House of the Dead 2&3 Return Review - 18/04/2008

House of the Dead, in case you've missed it, is a light gun game that pits the player against zombies and other horrific foes. Completely on rails, the series was a massive hit in the arcades. It's a faithful representation of the arcade classic, but is the magic still there on Nintendo's family friendly console?


The House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return is, you guessed it, the second two HOTD games. As near perfect ports of both of these games, they are the same games that you can play in the arcades, albeit with the Wii Remote rather than a gun. The game can also be played with the Wii Zapper, which is the best choice for any wannabe zombie hunter, despite the lack of Nunchuck control at all. Just like Ghost Squad, this is an IR version of a light gun game, and so there is a target reticule on screen at all times. Despite this, the game feels just like the arcade game, meaning that fans of the original versions of each game will feel right at home.

That's not to say that this is perfect, on the contrary, there are many things that stop the game from reaching its full potential, the first of which is the immense difficulty. Unlike the aforementioned Ghost Squad, House of the Dead on Wii doesn't give you unlimited credits, instead giving you a set number to complete the whole game with. This adds to the already high difficulty of both games, and means that many people won't make it through the entire mission. The player's life, amount of times they can get hit without using up a continue, and credits (the amount of times a player can be 'brought back to life' so to speak), are determined in the options menu before the game, and while each can increase to a value of 5 and 9 respectively, you must reach a certain point in each game to get the values to increase. This can be frustrating, and by the time you have completed either of the games, the opening cinematic of each will have become embedded in your brain forever. But even so, this does add to the longevity of each game, in addition to different difficulties and paths that can be taken. It took me three solid days of playing to complete each, even on the easy setting, but the developers have at least tried to help less experienced players out by including co-op, and an Original mode for HOTD2.

It hasn't aged too badly...


The co-op element of each game reduces the difficulty of each tremendously, even though you have to share credits, and also makes the whole experience much more fun. But even in co-op, HOTD2 will still seem near impossible to complete, one of the reasons for the oddly named Original mode. This mode begins with you selecting items that will aid you on your difficult, hour-long mission. These items range from extra credits to more bullets in each round, all of which help you deal with the endless amount of undead you will face. This mode makes the game more enjoyable, thanks to the difficulty once again being reduced. These aren't the only modes on offer though, in addition, HOTD2 features a boss mode, where you can fight any of the game's bosses for a high score, while HOTD3 features a Time Attack mode, and an Extreme mode. The first of these has you losing time, rather than health, which is gained by defeating enemies efficiently and searching in nearby boxes and barrels, objects that would normally contain health packs and coins for extra points. The other mode of these is an extremely hard version of HOTD3, where you must hit an enemy's weak point to affect it, while you have melee attack that can be used to block enemy attacks. Let's just say that that this mode is impossible and leave it at that. All of these add to the proceedings however, even if they are all versions of the same two games. There is so much more content here than Ghost Squad, a criticism that many had of Sega's last attempt of a Wii arcade port, and so this will have you hooked for longer than you would have thought.

The Wii Zapper has had criticism thrown at it ever since its release late last year, which I have personally been surprised at. All of the games I have played with the Zapper, Link's Crossbow Training, Ghost Squad, and the game in question, have all worked tremendously with Nintendo's Wii Remote shell. The Zapper is the best way to play all of these games, despite the criticism it has received, and so you should really invest in one if you want to fully enjoy HOTD on Wii. That's not to say that the Wii Remote on its own doesn't work, it does, which will be good news for your player two, but the Zapper just makes the experience more authentic, and more importantly, more fun. The nunchuck may not be used at all, save for the C button to skip cutscenes, a button you will use more often than you should, but the Zapper is the definitive way to play this game, and it will become a friend to you as you go through the hour long games for what seems like the 100th time.

The scariest thing here is the graphics!


Both of the games play out in the same sort of way, albeit with slight differences along the way. Like most arcade lightgun titles, both games feature branching paths, even if both use these in different ways. In HOTD2, the people that you save from the zombies determine your path, whereas in HOTD3 you choose your path from a menu. This alteration helps the games feel different, which is a major task thanks to the identical enemies and incredibly similar gameplay. Another difference is the two lead characters' pick of weaponry. In HOTD2 you wield a basic handgun, which does the job well enough to let you survive for as long as you need, while the shotgun featured in HOTD3 packs a mightier punch, hitting many enemies at once. Even though these weapons would be polar opposites in real life though, here they are so similar that only the sound echoing from your Wii Remote speaker will tell you which weapon you hold. Both reload in an instant, an action activated by pointing the remote off screen, solidifying the way that the games forgo reality in favour of an outrageous experience. But by far the biggest differences between the games are the graphics, and the overall quality of the game.

House of the Dead 2 looks terrible today. The graphics have not held up well over time, with textures that look like they belong on PS1 rather than the Wii. It may be an age-old arcade game, but HOTD2 looks dated, especially when compared to its sequel. The second game on the disc looks like it fits on the Wii, if PS2 quality graphics are alright with you. The enemies are much more gory, and the whole thing is actually nice to look at, mainly due to the fact that HOTD3 is newer than 2. But even so, the third entry in the series is just a better game overall, making it the star of the collection. The bosses are better, the environments are more interesting, and the game is much more enjoyable than its predecessor. That said, as I mentioned before, both of these games are very similar, and so 3 is more like the development of 2, improving the things that were wrong with the game before it. Both games are worth playing, but if you need a reason to buy House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return, look no further than the newer game.

Ah, the memories...


Continuing the trend, the voice acting and cutscenes in general sway in House of the Dead 3's favour, even if the ones in that game aren't that great either. Saying that the dialogue in HOTD2 is laughable is an understatement, as the game features lines that are so memorable, and so bad, that you won't be able to control yourself when it comes to laughter. On one occasion I was laughing so much that I didn't even notice an enemy approaching, and so I soon saw the dreaded Game Over screen, and was routinely thrown back to the menu. Lines such as 'My god' are said in such a B-Movie, wooden way that no one will be able take the game seriously from that point on. As comedy, HOTD2 surpasses the sequel in every way, with HOTD3 trying to take itself more seriously. The dialogue here isn't as bad, but it is still pretty awful, meaning that on the whole, the voice acting is worse, thanks to the lack of comedy. The music and sound effects are okay, although there is a lack of music at moments where other games would have run with a great theme. The game has to be commended for its use of the Wii Remote speaker though, as the gun sounds are clear and consistent, something that isn't the case with most Wii titles.

The best aspect of The House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return though is the price, which at a measly 30 makes this near essential to anyone who wants a decent lightgun game on the Wii. This is amazing value for the amount of time you'll get with the game, which is weird considering each game is around 50 minutes in length. The amount of tries it will take to get through them is where the real replay value is though, and the extra modes only add to this. There may be some major flaws with the game, most of which stop HOTD2 & 3 from being a must have Wii game for everyone. But if you own the Wii Zapper and are looking for some zombie action, then this will have you hooked for hours. It may not be as good as the arcade, but it does come close. Zombie blasting fun in its prime.

- Sam Atkins


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