Yes, it’s another Resident Evil 2 post.. and yes, this one is also super-geeky, but I think this is a really interesting port for so many reasons so just giraffe with me on this one ,ok?
It’s no secret that 2019 has been my year of Resident Evil 2 revisiting. From my pre-remake stream, exploration of the re-imagined Raccoon Police Department, through to my marathon venture to really 100% the original, it kind of felt like I’d done it all. Along the way however I did learn a few new things about the game that I love, including getting grips with the different ports of Leon and Claire’s Zombietime romp. This is when I learnt about the N64 port of the game; and the more I learnt about it, the more I needed to experience this bizarre sibling.
Judgemental readers might say that having to buy not only a copy of the game, but a console to play it on is… at this point… a sign that I’m boardering on obsession with this title.
By far the weirdest thing about this game is that it was released on a cartridge; in short, this game was a technological marvel. The original PS1 release of the game was released on two CD’s (and yes, I know there’s an argument that it didn’t ‘have’ to be) giving it a possible 1.3Gb of storage to play with. The N64 version was released on a single 64Mb cartridge… 64Mb… one twentieth of the space available for the PS1 release.
I… I can’t even… and before you ask, no, this isn’t some stripped down version of the game; it has all 4 main scenarios and the 2 bonus scenarios. The only major content it is missing is Extreme Battle Mode which wasn’t in the original release either and only appeared from the Dual Shock version onwards. To make things even more impressive, as the N64 isn’t a CD based console, it doesn’t have any onboard tech to help with video playback which meant that the game had to contain its own video playback capability in order to show those glorious Resi cutscenes.
So, how did Angel Studios (the company in charge of the port) manage to do this? Well first up, those cutscenes do have severely downgraded resolutions and framerates. They’re also visibly compressed to the limit in both video and sound with the dialogue sounding like everyone was recording sat in a bathtub. That being said, it is all very watchable and, in the most-part, all the cutscenes are there. Aside from this there are a few other space saving tricks that fans would no doubt notice; a few missing sound effects, lower resolution backgrounds, a couple of missing audio tracks from the very ending of the game (that cool b-scenario credits song and the grade screen music), and low-res textures on 3D objects where they could get away with it (check out the bookshelves in the library for the most obvious example).
The best part is that Nintendo knew that it was a marvel; right when you turn on the game, the N64 logo appears and then starts to spin in a mock CD-loading animation. Oh yes, they knew that this game shouldn’t have been possible on this system. The fact that they did it anyway probably has a lot to do with where they were as a company around this time. In the previous generation Ninty’s family friendly philosophy had cost them big during the 16-bit wars, in a big part because of Mortal Kombat. Where the SNES had a censored and sanitised version of that gorefest beat-em-up, Sega had included full blood and gore on the Mega Drive version which, coupled with their edgy and aggressively anti-Nintendo advertising, had undoubtedly stolen much of the key teen audience looking for something more ‘mature’ compared to the simple pleasures of a jumping plumber that many of them had grown up with. On top of this, Nintendo’s original CD console collaboration with Sony, which turned in to the Playstation, had fallen apart so seeing the PS1 skyrocket to success with huge titles appealing to an adult audience would’ve been another kick for the mighty-N. With RE2 becoming the fastest selling game of all time when it was released, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to imagine Nintendo execs sat around a board room table watching someone gesturing at a flipchart showing a crudely drawn Leon and Claire yelling “We need this!”.
Even more telling is that you can almost feel the internal struggle they were having as you start the game. Immediately the player is presented with the option to choose the ‘violence level’, which is set to ‘low’ by default and then the colour of the ingame blood, which is set to blue by default. These aren’t options that appear in any other version of this game! I can’t imagine anyone went out and bought it, enticed in by the bbfc 15 rating, zombie staring out of the boxart, promise of survival horror, and started it up to think to themselves “No, you know what I want to have a tiny amount of smurf goop just like papa Nintendo wants*”.
Along with all this weirdness, RE2 for N64 manages to go even further when you actually start playing because it has … wait for it… exclusive content! Seriously, there are elements here not seen in any other port of the game. A couple of these are pretty low-level, like the different alternative character costumes, and the appearance of a dead hunter in the fabled B4F culture room (which is actually cool in a geeky way because it is the only time you see a hunter in Resident Evil 2… but maybe I only find that cool because I have a ‘thing’ for that room anyway). There are two other bits of exclusivity however that are just excellent in their own way and, aside from the technological curiosity, the reasons I wanted to play.
First up are the EX-Files; a series of 16 additional documents hidden around the game that further flesh out the wider story and link it to some of the other titles in the series. There is the extract from Jill’s diary that forms the opening to Resident Evil 3, and other documents that tie in elements from Code: Veronica, and Resident Evil Zero! Yes, a game that wouldn’t be released for two years after this port, is mentioned in these documents. As a veteran player, running around the halls of the RPD trying to find new items after all these years is pretty cool!
Secondly this game features a randomiser mode – barely advertised, this mode is unlocked once you complete the game (as mine was 2nd hand I didn’t have to do it myself). Again, this is completely exclusive to this version of the game and it’s how I played through being super curious about the experience. Sadly it’s only ammo and health items that are randomised and pickups still appear in the same locations as in the original, it’s just that you don’t quite know what you’re going to get. This certainly mixed up my playstyle in terms of the weapons I was using although, whilst I was hoping for more challenge, it actually ended up being much much easier for both the scenarios I attempted. It felt as though the random ammo quantities were weighted to be on the generous side to make up for the fact that you might not find useful ammo early on. During Claire B I amassed a sizeable arsenal of grenade ammo to the point that I passed the limit of 250 rounds that can be held in a single inventory slot. Having said that there was a moment where I picked up just 8 handgun bullets… maybe I was lucky.
On top of all this is the awkwardness I felt when playing. I guess some of it could be that I don’t get on with the trident controller, but the control is nevertheless a bit strange. This version offers a different optional control scheme (1st person controls?) which I could not get my head around, and also analogue functionality where the player can use the stick to control if you walk or run. Ultimately I chose to give up on both of these and just use the d-pad… the squeaky squeaky d-pad… to best emulate the original PS1 experience. After all, I’m a creature of habit.
So, I guess you’re all wondering how it is to actually play… in short… odd. Wait, I should clarify that. When I played the GC version of RE2, it basically felt like the PS1 version; albeit a bit smoother and prettier. With the N64 version there’s so much that’s just a bit off; things like the loading screen animations having been redone or the movement not feeling quite right. It’s like someone has taken your favourite set of pyjamas, unpicked all the seams and then sewed them back together – they just wouldn’t feel quite the same. The N64 version of RE2 is like that for me, It feels like a game that’s been deconstructed and reconstructed to meet this ludicrously challenging platform. Not bad… just somehow, notably different, but in the end it was a fun… and strange… and super geeky experience… and I’m glad I did it… RE2 for N64, I tip my hat to you for being the bizarre entity that you are!
* Note: I have no problem with people wanting to play games with low violence settings if that’s your thing. I’m just saying that it’s kind of weird for this particular game having it front and centre and forcing the player to turn it up right at the start of the game.