Perhaps intimidated by the foreboding title screen, a scruffy gentleman waiting to show his stuff on Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles lost his cool and frustrated an unfortunate Nintendo booth babe. You see, she'd kindly handed him the Wii Zapper, and in his nervousness, he dropped and sent it crashing to the floor. To make up for his error, he bent down and tried to pick it up; while fumbling with (and nearly dropping) it again, he managed to bump his entire body into the unwitting woman, nudging her into another unsuspecting babe.
Was all that truly due to fear, or was it simply the young man's first time out in the wild and amongst the opposite sex? Whatever the reasons, his misadventures were the highlight of my Umbrella Chronicles experience. Like that young man, the aptly-named light gun trip through years of Resident Evil mythos was awkward. Though it had potential, a few goof-ups here and there kept it from being all it could be.
For those unfamiliar with the as-of-yet unreleased Wii Zapper, it's an inexpensive plastic add-on that snaps your Wii Remote and Nunchuk into a vaguely Super Scope-like configuration. Casual gamers may not mind its compactness, but those of us who like playing single-handed will. Both the Zapper and Umbrella Chronicles didn't jive with that preference.
Anyone who's played a shooter like Lethal Enforcers or Time Crisis already knows what to expect from RE:UC. With your gun in hand, you'll explore corridors from a first-person perspective, automatically moving forward whenever you've cleared out a certain amount of foes in the area. In action, the game felt more like House of the Dead than anything else, and if that's enough for you, you're set. You'll like RE:UC.
Getting back to the Zapper and the UC-related concerns, there's only one way to pick up items in-game, and that's by using the A button. This goes against common light gun game convention where shooting an item is all that's required, and felt strange in practice. When the window of opportunity for snagging potentially life-saving items is just as small as ever, asking players to reach to the top of the gun and tap a button while aiming is a bit much.
Using the knife is a similarly cumbersome affair. To swing it, the player has to put one hand on top of the Wii Zapper (while still holding the handle with the other), depress the A button, and swing the entire contraption back and forth.
"Is this the only configuration available in-game?" I asked one of the on-hand representatives. "Yes," came their simple answer.
Whether that's going to hold true in the final retail version of UC or not remains to be seen, but I'm hoping it isn't. Past attempts aside, a modern-day, light gun Resident Evil could excite fans and RE newcomers alike if it's done well. Thanks to past projects based on Nintendo's consoles, RE:UC has graphics that are about as pleasing to the eyes as decaying zombies and pulsating monsters can be, but they're confined to tight and narrow spaces which don't let the player see too much.
Also like House of the Dead, and unlike traditional Resident Evil titles, UC's "scares" aren't scary. They amount to spinning your point-of-view and shoving a few zombies in your face, producing a predictable attack that a few well-placed gunshots will end. You won't have to fear running out of bullets, either, since they're unlimited.
Reloading is still required however, and this turned out to be unusually difficult. Anyone who's clocked in countless arcade hours playing such shooters is used to casually tilting their gun off-screen to reload it. RE:UC does use the same mechanic, but the Wii Remote doesn't notice half the time. Often, I found myself throwing the gun back, wiggling it in the air, and finally violently shaking it back and forth until my bullets at last began refilling.
It won't be long before Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles hits retail, and it may provide a fairly enjoyable experience as-is for anyone who wants House of the Dead with an RE coat of paint. For everyone else (myself included), it's going to take a more responsive reloading mechanic and a little more variety to make it an appetizing addition to the Wii buffet. Capcom hasn't shown too much of the game, but they've claimed its length will be around twenty hours total; if they let me change their awkward default control settings, I just may go along for the ride.