The House of the Dead Retro Review (Arcade)

The dead are having a house party…


Sega’s House of the Dead is as hard to keep down as the zombies that populate the nightmarish series. Since its debut, Sega has released four numbered entries, two spinoffs, and an updated re-release of House of the Dead 4 in arcades. While most lightgun shooter franchises have long been dead and buried, The House of the Dead is still hungrily gnawing on the brains of trigger-happy gamers to this day.

The House of the Dead puts you in the shoes of one of two agents of the AMS- a group tasked with tracking down Dr. Roy Curien, a scientist who has learned the secret to reanimating the dead. Taking place over the span of four stages, agents Rogan and G battle countless swarms of undead ghouls, chainsaw-wielding zombies, mutant monkeys, and even zombie frogs on their mission to take out Curien and his undead horde. Each of the four stages in the game offers plenty of action, with dozens of different paths to take in each stage. While each path eventually leads to the same boss encounter, many different branching corridors can be accessed by performing actions such as hitting switches or saving research scientists from ghastly deaths at the hands of monsters. Unlocking these paths is exciting and it’s very addicting trying to find all of the areas of the mansion and its underground research labs.

This is the Magician. He wants to melt your face.

Each stage has a number of research scientists scattered throughout it, and saving them from monsters rewards you with much needed health bonuses. The key to advancing through the game is to skillfully shoot your way through the stages, saving as many scientists as you can to stockpile health that you’ll need for the boss encounters. Also, saving the researchers is the only way to see the game’s true ending.

At the end of each stage you’ll fight a challenging boss which range from giant armored foes, a gargoyle with the ability to control bats, a massive spider, and finally Dr. Curien’s final creation- the Magician. Each of these bosses offers a unique challenge and will test your accuracy and finger dexterity. By the time you’ve finally brought down the last ghoul, you’ll likely feel as though your hands are experiencing advanced rigor mortis.

While The House of the Dead is a blast in single player, as with all lightgun titles, it shines the most with a friend. Working as a team to save all of the researchers and tackle the challenging bosses is immensely satisfying. Few things are more enjoyable than a well-concerted double tap the the head of an undead ghoul who is ready to disembowel one of the mansions resident eggheads.

While The House of the Dead is well over a decade old now, it’s still far from a horror to look at. Powered by Sega’s wildly successful Model 2 hardware (the hardware responsible for such hits as Daytona USA, Virtua Fighter 2, and Virtual On), the game sports fully texture mapped character models and environments, a nice damage model which allows you to carve satisfying chunks from your undead enemies with hot lead, and plenty of character models on screen with zero slowdown. The game is also displayed in medium resolution, which is a nice added bonus.

So, his weak point is his body? Whod’a thunk it?!

Sega dominated the arcades in the ’90s, and The House of the Dead still stands the test of time as one of their most enjoyable arcade titles. The mix of campy horror and gunplay is a devilish delight that is as fun today as it was when it was released. While Sega has seen fit to port The House of the Dead 2 and 3 to home consoles very competently, The original game only sported 2 very lackluster ports for the PC and Saturn, making the original arcade release still a very worthwhile title to seek out.

Anyone with a disdain for the undead and a love for  arcade gunplay owes it to themselves to grab their Stunner light gun and pump a few credits into this putrefied classic.

Final Verdict: 5/5

Available on: Arcade (Reviewed), PC, Saturn

Frank has been the caffeine-fueled evil overlord of HeyPoorPlayer since 2008. He speaks loudly and carries a big stick to keep the staff of the HPP madhouse in check. A collector of all things that blip and beep, he has an extensive collection of retro consoles and arcade machines crammed into his house. Currently playing: FORECLOSED (PS5), Mayhem Brawler (Switch), Xak III (PC Engine)

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