Some of the most memorable games of yesteryear were not on a console but in the arcade. It wasn’t just that these dedicated cabinets were more powerful than what you could find at home but they also often had unique controllers, such as the light gun.
One of the very best examples of this genre was Sega’s The House of the Dead. Not only was it a step up from its already terrific Virtua Cop series in terms of graphics and gameplay, it also joined Resident Evil in capitalising on the rise of zombie games in the late 90s, which has of course persisted to this day with the likes of Dying Light 2 and Back 4 Blood.
A remake of a beloved 25 year-old arcade classic on Nintendo Switch is very welcome then. But can The House of the Dead: Remake recapture the halcyon days of the light gun shooter without a light gun? Read on!
Back when The House of the Dead was an arcade hit, Sega did actually bring the game to its then-ailing console, the Saturn. Unfortunately, its hardware simply didn’t have the chops to handle those Model 2 zombies, resulting in an inferior port. While improved tech meant the sequels fared better, the original sadly never got another shot, with a PC port simply based on the Saturn version.
As a remake then, this new version is technically better than arcade-perfect, with all new character models still based on the original varied enemy designs, from the gruesome chainsaw-wielding zombies to slimey sewer-dwelling biohazards or suit-wearing imps with claws like Freddy Kreuger. Better yet, they’re gushing with red blood as you blow them away with your bullets, a sign of the changing of the times when the original games had to make do with censored green blood.
Much of the original has been faithfully recreated here, such as the Se7en-inspired typography for the chapter headings and the visuals have a murkiness that remind you of its horror-inspired roots even though this is ultimately an action-packed game with hilarious B-movie dialogue, which have also been re-recorded to lean into the campness.
It’s then the elements that deviate that stick out, such as a new score with the original music sadly not included as an option. Also noticeable is the omission of a voice telling you to “shoot outside the screen” when you need to reload. Because this isn’t the same light gun game, that technology simply doesn’t exist on modern screens (well, almost doesn’t), and the alternatives feel hit-and-miss.
Points and shoot
The House of the Dead: Remake isn’t the first post-lightgun game. Its sequels had been ported to the Wii in the past too, making use of that console’s IR sensor for some surprisingly accurate calibration. The Switch instead makes use of gyro aiming or the not-very-interesting cursor-aiming with a control stick, though in either case you’re still dealing with a visible crosshair, which doesn’t feel as natural as holding a gun and aiming at the screen, even though it’s arguably more accurate – at least when the gyro is behaving itself.
Gyro aiming works with Joy-Con (a single Joy-Con control scheme is only when playing in multiplayer, although you can still map most controls to one controller when playing solo), a Pro controller, as well as in handheld mode (you may want to check that the latter’s x-axis corresponds to how you want to aim left and right). But regardless of mode, we really shouldn’t have to keep pressing a separate button to recentre the crosshair every couple of seconds. Even when trying to hold the Joy-Con as still as you can, it always finds a way to drift off to the side, and it doesn’t help that the on-rails camera occasionally bobs and weaves depending on the situation. Sometimes we end up losing sight of the crosshair when things get too busy on screen, only to find it’s moved to the far side of the screen.
And even when it does behave, holding a Joy-Con is still no substitute for holding a gun-shaped controller, especially when you then have to press another button to reload. At the very least, there’s an option where you can just automatically reload, which we highly recommend turning on (although it won’t turn off the annoying “Reload!” audio prompt).
Don’t suffer, like G did
The House of the Dead was and remains a challenging game that can easily devour your credits, but the remake is a bit more generous with helping you survive its ordeal. For a start, your lives are actually measured in half-units now so some attacks from weaker enemies won’t cost you a whole life. The flipside is some undead can still be bloody persistent even after you’ve shot out their weapon, or blown their head off.
A new lives for points system also grants you more continues even after you’ve exhausted your default 10 credits, at the cost of 5,000 points each time, creating some tension as your lifeline comes at the expense of your final score, determining which of the game’s three endings you’ll get.
It certainly makes a good case for opting for the new multiplier-based scoring system over the classic arcade scoring. The new Horde mode, essentially the campaign but with tons more enemies that will knacker out your trigger finger, also becomes a fun challenge as you’ll quickly clock up a large reserve of points that can be spent on more continues even as the extra zombies eat through your credits.
But even with these additions, there’s still no getting around the fact that this is an old-school arcade game that will take you half an hour to clear. Even though the game’s structure of multiple paths based on shooting specific switches or whether you succeed or fail in saving the many scientists in the game does provide replay value, it’s still easy to see pretty much everything in just a few runs in one evening.
Still, if you’re saving it for some couch co-op, there’s still a hell of a lot of fun with revisiting a game that looks better than its arcade original, even if it doesn’t play as well.
25 years later, The House of the Dead: Remake gets close to being the dream home port of an arcade all-timer that stays faithful to both the original’s gory horror atmosphere and camp credentials, even if old-school fans might not be as keen on the new soundtrack.
But despite some welcome modern additions, it’s ultimately by the new control schemes on Switch, which make an ill substitute for the good old days of pointing a light gun at a CRT screen, and which even the Wii handled better a couple generations ago. While there’s still fun to be had blasting zombies on the big screen, you can’t help but feel it could have been better.
A good-looking remake of an arcade classic but iffy controls fail to recapture the glory days of the light gun shooter.
Looks (bloody) great
All the original multiple paths and enemies intact
New score multiplier and horde mode
Unreliable gyro aiming
Some elements from the original lost
Still very short (even with extra content)