When Capcom announced Resident Evil: Gaiden for the Game Boy Color it came as a surprise to many. Not because the source material was undecidedly unsuitable for the demographic, but because Capcom had cancelled a handheld conversion of Resident Evil just a year before.
Developed by London-based HotGen Studios, it pushed Nintendo’s 8-bit handheld hard to include all scenes and locations from the PSone original. The general reaction from the gaming press was that it was an impressive effort.
Originally due for release in time for Christmas 1999, it was quietly hit by a delay following a no-show. Crawfish’s equally ambitious Game Boy Color conversion of Street Fighter Alpha also failed to make an appearance during the festive period, which too was being developed in the UK.
The English to Japanese language communication barrier was cited as the reason to push both games into 2000, but whereas Street Fighter Alpha did finally make it to store shelves Resident Evil was canned before revised February/March 2000 release.
The Japanese publisher simply claimed that they were “not confident that the product would have made both consumers and Capcom happy”.
Before the game’s cancellation IGNPocket interviewed HotGen, and it was here it came apparent that development was far from smooth.
“All of the characters and enemies in Resident Evil Game Boy are software scaled, so given the limited amount of CPU bandwidth the Game Boy has available, it is very difficult to have extremely large enemies, and [even more difficult for] lots of enemies on screen at the same time. The speech was also a problem because the Game Boy is not suited to large amounts of speech, especially when it is critical to the game. The problem has been addressed by using a text window that appears at the bottom of the play area.”
“That said, we have still managed to keep all the locations and puzzle elements totally authentic, and all the locations use the same viewpoint and are identical to the PlayStation version.”
All signs suggest that HotGen had bitten off more than they could chew. Another reason for cancellation mentioned at the time was that when played on a handheld it was a nowhere near as scary experience. Although some sacrifices were made with the CGI and live action clips in order to fit the game onto a 4MB cart, it did still include the infamous door opening sequences that were not just to disguise loading times in the original but also used to induce tension.
When the conversion was first announced it was reported that HotGen planned to include new enemy types, the ability to disarm traps and a new save system designed for on-the-go play.
Judging by the two prototypes released in 2012 following an online fundraiser though, only the improved save system was incorporated. Screenshots from an IGN preview did feature a red zombie not found in either prototype, but this could have been a mere ‘work in progress’ of the common place green-hued zombies.
Something curiously sinister in the prototype version is that the zombies don’t fall to the ground when killed. Instead they simply drop to their knees, remaining upright. It’s highly plausible that this was due to the Game Boy Color’s constraints – having to render and draw different 2D sprites for each of the static camera angles used may have been an issue, and one that also restricted character movement. It could however have simply been the case that the animation was unfinished.