Rail shooters are one of my guilty pleasures as a gamer. They’re mindless fun, like climbing into a rollercoaster car that happens to rumble and weave through a shooting gallery. I’m especially fond of The House of the Dead, the first on-rails shooter I had the pleasure of touring from inside the cool darkness of a video arcade. The House of the Dead: Overkill – The Lost Reels (Free) is arguably the best entry yet, but an aggravating pay model and IAP leaves some divots in an otherwise smooth and flowing track.
Lost Reels consists of three episodes broken up into five stages each. You choose a character, lock and load two guns, and unlock levels as you clear haunted houses and zombie-infested hospitals. By default, you aim your crosshair using a virtual d-pad. After the first few levels, zombies come rushing in from all directions, and the d-pad just doesn’t respond fast enough. Aiming using the accelerometer works much better, but did leave me massaging my wrists as I stepped over dozens of corpses toward boss battles and victory screens.
Once you enable the accelerometer controls and get a handle on your shaky cursor, playing Lost Reels is lots of fun. Targeting limbs blows them off, letting you slow down quicker corpses and thin out the rest. Rail shooter tropes like giving you a split second to snag optional items like first aid kits and grenades before shoving you forward do occur, but Lost Reels‘ circuitous routes often grant you a second chance to pick up power-ups, supplanting the genre’s quarter-gobbling tendencies a bit.
Besides shooting zombies, Lost Reels‘ main appeal lies in upgrading your weapons. Killing zombies in rapid succession, finding secret areas, and picking up optional items earns you in-game coins at the end of each level. You can cash in to upgrade your current guns, purchase new guns, and outfit yourself with power-ups such as more health points and an extended combo meter. Watching zombies spasm and fly apart when you tag them, and the satisfying booms and blasts of your arsenal, makes for a visceral experience, especially if you slip in some ear buds.
Head shots equal an instant kill on any regular zombie no matter what level of heat you’re packing, so you can tool around with a weak weapon while you save up for the almighty minigun if you like. That’s a risky move: facing the undead hordes carrying a peashooter adds a layer of tension, but you forfeit all the cash you collected along the way if you meet an untimely demise.
As entertaining as I found Lost Reels, the “house" half of the game’s grindhouse theme soon crumbled, leaving just a grind. My upgraded SMG and shotgun didn’t shave enough skin off the old girl’s corpse, forcing me to return to old stomping grounds and stomp, stomp, stomp some more until I could afford more upgrades and weaponry. I enjoyed returning to difficult levels armed with stronger weapons and mopping up enemies much quicker than before, but that fun wore thin after my third or fourth run through.
And, hey, grind all the in-game coins you want. You unlock episode two by finishing the first set of levels, but the third stretch of rollercoaster track costs real money. No amount of coins can grant entry. Eventually I caved. Lost Reels feels far too short without those additional five levels, even including the play-till-you-die survival mode–the only secondary game mode, by the way, compared to the handful available on Wii and PS3.
Lost Reels left me conflicted. It looks good and plays even better, making for a fun coaster ride. Still, the pay-to-play third episode, high price of admission even without buying extra levels, dearth of extra game modes, and trickle of in-game coins earned from grinding too often drag the coaster to a crawl just when you want it to send you hurtling down a hill.