The House of the Dead: Remake Review – Joy-Con Massacre

The House of the Dead: Remake Review – Joy-Con Massacre

The original 1996 The House of the Dead was one of most recognizable arcade hits at the time. Since its release, it saw several sequels, including a spin-off called The Typing of the Dead which quite literally made use of a keyboard.

While nothing beats the arcade cabinet, gamers have always wanted to bring the experience to their living room. Home conversions have been plenty, and there is no denying that the Nintendo Wii and its Motion Plus controller provided the ideal tools for light gun shenanigans, but now it’s time to see if the Nintendo Switch and its Joy-Cons are up for the zombie shooting task.

Brought to you by the same team that did the Panzer Dragoon remake a few years ago, The House of the Dead: Remake takes a similar approach to revive a classic. Although the original arcade experience is intact, the visual presentation is vastly different from what longtime fans might remember.

The graphics aren’t the most impressive by any means, but it does the job nicely enough to give the game an arcade feel with its loud and brash presentation. Right from the start, the game recommends the default setting of performance mode, and that’s probably the ideal way to play because you’re going to need all the input accuracy you can squeeze out of this remake.

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Now when it comes to playability, things get a little complicated, because the issues with gameplay and control aren’t really the fault of the title itself. Rather, it has more to do with the Nintendo Switch and its Joy-Cons. It’s clear by now that the Nintendo Wii nailed its motion controls smoothly, and so games like The House of the Dead: Overkill translated awesomely, even without a gun-shaped peripheral.  The thing is, the gyro controls of Joy-Cons don’t serve as makeshift light guns as well as one would hope.

There are numerous controller settings available, and it may all come down to pure luck in terms of how you have your console stationed, but it takes a lot of trial and error to get the gyro controls to work just right, and even then there are other issues. Joy-Cons will desync, and you also may be one of many unlucky users with the drift issue. All of these naggings add up to make the shooting experience feel more cumbersome than it needs to be.

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When things do occasionally work, you almost want to power through, but inevitably things will go out of sync. The aiming precision and responsiveness just aren’t there, and the game itself isn’t even to fully blame here. Sure, you can choose to play with analog sticks or even the pro controller to improve accuracy, but then, what’s the point of even playing a light-gun shooter that way?

Despite being right-handed myself, my own trial and error solution was to aim with the left Joy-Con and shoot with the right, but this is far from comfortable if you’re not left-handed. It’s likely going to be different for everyone, but the gyro sensor of my left Joy-Con worked better than the right, and these are a newly purchased pair by the way. The point is, it shouldn’t have to be such an inconsistent mess. While some aspects of the game may be at fault here, this is largely an innate issue with the Switch itself.

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The original arcade campaign is intact, filled with cheesy dialogue, action-packed set pieces, thrilling enemy encounters, varied level design, and some really cool boss battles. There’s no denying that at its core, The House of the Dead is one of the most soundly designed and paced games in the genre, and is one you will want to revisit over and over.

The difficulty progression makes sense, the boss battles vary in their design, and even the zombies get tougher as they come in all shapes and sizes, some even wearing bulletproof armor. It’s a fun score-chasing experience as you try to blast zombies into as many chunks as possible, and even snipe out those in the backdrops. And yes, it is still worth rescuing those scientists even though the zombie apocalypse was totally their fault.

There is also a brand new Horde mode, which turns up the action all the way to 15 (literally) by throwing more zombies your way than you can handle. This mode can be fun in two-player coop, but if you’re playing on your own then things just become a mess. Throwing far too many zombies into the original arcade experience just throws off the design and pacing.

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The House of the Dead: Remake is a welcome return of an arcade classic on a less than an ideal platform. On paper, it would make sense for this to work on Nintendo Switch, but the gyro functionality of the Joy-Cons just doesn’t lend itself to the experience as smoothly as one would hope. Diehard fans are probably better off dusting off their Nintendo Wii, while most Switch owners will need to fiddle around with the controls before they can appreciate this classic.

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