I have memories of The House of the Dead. Not bad. Not good. Just memories. It’s a game I played in much the same way that the Whopper is a burger I ate. It was there when no better options were available.
Now I’m playing it again on the Nintendo Switch, and I pretty much feel the same way about it. There are benefits of having access to it in my living room, but one major element dampens the experience. I’m sure you already know what that is.
For those who never picked up the light-gun and played the game in the local bowling alley or movie theater, The House of the Dead is an on-rails shooter. The game pushes you around a huge mansion as if you’re in a haunted house ride at the county fair. The camera whips around as if you’re reacting to nearby threats, and it’s your job to clear out those threats as the ride keeps rolling along.
Enemies range from mutant slugs to armored zombies to winged demons. Shooting them isn’t terribly difficult (normally—we’re getting there), but shooting them efficiently is. Many enemies have weak spots you’ve got to find and hit to clear them out quickly. This is sometimes necessary to save the scientists who may have their fancy degrees, but who never learned survival skills. (Stanford really needs to make Ducking 101 a mandatory class for incoming freshman.) Efficiently expelling the monsters also provides more time to score bonuses by shooting random objects or additional enemies in the distance.
Oh, and to reload. Yes, reloading is still half the battle. In the arcade, it required you to fire your gun away from the screen. On the Switch, it’s just another button to hit. You’d think that would ease the process, but it really doesn’t. There were still numerous times when I was about to make a kill or deflect an ax flying at my face only to hear the old familiar suggestion:
The action is all very chaotic. The story is over-the-top and the characters are over-acted. It’s goofy fun that’s meant to be nothing more than a gory lark. On the arcade machine, it was a way to kill five minutes between games or before taking your seat. Did anyone actually play The House of the Dead to get better at it? Did anyone want to reach the end?
Well, you certainly can now, and that’s The House of the Dead: Remake’s strongest selling point. Sure, it looks better than ever. It has a new Horde mode that gives you many more zombies to kill. It includes easy, normal and hard difficulty options that can be applied to modern or classic scoring conventions, the former making it easier to chain combos. But all of this pails against the ability to just finish the game. You can purchase up to 10 continues. Considering the full game takes less than an hour to complete, that’s more than enough to see the ending if you’re in easy mode and utilizing the two-player local co-op. And even after you finish, score chasing and taking alternative paths towards different endings provide incentive for replays.
Unfortunately, the game just doesn’t function well on the Switch. Without the ability to point a light-gun at the screen, you’re stuck using either gyrocopes or control sticks for aiming, neither of which are very good. The House of the Dead: Remake gives you plenty of ability to fine tune these controls, but it’s all just frustration tweaking. The stick is cumbersome, and the gyroscopes constantly need to be reset. Using my brand new OLED Joy-Cons that have no drift, my cursor would still constantly float to the left and off the screen. I had to reset it more often than I had to reload. And even when I was on target, pressing the button to fire my gun pushed it right back off.
You could grow accustomed to the controls, but you’ll likely have finished the game by the time you do. The House of the Dead was never meant to be deeply explored and mastered, it was meant to provide frantic action in short bursts. If that’s the way you intend to enjoy it, no amount of control tweaks are going to make it a comfortable experience.
But even then, you can have fun with the game. The campiness and the (mostly) mindless combat are a kick to fire up for a few rounds with friends/family even if you’re not doing so for the nostalgia of it all. Forever Entertainment has accordingly priced the download at only $25. This is quite fair, especially considering they gave the game a full rebuild instead of just a makeover.
When’s the last time the Whopper received that much love?