The Project Zero series, or Fatal Frame in North America, is considered by critics and fans to contain some of the most innovative and well-written horror games of all time, and Project Zero II: Crimson Butterfly is no exception. Heralded by many as being the scariest game in the history of the genre, it stands to reason that Tecmo chose the title for an all-new remake for the Nintendo Wii. But with Nintendo refusing to bring the Project Zero 2: Wii Edition to North America, it may be fated to join the ranks of Pandora’s Tower as yet another great Wii game that got away.
Classic Japanese horror
Project Zero 2: Wii Edition stays true to the original in many ways, the most obvious being the story. Twin sisters Mio and Mayu are visiting a place they used to play at when they were children when Mayu suddenly acts as if possessed and walks off into the forest, drawn by a crimson butterfly. Mio chases after her, and soon they find themselves in a mysterious village surrounded by fog. Players assume the role of Mio for the majority of the game as she struggles to make sense of the tormented souls that still inhabit the town and attempts to save her sister from the dark curse that holds the town and its people in its clutches. Cemented firmly in Japanese horror traditions, Project Zero 2: Wii Edition packs plenty of scares and spine-tingling twists.
Project Zero’s claim to fame is its unique gameplay that revolves around a camera known as the Camera Obscura that can take pictures of ghosts to exorcise them. Mio obtains the camera early on, and armed with her newfound weapon, she must defeat all manner of powerful and malevolent spirits if she wants to make it out of the village with her sister alive.
The biggest change in the new Wii Edition besides the updated graphics and slightly more mature-looking protagonists is the new behind-the-shoulder camera reminiscent of recent horror offerings such as Dead Space and Resident Evil 4. This offers more mobility and freedom to explore the game’s varied areas as opposed to the fixed camera of the original while updating it just enough to appeal to gamers more familiar with modern horror titles; though Mio often gets in the way of the action, making some of the more finicky ghosts difficult to keep in sight.
The dreaded motion controls
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Wii Edition with out motion controls. Project Zero 2 sees the basic left, right, and forward directions mapped to the analog stick on the nunchuck, but any movement of Mio’s field of vision must be done with the motion controls of the Wiimote. Though a small gesture in the desired direction is enough to get Mio to turn her head, it’s enough to make motion control haters squirm in their seats. A 180-degree quick-turn also requires a shake of the remote, rather than simply being assigned to a single button press.
As with many classic horror titles, Mio moves like a tank, and this will undoubtedly infuriate players who are used to more responsive control schemes. Horror fans will swear by these control limitations, however, arguing that the slow response helps create tension and urgency, and I would have to agree. Just as the Camera Obscura’s restricted view makes ghost encounters all the more intense because the enemy is constantly flitting in and out of your field of vision, so do the somewhat clunky controls heighten the intensity of other-worldly encounters.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the camera aiming controls. Players will need to look through the Camera Obsucra’s viewfinder and take photos to deal damage to the myriad of ghosts that appear over the course of the game, and though this restricted view amps up the intensity of battles, the motion controls make aiming the viewfinder needlessly painful. Moreover, the lock-on mechanism is so finicky that it’s virtually worthless. This is especially frustrating since lenses, which give boost the Camera Obsucra’s effects in a variety of ways, can only be activated when locked on to an enemy.
Ready to be spooked?
Fans of flashy horror offerings such as Dead Space may find themselves bored, but Project Zero 2 will delight atmospheric horror fans who take joy in noticing little details such as flickering candle lights and creaking floorboards. Players will constantly feel like something is just about to happen –– one of my favorite new additions to the game is an animation that plays when Mio reaches out to pick up an item or look in an enticing nook left for the player to examine. Aptly-named “ghost hands” will reach out to spook players when they least expect it, and though it may seem like a cheap trick, it’s a cheap trick that works.
It’s worth mentioning that a second player can now grab a spare Wiimote to provide a bit of support in the otherwise single-player story mode in the form of a synchronized shot. If Player Two presses A at the same time as Player One, the combined power will deal more damage to enemy ghosts. It’s not necessary but it enhances the game in an unobtrusive way, much like how Player Two could help collect star bits in Super Mario Galaxy. Project Zero 2 is the perfect kind of game to watch someone play, so it’s nice to see the developers recognized this by adding optional involvement.
A final addition to the Wii Edition comes in the form of the Haunted House Mode, which attempts to scare players by taking them though a haunted house on-rails in a variety of different modes. Totally separate from the game’s actual story, this mode comes across as being a little too gimmicky, especially with one mode actually claiming to be able to calculate how scared you are based on how much you move the Wiimote during a trip through the haunted house. Haunted House Mode won’t be where most players spend the majority of their time, and it won’t be much of a pull for those who have already played the original Project Zero II, but it adds a couple of hours of entertainment to the overall package.
A must-play classic
Even with its wonky controls, it’s hard not to recommend Project Zero 2: Wii Edition. Most horror fans have probably already played it, but this new revision comes with enough tweaks and additions to make it feel fresh. If you have any interest in horror games, this is a title that needs to be in your library, and the Wii Edition is, without a doubt, the definitive edition of Project Zero II.
- Release date: June 28, 2012 (AU), June 28, 2012 (JP), June 29, 2012 (EU)
- Genre: Horror
- Platform: Nintendo Wii
- Developer: Tecmo Koei
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Rating: N/A
- MSRP: N/A
Our score: 4.5/5
Review statement: A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review. This game is currently only available in Japan and PAL regions.