each choice became increasingly more life-and-death, with resources like ammo or health proving to be as valuable as gold. My play through was a stumbling, messy affair, but in many ways, I feel as though that was the intention: much like its protagonists, players ought to have felt wary as they fumbled their way through each trap or set piece.
Though I am still yet to enjoy the full catalogue of Resident Evil titles, from my limited experience of the trilogy remakes, I am resolute that the first effort proves to be the standalone entry. It offered everything I could ever want from an alleged ‘horror survival’ game, and it’s a veritable gut punch to know that its elements may never again be explored in the AAA industry.
I can only imagine what lifetime RE stans, with over twenty-five years of adoration, have gone through in the meantime.
Perhaps the most jagged little pill to swallow is that 2015’s Resident Evil HD remaster was the fastest selling digital title the company had ever released, as well as the bestselling debut title in PlayStation Network history. Again, successes are as fickle as setbacks, but you could draw a correlation to the reverence for this game and its eventual, long overdue commercial triumph.
The Resident Evil community is wanting for little nowadays. Capcom has recognised and embraced its significance, and a new chapter consistently lurks on the horizon. It only resembles its native form in a peripheral sense, though this is hardly to its detriment, as it has, for the most part, maintained the same level of commitment and quality that it used to shock 90s gamers so long ago.
With that said, there is a subset of aficionados who have been left in the dark for far too long. As much as they prefer it in the dark (preferably with some kind of flesh-eating ghoul lurching towards them), the idea of a throwback, nuts and bolts RE will likely never be anything more than a desperate, fleeting dream.
We don’t need tank controls. We don’t need mansion keys. We don’t even need Barry casually leaving supplies strewn about like some kind of middle-aged Easter bunny. But damn, it sure would be nice to be traumatised once more.