Presented by Racketboy and Daniel Primed of DanielPrimed.com
The rail shooter is a genre synonymous with the arcades, synonymous because it’s where the on-rails format began with force-feedback guns, and large displays. Sadly, by the time the rail shooter started to establish itself arcades were slowly dropping off the map, leaving the genre stagnant and on all but on life support. Fortunately, the Nintendo Wii, with its pointer functionality that worked with modern TVs, breathed a bit of new life into a genre on the verge of becoming irrelevant. It also helps that there are multiple solutions for replicating the feel of a real light gun that work quite well (my personal go-to was the Nyko Perfect Shot)
Blessed with a combination of arcade ports and new, forward-thinking titles, the Wii become a haven for traditionally-minded shooting and old school gameplay sensibilities. So, to celebrate the reemergence of classic genre, let us review the current state of the rail shooter on the Wii.
The House of the Dead: Overkill
Sega have contributed greatly to this list with an upgraded port, compilation and House of the Dead: Overkill, a new, console-exclusive installment in the popular series. Overkill is a little more conservative than Resident Evil and Dead Space: Extraction, playing it straight with the familiar rail shooter experience as found in previous entries in the series, focusing on an uncomplicated combo system, a grindhouse aesthetic and humorous dialogue.
The combo system rewards consistent accuracy, granting additional points for head shots, saving civilians and hitting other bonuses. This makes Overkill a more tense rail shooter experience. Most interestingly, players forfeit score when using continues, providing reason for seasoned players to avoid taking damage. That is, until the director’s cut is unlocked (a slightly extended retread) and the system reverts back to a fixed amount of lives.
Overkill’s other main hook is the grindhouse/exploitation direction, seen in recent films such as Planet Terror and Death Proof, and the parody of series conventions. The acting in cutscenes is intentionally B-grade and completely over-the-top, dialogue is littered with F-bombs, gore and sexual innuendo is gratuitous. It all adds to an exaggerated sense of style which is as effective as it is often humorous. Personally, I loved the way characters constantly query Agent G over the meaning behind his name his sole initial (“When you gonna tell us what the f**king ‘G’ stands for?”).
Overkill features 7 episodes, each lasting for roughly 20 minutes a piece, totaling a couple of hours of gameplay. In terms of lastability, Overkill employs a weapon upgrading system similar to Resident Evil, there’s a director’s cut feature and a handful of mini games which do add a decent amount of length, however, Overkill primarily services high scoreboard chasers. Overkill isn’t so much innovative, but simply polished, one of the most polished games on the system, which in the past has tended to be the exception for this genre.
Final Word: Familiar House of the Dead gameplay in a very respectable package.
Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles & Darkside Chronicles
As a duo, Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles and Darkside Chronicles provide an overview of the tangled history of the Resident Evil franchise, focusing on key events from Resident Evil 0-3 and Code Veronica as well as the exploits of super villain Albert Wesker. The recreation of these games in 3D and in the rail shooter format both act as a service to fans (who will surely enjoy the slew of hidden files and backstory) and a palatable point of entry newcomers.
As a shooter, the Chronicles games bring little additions to the standard formula, besides some neat tweaks and flourishes, but this isn’t important. What is important is the way these titles engineer replayability. Rail shooters, being a coin-sucking genre from the arcade, have always been cursed with limited playtime, particularly when moved to the home consoles, the Chronicles games remedy this issue by offering not just a generous amount of content, but by providing incentive for players to replay levels. For example, to gain a higher grade, find hidden files behind destructible objects, gain more dough to upgrade your weapons and experience alternative paths. Each mission lasts roughly 15-20 minutes and each game contains more than 20 missions, which equates to a significant amount of play time. One could very easily pull 20 hours of gameplay from either of these titles—it takes at least half that to complete the extended slew of missions. Both of these titles therefore offer fantastic value for money for the rail shooter fan.
The shooting itself is enjoyable, the range of enemies is quite broad , as is the arsenal of weapons and levels themselves. Quick time events are effectively interspersed at certain points and the Wii’s capabilities are well realized. However, the Chronicles games have been criticized for having rather finicky aiming, which is indeed true. Zombies–the most prominent foe in the game– have two forms of headshots, a standard headshot and a critical shot. The critical shots are really difficult to land, so it can be a little frustrating initially.
Between the two games, Darkside Chronicles is a significant improvement from Umbrella Chronicles, the monotonal graphics are replaced with color and bloom lighting, the archive and upgrade systems are expanded, however Darkside Chronicles suffers from severe shaky cam. Neither game works well with the Zapper, best to go Wii-mote and nunchuck.
