When SEGA released The House of the Dead: Overkill on Nintendo’s Wii in late 2009, I was really blown away. First, by the mere fact a developer was able to make a great “lightgun” game for the system, and second, the game’s over-the-top “Grindhouse” atmosphere worked surprisingly well, even with the ridiculous overuse of the “F-bomb.”
Fast forward to today, and there hasn’t been a truly new entry in the series apart from HOTD: Overkill – Extended Edition on the PlayStation Network. A few days ago, however, that kind of changed when the Magic Pockets developed The House of the Dead: Overkill – The Lost Reels was released on iOS and Android for $4.99.
As the name suggests, The Lost Reels isn’t meant to be a true sequel to Overkill as much as it is an extension of the game. Think of it as a director’s cut of a movie, with you only viewing the additional footage. After purchasing the game, you’ll be able to choose between Agent G and Isaac Washington and play through two levels: Papa’s Palace of Pain and Ballistic Trauma. Yes, you read that right, there are only two levels in the game, but within each level, there are four sub-levels with a level boss at the end.
Sure to dismay many gamers who bought the game, the third level, Naked Terror, is locked behind a pay wall, and only paying $1.99, will you be able to venture onward. I agree this was kind of a slimy move on SEGA’s part, but microtransactions are the standard in many mobile games of today. To ease the pain, Magic Pockets kindly threw in playable versions of Varla Guns and Candi Stryper. However, playing as other characters offers very minimal changes, aside from a colored reticule and slightly different attributes.
Variety is the slice of life
First things first, the game itself is fairly fun. I used an iPad, and I really recommend you do too if you can because I can’t imagine it’d be very easy to play on such a small screen with your thumbs getting in the way.
As you make your way through the game, you’ll rack up “Kash,” which you can spend to upgrade weapons, purchase new ones, or buy gadgets and consumables. Gadgets are permanent boosts, like a life bar or combo upgrade, where consumables give you temporary boosts, like the ability to earn Kash by killing enemies. If you’re the lazy type, you can buy Kash with real money and unlock everything entirely. But where’s the fun in that, right?
There’s one thing you’ll quickly notice – you’ll kill the same enemy A LOT. In fact, there are really only three enemy models throughout the game. Sure, they’ll slightly change as you progress to a new level, but it’s pretty easy to know what’s really going on. For instance, the standard male zombie from Papa’s Palace will look like a patient in the Ballistic Trauma level, but these changes are very minimal at best.
What exacerbates this is you’ll run around in circles several times throughout the course of a level, and it’ll leave you scratching your head and questioning if your character has any idea where the hell he or she is going. At best, it feels like an artificial way for Magic Pockets to prolong a level, and it’s hard not to think lazy development isn’t at fault.
If you’re going to take players through the same areas multiple times throughout a level, at least make the environments change a little. For instance, why not add some explosions or fire to an area the second time through, giving the illusion to the player that they’re seeing something new?
It’s not the worse thing I’ve seen in game development, but I certainly think it’ll hurt replayability the longer you play the game.
That Grindhouse feel
From a presentation standpoint, the game looks much like Overkill, as it includes the “Grindhouse” style filters and screen burn, giving it that classic feel. However, the complete lack of voice acting really hurts the game’s atmosphere. In its place are graphic novel style cutscenes, which would normally be OK in most other games, but when The Lost Reels is inevitably compared to Overkill, it really hurts.
Additionally, the music throughout the game feels uninspired and can quickly get annoying as it loops over and over again. I very nearly stabbed myself in the ears listening to the menu music. Good God, was that bad. Actually, I liked the music in the credits a lot more than anything else I heard throughout the rest of the game, which says a lot.
Wait, you can’t use a light gun?!?
It’s a shame there’s no way to use a light gun on iOS or Android devices right now, but I have to say the virtual controls worked surprisingly well. Like the rest of the series, you’re on-rails, so all you need to worry about is moving your reticule, blowing up zombies and finding the right opportunity to reload before another wave of enemies gets too close.
There are also options to use the accelerometer to control your gun, or you can unlock what’s called the Frenzy Tap. This enables you to simply tap the screen to shoot. While the virtual controls work fine, Frenzy Tap really allows for precise shots, and using this control method, I was able to raise my accuracy from around 60% to well over 80% immediately.
My only complaint about Frenzy Tap is enemies would occasionally stay behind the “reload” or “grenade” icons on screen, which meant I couldn’t kill them or in attempting to shoot them, I’d inadvertently reload, leaving me momentarily susceptible to attacks.
Overall, there are seven weapons to choose from, ranging from the standard magnum to an auto-shotgun and a mini-gun. The great thing is each weapon feels different, and while the mini-gun is incredibly inaccurate, it makes mowing down enemies a lot of fun.
Perhaps my favorite part of The Lost Reels is the option to purchase skins for certain weapons, which transform them completely. There’s an option to transform the Colt pistol into a Shinobi-style ninja star and the mini-gun into Vectorman’s ball gun. I love when games offer this kind of fan service, and playing through the game throwing ninja stars at zombie’s faces made it all the more enjoyable.
In the end, The Lost Reels isn’t a bad game, but it’s just not that very good either. It’s a shame too because the potential is there – the controls are solid, the shooting works well and I had some fun with it. But had Magic Pockets taken the time to address the poor soundtrack, and overly repetitive level design and enemy models, the game could have been worthy to sit next to HOTD: Overkill.