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Light gun games are becoming rarer these days. Outside the steady stream of Big Buck Hunter games, the days of Time Crisis and House of the Dead seem distant now.
House of the Gundead is a new light gun game from Griffin Aerotech, set in the universe of Enter the Gungeon. Rather than slather a coat of Gungeon paint across a by-the-numbers light gun base, House of the Gundead instead makes smart choices to make a light gun game feel modern. Most importantly, it's ditched the reticle.
"A lot of the new light gun games, you can tell there's a lag because you have to move the cursor around on the screen," says Griffin Aerotech's Phil Golobish. "We just were like, 'Well, what if we get rid of the cursor, and then add in some subtle auto-aim?' It just all fell together."
House of the Gundead plays like a standard light gun game, with two players side-by-side at a stand-up arcade cabinet. Each holds a plastic pistol and blasts away at the virtual enemies; in this case, the hopping-and-bopping shell casings and bullets of the Gungeon.
Some mechanics feel natural, like shooting off the screen to reload the gun. Others feel a bit different. The roguelike structure is one major change, as you can direct your path through the levels, opening up easier or more difficult paths for different rewards.
Of course, there is a dodge roll. When attacks are coming toward you, you can hit a bullseye on the edge of the screen to dodge them. It requires timing and precision, but feels really good to land. One of the best things about House of the Gundead is that it quickly gets you into a "zone," much like the roguelike bullethell it draws from. Blasting through a screen of enemies while dodging in quick, mechanical succession feels absolutely terrific.
In the end, I didn't really miss that little crosshair on the screen. There's a crisp, pixelated feedback to where shots are hitting, even if they're missing the enemy. Each gun I picked up throughout my run felt crisp and immediately discernible, which is nice when enemies and attacks start to litter the screen. Even without crosshairs, I had little trouble knowing where I was aiming.
"There's a lot of things going on behind the scenes that help the player navigate across the screen and shoot and feel like they're doing a great job, but still having a big challenge," says art director Chris Cruz.
There are a lot of guns, too. In my demo, I used three, from the basic starting pistol to an assault rifle and a gun inspired by Robocop's Auto 9. Golobish tells me about more ideas they have, like one inspired by the infamous double-barreled NERF blasters of the '90s.
"It's gotta have a ton of guns," Golobish says. "The Gungeon universe already has like every fun, cool gun you can think of. So the thing for us was like, 'Well, what are we going to do make ours stand out?'"
Beyond roguelike elements and crisp feedback, the art style is a huge draw too. Cruz tells me he was inspired by Capcom and SNK's arcade era classics, like Metal Slug and the Street Fighter series. It's an influence that shows, especially in the reimagining of bosses like Gatling Gull for the first-person, up-close action of a light gun game.
House of the Gundead is coming to modern arcades sometime this year. It's going to contend with the likes of other light gun greats and still has some work to be done, but one thing it has going for it is how immediately, immensely enjoyable it is. Even if you're not a roguelike player, it clicks and it's hard to not keep re-upping for one more run.