Today’s Nintendo Direct was, by any measure, an impressive one. Nintendo announced a boatload of new games (many of them big-time exciting), and also finally brought the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance to its retro libraries for subscribers. It is the most obscure of these games, and possibly the most obscure retro game to get a release on any of the “Virtual Console” platforms to date, that amused me the most among the announcements. But not in a bad way at all. Oh no, I was very glad to see this one indeed.
Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare was a “demake” of a Resident Evil-style survival horror game that was released on PlayStation, PS2, and Dreamcast. It is by no means a masterpiece, but I would have never in a million years bet on this ever getting a re-release. It has been quite the rush of nostalgia playing it again (on a legitimate console, that is. I have run through it a couple of times on my emulation consoles over the years).
A bit of history first. The Game Boy Color was not exactly a powerful machine. It was more than good enough to run simple platformers and action games, but it wasn’t really up to the task of 3D gaming. This, of course, didn’t stop the occasional brave developer from trying. Many, many years ago I was browsing through one of the gaming magazines that I used to subscribe to, and it was a particularly exciting issue, as it was E3 time, and there were a lot of new games being showcased in that particular issue (the Internet wasn’t such a thing back then and yes I am that old). One little block of text really caught my eye: some developers were working on a port of Resident Evil for the Game Boy Color! And it would be in full 3D!
This more than excited little ol’ me, because back in those days the idea of having a full-on survival horror experience in a portable console seems inconceivable. So each month I dived deep into the magazines looking for more information on this incredible project. None came. I would find out later that the project had been pulled at the very last minute by Capcom, which had decided that, even though the engine was in full 3D and the game worked, it just wasn’t scary enough for the Resident Evil brand.
I was disappointed that this game had fallen off the coverage radar when it was still being worked on, especially since, as I hadn’t heard of its cancellation, I was probably holding on to hope for too long. Thankfully, another similarly ambitious project came along to catch my attention instead. This one was called Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare. It, too, had Resident Evil-style 3D worlds to explore. It, too, was going to be a survival horror game. Unlike Resident Evil, it had a publisher that was willing to push it out anyway. I bought it on day 1.
Capcom was right, of course. The Game Boy Color wasn’t particularly great at horror atmosphere. Once I started playing I also discovered that the 3D bits – the parts with pre-rendered backgrounds and “free” movement, were just for the exploration part of the game. During combat, you were whisked away to a top-down action combat system that had you running around a small area shooting at various creepy crawlies that came at you from all directions. It was hardly the immersive experience of the “big brother” Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark. You could also only play as Edward Carnby, whereas in the “proper” console version there was a second character and an entirely different quest.
Yet, as truncated and simplified as it was, I really loved Alone in the Dark on the Game Boy Color. It still had spooky ambient effects and a creepy, if low-resolution mansion to explore. It still had the story of a horror-hell island that you end up stuck on. It wasn’t entirely easy – especially for young me – and I enjoyed the challenge. Most importantly, it still had some environmental puzzles and things to pick through. It was one of the first (if not the first) efforts to do survival horror in portable form, and is a pioneer for that.
I’d love to see how people who have only ever known more modern games think of it. Probably with a combination of bemusement and wonder (at why it got dropped on the platform in the first place). I’d also love to see how people who never got a chance to play it (but did have a GBC) respond to it today. It was a fairly limited release, from recollection. It wasn’t the easiest game to find in stores, and there weren’t download platforms back then. A lot of people would have missed out on it then. I do hope they can enjoy the discovery of a “new” GBC game today.
I also hope it’s a sign of things to come for the Game Boy and GBA platforms on the Nintendo Switch. I always felt like the NES and SNES platforms were let down by the fact that the really big publishers released games on those platforms that are still too valuable today. Square Enix was never going to drop Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger on there. So, while there were more obscure games released instead, it has never felt truly representative of those consoles. The N64 library, meanwhile, does feel pretty reflective of what people had back in the day, but then outside of Nintendo itself it never really had much support in the first place.
The Game Boy and Game Boy Color were very different. The development teams that worked on these consoles were tiny, and there was a lot of really creative, really niche stuff produced for both platforms. Titles just like Alone in the Dark. I am dearly hoping that the presence of that game at launch is a statement of intent that, over the next few months we’re going to get the big and the small, and the sheer creativity that those consoles represented are reflected in full.
If some franchises are still too valuable, it’s surprising pokemon trading card game for the gbc is in there.
People are still collecting pokemon cards today. There would be interest in a new game, like switch’s shadowverse one. Maybe they released it to do some market demand test,to gage the interest in a new release
Ah, the difference with Pokemon Trading Card game is that Nintendo owns that property, and it’s in their best interesting to have “A-grade” stuff on these Virtual Consoles. If it was a 3rd party game I would indeed be very surprised to see it on the service.
Game Boy and Game Boy Colour really are an untapped resource of retro brilliance. There are some truly excellent games out there that I suspect a lot of people passed by back in the day, and which provide very pleasant surprises if you explore them now.
One of my favourites is Digital Eclipse’s Alice in Wonderland platformer. That’s a really delightful little game.
I was very surprised to see it released, I knew it existed from a small snippet in a review of the PS2 version in the game and the reviewer was actually impressed by what the little console was capable of. While I think it’s not a good game, the backgrounds are really impressive. I wouldn’t mind a modern adventure game taking it as an inspiration. The dithering does create a certain unsettling atmosphere. Just remove the combat and add more puzzles and dialogue.
I can imagine something like the original Black Mirror or Post Mortem games gaining a lot from that kind of “demake” treatment.
This really is a great idea. Pixel horror can be so effective, and yeah, done well, has an atmosphere all to its own. Have you played The Excavation of Hobb’s Barrow? It has a bit of what you might like to see 🙂 https://www.digitallydownloaded.net/2023/01/review-the-excavation-of-hobs-barrow-nintendo-switch.html