Stumbling across the horde of coin-hungry arcade cabinets was always a highlight when visiting a seaside pier in the mid-90s. Often squashed between the SEGA Rallys and the Metal Slugs, there was a good chance that you would find the most voracious cabinet of them all. SEGA’s original The House of the Dead.
It was surely a game that demanded attention. The anticipation of drawing one-of-two plastic Colbert blue handguns from its holster, squinting down the barrel towards the screen and feeling the sheer uncertainty on how far that last bit of change would stretch. Then finally, pulling the trigger to blast off limbs from the undead, opening chest cavities and popping those sweet headshots felt more, and more satisfying with every clip and credit.
Yet it wasn’t until it was released on the SEGA Saturn home console that most players finally got to explore all its routes and secrets. Sure, it was, without a doubt, the inferior version of the coin-op counterpart. But boy, was it still fun.
Unfortunately, as the coin-op scene died, so did the original source code. While emulated software is a possibility, The House of the Dead is one of those games that tends to suffer. Furthermore, as televisions began to steer away from CRT technology, the option to have a true light-gun experience quickly began to fade away.
Unless you have a relatively expensive set-up to allow at least some sort of light gun alternative, the Wii was the only easily affordable way to go. With games such as Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, The House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return, and the Grindhouse-style incarnation of The House of the Dead: Overkill.
However, that didn’t stop the team behind the Panzer Dragoon: Remake who sought to finally resurrect the gone, but not forgotten, arcade classic. By pulling the strings to rebuild The House of the Dead from the ground up, this incredibly fun, if somewhat compromised arcade shooter still maintains its appeal.
For those who may not be quite as familiar with the genre, The House of the Dead, (and similar games of this ilk) automatically steers the player around the grounds of a giant mansion like a simulated fairground ride. The aim of the game is to simply blast an army of aggressive ghastly ghouls while saving the lives of scientists and overthrowing Curion’s unhinged plan.
Assuming the player can stay alive, a single playthrough will last around half an hour from beginning to end. Yet as short-lived as it may seem, there are still plenty of achievement style challenges, secret areas to uncover, a cool museum mode, as well as that addictive ambitious hook to memorise every shot towards a perfect run. There’s also an incredibly fun Horde Mode included that allows crowds of enemies on screen at once, almost breaking the game with a homebrew twist in an entertaining way.
There’s a generous amount of options in the pause screen too. Players can customise everything from automatic reload, stick and motion sensitivity, a performance mode that caters towards a much smoother 60fps playthrough at a cost of some visual integrity, and even the ability to change the target cursor for those, like me, who suffer from colour blindness among other stuff.
Such options are completely necessary because it’s highly unlikely that you will be able to unsheathe a Joy-Con and be satisfied with how the game will play off the bat. While the Wii remote had a sensor bar to allow tight aiming straight out of the box, the gyro technology of the Joy-Con instantly suffers to live up to such levels of accuracy.
It is, without doubt, that you will constantly find yourself recalibrating the pointer with the Y button as the motion control slips out of sync with nearly every given movement. I found that a pro controller, or at least, having the Joy-Con attached to the grip provided a much better experience. I also found that switching off aim-assist, and dropping the sensitivity right down also helped rectify some of the aiming issues, but never really completely solved them.
This makes the whole pick-up-and-play experience of arcade shooting almost non-existent, and instead, becomes more of a cooking task of trying to balance different ingredients to get the flavours to work together. Thankfully, gameplay options do save. However, I would have liked multiple save options to map out several control configurations to cater for both TV and handheld, as I have to set the both differently depending on how I play.
Furthermore, because I found that pointing a Joy-Con at the screen and firing the trigger to be more than a hassle than it’s worth, it undeniably takes away from the fundamental feel of shooting a gun at the screen. That’s not to say that House of the Dead: Remake doesn’t work, because overall it does. During the time I had with it, I managed to save all the scientists on normal difficulty and still found myself having a hell of a lot of fun with it regardless.
The game has a good balance of clear visual improvement over the original while keeping the pallet of nostalgia satisfied. It is far from being the best looking game out there, even by Nintendo Switch standards. Yet, it provided a sense of familiarity without obliterating a memory of the low-res polygon charm of the original product. The blood splatter is certainly a highlight, and blowing off limbs is still as fun now as it was back in 1996. I would have appreciated a more consistent frame rate as there are still dips even with performance mode switched on. Perhaps something that can be improved in time with post-release patches.
Unfortunately, what may come as a deal-breaker for some, is that the brilliant soundtrack of the original arcade game is nowhere to be seen. There could be many reasons for this as MegaPixel has done an overall grand job in staying as true as can be to the original blueprint. With that said, the soundtrack still kicks and comes across almost as a B-side extension to what the original game provides.
Currently a Nintendo Switch exclusive, The House of the Dead Remake does a decent job at staying faithful to its legacy to the best of its ability by keeping the spirit of its campy acting and fast-paced action. The controller handicap the team had to deal with is unfortunate, but also an expected one, given the circumstances. While it’s a game that will guarantee a split opinion amongst fans, based just on frame rate and soundtrack alone, I found enough entertainment here to keep me pretty satisfied and coming back for more.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Forever Entertainment