A look at the fabled Capcom Five and their influence.
While we here at NWR will spend the next couple of weeks talking about the greatest games and moments from the GameCube’s era, it’s important to also address the elephant in the room: the GameCube was, putting it bluntly, a commercial failure. Sure, there was great software to be played and the shape of the console along with the handle made it useful in fending off late-night home invaders, but the system just couldn’t generate sales.
In fact, at the end of the fiscal year in 2002, roughly six months after launch, the GameCube had sold only 3.8 million units. Compare that figure to those of the Nintendo 64 and the Wii, which each sold around 5.8 million units in the same amount of time, and it is apparent that the GameCube stuttered and stumbled out of the gates at the time of its launch. Worse yet, by the end of the 2002 fiscal year, there were about 28 million PlayStation 2s in homes all across the world.
Nintendo needed something to spur sales, and in November 2002, it appeared that that something was to be Capcom. During a press conference, Capcom announced what were to be known as the Capcom Five; five games developed exclusively for the GameCube by Capcom’s Production Studio 4 (with the exception of Killer 7, which was developed by Grasshopper Manufacture) and overseen by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami. This was a serious and bold endeavor, and it certainly didn’t take long for the promise of five exclusive GameCube games to be chipped away at until very little remained.
In January 2003, due to pressure to increase revenue, Capcom conceded that not all of the five announced games would be GameCube exclusive, and that any of them, except for Resident Evil 4, could be ported to another console. Worse yet, just prior to its launch on GameCube, Capcom announced that nine months after Resident Evil 4 released, it would be ported to the PS2, effectively pulling the carpet out from under the notion that RE4 would help spur GameCube sales, even if the GameCube version would be considered superior to the PS2 port in nearly every way.
In the end, only one of the fabled Capcom Five would retain GameCube exclusivity, while another would end up canceled entirely. I’d like to look at each of the individual games that made up the Five and discuss not only what happened at the time of their release, but also the impact they had on the future and how, if at all, it involved Nintendo.
What a coincidence that the only game of the Five to retain GameCube exclusivity just happened to be the worst reviewed and selling of the bunch. P.N. 03 was a favorite project of Shinji Mikami, and early builds available at different press events inspired confidence in the final product. In fact, many outlets considered P.N. 03 to be the most promising of the Five.
P.N. 03 was to be a futuristic shooter focused on quick reflexes and defensive awareness. Rather than create an infallible hero, Mikami wanted to stress defense and reward players for using cover and performing defensive maneuvers effectively. Eager to avoid a Resident Evil aesthetic, Mikami and Studio 4 also opted for a bright color palette made up mostly of white and large, clean environments. This step outside of the ordinary no doubt had a hand in the press’ generally favorable response to P.N. 03 when played at different events.
As noted previously, though, increased pressure to generate revenue caused Capcom to release the game early in order to slip it in before the end of the fiscal year and, hopefully, buoy profits. Turns out that rushed, somewhat incomplete games aren’t good at doing that. Go figure. Mikami himself wished that he had had more time to complete the game. Instead, the game featured barren and repetitive environments, stiff controls, and even completely removed the character holding a gun, due to not having enough time to animate it. Instead, she shot out of the palms of her hands.
Mikami would later get an opportunity to utilize some elements of P.N. 03 in making a much more complete game, Vanquish. While more reliant on shooter tropes than P.N. 03, Vanquish still featured the speed and maneuverability of that game’s heroine, Vanessa. From quickly ducking behind cover to rapidly sliding across distances to engage enemies, P.N. 03’s influence is all over Vanquish and its futuristic landscapes.
Probably the most recognizable game to come from the Capcom Five outside of Resident Evil 4, Viewtiful Joe is a sight to behold. With the game’s exaggerated, cel-shaded graphics and an impeccable frame rate, Joe blazes around near-chaotically, pummeling foes with a series of combos, blocks, and special powers. The game is easily one of the best beat-'em-ups to come out in the past decade.
Viewtiful Joe sold enough to be considered a success internally by Team Viewtiful, who had set out to create a relatively inexpensive game. Capcom, though, expected more, and ported the game to PS2 a year later. It sold even worse there while also removing progressive scan and featuring bouts of slowdown during the busier moments on screen. Sequels and spin-offs also blossomed from the relative success of the original GameCube game.
Team Viewtiful eventually became Clover Studio, who worked on two notable PS2 games, Okami and God Hand. Okami took the cel-shaded look of Viewtiful Joe and combined it with the exploration and action of a Zelda game to create one of the best adventure games of all time. God Hand, meanwhile, was another beat-'em-up that intended, at least somewhat, to be more realistic and serious than Viewtiful Joe. While most reviews of the game were middling, it has garnered quite the cult following, and even became available on the PlayStation Network recently.
Though both Okami and God Hand are lauded for their originality, neither sold especially well, and Capcom sought to absorb Clover Studio and put them to work on other projects. Instead, Clover Studio disbanded, with a great deal of the staff going on to form Platinum Games, including Shinji Mikami. It was with Platinum Games that Mikami not only developed the aforementioned Vanquish, but also dabbled with Nintendo-exclusivity again, creating MadWorld, a dark and violent beat-'em-up. Despite critical success, MadWorld failed to find its footing commercially, a disappointing recurrence in the discussion of the Capcom Five.
