I admittedly am not a hardcore videogame player. I own a PS3, which I solely bought because it was cheaper than the BluRay players on the market at the time and it is used almost solely to run Netflix and play PS2 Japanese action game collections. Even when I was younger, I was more interested in watching people play videogames. The first game I ever finished on my own was “Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.” That should tell you about enough about my personal experience.
That being said, like many middle class white people, I am a total Japanophile. My favorite games today are generally messes of otaku imagery (“Devil May Cry 3”), virtually incoherent conspiracy and crime games (“Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty,” “Yakuza 3”) and the insane brilliant dreams of developers who rarely care about a Western audience (“Catherine,” “Katamari Damacy,” “No More Heroes 2,” “Persona 4,” almost anything Square Atlus releases). As such, Nintendo remains a fascinating force in the way in which I understand Japan.
Moreso than any other of the main videogame publishers, Nintendo was able to sell their own brand of Japanese culture to a Western audience. Looking at their products strictly as are, products such as “The Legend of Zelda,” “Super Mario Bros. 3” and particularly “Final Fantasy,” were all able to draw off the player’s imagination to fill in more of the cultural gaps that a Western audience wouldn’t be able to catch onto. Nintendo was able to keep these core franchises as products that Western audiences would always be able to want more of. People bought Nintendo’s newer systems almost solely for these franchises, which ended up helping them to win the console wars with Sega.
Things changed in 1996. The much hyped release of the Nintendo 64 initially was able to make huge sales with games such as “Super Mario 64” and “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” were able to hold sales steady but their refusal to upgrade their drive from a cartridge based system to a disc based one turned off may third party developers. Franchises that formerly were published by Nintendo, namely “Final Fantasy” jumped ship and began publishing games for Sony’s PlayStation. Other huge names such as Capcom and Konami vastly began solely publishing their larger franchises on the PlayStation where they had more room for improved graphics as well as larger games.
Nintendo knew their next console had to run on a disc based system in order to pull in third party developers and the GameCube was meant to do that. Despite the smaller discs, the system was certainly easier to develop for and they were capable of creating some memorable games that took advantage of all the system’s capabilities.
That being said, in 2002, the GameCube was losing the newest console war with the PS2 and the XBox. Badly. They had sold around half a million copies of the console and there was almost no way for them to compete with Sony’s behemoth. Nintendo was looking for any and everyone that could help bail them out and Capcom answered with a plan, code-named “The Capcom 5.” Capcom announced their partnership with Nintendo that year, claiming that they intended to help boost GameCube sales by releasing a series of 5 titles solely for the console, each one intended to push what the system could do as well as what Capcom was capable of. What came out of the partnership was a little less than that and ended up almost dooming Nintendo.
For the sake of this article, we’re going to be hitting each game by the time of their intended release. I have played all of these games, with one notable exception, and will be giving my perspective, not as an experienced gamer, rather as a judge of what the experience was and what the intent of each experience was. Then, we’ll get into the moment when my favorite little purple box got fucked.
“P.N.03” is an experience that I should probably have loved. Its from Shinji Mikami of “Devil May Cry” fame and takes a lot of cues from those classics, namely an over the top visual style and ridiculous, highly stylized gunplay but it is just morbidly unexciting. The protagonist jiggles her ass while she fires lasers, leaps and jumps around robots and blows her way through room after room of enemies. This is dull and repetitive, with times in which it feels downright unfinished. This is cyberpunk intended for the masses but there’s a reason it sold poorly and didn’t do much to jump-start Capcom’s collaboration.
The second game was more of a success but certainly one with some stipulations. Mikami-disciple, Hideki Kamija, who had also worked on “Devil May Cry” and would go on to direct “Bayonetta” and “Vanquish” was back to work on “Viewtiful Joe,” a stylish, self-aware and utterly addictive side scrolling beat-’em-up homage to arcade games like “Double Dragon” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time.” Joe is a nondescript protagonist who is sucked into a movie to save his girlfriend. There, he becomes a superhero, able to control the flow of time. He dodges bullets, slows down to deliver brutal beatdowns and speeds up to fly through his enemies. Making the game even more meta and satisfying is the ridiculous sound effects, namely a girl yelling “Just go for it!” every time a battle starts and the crowd cheering enthusiastically every time you unleash a particularly devastating combo. It is addictive, refreshing and unbelievably fun and it sold well too. Capcom’s initial release of 100,000 copies sold out almost immediately and it would go onto sell around 275,000. That being said, Capcom was not impressed with the sales, particularly not after they had attached such high profile talent to the game and after the critical and commercial failure of “P.N.03.” They had bigger hopes but there was only more failure to come.
I’m not alone in saying that I haven’t played “Dead Phoenix,” the third game of The Capcom 5. That’s because no one has played it. “Dead Phoenix,” originally a 3D shooter where players controlled an angel who fought demons and other assorted fantasy monsters was planned, teased and canned after it dropped off the map, with some believing that the engine was stolen and used on a revitalization of Nintendo’s “Kid Icarus” game. Since neither of those games were ever released, the amount of work that was done on “Dead Phoenix” is a little up in the air. A trailer was shown and some screenshots have floated around the Internet but the game dropped off the map, continually souring Nintendo’s hopes for sales.
