The last time we met the House Of The Dead franchise on Nintendo Wii, it was a good value mashing together of two really quite old games, as HOTD 2 and 3 were bundled together in one pack (reviewed here). In terms of Nintendo Wii on-rails shooters, it was really quite good, too, lacking the frenetic energy of Sega’s Ghost Squad, but lasting a damn sight longer.
House Of The Dead: Overkill, meanwhile, could almost be called House Of The Dead: Overhaul. This time, it’s not based on an arcade game, and the developers have gone to town on presenting a House Of The Dead game in the style of a Grindhouse movie. We get the crackly film stock, some of the worst graphics we’ve seen on the Nintendo Wii, a soundtrack lifted straight out of the cheapest movie you can think of, and dialogue that’s as refined as a jagged rock plucked from the ground. Throw in a fair level of effing and blinding, and family friendly entertainment this absolutely isn’t.
And yet it works. It really, really works. Because while House Of The Dead: Overkill is effectively the same light gun shooter of old, Sega has thrown plenty of new thinking at the franchise, and a good deal of it sticks.
The core of the game remains shooting zombies, reacting quickly to them arriving from all angles, reloading your gun and trying to shoot any pick ups that appear in the vicinity. Furthermore, you then need to contend with the boss battles at the end of each level, that aren’t quite as bastard-hard as the foes that came in from the arcade games, but they’ll still happily test you out. It helps, yet hinders the game’s longevity, that you can hit continue until you’re blue in the face, as long as you’re willing to take a score hit for doing so.
This does, inevitably, highlight a weakness of the game, in that you’ll be seeing the end of it in a couple of hours. But there are two caveats to that. Firstly, it’s a great couple of hours, especially so if you can contend with the very sudden jerks in camera angle that the game frequently likes to employ. It’s simply terrifically entertaining arcade gaming, the likes of which we’ve not seen enough of on the Wii. And secondly, there’s real replay value here, not least in the fiercely competitive yet strangely co-operative two player mode. Factor in too that you unlock a much harder game mode, with more limits and more zombies, and you’ll find a genuinely tough challenge awaiting you once you’ve battled your way through the game once.
What you’re thus left with is a bit of a riot, all told. It’s as if Sega has decided to cut loose and take a couple of gambles with the House Of The Dead franchise, and it deserves to be richly rewarded as a result. While Ghost Squad’s half-hour burst of gaming goodness still just about takes the best on-rails lightgun experience on the Wii award for our money, Overkill is the best overall game in the genre, delivering a lot more for your cash, and having an absolute blast in every sense doing it.
If this is the kind of game we’ve got to look forward to from Sega in 2009, and if it’s willing to apply different thinking to some of its other core franchises, then we’re in for quite a time…