Final Word: A well designed rail shooter which defeats the age old problem of lastability and finds itself a welcomed place on the consoles.
The House of the Dead II + III: Return
It’s not like these games need an introduction, do they? Two classic rail shooters in the same package, what more could you possibly ask for? Well, perhaps the original House of the Dead. The absence of the Saturn original is disappointing (although somewhat understandable given the difficulty in Saturn emulation), and reflects on the compilation as a whole. Return delivers two great games on the one disc, they’re ported decently and play as you’d expect, but sadly that’s it. There’s little in the way of extras, no widescreen support, no online support, no art galleries, it’s just a quick and easy port.
With all this said though, the quality of the individual games stand for themselves. House of the Dead II features an organic branching path system whereby the objects you shoot (or don’t shoot) determine your path of progression. House of the Dead III lacks the magic of its predecessor, but is nonetheless an interesting experience. Swapping pistols for shotguns, House of the Dead III allows players to choose their own course through the game, placing an emphasis on epic boss battles and speed cutting death animations to save on speed run time. Invariably, House of the Dead II is superior, in that the progression system is constantly offering up surprises. I still stumble across routes I hadn’t previously experience 12 years after its original release, it just keeps giving.
This classic duo can still be found quite inexpensively and ranks well on our Best Wii Games Under $12 Guide.
Final Word: It goes without saying though, if you’ve never experienced House of the Dead II or III before, both titles are worth your greenback, otherwise there’s nothing new here.
Dead Space: Extraction
Dead Space Extraction is the prequel to 2008 science fiction horror title Dead Space. Extraction is a very unique rail shooter in that there’s a great deal of atmosphere setting and narrative spliced between the shooting. The single player story therefore becomes a much more padded out experience, filled with sequences of conversation and quiet moments of down time. No doubt some people will complain about this (there is a separate mode which will satisfy their itchy trigger finger, however), yet Extraction is a quality production and these external elements only work to make the shooting feel meaningful in a genre which can occasionally feel trite with repetition.
In regards to the shooting itself, Extraction adapts many of the properties which individualized the original Dead Space, such as strategic dismemberment, paralysis and kinesis, giving Extraction a very unique flavor in respect to other rail shooters. Head shots are no longer your main priority, but instead shooting off limbs. The necromorph’s (space monsters) alien amalgamations of body parts ensure that each creature has their own characteristic weak points and the shooting is therefore consistently varied. Player’s can also temporarily paralyze necromorphs, giving them minor control of the pacing, injecting a surprising amount of strategy and depth into the gameplay. These two aforementioned points (strategic dismemberment and paralysis) are just a handful of the good ideas incorporated throughout Extraction. There’s also some mild puzzle elements, branching paths, a knife slash, glow worms as well as all the other spoils which come with the modern rail shooter. In many ways, Dead Space: Extraction is an evolutionary step in the genre and one which is worth visiting.
Final Word: If you’re looking for a more progressive take on the rail shooter than Dead Space Extraction is one of the freshest new entries in recent years.
Ghost Squad is another arcade port, this time from 2004. If you’ve played Ghost Squad in the arcades then you’ll already know that it’s a highly enjoyable terrorist-blasting romp with memorable story sequences and some nifty ideas. The port to the Wii is a faithful one, with the additions of online leader boards and a 4 player mode.
Ghost Squad is packed with inventive ideas which keep the Time Crisis-flavored gameplay entertaining throughout the span of the 3 missions. Players rescue hostages, fight hand-to-hand, pick off guards with a sniper riffle and remove land mines, all expertly integrated within the confines of the point and shoot mechanics—the variety and execution is superb. Personally, I see Ghost Squad’s campaign as a string of good ideas pieced together through the rail shooter interface.
Unfortunately, in moving to the living room, Ghost Squad faces the unavoidable issue of lastability. The arcade title was only three missions long which is roughly 45 minutes of gameplay and although Ghost Squad was put out as a budget release, it doesn’t compensate for the severe lack of content. Sega supplement the 3 missions with two secret modes where the characters and weapons are re-skinned to humorous effect, but these added frills do little to clear the stench of a quick cash in.
Final Word: As with House of the Dead II and III: Return, Ghost Squad is a fab rail shooter that reeks of a fast money.
Gunblade NY and LA Machineguns (Sega Arcade Hits Pack)
While Sega has a lot of success in the arcade light gun game genre, it has some titles that don’t have nearly the name recognition of The House of the Dead or Virtua Cop series.
