Remember when the licker first tried to eat Leon's face in Raccoon City Police Department? That's in The Darkside Chronicles. Remember when the giant crocodile tried to bite Claire's head off in the sewers? That's in The Darkside Chronicles. Remember those tentacles on the train? You know... those tentacles? They're in too. You get the idea.
It's a Resident Evil fan's wet dream, an on-rails trip down zombie lane, taking in some of the bets bits from cult classic Resident Evil 2 and Dreamcast stunner Resident Evil: Code Veronica. But the old is permeated by the new: Capcom has crafted a brand new campaign set just before Resident Evil 4, called Operation Javier, which sees Leon and muscle-bound marine Jack Krauser fighting off hundreds of disgusting beasties in South America. All three campaigns combine to magically fuse the past with the present.
It's one hell of a thrill to see Raccoon City, Rockfort Island and all those memorable locales from yesteryear live again on the Wii. Buildings, rooms, and even paintings are faithfully recreated. Cutscenes contain new dialogue, but the trademark B-movie cheese is no less enjoyable. Boss fights with William Birkin, Mr. X, and Alexia Ashford will have you dusting off your PlayStations and logging on to YouTube. Resident Evil 2 was a seminal game for so many, a gargantuan epic as gorgeous as it was engrossing. It didn't just capture the Zeitgeist of the time; it was the confident standard-bearer for Sony's new PlayStation and all the 3D wonderment it brought to CRT televisions across the world. Playing The Darkside Chronicles with a fellow Resi fan is like reminiscing over the 1998 World Cup down the pub.
Newcomers, though, perhaps those who began their Biohazard love affair with Resident Evil 4 on the GameCube or, even more scandalous, The Darkside Chronicles' predecessor (last year's fellow Wii point-and-shooter The Umbrella Chronicles), will be glad to hear that it's a polished, action-packed romp let down only by occasional frustration.
It builds and improves upon its forebear in a number of crucial ways. Chief among these is the more intuitive controls. Weapons, including the infinite ammo handgun, can now be mapped to the Wii Remote d-pad, or, even better, to the Nunchuck analogue stick. This allows weapon switching as swiftly as your mind can process the command. Herbs are assigned to the + button, ensuring heals can be triggered without having to pause the action and head into the menus. Both changes are welcome, as you're now free to concentrate on the business at hand: pointing at the television screen with the Wii Remote and making guns go bang.
The graphics are better, too. The Umbrella Chronicles was no slouch, but The Darkside Chronicles offers some of the best visuals seen on Nintendo's power-poor console. The lighting is superb, the virus-riddled monsters are eye-catching and the environments are packed with detail. The Operation Javier levels are best, though. They're so good, there's even a whiff of Resi 5 to them. One moment in particular, towards the end of the game, treats you to a vista of the South American countryside so stunning you'll check you're playing on the Wii and not on the Xbox 360 or the PS3.
Other changes are less successful. Japanese developer Cavia has wrestled camera control away from the player and forced it into the hands of a Cloverfield-obsessed film studies student. The result is an on-rails journey that occasionally veers into motion-sickness hell. The camera shakes and jerks and flies about so violently, you're forced to wonder whether Claire or Leon might be having a fit.
At first it's excruciatingly annoying. You'll struggle to land a single shot on even the most lackadaisical of zombies. The first hour of the game is an exercise in keeping yourself from hurling the Wii Remote and Nunchuck at your television in a crazed rage quit. But after a few hours you start to get used to it. You might even get to the point where you'll revel in it, and feel impressed by your own ability to land a headshot as the camera goes mental.
Unfortunately, you'll never get used to the abominable boss battles. For some reason, the on-rails shooter doesn't play well with screen-filling monstrosities. The devil is in the way you hold the Wii Remote: Bosses with quick movements are too hard to target, and it's even more frustrating that it's nigh-on impossible to prevent them from hitting you. All boss attacks can be avoided, either with a successfully-passed quick time event, or by shooting the spot that will cancel the "attack" animation into a "stopping" animation. The problem is these spots are insanely hard to hit. The camera is at its most Blair Witch during these fights, which makes success even harder. Almost all the boss fights follow the same pattern: you die, you try again, you die, you try again... ad nauseam. Fair challenge is acceptable; unfair challenge is not.
Other frustrations stem from a distinct lack of action. In single-player you see your AI partner, whether it be Leon, Rockfort Island prisoner Steve Burnside or Jack Krauser, on screen. This is a good thing, because otherwise you'd never know they were around. The co-op AI is as useless as a limbless zombie. Their once-in-a-blue-moon frequency of fire is so badly aimed, you're forced to wonder whether the AI subroutine governing the action was designed by Ghandi himself. They stand there and watch you get overwhelmed with all the casual ignorance of a ripening banana. Gah.
As with all games, playing with a friend is more fun - but it's by virtue of the act, not clever game design. You and your mate won't do anything more sophisticated than pointing and shooting, and pointing and shooting. There is no flanking, no strategy, no teamwork. Co-op is the same as single-player, really, just with extra, admittedly helpful, firepower.
Why is there no online play? Capcom will point to that most tiresome of excuses: lag. You might argue that the on-rails shooter is better suited to offline multiplayer, but this seems an easy cop-out. Online co-op would have allowed Cavia to craft more engaging levels. Imagine one player drawing a boss in one direction while the other flanks? Ah well. Maybe such thoughts are unreasonable: this is the Wii afterall.
Credit, though, must go to the game's unquestionable value. The main Chronicles mode is surprisingly meaty. On normal difficulty it'll last about eight hours, but you'll feel compelled to jump straight back in and replay. The many collectibles are usually hidden in crates, vases and other Havok physics-powered destructible objects. Getting them all will require repeated playthroughs, and some levels contain multiple paths, each yiedling different rewards.
The Darkside Chronicles is a mindless blast-a-thon. It lacks the sophistication of the recent Dead Space: Extraction, but it more than makes up for it by bewitching you with nostalgia. It's just great fun. Newcomers may find its frustrations too much to bare, but for those whom the words HUNK, Tofu (complete the game for a pleasant surprise) and T-Virus rekindle memories of heady summers spent battling the evil Umbrella corporation and running past giant spiders, The Darkside Chronicles is unmissable.