House of the...Biohazard?
While the Wii might not be getting Resident Evil 5, Capcom was kind enough to produce an exclusive game for us Nintendo gamers. That game is Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, which encapsulates the early storylines of the series and throws in a new one for good measure. The game is basically a rail shooter, and the horror atmosphere inevitably leads to comparisons with the House of the Dead series…which Umbrella Chronicles is clearly inspired by. Capcom, however, has done an admirable job in making RE: UC a fun, surprisingly deep adventure that will please not just fans of the series, but Wii owners looking for the next great action title. Umbrella Chronicles includes various areas from Resident Evil Zero, Resident Evil (the GameCube remake), and Resident Evil 3, as well as several bonus missions and a new "chapter" in the RE saga. At the game’s outset, you select a character, your subweapon, and which stage you want to tackle. Then it’s off to the rails!
For those unfamiliar with "on-rails" shooter games, the basic idea is that you do not control the movement of your character, aside from some limited "looking around." Rather, you are in complete control of the character's gun and grenades while undead beasties and biological weapons attack at every corner. Umbrella Chronicles makes great use of the Wii Remote, although pressing B instead of A to fire your gun takes a bit of getting used to after playing Metroid Prime 3. Umbrella Chronicles expands Resident Evil 4’s action and dodge mechanics. Pressing A while the target is over various shiny things will result in you unlocking new guns or files that further the plot. Boss fights are a combination of good aiming and quick reflexes (think about the Krauser knife fight in RE4).
Each stage is divided into two not-necessarily-equal parts, and the halfway point is auto-saved, so when the stages start getting a bit long in the tooth (as they do late in the game), you can take a break and continue later. After finishing a stage, you are ranked from S to D, based on various criteria, and are awarded a certain number of stars that you can use to upgrade your guns.
Umbrella Chronicles puts an enormous emphasis on shot accuracy. Each enemy in the game has a specific weak point, and you should try to shoot it for massive damage. That weak point is generally somewhere on the head, although there are a few enemies (like Leech Mimics) that either don’t have a weak point, or it’s just hard to find. Grenades are good for clearing out a big group of undead, but I found aiming to be a little tricky—your grenades will bounce farther than you think they will. And like most other RE games, it takes a quite a few shots to down a shambling zombie if you’re not right on the mark. The different guns generally fall into three classes: handguns, machine guns, and shotguns. There are some specialty weapons, like revolvers and a grenade launcher, but I didn’t find them to be worth the trouble, especially given their low ammo capacity.
The game stays amazingly true to the RE games, and each boss fight is a memorable experience (although some go on for too long). You’ll battle such famous creatures as the giant scorpion (RE0), Tyrant (RE1), and the Gravedigger (RE3). The bonus missions add new bosses to the series and fill in some of the plot holes that have dogged the storyline (like how Rebecca got into the mansion). Sadly, other plot holes inevitably open up. It’s kind of cool that your character and your partner talk to each other throughout each stage, so there’s a real feeling of immersion—you only know as much as the characters do. Shooting various environmental objects will often net you Umbrella Files that you can read from the main menu.
Co-op is where the game really shines. Get two Wii Remotes, two Nunchuks, and a buddy and go nuts! The game doesn’t throw extra enemies at two players, so team efforts are a little easier than the solo game, which can, at times, be quite difficult. Boss fights become a little bit too easy sometimes, when one player is knocking the boss away while the other player constantly fires at its weak spot, but that’s why it’s fun, too. If you don’t have any friends, you can cheat and duel-wield, which is a whole different kind of fun (although a little tricky).
Now, there are some complaints to be had. First and foremost, RE2 is not included in the game. Neither is RE4, but we just played through the Wii version of that game, didn’t we? At any rate, the omission of RE2 segments is unusual to say the least. Another complaint is that many enemies have extremely small weak points. For example, in order to blow the head off a zombie, you have to shoot it right at the top of the forehead. That becomes difficult when the shambling undead lurch, dip, and stumble at every turn. Once you get the hang of finding that weak spot, it’s actually much easier to stay "on target," but the learning curve for weak points is severe.
Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles is a real treat, and I can’t recommend it more. Unless you have an aversion to rail shooters, you’d be silly not to at least give this game a rental. It also makes for a wonderful summary of the major points in the complex RE storyline, so players new to the franchise can warm up to the current situation.