Since its arcade debut about 25 years ago, I’ve given The House of the Dead a lot of consideration. Despite its significance and legacy, Sega’s first on-rails zombie shooter has only ever been made playable outside of an arcade in the form of substandard ports to PC and Sega Saturn in 1998, with Sega apparently losing the original source code.
So when a full recreation for Switch was finally revealed, I was excited to see what developer MegaPixel Studio could do to make this classic accessible to both series veterans and beginners alike. Unfortunately, The House of the Dead: Remake is a mixed bag for new and old fans alike due to annoying controls, a few performance concerns, and painfully monotonous gameplay.
You play as either A.M.S. Agent Thomas Rogan or Agent G, much like in the arcades, as they strive to stop mad scientist Dr. Curien from killing mankind by pumping hordes of zombies full of bullets. There are three different endings depending on how well you perform.
There are more intricacies to the world and its people than the one-dimensional way they are presented in-game, although obtaining that story background involves some digging through old game manuals or The Wiki of the Dead rather than being revealed in The House of the Dead itself.
While it keeps true to the original in that regard, I’m sad MegaPixel did not incorporate some of the existing backstory into the remake especially since the studio is also redoing The House of the Dead 2 and might have used this chance to properly set up the sequel. Additions to the lore would have helped to fill out this post, which is still exceedingly brief by today’s standards.
Returning fans will quickly recognise all of the same cheesy dialogue lines and only loosely explained story beats as the original. A run takes about half an hour from start to finish, including cutscenes, and returning fans will quickly recognise all of the same cheesy dialogue lines and only loosely explained story beats as the original.
The House of the Dead Remake – Nintendo Switch Screenshots
Of course, you don’t play The House of the Dead for the plot; the series is notorious for its on-rails zombie shooting. With mobility taken care of for you, all you have to worry about is blasting the undead full of lead, which is still a lot of fun.
As tedious as it might be to replay the plot, there is nothing more fulfilling than shooting fictitious firearms at zombies and diseased animals while trying to achieve the greatest possible score.
There are a few different routes to choose from to help mix up each run Shooting down a certain door, having an adversary push you down to a different portion of the level, or failing to save a scientist all of these things provide diversity and reward exploration. While the amount of possible ways decreases as you continue, there’s still enjoyment to be had in setting your own objectives, such as not taking any damage in a single run or saving all of the scientists in a single playtime.
And as much fun as this version is on its own, two-player co-op makes it much better. There isn’t an internet option, but there are two local modes to pick from: competitive and cooperative. The first provides you 10 continues and a separate score bar, but the second requires you to share both your continues and your score in order to collaborate.
The House of the Dead has always been best enjoyed with friends, and the addition of a competitive mode makes it much more enjoyable to play with them as you strive to collect as many health packs or shoot down as many opponents as possible, if you’re both willing to put up with the controls.
Trial and Error Aplenty
The controls in House of the Dead: Remake take some getting accustomed to and sometimes feel more complicated than they need to be. There are other choices to explore, ranging from a single Joy-Con with complete gyro-aiming for that light gun feel to just utilising a Pro Controller like an FPS, but they may all be hit or miss literally and metaphorically.
The A or ZR buttons are used to fire your weapon, while the ZL or B button is used to reload it. This isn’t the most comfortable setup, therefore utilising two linked Joy-Con or the Pro Controller is recommended. Aside from giving an extra reload button, the D-pad/left Joy-Con buttons may be used to choose between the various weapons available.
These include weapons like an assault rifle and a grenade launcher that will annihilate everything in your way, yet you won’t be able to use them until you unlock the armoury, which involves saving all of the scientists in one run.
Both controllers support gyro aiming, as well as a hybrid controller that employs the thumbsticks first and then the gyro for precise control. Although there were times when I noticed the gyro aiming was not registering as I thought, I mostly used this option.