That being said, I’ve played the shit out of the fourth game, as has nearly everyone that has picked up a controller in the last 10 years. This was Capcom’s hail-mary for the project. This was the one hope they had in selling units and helping Nintendo out of the hole. This was a revolution all to itself. This was “Resident Evil 4.”
I probably don’t need to tell you, the good informed reader, that “Resident Evil 4” is incredible. It may be the game that has defined the last two console generations, integrating sublime over the shoulder 3rd person shooting, unobtrusive quick time events and seat gripping tension to a franchise that was formerly known for plodding point and click style problem solving. “Resident Evil 4” turned down-on-his-luck cop Leon from “Resident Evil 2” into a zombie killing master, popping heads into gory and ever so satisfying balls of red goo and making every enemy his bitch. With that came the ridiculously entertaining “Mercenaries” mode, where players tried to rack up the most kills in a row, slaughtering zombies and chainsaw wielding psychopaths until time ran out. Sure, the dialogue is cheesy as hell, the story at times, makes little to absolutely no sense (seriously, I have played this game about 4 times and I still don’t really know why they inject Leon with the plagos) and the graphics, while impressive, don’t stand up unbelievably well today but this game was a triumph and it showed exactly what the GameCube was capable of.
The creation of “Resident Evil 4” is a story into and of itself but the basics are that Capcom desperately needed to revitalize the franchise and after trying out a haunted house vibe, filled with spectral beings and falling furniture, they abandoned the vision for a cultist filled zombie shoot-em-up, survival horror hybrid. While the first vision would go onto become “Devil May Cry” with the help of Kamija and Mikami, the first ended up being a horror ride that sold unbelievably well. Too well, in fact, but we’re going to get into that later.
Like many people who’ve played it, I have a lot, as well as very little, to say about the final game, “Killer7.” A stylish, first person shooter meets on rails clusterfuck of a game, director Suda51’s masterpiece is a glorious mindfuck, with mixed up identities, invisible undead creatures, post-modern themes, child slavery, wheel-chair bound men with sniper rifles and a whole bunch of shit most people wouldn’t believe.
“Killer7” is insanely unnerving, riveting and undoubtedly difficult to explain, combining themes of neo-noir, corporate conspiracy, otaku, James Bond and globalization into a story that surprisingly holds together, even when the unintuitive controls don’t. It’s a game for those with a taste of the surreal, similar to the “Metal Gear Solid” series as a game that works better for those who prefer to watch and experience a game rather than rush through it. All of this has made it one of the biggest cult successes of gaming, with fans all over the world eagerly awaiting ever release from Suda51.
So, with an instant classic, two fantastic games and only a pair of duds, how did the Capcom 5 go so unbelievably wrong for Nintendo? Well, Capcom got greedy. Really, really greedy. This isn’t a story about games flopping. This is a story about a company permanently ruining itself by killing off third party support.
Capcom saw the success of “Resident Evil 4” and “Viewtiful Joe” and saw a market for the extremely Japanese “Killer7” for those with access to Sony’s platform and ported their games over to the PS2. None of the games held up as well, with “Resident Evil 4” particularly showing a noticeable drop in textures as well as graphics and the control scheme of “Killer7” becoming particularly more difficult to use. For the most part, it panned out for Capcom. After “Resident Evil 4” sold around 1.6 million copies on the GameCube, they raised that number to well over 2 million copies on the PS2, with gamers not caring a bit over the drop in quality of the title. “Viewtiful Joe” was also able to sell even more copies, bolstering the audience, giving the studio an opportunity to make a sequel and leading to the rise of a short-lived and pretty terrible anime based on the property. This left “P.N.03” the only Nintendo exclusive of the bunch and those guys were pissed. Really, really pissed.
Every game of The Capcom 5 had proven that the GameCube was unprofitable, with Capcom porting over each of the games to other systems almost immediately after they were completed. This flew in the face of Capcom’s earlier announcements that the games would be exclusives, particularly the highly anticipated release of “Resident Evil 4.” Capcom had found that the secret to success in a highly diversified market was focusing on multi-platform releases, banking on the fact that their beloved properties could sell much better to an audience that had any number of consoles instead of the one that was perpetually in last place. Nintendo learned that they would never truly trust Capcom again.
Nintendo may rightfully have viewed Capcom’s action as a betrayal. By the end of the console war, the Gamecube had only ended up selling 22 million copies, even less than the Nintendo 64 and only a fraction of the PS2’s 150 million copies. Relationships were permanently soured with Capcom and Nintendo flat out refused to release many of the developers games on the platform and even on the Wii. One of the most brutal moments of Nintendo’s callousness was when third party characters were announced for Nintendo’s landmark fighting game “Super Smash Bros. Brawl,” Nintendo refused to allow any Capcom characters in the game, instead choosing Konami’s Solid Snake and former rival SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog. To this day, relations with Capcom have been rough and it can be difficult to find any of the developer’s games available for the Wii or even on the Virtual Console, the re-release of “Resident Evil 4” being the most notable exception.
The Capcom Five was Nintendo’s failed experiment in depending on a third party to prop up a failing console and it was Capcom’s chance to prove themselves in a market where they were producing some of the most innovative games around. It’s a shame that the companies are still on such poor terms but recent 3DS games such as “Resident Evil Revelations” may prove that there is hope for two of the titans of innovation to once again work together on something great.