The House of the Dead games are gleefully fun on-rails shooters that drop you knee-deep in the undead with a loaded weapon and encourage you to aim for the head. The series places a great deal of emphasis on throwing unconventional monsters at you--such as zombie mermen, zombie frogs, zombie bats, zombie plants, and zombie ninjas--while dazzling your intellect with so-bad-it's-good voice acting and a ridiculous story pretentiously in love with the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck. Although Sega has finally managed to perfect IR shooting on the Wii with this bundle of two of the series' games, House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return is ultimately a short, simple port of aging games that suffers from an inconsistent frame rate and isn't quite worth the asking price.
House of the Dead 2 picks up two years after the mysterious mansion incident from the first game, in which the mad Dr. Curien released an army of the undead. Once again you take the role of an agent of the AMS, a secret international agency that investigates paranormal activity, and you are dispatched to Venice, Italy, where fellow agent G has gone missing. Naturally, the undead are to blame, and you must shoot your way through wave after wave of zombies and the occasional boss to save the city, all while trying not to harm the innocent civilians. As with its predecessor, your actions will determine the path that you travel to your destination, and it will take multiple play-throughs to see everything.
This particular half of the collection offers a near-perfect port of the arcade edition and several extra game modes, including training missions, a Boss Battle mode, and Original Mode, which lets you augment yourself with items to increase your firepower, number of credits, and more. These are welcome additions, but they don't really add very much to this severely aging and extremely short zombie-disassembly line.
House of the Dead 3 takes place a full 19 years later, in a postapocalyptic world infested with the undead. This time, you'll play as G and Lisa Rogan as they battle their way through the research facility that served as ground zero for the outbreak that overwhelmed the planet. You're armed a bit more heavily (combat shotguns), and thankfully there are no civilians to rescue. Instead, you occasionally have to save your partner for the chance to earn bonus health. Other changes include the ability to select your next level, which alters the path that you travel, and a scoring system that awards you a letter grade based on your performance.
The only extras for House of the Dead 3 are a Time Attack mode, in which your health is replaced with a countdown timer that increases with enemy kills, and an all-new Extreme Mode that is harder but includes a melee attack that you can use to defend. Though the graphics update from House of the Dead 2 is dramatic, part 3 still features outdated visuals and in addition suffers from inexplicable frame-rate issues that crop up occasionally and can bring the action to a temporary halt.
Keeping in line with their origins as arcade shooters, both games are extremely difficult, and bosses require near-pinpoint accuracy with shots to defeat. Luckily, Sega has finally managed to perfect the use of the Wii Remote's IR pointing ability in House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return by including a calibration system that makes it more accurate than ever. Ideally, you'll want to play using a gun attachment (not included), but using the remote alone is a perfectly valid option. Unfortunately, Sega also made the decision to limit your number of credits, which can be incredibly frustrating when you're just about to defeat a final boss and find yourself unable to continue. Although infinite continues would certainly only harm the experience of the game, it would be nice to have the option of starting with more credits or health in the beginning; instead, the game rewards your failure by bumping up your ability to scale these values in the options every time you die.
More than a decade later, House of the Dead 2 and 3 continue to be fun and entertaining games, especially when played with a friend. However, their brevity (a skilled player can easily beat either game in significantly less than an hour), a lack of compelling additional content, and the strange frame-rate issues make House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return a difficult purchase to justify, even at its $30 asking price.