Genre 5: Survival horror
In recent years we’ve seen the survival horror genre undergo a metamorphosis as publishers discard older, once integral aspects of the games and try to reinvent the definition of the genre. Limitations like awkward controls, dramatic fixed camera angles and tiny inventory space might have made Resident Evil scary back in 1998, but these days they are just annoying. Capcom’s refresh of the Resident Evil series with RE4 made the game scary in an entirely different, fight-or-flight way, but unfortunately RE5 took the action adventure aspects of its predecessor a little too far and ended up as a halfway decent action game that wasn’t scary at all.
Konami is trying to bring the genre back to its roots while still keeping an intuitive control scheme with Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. That game is looking to be one of the most graphically advanced and gameplay-deep titles on the Wii, and while I’m looking forward to it, my main concern is that it succeeds and encourages other publishers to try survival horror on Nintendo’s platform. Maybe even Nintendo would dip their toe into the water; the RE4 remake and the RE: Umbrella Chronicles light gun game sold very well on the Wii, and if Nintendo has a little faith and makes a particular investment, they might get a survival horror series to call their own.
Sorry if I’m being vague, but remember when I mentioned n-Space back in part 1
? Well, they’ve been quietly working on their own original survival horror game since 2007, a fascinating little game called Winter. It has a similar story to Silent Hill, about a young girl named Mia who wakes up in a small Midwestern town during a blizzard, with some disturbing supernatural things going on too.
What makes Winter special is how nearly everything centers on using the Wii remote. A big part of the game is staying warm during the blizzard, with Mia building fires, lighting torches and flares, and even starting the heater in a car. Light plays an important role as always; Mia can break a glow stick and shake it up, and once she gets a flashlight she needs to tap it occasionally to stop it flickering. When Mia picks up a weapon like a broomstick, she must decide whether to use it like a club or break it in half, creating a sharp, spear-like point. When opening a door, Mia can push it open slowly to check if there’s anything dangerous on the other side. All of these actions are performed with Wii remote gestures—Winter looks like one of the few Wii games that doesn’t use the controller in a shallow, gimmicky way, and an innovative survival horror that does some very creative things with the genre’s basics.
It’s a damn shame that n-Space can’t find a publisher for Winter. They’ve been shopping it around for two years, showing off a pretty robust tech demo but they keep running into the Wii’s catch 22: very few hardcore games succeed on the Wii, so publishers won’t take a risk with a hardcore game, so very few hardcore games succeed on the Wii. Winter’s creative director, Ted Newman explained it pretty well in an interview with IGN:
“Publishers still say to us on a regular basis, "we're still trying to figure out the Wii." It's been over two years since the launch and over three since n-Space first put our hands on prototype controllers. It's kind of ironic really -- you've got this console built on innovation, a console written off by many from day one, that now totally dominates the market, and yet many publishers still hesitate to follow suit with innovative games in all genres. You have to give Nintendo credit for all this -- the biggest coup in the history of gaming. Lots of publishers talk about innovation, Nintendo bet everything on it and won big. I'm proud to say that n-Space understood this from day one.”
The sad thing is that n-Space still believes in what the Wii is about—innovation—while Nintendo forgot about a year and a half ago. n-Space has a great idea with Winter: a game that uses gesture control in small, common sense ways to build a world of subtle immersion that adds up to something natural and second-nature. Nintendo on the other hand has gotten fat, lazy and complacent, much like they did during their fatally arrogant N64 days, and these days they’re placing gimmicky shovelware like Wii Music and Animal Crossing City Folk as their flagship Wii games.
Nintendo can reverse this trend if only they stay sharp and opportunistic. They worked with n-Space before when they published Geist, and while that game was a commercial flop, that had more to do with when it was released; the actual game was innovative in its own right. In my opinion there’s nothing wrong with Nintendo teaming up with n-Space again to publish Winter. This way Nintendo could back up that “fun for the whole family motto”—that family often includes hardcore gamers in addition to the already well served grandparents and first graders. By backing Winter with some of the huge profits they’ve scalped from the casual market, Nintendo could show genuine support for their long-faithful hardcore audience, instead of just paying them lip service when hardcore gamers complain about Nintendo’s bland, braggy press events.
If Nintendo isn’t brave enough to step up (or more likely they’re too lazy to give a damn) then Sega is a good second choice. Sega is once again doing what Nintendon’t by publishing hardcore games like the artistically gratuitous Madworld, the grindhouse-style House of the Dead Overkill, and of course The Conduit, which looks to be the Wii’s Halo. Upon Winter’s unveiling hardcore fans immediately pegged Sega as a good contender for publishing it (and sent several hundred emails to Sega to that effect), but so far the company has been quiet about approaching n-Space with an offer.
Regardless of who publishes it, Winter is just to cool an idea to stay dead permanently. Development might be on hold and the game is effectively shelved for now, but the n-Space people have said that they’d go back to it in a heartbeat if given the opportunity, and at this year’s GDC they showed off an updated demo behind closed doors. If Silent Hill Shattered Memories does well on Wii and shows that there is an audience for survival horror on the console, then maybe Winter, the game Silent Hill inspired, will get a new lease on life.
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