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Horror In Your Hands

Horror games are an interesting genre. They are simultaneously the easiest and hardest kind of games to make. It is easy to make something that startles you, a quick jump without any substance behind it. It is hard to craft something genuinely frightening, something that breed genuine dread. For every Silent Hill 2 there are a dozen Resident Evil 5‘s and that’s just on the home console. Imagine trying to create a genuine horror experience on a hand held system with all its limitations. Well people have tried and they have been of varying success. I have compiled a list of all of Nintendo’s major hand held consoles (no Virtual Boy) and a horror game that I think best represents the genre on the system. The list is not exhaustive, but it does give an overview of the history of the genre on the small screen… I hope.

GameBoy – Pac-Man

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The first Nintendo hand held gets a port of the very first survival horror game. It works perfectly fine, but obviously lacks the neon colors of the arcade. A shame but it functions just fine… Oh I’m sorry, did you want me to explain why Pac-Man is the first Survival Horror game? Well it may surprise you but, mechanically speaking, Pac-Man established every single Survival Horror trope.

Limited Resources, This establishes the survival part of the title. Of course I am referring to the super pellets you can pick up, turning the ghosts into edible objects. However, there are only four of these on the whole map, meaning you have to pick your battles, because as we know those ghosts are –

  1. Powerful Enemies/Creatures you can face head on. Because without those super pellets, Pac-Man is defenseless against the onslaught of his enemies. Think about fighting a Zombie with a knife in Resident Evil. These two points combine to make the most important parts.
  2. Fight of Flight/Survival Horror games always play against this basic tenet of human survival instincts. It’s why your heart beats faster when you’re scared, your body is trying to give you extra adrenaline to prepare you to either fight or run like hell. This constant pressure to decide is ever present in survival horror games, and as I’m sure you’ve guess… completely omnipresent in Pac-Man. Do you take a bite of the super pill and fight back against the encroaching horror? Or do you take the chance, preserve your supplies and try to sneak past the ghosts? We all know the situation, sandwiched between two enemies barreling down at your on either end of the hallway, leaving you with no choice but to accept the slowly crawling embrace of death… and if you can’t stretch your imagination for the 2D version, please play this 3D variant on Kongregate.

GameBoy Color – Resident Evil Gaiden

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If I didn’t managed to convince you that Pac-Man is the first survival horror game then fine. Let’s take a look at the popular face of Survival Horror’s first attempt on a hand held, Resident Evil. Gaiden is the Japanese word for side story, and that is exactly what Resident Evil Gaiden is, in both the story and the meta narrative of the Resident Evil franchise. The story of this game is that, Leon (of Resident Evil 2) has joined an anti bio-weapons organizations and is sent to a cruise ship that has been taken over by Zombies. He goes missing and Barry (of Resident Evil) is tasked with finding him. The game play is a very valiant attempt to emulate the formula of an RE game. Resources are limited and enemies don’t go down easy, but the way in which combat is presented breaks the entire experience. Fighting the enemies is simplistic, but solid in the console games: aim, shoot and move around that’s it, but because of the limitations of the GameBoy Color they opted for a much stranger way of handling enemies. When you start and encounter the game morphs from a top down view to a first person one, in which you can see the zombies slowly walk towards you. To hit them you have to stop a marker in a specific place on a bar, much in the same way you take shots in golf games. So essentially this turns combat into one prolonged and monotonous quick time event. What’s worse is that you can’t back out of these battles, so the fight or flight dichotomy is ruined. This means that instead of avoiding the enemies because of a conscious devious to preserve resources, you avoid them because they’re just boring! They tried, but ultimately failed.

