I’ve thought a lot about The House of the Dead since it debuted nearly 25 years ago. Despite the influence it had at the time and its legacy since, the original Zombie shooter on the rails from Sega only became playable off-arcade in the form of Medium Ports for PC and Sega Saturn in 1998, with Sega losing the original source code. So when a complete remake of the Switch was finally announced, I was eager to see what developer MegaPixel Studio could do to make this classic appealing to both veterans like myself and newcomers to the series. Unfortunately, frustrating controls, some performance issues, and unavoidable repetitive gameplay make The House of the Dead: a remake of a mixed bag for new and old fans alike.
Just like in the arcades, you take on the role of either AMS Agent Thomas Rogan or Agent G as they pump out hordes of zombies full of bullets and try to stop the mad scientist Doctor Corian from destroying humanity, with three possible endings depending on how successful you do. There are more interesting nuances to the world and its characters than the one-dimensional way it is presented within the game, but unfortunately finding this story context requires a little research through old game manuals or dead wiki Instead of explaining it in the house of the dead itself.
While it remains faithful in this way, I’m really disappointed that MegaPixel didn’t decide to add some of that existing knowledge to the remake – especially since the studio is remaking The House of the Dead 2 and would have taken this opportunity to make a better sequel. Inherited additions would have also helped flesh out this entry somewhat, which is still incredibly short by modern standards. It only takes about half an hour to complete the tour from start to finish, including cut scenes, and returning fans will quickly identify all the cheesy lines of dialogue and interpret the story as loosely as the original.
Of course, you don’t really play The House of the Dead in the story – it’s the zombie-shooting game on the rails that the series is known for. With action handling automatically, the only thing you have to focus on is pumping zombies full of bullets, and that part remains as fun as ever. As frequently as the story can be repeated, there is nothing more satisfying than shooting fantasy guns at zombies and infected creatures, all while achieving the highest score possible. You can also find a few different methods that help bring about surprising changes in each round – whether it’s dropping a certain door, an enemy dropping you to a different part of a level, or failing to save a world – which adds variety and rewards to experimentation, too. While the number of alternative methods diminishes as you progress further, there is fun to be found in making your own little goals as well, such as trying not to cause any harm in one round or trying to save all the scientists in one game.
As entertaining as this new version is, it’s even better with a friend in a two-player co-op game. It’s a shame there is no online option, but there are at least two local modes to choose from: Competitive and Co-op. The former gives you 10 continuations each and a separate score bar, while the latter gives you both your continuations and your score to work together. House of the Dead has always been best served with good companionship, and the inclusion of a competitive mode is sure to make playing with friends even more rewarding as you try to collect as many health packs as possible or take down as many enemies as possible – provided both of you are willing to take on controls.
Lots of trial and error
The House of the Dead: Remake’s controls take a while to get used to and can feel a lot more complicated than they need to be. There are a variety of options to try, from a single Joy-Con (although only when playing co-op, for some weird reason) with aiming full rotation for a light gun feel to using a Pro controller like an FPS, but all of them can hit and miss – In the literal and figurative sense.
Your gun is fired by pressing the A or ZR buttons, while reloading is tied to either the ZL button or the B button. This is not the most comfortable arrangement, which makes using two connected Joy-Con or the Pro Controller preferable. Outside of providing an extra button to reload, the left D-pad/Joy-Con buttons allow you to switch between additional weapons that you can unlock. This includes options like an assault rifle and a grenade launcher that can take down anything in your path, although you won’t be able to unlock and use them until you unlock the armory itself, which requires you to save all the scientists in one round.
Both controller options also allow you to use the gyroscopic aiming, as well as a combination that uses thumb sticks as default and then the gyroscope for precise control. I ended up primarily using this option, although there were moments when I realized that the spin target wasn’t registering how I expected it to be. This meant that I started relying on the joystick more and more—while I could easily tap the right (or left) thumbstick to realign the gyroscopic crosshairs if they were slightly out of frame, it was easier to move the joystick a bit to shoot an enemy on the spot. This probably depends somewhat on personal preference, but I’ve found that the spin is meant to be a bigger enemy than the zombie often.
The gyroscope aiming isn’t turned on by default, but if you’re using it, you’ll need to go into settings to turn it on and tweak things like sensitivity and what works for you anyway. But this can be very intimidating and frustrating since there is a lot of trial and error to get the controls to work properly. The House of the Dead series has a pick-and-play mentality, and the default settings have always worked well for me with console ports in later House of the Dead games without having to fiddle with similar calibration options. As much as I wanted to fully immerse myself in using a single Joy-Con as a light pistol, this new version is unreliable without two. Even more surprisingly, I’ve had better luck with gyroscopic aiming when playing with a Pro controller or even in manual mode, which is a far cry from the way I would have expected I would have preferred an arcade shooter. I can see why the controls are designed the way they were, the flexibility to play in docked, portable, tabletop mode or even on the Switch Lite is appreciated, but I still wish there was an option to reset the control layout to help mitigate some of these problems.
I’ve noticed several performance issues not related to inconsistent rotational aiming either. There were multiple instances where everything would freeze for a few seconds in the middle of a fight – the same sections were played with the Performance Mode option enabled which provided a higher FPS at the cost of some graphical fidelity, but it didn’t solve the freezing issues. Loading screens were also a noticeably slow issue, taking about 35 seconds for each new stage to fully load. These issues are relatively minor but noticeable and annoying nonetheless, especially when The House of the Dead: Remake isn’t exactly a nice game to look at from a graphical point of view. While the character models for the main cast look mostly good, a lot of the scholars who memorize them are so animated, that they can be laughably distracting.
Revived for the modern era
The House of the Dead: Remake has two modes: Story, which is just a pretty original experience, and Horde, a new option that’s basically the same but with a whopping 15 zombies on screen at once. Away from the sheer size of enemies, Horde goes through the same four stages and the same boss battles, though the enemies take more bullets before they fall. It seems a little redundant since the story mode already has four options of increasing difficulty (easy, normal, hard, and arcade), but I still found it a lot of satisfying challenge as a veteran of the series. Putting Horde on his Arcade difficulty level ends up being a real test of your skills as well. The way you take damage has also been slightly modified from the original with an increase in the amount of damage you take from different enemies at higher difficulties.
Arcade setup simulation, each run gives you 10 continuations that’s a life; Once you run out, you can “buy” more by spending the points you’ve earned in the current round, otherwise it’s game over. You earn points by finding additional items such as coins and (more commonly) by defeating enemies. Points vary depending on where you’re shooting and the enemy themselves, encouraging more than just blind shooting. And while the classic scoring method is available, there’s also a welcome addition to a recent new scoring option that offers multipliers for doing things like killing a certain number of enemies in a row.
The two modes, along with different difficulty options and score systems, certainly offer a lot of replay value, and the ability to adapt your settings to your taste, making this new version more accessible to a wider audience. However, I was disappointed that additional options such as the boss mode or the training mode that are part of The House of the Dead 2 were not included here. There’s at least a gallery mode that lets you take a closer look at all the weapons you unlock and the enemies you’ve defeated, as well as some fun cheat codes for things like infinite ammo and unlimited continuation that only unlock once you complete a certain number of built-in achievements, but it’s only entertaining for a long time.