Thursday, December 10, 2009

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic-entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles (from Capcom reviewed for Wii, rated M for mature, $49.99).

The granddaddy of first-person survival horror games has resurfaced for Nintendo’s Wii, giving one or two players a violent and terrifying arcade adventure ride filled with zombies and other dangerous monstrosities.

What’s the story? The year is 2002. U.S. government agents Leon S. Kennedy and Jack Krauser are sent to South America to investigate the disappearance of young girls and rumors of a mysterious viral outbreak. The events that unfold will recall a dark journey into the past where the betrayals and horrors of the Umbrella Corporation and its biological terrors were revealed.

Play the role: Through a trio of stories - Operation Javier (a new tale about hunting a drug lord), Memory of a Lost City (based on Resident Evil 2) and Game of Oblivion (based on Code Veronica) - the player relives the chaotic lives of familiar heroes, including Kennedy and Claire and Chris Redfield.

Within a first-person perspective, gamers put targeting skills to the test in classic locations of the Resident Evil Franchise, including Raccoon City’s Police Station and Rockfort Island’s mansion along with plenty of claustrophobic hallways.

Get to the action: Classified as an on-rail arcade shooter, the game automatically moves players through dangerous environments in mainly preset paths filled with familiar Resident Evil creatures such as Lickers, zombie dogs, bloodthirsty crows, piranhas and virus-mutated behemoths.

A player must react, interact and shoot to survive and occasionally gets the opportunity to choose his path. Let’s see, will it be the underground sewer filled with Hellboy-style frog freaks, giant spiders and roaches or a corridor loaded with more hidden zombies than a haunted house.

The Wiimote acts as a light gun with a targeting reticule appearing when pointed at the screen while the optional Nunchuk controller is used to quickly swap weapons.

Weapons, which are selected before the start of a mission level, include handguns, magnum pistols, shotguns, grenades, submachine guns, rocket launchers and dart-shooting blowguns that will liberally accumulate on the bodies of enemies.

Each upgrades in five areas (from reload speed to capacity) by spending accumulated gold coins found while fighting through levels.

Memorable moments (in no particular order): A jump-out-of-your-seat encounter with a gigantic alligator; a brutal battle with G-Virus-infected researcher William Birkin; walking through the streets and shops of Raccoon City; and a fight with a Tyrant T-103 (a chap with the body build and tenacity of a Terminator) over a molten pit.

Multiplayer: The best way to enjoy Darkside chronicles is with a pal sitting and shooting right next to you. The two-player cooperative mode works great as both heroes share munitions and must dodge attacks by simultaneously pressing buttons and occasionally saving one another when viciously attacked.

Violent encounters: Unlimited shooting of weapons compounded by viewing buckets of spilled blood, limb-biting and taking head shots that cause zombies’ noggins to explode and gush off of their shoulders pretty much limits the game to those who are older than 17 and in love with the eradication of Umbrella’s hellish variety of experiments.

Read all about it: DC Comics’ Wildstorm imprint resurrected the bioweapon-rich saga with a new, six-part Resident Evil comic book this year ($3.99 each). More relevant is the older, four-volume trade paperback series “Resident Evil: Code Veronica” ($14.95 each) that embellishes much of the game’s story.

Pixel-popping scale: 8.0 out of 10. Considering it was built for the graphics-inadequate Wii, the game looks incredible through lifelike computer animations for cut scenes, hand-held camera work that gives “Blair Witch”-style creeps and grossly realistic hordes of decomposing humans worthy enough to induce nightmares.

Extras and unlockables: Target and shoot objects in locations to discover and capture a living encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge on the Resident Evil franchise. Accumulated knowledge includes short bios and three-dimensional art for all major characters and enemies, audio snippets pertaining to the game’s back stories, reference documents and all of the unlocked cut scenes.

Additionally, those enamored with realistically battling mutated creatures will want to purchase the Buckshot light gun (Komodo, $39.99). Insert a Wiimote into the top of the barrel and it becomes a faux weapon with trigger (for the “B” button) and pump action (to activate the “A button).

Nunchuk functionality complements the peripheral via a direction toggle pad on the rear. The Buckshot comes in a red or black space-age design and its hefty, big-hands-friendly size works well for the older player.

What’s it worth: This surprisingly deep and fun addition to the Resident Evil franchise really fuels the shooter genre on the Nintendo console by combining a beautiful nostalgia trip for the long time fan and a nail-biting experience for the mature Wii owner.

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