GameBoy Advance – Metroid Fusion

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The horror genre isn’t just limited to survival horror, case in point, Metroid Fusion. Resources aren’t limited and the main bulk of the game isn’t about building layers of stress and tension. So why include it here? Because horror is also a theme and the themes present in Fusion are horrifying. The main thrust of this title in that, after clearing the universe of Metroids, Samus discovers that the creatures had a very important purpose, keeping the population of the X parasite minimal. X, as is becomes known, is a hive mind creature that assimilates and destroys everything it touches, like an organic variant of the Borg. It creates zombified versions of many of the previous enemies in the Metroid series, including Samus’s long time nemesis, Ridely. However, the worst creation brought forth by the X is the cloned version of Samus herself, the SA-X. The creature will hunt you a various points in game, and much like the ghosts in Pac-Man or the monsters of Amnesia your only option is to run. Fleeing from the SA-X is pulse pounding, palm sweating and a stress inducing experience that rivals any chase scene from other, more forthcoming Horror games.

Nintendo DS – Dementium The Ward

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Pac-Man and Metroid were a stretch, I’ll be honest with you. They illustrated the points I wanted them too, but neither are true horror games. However, coming onto the DS we find the first, full blooded, down to its core, horror game on this list. Dementium, is probably the closest we’ve come to having Doom 3 in the palm of your hands. It’s a first person horror shooter set almost entirely in pitch black with loud, hunting and twisted monsters bearing bearing down on you in the dark. It’s hard to do it justice, but this game really works. Being trapped in a crammed corridor, seeing barely anything but hearing the nearby groans of a creature you know is just waiting for you to turn your back is the bread and butter of the Horror genre and its all on full display here. It’s not perfect, far from is. The game becomes a bit formulaic as it goes on and seen one monster, seen them all. Plus it has this peculiar habit of wrestling control away from you just to show you something it thinks is scary, but loses its impact happening out of game play. But its the closest we’ve come to something genuinely scary in you hands… except there’s one game that does even better on the new generation of Nintendo’s hand held hardware.

Nintendo 3DS – Resident Evil Revelations

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Please allow me to make a few grandiose statements about this game before I actually talk about it. Not only is this the best Horror game on a hand held, not only is this the best Resident Evil game on a hand held, it is the best Resident Evil game since 4. Why you ask? Well I’m glad you did.

Like its ill fated predecessor this too takes place on board a ship set adrift. Jill Valentine and her new partner Parker climb aboard to prevent bio-terrorist from releasing a deadly weapon that would mutate all the creatures in the sea. The story is a little mismatched from here on out, but surely that’s expected of an RE game by this point. The real star of the show here is how well crafted the environment is. The abandoned ship motif has been done before, but never as well as it has been done here. The ship sways and loses power and floods as it tries to stay above the water and the feeling of isolation is very well crafted, especially impressive considering you have a partner with you for most of the game. All this atmosphere wouldn’t mean a thing if there isn’t anything for you to fear meeting in the dark, and the creature design here is excellent. All the monsters (barring the returning ones) are based on deep sea animals, already terrifying enough without the introduction of a dangerous mutagen. The slobber and sway in an unsettling manner and they also have the uncanny ability to liquify themselves and appear from nowhere at any time. The most upsetting enemies though are the former humans who all function as boss fights, and it is a rare treat when the scariest element of a game is the boss fights let me tell you. They all seem to retain some element of their humanity post transformation and seem to somewhat mourn their new form. Furthermore items are once again scare and managing your resources is key, not so much as it was in the first 3 games, but far beyond what 5 and 6 managed. So all the things I love are here and in force, but unfortunately this game too makes takes some missteps. Capcom seem to be under the impression that horror on its own won’t sell and occasionally forces you to play a chapter as another character in which you gun down waves of enemies without ever a care for your supplies or ever feeling any dread at facing your enemies. These chapters are without a doubt the nadir of the game, but even so they are still pretty good, the only reason they stand out so much is because the main mission, trudging through he abandoned cruise liner, is so strong.

It is a shame that Horror is so rare now a days. I don’t know where the assumption that horror games don’t sell has come from especially considering how well games like Amnesia have been doing, and considering how well received the actual horror element of Revelations was over the action orientated romp of Resident Evil 6. The good news is that Horror game will still be coming out though, Reneged Kid will be releasing Moon Chronicles episodically through the eStore and the father of the genre Shinji Mikami will soon be releasing The Evil Within with looks so…. GOSH DANG IT!



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