Yes...let the T-Virus flow through you!
The light-gun genre is alive and well on the Wii. Some would say it’s never been done better than 2007’s Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, though I would counter that this year’s excellent Dead Space: Extraction raised the bar significantly in key areas. Darkside Chronicles, which covers plot points left out of Umbrella Chronicles, manages to take a few steps back from its predecessor, but remains a fun jaunt through the series backlog.
While Umbrella Chronicles condensed the storylines of Resident Evil 0, REmake, and Resident Evil 3 (as well as bonus Resident Evil 2 missions starring Ada Wong and H.U.N.K.), Darkside Chronicles covers RE2, Code Veronica, and a brand-new mission with Leon Kennedy and Jack Krauser, which was hinted at during the events of Resident Evil 4. While the plots of RE2 and Code Veronica are well-known in the pantheon of the mythos, the new South American mission is a welcome addition and ties the Veronica Virus into the series canon in a satisfying way. Their mission also resembles that of RE5 somewhat (at least, aesthetically); perhaps a nod to Wii gamers who cried foul at the absence of a version of that game for their console of choice.
Darkside's gameplay is similar to Umbrella Chronicles in that you select a range of weapons and shoot things as your character walks on a rail. Bits and pieces of the environment can be shot to reveal archive snippets and money, which you can use to upgrade your guns between missions. However, the control scheme itself has changed somewhat. In the default control scheme (Wii Remote only), different buttons are mapped to the D-pad, and grenades are now treated as a weapon rather than being a special button combo. You fire the gun with B and pick up items with A. Co-op makes a valiant return, accompanied by the ability to add or drop a buddy between missions. This is all pretty standard shooter fare, but the rail itself has changed significantly.
While Umbrella Chronicles, for the most part, presented you with a room full of zombies and gave you ample time to shoot their heads off, Darkside Chronicles employs a "more realistic" shaky-cam and more frantic movement. There will be plenty of times when your character will simply turn and run from what looks like a big juicy shooting gallery. If Umbrella Chronicles was a series of connect-the-dots shooting sequences, Darkside feels more like a continuous line. The shaky-cam does you absolutely no favors when it comes to accurate shots—headshots are tougher to chain together because of it, and certain boss battles are artificially harder because your character’s head is having a seizure through most of it. It’s also much costlier to upgrade your weaponry: I averaged one stat upgrade for one gun per chapter, which was frustrating. It doesn’t help that the environments aren’t as destructible as they were in Umbrella Chronicles, thus netting you significantly less cash; also, some of the new guns are borderline worthless (Bowgun, I’m looking at you).
One more negative: boss fights are made significantly more difficult by the fact that they will not flinch (or, in at least one case, die) unless you shoot them during a certain animation sequence. This may be a reaction to the fact that, in Umbrella Chronicles, you could basically shoot a boss’ weak point continuously and it would never be able to attack, and would die in less than a minute (when using good weapons). Here, the boss will always start his attack sequence, and you are given an unbelievably short time to shoot their (often small) weak point. Factor in the shaky-cam, and you’re in for a world of hurt until you significantly upgrade your armory. Personally, it’s a change I don’t like. Co-op alleviates this problem somewhat, but it doesn't solve it.
If you can power through, though, Darkside Chronicles does get a lot right. For starters, it’s beautiful. It compares favorably to both Umbrella Chronicles and Dead Space: Extraction, though the EA game looks a hair better. Darkside features more cutscenes than Umbrella did, and these do look better, more resembling the aesthetic of the CG movie Resident Evil: Degeneration than the REmake. From what I can tell, all of the voice actors from the modern games are back, even Krauser. The sound effects are what you'd expect, and all of the creatures and zombies have distinct noises. I especially like the bat-variant Hunters in the Operation Javier mission—you can tell when they’re coming! One bizarre consequence of the Havok engine is that female zombies now have jiggling breasts—I’m not sure whether to be turned on or horrified by this. You can also upload your mission scores to leaderboards, if you feel so inclined.
What I like about the RE Chronicles games is that they are almost 100% fanservice, almost to where they would of alienate non-RE fans. While the plot is condensed to the point where those unfamiliar with the series mythos can easily catch on, a lot of the details are lost—kind of like turning a 500-page Harry Potter book into a 2-hour movie. Things get lost in translation, and in some cases, events are simply re-imagined to save time. For example: in one of the more frustrating missions, you fight three versions of William Birkin in a row. My memory may betray me, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how it went down in the PSOne version. Still, it’s great to relive some of the great moments and battles of those old games. I especially enjoyed the Code Veronica levels, as that’s a game I never played. RE fans will find lots to love in Darkside Chronicles, but if you’re a newbie to the series, I’d recommend Umbrella Chronicles since it’s more user-friendly.