That meant that, while I could easily click on the right (or left) thumbstick to realign my gyro crosshair if it was slightly out of frame, it was even easier to just shift the thumbstick a little to fire an enemy straight away. To some degree, this is certainly a matter of personal choice, but I found gyro aiming to be a more formidable foe than the zombies most of the time.
Gyro aiming isn’t enabled by default, but if you want to use it, you’ll want to go into the options and enable it, as well as alter the sensitivity and other parameters to your pleasure. However, because there is a lot of trial and error to get the controls to function properly, this can be quite daunting and frustrating.
The House of the Dead series is designed to be picked up and played, and the default settings have always worked great for me with the console versions of subsequent House of the Dead games without the need to fiddle with their calibration choices.
Even though I intended to fully immerse myself by using just one Joy-Con as a light gun pistol, the remake is unstable without two. Surprisingly, whether playing with my Pro Controller or even in portable mode, I had more luck with gyro aiming, which is not how I anticipated to enjoy an arcade shooter.
I get why the controls were created the way they were since the ability to play docked, handheld, tabletop, or even on the Switch Lite is useful, but I still wish there was a method to remap the control arrangement to help ease some of these issues.
I found a few more performance difficulties that weren’t linked to the gyro aiming issues. Multiple times during battle, everything would freeze for a few seconds going through the same portions with the “Performance Mode” option selected produced a higher FPS at the expense of some graphical quality, but it didn’t fix the freezing issues.
Screen loading was also a noticeable issue, with each new stage taking roughly 35 seconds to fully load. These flaws are minor, but they are apparent and irritating, especially because The House of the Dead: Remake isn’t exactly a lovely game to look at from a graphical aspect. While the character models for the main actors are mostly acceptable, several of the scientists you save appear to be too animated, to the point of becoming annoying.
Revived for Modern Times
The House of the Dead: Remake features two game modes: Story, which is essentially the same as the original, and Horde, which is essentially the same but with up to 15 times more zombies on the screen at once. Horde follows the same four levels and boss confrontations as the original, with the exception that foes absorb a lot more bullets before succumbing.
Although Story mode already offers four growing difficulty settings (Easy, Normal, Hard, and Arcade), I still found it to be a fulfilling challenge as a veteran of the franchise. Putting Horde on its own Arcade difficulty level becomes a genuine test of your abilities as well. The amount of damage you suffer from different adversaries ramps up at the higher difficulties, which has been tweaked significantly from the original.
Each run provides you 10 continues, which work as lives; once you’ve used them up, you may “purchase” more by spending the points you’ve earned on the current run; otherwise, the game is finished. Finding extra objects such as coins and (more typically) beating foes are two ways to gain points.
The scores fluctuate based on where you aim and the adversary, encouraging you to do more than just shot blindly. While the original scoring technique is still accessible, a new contemporary scoring option has been added, which grants multipliers for things like killing a particular amount of foes in a row.
The two modes, in combination with the difficulty options and distinct scoring systems, give a lot of replay value, and the opportunity to customise your settings to your preferences makes this remake more accessible to a larger audience. However, I was unhappy that features from The House of the Dead 2 such as boss mode and training mode were not included here.
There’s a gallery mode that lets you see all of the weapons and enemies you’ve unlocked, as well as some amusing cheat codes for things like infinite ammo and unlimited continues that you can unlock after completing a certain number of built-in achievements, but those are only entertaining for so long.
Hardcore fans who have been waiting decades for a better method to play the game at home will find it simple to suggest The House of the Dead: Remake, but it will be a much harder sell for everyone else. The difficulty and scoring settings make it more manageable than the original’s punishing difficulty curve, but clunky controls, lousy gyro aiming, and other terrible technical difficulties can be more frightening than the zombies themselves.
If you’re willing to put in the time to grasp its complexities, this classic may be a lot of fun, but I can’t help but feel that there should have been more done to polish and perfect a comeback I’ve been waiting decades for.
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- April 19, 2022