Being cancelled and all, Dead Phoenix remains the most mysterious of the Capcom Five. The game was to feature a winged man flying around large environments, shooting and attacking waves of enemies, both big and small. While compared to Panzer Dragoon at the time, the game also bears some resemblance to the PS3’s Lair, in that the player wouldn’t be stuck on-rails and would have the opportunity to freely fly around levels.
Dead Phoenix was intended to be released in the summer of 2003, but when information surrounding the game grew scarce, some assumed that it had been cancelled. Before 2003’s E3, Capcom went on to assure everyone that it was still in development. A few short months later, Capcom finally announced that the game had indeed been cancelled.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to come from Dead Phoenix and its cancellation is the origin of the return of Kid Icarus, as posited time and time again by IGN. While the game hung in limbo, IGN posted an article questioning if its sudden disappearance might mean that it was being reworked to become a new Kid Icarus game, as both shared undeniable similarities. This, of course, would prove to be untrue, but it was the first of several instances where IGN would put forth the idea of a studio working on a new Kid Icarus game. Only now is there a real Kid Icarus game on its way out, being developed internally by Nintendo’s own Project Sora.
Resident Evil 4
Easily the most successful and renowned member of the Capcom Five, Resident Evil 4 was the game that was meant to change all preconceptions about Nintendo and its GameCube. Here, a challenging, bloody, gorgeous game was going to illustrate the potential of the hardware and shed the kiddie image of the purple lunchbox. Capcom had also made it a point to stress that Resident Evil 4 would remain a GameCube exclusive despite what may happen to other members of the Capcom Five, with Shinji Mikami even going so far as to say that he would commit harakiri (a form of suicide) if the game was ported to another system.
Just a side note to developers: don’t announce that you’ll kill yourself if something you have no control over happens.
As noted previously, a PS2 port of Resident Evil 4 was announced two months prior to its release on GameCube, and even though it wouldn’t be released until nine months after the GameCube version, patient PS2 owners could now wait rather than go out of their way to buy new hardware. The PS2 version of the game went on to sell more units than the GameCube’s.
The mistake with Resident Evil 4 wasn’t releasing it on two different consoles, it was announcing and then reaffirming that it would only be released on one. Why Capcom ever thought to limit the availability of one of its flagship franchises to a single system is befuddling. It just can’t be argued that Resident Evil 4 would have been anywhere near the commercial success it was if released solely on the GameCube, much as it may sting to admit it. If anything, ‘Cube owners should have been happy knowing that their version was the definitive build and that they, in the very least, could play it on their console of choice. That hasn’t been a luxury afforded in this current generation.
While Resident Evil 5 saw release on non-Nintendo consoles, the Wii was treated to two exclusive (at least up until a couple of weeks ago) Resident Evil games that were each basically an on-rails tour through Resident Evil’s greatest hits. Interestingly, Capcom is now close to releasing a 3DS-exclusive Resident Evil game that is going to fit in canonically with the series as a whole. Knowing Capcom’s history to this point, as well as considering that Resident Evil: Revelations will be the most expensive 3DS game on the market at $50, it’s not hard to envision a likely scenario in which this game winds up being ported to another system.
Killer 7 was the final Five release, and by this time Capcom had fully given up on any console exclusivity, releasing both the GameCube and PS2 versions at the same time. Without a doubt the most bizarre and divisive game of the lot, Killer 7 was stylistic, violent, and a wholly unique game unlike anything on either platform. The game even went on to draw ire from the once menacingly notable Jack Thompson, who purported that the game featured “full-blown sex sequences.” For more about Killer 7 and its ups and downs, check out Radio Free Nintendo’s excellent recent RetroActive, where they discuss the game at length.
While Killer 7 may have been a cross-platform release, its critical success and unparalleled style put Grasshopper Manufacture and CEO Suda51 squarely on the map, allowing them to create several notable Nintendo-exclusives. The first of those was Contact, a quirky RPG released for the Nintendo DS in 2007. Of course, the best known Grasshopper Manufacture releases are No More Heroes and No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. In the vein of Killer 7, the No More Heroes games are violent, genre-melding affairs with no shortage of wit and sarcastic nods to video game tropes.
Though No More Heroes has been ported to the Xbox 360 and PS3, and Grasshopper Manufacture has turned their attention to those consoles for recent and upcoming releases like Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw, Suda51 has expressed interest in exploring what the Wii U has to offer, and perhaps creating a third No More Heroes game for the console. Out of all the Capcom Five contributors, he seems the most interested and invested in utilizing Nintendo’s hardware.
In the end, even though all but one of the Capcom Five were released on other platforms, most remain synonymous with GameCube, either through the limited exclusivity they did possess or the generally better technical performance they had on the ‘Cube. The Capcom Five only suffer because of Capcom’s own mismanagement, from rushing P.N. 03 out the door to stifling momentum by constantly contradicting themselves.
With the Wii U coming next year, it will be interesting to see how Nintendo can again curry the favor of third party developers in creating games that, most importantly, take full advantage of the hardware. That, and not exclusivity, will be the key to the Wii U’s third party successes.