Umbrella Chronicles' ancestor returns from the grave.
The House of the Dead games are old. In fact, the original title penetrated our American arcade scene in 1996, which, ironically, was the year that Resident Evil took over our PlayStations. Two years later, Sega released The House of the Dead 2 in the arcades and later ported it to the Dreamcast, where it remains a system favorite. In 2002, House of the Dead 3 shambled into arcades, but because the American arcade scene had largely dissolved, the game was also ported to Xbox in 2003. Now, the latter two games have been compiled onto a single disk: House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return for Wii. The obvious light-gun potential of the Wii Remote helps make the game a whopping success, although there are instances when its arcade roots hold both games back from their true potential.
The House of the Dead plotline is laughably similar to that of Resident Evil’s, including the virtual duplication of some boss monsters and overall “biological weapon” theme. Just like the Mansion Incident, the zombies in The House of the Dead are accidental byproducts of a much more sinister experiment. At any rate, the comical storyline can’t get in the way of the pure fun which comes from shooting zombies in the head and watching chunks go flying in all directions.
For those of you who’ve never been to an arcade before (where, honestly, this series is a staple), House of the Dead is a basic rail shooter in which you’re given a pistol and shoot zombies as they come running toward you. Extra lives are earned by rescuing innocent civilians from the rampaging undead, and depending on how many zombies you’ve killed or people you’ve rescued, there are several branching paths in each individual level. Each level ends with an impressive boss fight which relies almost exclusively on pattern memorization and weak point spamming.
And it’s incredibly fun. I loved Umbrella Chronicles because it invoked The House of the Dead; this new package comes with all the goodies from the Xbox House 3 like Time Attack, while House 2 gets a boss rush and a unique “Original” mode featuring item collection (again, clearly inspired by the Resident Evil series (whoo!)). Whereas most of us didn’t have the excessive quarters to afford duel-wielding in the arcade, it’s entirely possible and outrageously satisfying on the Wii. Or, like old times, you can grab a friend and blow through the undead army together. This is a great multiplayer experience. What’s more, both players can calibrate the Wii Remotes in relation to where they’re sitting.
Unfortunately, Sega did nothing to hide the fact that this is an arcade game. “Player 1 (or 2) insert coin” flashes on the screen when somebody is dead or not playing. And it’s not like you can just insert that coin, either, because you only have so many lives (that is, quarters) until it’s Game Over. Eventually, you start earning Continues (more quarters) and extra lives which can be toggled in the options menu, but I much prefer the modern gaming approach, which has virtually phased out the concept of “lives” and “continues” and has implemented checkpoints and respawns. Maybe I’m just spoiled!
The package suffers from the exclusion of the original House of the Dead, although I suspect that it was not included specifically because it never received a proper console port in the past (the buggy Saturn version doesn’t count). Because the original game contains some important plot information, it would have been nice if Sega included collectable “files” like those in Umbrella Chronicles to further flesh out the story. As it stands, players unfamiliar with the franchise may be left in the dark regarding the plot.
While it’s disappointing that Sega didn’t include House of the Dead 4 in this package, House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return is a great value for the money. It’s a fantastic multiplayer game, and even if you’re just duel-wielding by your lonesome, blowing zombies apart is incredibly fun. If you liked Umbrella Chronicles (honestly, who didn’t?) or just like killing the undead in general, House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return is a must-buy. And if the storyline is that important to you, there’s always Wikipedia.