The House of the Dead series has always held a special place for me. I remember when I came across the first sit-down cabinet of HOTD 2 and stepped behind the curtains to see waves of zombies coming at me. While there are better designed light gun games (and certainly ones with better voice acting), I’ve never had as much fun as just going to an arcade and wasting zombies a plastic magnum or sub-machine gun (or going home and typing them to death). However, the main thing I, and most gamers remember (outside of the voice-acting and lines) is the boss fights. Every boss in the franchise is an entertaining and intense experience that stays with you. So today, we’re honoring ten of the greatest Zombies or mutants to ever grace a monitor.
Feel free to share your thoughts below and be warned SPOILERS for House of the Dead 4 and Overkill.
What better place to start than the most recognizable boss in the entire franchise? Whether you played HOTD 2 or Typing of the Dead or even dared to watch the horrid Uwe Boll film, you’ve seen this boss. Consisting of two beings, the annoying clone of The Hanged Man from HOTD, Zeal, and the lumbering suit of armor, Kuarl, this boss is a call back to The Chariot from the original game, since you have only a limited amount of time to stop Kuarl before he slashes you with an axe while adding the annoyance of the Hanged Man by making you shoot a small bat-like creature. The boss is actually pretty simple to figure out and the fight doesn’t get very difficult, even when Kuarl falls and Zeal begins zipping around to attack you.
Ultimately, Judgement makes the list more for how recognizable he is in the franchise, rather than the intensity of the fight or the difficulty. Really, the main thing that people remember about him (outside of crafty players who know you can beat Kuarl by rapidly shooting his neck) is Zeal, since his annoying voice pestered you through the entire first level. Admittedly, this does make the fight all the more satisfying when you get to start slamming Zeal with rounds and his pathetic little death gurgle and cry of ”SIR GOLD” does bring a smile to your face. In any case, Judgement makes a great place for our list to start.
Our only entry from House of the Dead 3 earns his spot out of sheer stubbornness. While Wheel of Fortune was an okay boss, the only feeling I was left with was disappointment that he was technically the last boss in the franchise’s chronology (also he was really cheap) but Death? This guy was a hoot. For one thing, You actually fight him twice (three times if you count his brief appearance in the prologue…though getting clubbed in the back of the head isn’t really a fight). The first time you’re just trying to get into the building when suddenly the largest security guard ever bursts forth from the ground to chase after you with his huge club until you lose him in the parking lot. The second time though, he chases you through an entire stage, bursting through walls in his desperate search for you.
While this is already a change of pace since bosses aren’t normally repeated outside of a mini boss rush in the last stage, really I just love Death for being so devoted to his job, despite being terrible at it. While I have no idea why his design is a security guard, it makes him all the more hilarious since it makes him come off like he’s just trying to keep “those darn kids” out of a restricted area, not trying to destroy the world. The fact he’s so devoted, to the point where he’s even tearing through walls to get you with the only attack he knows (swinging his club) and even goes back to get his cap after your first encounter with him, makes him more adorable than anything else; like a faithful dog who doesn’t know when to stop. Death, he’s a pathetic boss but by god does he try.
Despite The House of the Dead franchise technically belonging to the horror genre, it’s not an overly scary series of games. There certainly are some scary moments (a few of which are on this list) but none of the games are particularly scary. However, one of the most unsettling bosses in the entire franchise actually came from the (intentionally) hilarious House of the Dead Overkill on the Wii. While the game is supposed to be a sendup to the grindhouse genre of films, it takes a detour into Japanese horror with its second boss, Screamer, who is one part Sadako, one part Grudge, and all scary.
While Screamer uses attacks that are pretty common (creating nurse doppelgangers, teleporting) it’s what happens when she attacks that makes the difference. The already creepy yet sterile environment of the hospital is transformed into a dark room with a blood red pool of water under your feet (an effect that was lost in the PS3 version, which made things too bright), as though you are fighting her on the Sanzu River and then it goes back just as suddenly into the hospital, where your characters search desperately for Screamer until she attacks again. The attacks are also scary, with Screamer’s doppelgangers hanging their heads and Screamer charging at you if you mess up for her first attack and her teleporting second attack being right out of The Ring. Screamer, she might be from a funny game but the boss fight is anything but (though Isaac saying “The bitch is ringing!” afterwards is hilarious).
House of the Dead 4, both the regular and special edition, has tons of connections to House of the Dead 2. For one thing, Goldman (who is conducting things from beyond the grave) is the antagonist again and you go to the same building for the showdown. Of course, Magician can’t be there to greet you like he was in 2 since he’s dead/saved for the special edition, so the developers came up with the next best thing and came up with The Star, a cloak-wearing, knife-wielding, bad-ass who tosses fireballs, zips around, and is pretty much a rip-off of Magician.
So why did I put him on the list? Two reasons: 1. He’s the only boss to mortally wound a player character (a plot point that becomes very important during the final conflict with The World). 2. He’s amazingly difficult without being unfair. When I played this in a New York Dave & Buster’s years ago, The Star took the most lives. He’s a tough target to hit since his weak spot is small and he’s always moving (and not in predictable paths like Magician) and countering his attacks demands near perfect accuracy compared to other bosses. His melee attacks are especially vicious as well and even stylish as he spins for the attack. So while The Star might have been a rip-off, he was at least a very satisfying one.
So, how do you cap off one of the most popular light gun games of all time? Well how about a boss that is both epic in its buildup and its fighting techniques? The Emperor is the only final boss in the HOTD to receive much build up; normally, the final boss just gets sprung on you but more than once, you get to see the emperor in its tank and the fifth stage even has all of Goldman’s monsters (including Hierophant, Judgement, and a reincarnated Magician) make a desperate last stand to keep you from reaching it. When you do finally reach Emperor, it erupts from its mechanical cocoon, flies into the air, and declares (through terrible voice acting) that it is the new god of humanity…and it is a wrathful one. It’s an excellent buildup to a solid boss fight.
This carries over to the boss fight, where emperor shows off his dominion over the other bosses. Like the other final bosses in the franchise, Emperor represents a force of nature, in this case: water. Emperor uses his control over water to continually shift his form through the entire fight and spawn weapons; showing his complete mastery of his element. The emperor even shows off his power by temporarily taking the forms of past bosses, which serves as a test to see if you remember a past boss’s weaknesses and to remind you that Emperor is greater than any of them in terms of strength. You can also feel the emperor’s frustration when it transitions into a bunch of spheres and tries to ram into you. It’s a great fight and the only reason it didn’t rank higher is because there are far more intense fights.