It seems that everyone I speak to these days loves the Dreamcast. In fact, so many people seem to own one that it's hard to understand how the system failed, especially considering its steady supply of near-arcade-perfect arcade games. House of the Dead 2 was phenomenal at the time of release and goes down as one of the system's highlights. The lightgun game hasn't has the best of times since then though, with the Wii now seen as the system that could bring the arcade favourite back into our homes.
House of the Dead 2 & 3 - The Return features the classic Dreamcast and Arcade game House of the Dead 2 and the not quite as classic Xbox and Arcade game House of the Dead 3. Let's get one thing straight: House of the Dead 3 isn't nearly as great as the second game. Even though HoTD3 features far more technically impressive visuals it just doesn't feel as good as 2. There's just something about the challenge 2 offers and the stylised angular visuals that give it the edge.
In the Arcades a tough challenge meant more money coming out of your pockets, and this feeling of every life perhaps being your last (you had to stop entering coins at some point) simply can't be repeated at home. Still, with a little self control it's possible to get something approaching the same feeling, with every sneaky zombie attack and unseen danger resulting in a lost life, taking you one step closer to the dreaded Game Over screen. At first HoTD2 might well feel a little too tough, almost unfairly so, but give it some time and you'll quickly learn the enemy layout. It's tough but well worth persevering with.
The Wii port is just as I remember it, albeit with the Wii Remote controls seemingly offering enhanced accuracy over previous home console ports. The original game featured plenty of branching paths so you'll get plenty of time from what appears to be a short adventure, and a training mode of sorts is tricky enough to add a few more hours to the play time. You also get the choice of Arcade or Original modes, although Original is little more than the Arcade game with some weapon enhancements.
Moving on to HoTD3 then, and it's clear the game doesn't have the same spark as 2. From a purely technical point of view 3 looks leagues ahead, with more detail in the environments and the characters, but it lacks the edge seen in 2. Whereas the zombies and monsters in 2 looked genuinely scary, in 3 their smoother appearance lessens the impact somewhat. You also get far less sudden attacks and the entire game is more forgiving. Even branching paths, which rely on skill in HoTD2, are simply a case of choosing the direction you wish to take. Don't take this the wrong way, HoTD3 is still a highly entertaining lightgun game, but it doesn't match up to the excellence of the second game.
There is an incentive to finish both games though. Unlocked after completing both is the new Extreme mode. This tweaked single-player game mode features quicker enemy attacks and, because of a smaller bullet radius, a harder difficulty. To counter this you're given a new melee attack, which can take down numerous enemies if in range. It's a nice addition but doesn't really add a lot to the game.
It's a shame that this package doesn't include the first game, which would have effectively made this a collection of all the games possible on the Wii. It might look a little dated, but it would have made sense. Without any of the really cool extra stuff that we saw in Ghost Squad for the Wii, such as the leaderboards that encourage extended play, this collection feels a little lazy.