There are two genres that I feel, for better or worse, never made it out of the arcade. There’s the beat ‘em up, which was responsible for sucking down more quarters than a laundromat back in the halcyon days when Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, and The X-Men were popular (What? They’re all still popular? You sure?). That genre, in a way, became the God of War-alike of today, but the simple left-to-right, beat up the same four dudes gameplay seems to be gone forever (or at least a “forever” that excuses the occasional River City Ransom remake). And, similarly, there is the “shooting gallery” game, which seemed to come earlier and last longer than its beat ‘em up contemporaries (I still remember you, Police 911 cabinet), but is currently woefully underrepresented on the home consoles. We might see the occasional Duck Hunt rerelease or crossbow training, but, by and large, the only time you see a decent shooting game is when a system is trying to demo some random peripheral, or, God help us all, during a console launch. Despite being one of those genres that practically defined gaming for some years (see Back to the Future for shooting through the generations), the noble shooting gallery game is now resigned to the ever-shrinking arcade scene and a tech demo or two.
And it’s easy to guess why that happened. There’s something visceral about holding a plastic gun in your hands and capping some ducks/criminals/zombies that is difficult to replicate on the home consoles. It’s fun an’ all to pretend, but you just don’t get that same heft from the Playstation Lollipop as you do when holding a proper Deer Hunter rifle. And then… what’s the point? It’s a point and click adventure. I’m using a mouse right now, and it’s not exactly thrilling to edit this article and click on my more overt mistakes. Ugh, I’m probably goint go give up from the boredom. I… guess I could pretend my typos are encroaching Cobra soldiers, but… meh. “Point and aim” needs that essential gun component to feel right, and, without it, the fun is gone.
So House of the Dead Overkill figured, hey, if we can’t get that authentic arcade gun experience, could we maybe find the fun somewhere else?
House of the Dead Overkill is a House of the Dead game: your character is fairly anonymous during the gameplay, and “you” are basically a disembodied gun exploring various zombie-infested locales. Some House of the Dead games stick exclusively to the titular house, but other adventures eventually see other locations, like “generic swamp” or “generic building”. But that’s not important! What’s important is that zombies are bearing down on you at all times, and you’ve got to turn those zombies into a fine, bloody mist before they throw a seemingly unlimited number of axes into your face. By and large, this is very simple gameplay, with only the occasional boss to interrupt “keep shooting at everything”. And, for the record, those bosses are still the same “keep shooting at everything”, but now you aim exclusively at the head and a collection of random flying objects. It’s totally worth all your quarters to see the end of that one screeching mutant thingy!
And the challenge in House of the Dead is that, yes, it’s a shooting game. It’s not just about surviving, or gunning down the right zombies to guarantee a potential victim’s escape, or carefully pegging that one powerup on the bookshelf over there; no, it’s about the all-important score, and proving that you’re some kind of zombie sniper savant. What’s your accuracy percentage? How many headshots did you rack up? How long did it take you to complete each mission? It’s all about the score, baby, and if you’re just lumbering through the stages, well then, what’s the point? Gather up the points for that combo meter, and show off your fabulous goregasm tally with trophies of all sizes. Be the best zombie slayer you can be!
Except… well, I can’t be the only person that doesn’t really care about the score. For a number of action games, I’m kind of a “beat it” player, and I’m not in this to get the most achievements or points or whatever. I play videogames to relax, not to practice like a sport. Ugh, sports. Can I just be rewarded for, ya know, playing the game at my skill level?
House of the Dead Overkill answers this with, “Yeah. Sure.”
