Revisiting The House of the Dead – the quintessential arcade zombie shooter

By ·October 31, 2017 8:07 pm

Growing up, one of my favorite arcade games was The House of the Dead. The game was full of nonstop shooting; constant hustling, courtesy of the on-rail aspect of the game, which moved your character for you; multiple endings; and, of course, zombies which walked, flew, or ran at you. The House of the Dead was one of those games you played just to have fun (provided you had enough coins, or, if you happened to own the game, gun controllers).

Each game was based on a similar premise: smartly dressed people with guns come in to thwart a zombie crisis, usually masterminded by a nefarious villain. Somehow, no matter how many times you squelched the source of the outbreak, they just kept coming back.

For me, the main draw of The House of the Dead was that it was accessible. Even though it’s a game about zombies, folks who don’t necessarily like horror could be drawn to its fast-paced action, with a little gore to spice it up. There were even some spinoffs – a pinball game, a few that flexed your typing muscles, and others that could be enticing to folks who don’t usually play games, arcade or otherwise.

All that aside, The House of the Dead was one of the few game series I followed over the years. The following are just a few of my favorite games from the series, which currently encompasses 6 main games and 8 spinoffs.

The House of the Dead (1996)

The Hanged Man was the boss I encountered the most times ever.

Many folks have played the original The House of the Dead multiple times, and pictures from this one are the most iconic of the series. In it, you play Thomas Rogan and G as they try to stop the erratic Dr. Curien – a doctor who wanted to study life and death, and his zombie creations.

I played this installment many times, too, but mostly only got to the first boss – and if I was lucky, the second boss – trying to shoot down the flying zombie who kidnaps your fiancée, Sophie. Unfortunately, though it was available for both PC and Sega Saturn, my run with this game was limited to the arcade, and the coins to go with it.

The Typing of the Dead (1999)

You can type some pretty funny things in The Typing of the Dead: Overkill.

When I was learning how to type, I enjoyed typing up passages in as short a time as I could. Though it could get pretty competitive, what with my classmates and I trying to prove who was the fastest typist in class, something always seemed lacking. It wasn’t till I found The Typing of the Dead that I found out why: an action-packed story gives your typing a sense of purpose, and makes it a lot more fun.

The Typing of the Dead is the first game of The House of the Dead series, just repackaged. Instead of having to reload a gun controller by shooting off-screen every so often, you have unlimited ammo. The catch is that you have to type quickly and accurately enough to kill all your enemies before they get you. If you want to play the original The House of the Dead and see it through to its completion, this is one way to both save your money and practice a skill required to succeed in the modern world.

There are a couple The Typing of the Dead sequels, too. The Japan-only release The Typing of the Dead 2 is an alternative version of The House of the Dead III, and The Typing of the Dead: Overkill, available on Steam, is also The House of the Dead: Overkill, the latest game in the main franchise and the only one not released for the arcade thus far.

The House of the Dead III (2002)

Pretty close to what you’d expect from a zombie laboratory.

This The House of the Dead is the one I’m most familiar with, as I played it through to completion on the Xbox multiple times with the help of a gun controller that could automatically fire. It didn’t hurt that in the Xbox version of this game, the guns also reloaded for you. Number 3 was also the first game in the franchise to grade you on how you performed in each stage, showing you once and for all that you had finally beat the game that had bested you since childhood.

In this game, it’s Halloween 2019 – a date which, in retrospect, means we’re all doomed very soon. Your aim is to beat Dr. Curien’s zombies and their leader again, with a few twists along the way. In the game timeline, this is the end of the known story. And by this time, the zombies have spread all over the world.

The most memorable aspect? The laboratory. As you progress the game, you will be seeing more and more green, with zombies in incubators and the like. Through some backstory, The House of the Dead III also provides some motivation for the zombie outbreak – though as you might expect, it’s not exactly a twist ending.

The House of the Dead series introduced me to the wonderful world of arcade shooters. It’s been a long time since I’ve personally played the games, but this fall season just might be the right time to revisit.

Image credits: Wow Entertainment, Headstrong Games, Modern Dream


Written by Alane Lim

Alane Lim is a materials science graduate student and writer based in Chicago, IL. She has been published in science, satire, and entertainment writing, the latter focusing on character and show analyses.

Her interests include indie games, Archie comics, and sci-fi/fantasy books.

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