The House of the Dead Remake Review: One Foot In The Grave
When it comes to Sega’s classic arcade games of the 90s, The House of the Dead has always been a favorite of mine. Gloriously campy, the 1996 on-rails shooter always impressed me with its memorable bosses, tight stage designs, and gratifyingly gory gunplay. It’s a game that will always be near and dear to my heart. So much so that I’ve had the deluxe arcade cabinet sitting in my family room for the past decade, parked right next to its superb sequel.
Needless to say, when it was announced that MegaPixel Studio was working on The House of the Dead Remake, my trigger finger instantly started to itch. After all, the other games in the series have seen numerous home ports. However, up until now, the original only received a pair of lackluster conversions to the Sega Saturn and PC. While it wasn’t perfect, I enjoyed MegaPixel’s work on their Panzer Dragoon Reboot, so I had high hopes for another exciting throwback to satisfy my need for nostalgia.
Now that the game is finally upon us, does The House of the Dead Remake successfully resurrect Sega’s classic coin-op, or have the mad scientists at MegaPixel Studio given us a reason to bust out the torches and pitchforks?
If you’ve somehow never played The House of the Dead before, the premise borrows heavily from Capcom’s Resident Evil, which was hugely popular at the time of the game’s release. After an outbreak at the eccentric biochemist Dr. Curien’s lab causes creates an army of undead monsters, AMS agents Rogan and G are sent in to investigate. Armed with your trusty service weapon, you’ll have to blast your way through four chapters teeming with zombies, Freddy Kreuger-esque horrors, and other nightmarish creatures as you work your way from the ruined estate’s courtyard to the labs deep below.
Let’s start by talking about the elephant in the room. The House of the Dead is a light gun shooter. And, considering there’s no proper light gun peripheral for the Switch, some concessions certainly had to be made to bring it to Nintendo’s hybrid console while keeping the spirit of the original intact. The game offers three different control schemes that you can choose. Sadly, no matter which you choose, they all leave a lot to be desired.
The gyro control scheme is the closest The House of the Dead Remake comes to recreating the light gun action of the coin-op. You’d hope it’d at least work as well as the Wii ports of The House of the Dead 2 & 3 or Ghost Squad. Sadly, that’s not at all the case here. Holding the tiny Joy-Con like a TV remote and aiming at your screen just isn’t very comfortable. What’s worse, the controller loses its tracking almost constantly, causing the cursor to drift across the screen on its own. Because of this, I found myself having to frequently pause to adjust it, which absolutely killed the flow.
There’s also a modified version of the Gyro control scheme that allows you to use the thumbstick to make slight adjustments. And if you’re not a fan of motion controls, you can also simply use your Switch Pro controller to mow down the undead. However, even after adjusting the cursor sensitivity, I was unable to find a setting that felt particularly good.
It feels like the developers were aware of this and tailored some boss fights accordingly to compensate for these issues. For example, Hanged Man and Magician, the bosses of stages two and four, now move much more slowly than they did in the original release. Additionally, the volleys of projectiles they lob also float lazily towards the screen like lethal helium balloons, taking much of the excitement away from what should have been two of the title’s most exciting encounters.
If you can look past the frustrating controls, The House of the Dead Remake is a reasonably faithful adaptation. All four stages are here, each with numerous hidden paths to explore and scientists to rescue from the mansion’s bloodthirsty denizens. When everything’s working as it should, blasting hordes of ghouls and revisiting the game’s iconic setting can feel like stepping back in time to the golden era of Sega’s arcade shooters.
That’s not to say The House of the Dead Remake doesn’t do anything new. The Horde mode dials up the difficulty by adding a ton of extra zombies to every scene. It’s a welcome idea that could have really added some replay value to the package if only the controls were up to the task. Playing this mode with the gyros is essentially an exercise in frustration due to the tracking issues I previously mentioned. However, The House of the Dead Remake does let you spend the points you earn to purchase extra continues. So even if the carpel tunnel-inducing controls are keeping you down, you should still have enough lives to brute force your way to the end credits.
There are a couple of other extras, too. The gallery mode allows you to view the bosses and monsters you’ve encountered and learn their weak points. I’m a pretty big fan of in-game galleries in general, and I appreciated being able to get a good look at the updated character models. In addition to the gallery mode, MegaPixel Studio also added a host of in-game achievements to unlock, which should keep completionists busy for a little while after blasting through the main story.
When it comes to its presentation, The House of the Dead Remake is a bit of a mixed bag. However, let’s start with the good. Curien’s mansion has never looked better than it does in The House of the Dead Remake. Of course, you’d expect as much, what with the original game being 25 years old now. Still, I really can’t stress enough how great of a job MegaPixel Studio did breathing new life into its crumbling halls. With superb lighting and detailed character models, each scene looks great, except for a few bland textures here and there. It isn’t as pretty as The House of the Dead: Scarlet Dawn, not by a longshot. But it’s pretty damn impressive all the same.
You’ll definitely want to play the game in performance mode, though. Disabling it offers some extra visual flourish and more impressive lighting effects that look great in still shots, but absolutely butcher the frame rate. Masochists who just want the best looking game possible might be able to suffer through the slowdown and frame drops with your console docked. But if you plan on playing the game in handheld mode, get ready for a slideshow.
Whether you’re playing in performance mode or not, you’re still going to experience some rough performance here and there. From start to finish, it’s plain to see the Switch is struggling to keep up with the on-screen action, which can make for some pretty frustrating moments when you miss a headshot due to the suddenly coming to a crawl.
In addition to the performance issues, The House of the Dead Remake can be pretty glitchy at times. Occasionally enemies will suddenly go completely brain-dead and stand perfectly still as if waiting for their turn to act, leaving you free to blast them into oblivion. However, the most entertaining glitch I witnessed was when I killed a zombie just as he was thrusting his hand into the torso of a scientist. After the zombie bubbled into a puddle of ooze, the grateful egghead rushed over, severed arm still wiggling in her chest, and passed me a health kit, seemingly unaware of the bloodied appendage jutting from her chest.
Things don’t fare much better on the aural front. The House of the Dead Remake’s soundtrack almost entirely does away with Sega AM1 composer Tetsuya Kawauchi‘s infectious melodies in favor of a generic and sometimes outright abrasive soundtrack. Occasionally the faintest hints of the original game’s score float to the surface, but the new stuff quickly drowns them out. I wish MegaPixel Studio included the option to select between the classic and new soundtracks, as the game would undoubtedly be so much better for it.
As a massive fan of the original game, I had high hopes for The House of the Dead Remake. Unfortunately, this one mostly misses the mark as far as updates go due to its constant performance issues and control schemes that range from merely unsatisfying to downright frustrating. While extras like the Horde mode and in-game achievements are welcome, it’s hard to imagine many players will want to trudge through the experience all over again after wrapping up the main story once or twice.
If you’re dying for an arcade-style shooter to plow through with a friend, The House of the Dead Remake might keep you busy for an evening. Anyone else would be better off letting the dead rest.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available On: Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Forever Entertainment Developer: MegaPixel Studio; Players: 1-2; Released: April 7, 2022; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: A review copy of The House of the Dead Remake was provided by PR.