House of the Dead Overkill eschews the tone of the previous House of the Dead games to be… funny. As ever with humor, it’s objective, and the game straight-up lampshades this during the finale (when it’s noted that this adventure has more hyper, toxic masculinity than a friggin’ Trump rally), but the majority of HoD:O is built to be, at least, amusing. G and Isaac Washington are hard-traveling heroes that can’t get along to save their lives (well, sorta), and their diametrically opposed hijinks fuel the adventure. Then there’s a villain that appears to be a version of Burt Reynolds that is unusually obsessed with Chinese food, a hooker with a heart of gold (and a motorcycle), and the fiendish mastermind that has an Oedipus complex that is literally suicidal. And the bosses, the crown of each level, are a delightful mix of grotesque and goofy, so right about when Kuato shows up to menace the protagonists at the circus, you won’t bat an eye. Oh, and I’m pretty sure I gunned down that woman from The Ring, too.
And, while I’d love to say that I played this game to improve my wiimote firearm abilities, this “funny” plot is absolutely the only reason I played past the first level. From the eponymous House of the Dead to a nightmare hospital to a hell carnival, this game grabbed me right from the get-go. It’s not about the score, it’s not about the shooting, it’s about seeing what crazy thing comes next, and what ridiculous, possibly exploitative creature is going to cap the next stage. Giant malevolent mantis? Yes! Bulbous, pulsating swamp creature? Why not! And then it’s all capped off with the mother of all monsters that literally births mutants for your rail gunning pleasure. It’s an appropriate ending for an outrageous game.
And here’s the moral for other videogames: learn from House of the Dead Overkill. Yes, humor is objective, and, yes, the “exploitation flick” motif of the game isn’t for everybody, but when you’re dealing with a genre that is already very limited in popularity, why not give people another reason to play your game? High score is fun, but how about something for us nerds that can ream thousands of words out of some space robot plot? Give your audience more, not less, and suddenly your generic shooter is something some nerd on the internet is fawning over almost a decade later.
Videogames can be more than their genre, and it only makes those games better.
FGC #234 House of the Dead Overkill
- System: Nintendo Wii initially, and then eventually Playstation 3 (via the Move), and iphone/android (via your finger). Also, there’s the Windows version for…
- Port-o-Call: Typing of the Dead returns! A “typing” version of House of the Dead Overkill exists for Windows platforms, so if you’re not so much for the aiming, go for the keyboard. Also, apparently the mobile version of this game was extremely limited and withdrawn from mobile stores due to massive suckage.
- Number of players: The other reason to play a shooting game is to have fun with your friends, so two players. On the other hand, I can name like six other local multiplayer uses for my Wii.
- Level Up: My one major complaint about this game is the whole upgrade system/extra guns. Conceptually, I like the idea of upgrading, and, practically, I enjoy purchasing the rail gun and basically turning the difficulty off… but isn’t that a problem? It seems like your firearm options are either way too overpowered or “will get you killed during every reload” weak. And I want to say the later stages are not balanced for the standard pistol at all. In other words, despite how much I love bringing an AK to a shambling fight, I’d rather the whole game be built around one kind of gun with set parameters, and not continually being Goldilocked into too hot or too cold.
- Favorite stage: It made murder clowns a persistent problem, so I’m going to say that the third stage, Carny, gets my vote. It also has the best zombie set pieces, with a football field, (literal) shooting gallery, arcade (with After Burner!), and a ride through a funhouse. Which reminds me…
- Skeleton Corner: This is one of the few games that earns the “skeletons” tag, but does not feature skeletons that are actively attacking the player. They’re just… hanging around. NOTE: I am aware that most people/monsters/zombies have skeletons, but that doesn’t count.
- They’re not Zombies: Oh, right, they’re mutants. Thank you, G.
- Did you know? Varla Guns and Candi Stryper, a new character, are both available as playable characters in their own adventure on the Playstation 3 version. They fight mutant zombie strippers and a lady minotaur named Meat Katie. On a side note, I’m not completely certain there can be a lady minotaur. Cowotaur?
- Would I play again: I just might, particularly considering I’m not certain what I’m going to do with my (backwards compatible) WiiU in a few months. Might be fun to play through all the “good” Wii/WiiU games before they get locked away in the “oldies” bin.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Metroid Zero Mission for the Gameboy Advance. Good pick, ROB! Always happy to play a Metroid game. And this one has unexplained stripping! Please look forward to it!