It is a shame that Sega never bought the likes of Virtua Cop 3 to home consoles, but at least they ported over some other older, lesser-known games to the Wii for many of us to re-discover or, perhaps, discover for the first time. These two games developed during Sega’s Saturn era. The original arcade machines features large, rattling guns that were mounted to the arcade cabinets. With sales of The House of the Dead (or even the Saturn itself) not especially strong, it’s not surprising that these games didn’t surface on Sega’s consoles.
Gunblade NY was developed for Sega’s Model 2 arcade platform (same as the original House of the Dead) and released in the arcades in 1995. Gunblade NY puts players in the position of saving New York from terrorists. Unlike most of Sega’s gun shooters, your character is in a helicopter that occasionally swoops down close to the ground at times and rotates to attack off-screen opponents. The goal of both games is to find a group of enemies and kill them all before moving on. Unlike House of the Dead, the enemies are dynamic and often jump off-camera. After a good deal of shooting and camera-rotating, you kill them all and move on. It’s also worth noting that there’s no re-loading in here — just fast and furious shooting action.
LA Machineguns was released by Sega in 1998 as a sequel to Gunblade NY (but with a arguably more generic-sounding name) as was developed for the Model 3 system. The Model 3 was used for games like Virtua Fighter 3 and Daytona USA 2 before Sega moved to the Naomi platform. You will notice some nice graphical improvements in LA (similar to an early Dreamcast game) vs the NY counterpart (that looks more like PS1 game). This time, aside from taking place in LA, the game is set in the near future where the law enforcement utilize hover bikes and often encounter androids and weapon pods that amp up the offense. You also have to avoid shooting civilians (compared to the civilian-free Gunblade NY)
The Wii version of the games did a nice job of transitioning the controls to the Wii-mote setup and added some new features such as “Chain Combo” to help boost your scores and unlock able weapon toggles and shot styles. It’s also worth noting that the Commanding Officer in the game talks to you though the Wiimote’s speaker.
Final Word: Overall, the games are fun, but short with only a handful of levels. Especially with its relatively high resale value (making the honorable mentions on our Rare and Valuable Wii guide, an original copy is probably only for complete collectors or die-hard fans of the genre that like to try to beat their scores.
Gunslingers / Western Heroes
This Old western-style shooter came out rather late in the Wii’s lifecycle, but arrived with an interesting visual style (almost a cell-shaded look) that feels youthful but grown up simultaneously. It has a gameplay style that is very true to old-school on-rails light gun style, but has some modern refinement and solid gameplay design.
It has a great balance of variety that keeps things interesting without being too deep. There’s both baddies and innocents to consider and can end up getting a bit crowded at times that can add to the challenge. You also need to reload based on a 10-shot capacity.
In addition to a wide range of baddies, there’s many combo scoring opportunities and some options items to take out to help boost your score. On top of all this, there’s also some target shooting modes in thee to round out the experience.
The game’s default difficulty level isn’t too hard (except for the final level and players trying to beat their own scores). Upon completing it, however, there’s more difficulty levels to unlock, adding a lot of replay value.
The game actually supports up to four players in both the main adventure mode and the extra modes. More players adds even more enemies to the adventure. This makes for a great party game and adds to the overall value of the game.
In North America, there was a bundle sold with two revolvers (nice for multiplayer!) of good quality. In PAL regions, there was a replica of a Winchester rifle that was often sold with the game that has some great design and uses a functional level on the game to reload (which hits a button on the contained Nunchunck controller.
Final Word: Gunslingers doesn’t really add a whole lot to the light gun shooter genre, but it showcases great refinement of the tried-and-true concepts and is a well-rounded package.
Nerf N-Strike & N-Strike Elite
You might assume that a branded title from a youth toy line wouldn’t be a very solid game at all, but EA teaming up with Nerf actually worked out quite well. By the time it was released in 2008, the Wii had a solid install base and was popular with families and kids.
The Nerf N-Strike games often were bundled with a real Nerf gun that you could swap out the innards with a Wii Remote. This combo not only had a cool nostalgic feel, but work rather well to give light gun feel. The game would still work fine without this add-on, but it’s a nice touch.
The games themselves actually have two major sections: one that follows the traditional on-rails, light gun style gameplay and another that has shooting range type of gameplay with multiple mini-games/challenges. There’s a lot to explore and experience here, so it really adds to the overall value.
The light gun style section is just interesting enough to keep your attention as experienced player and it has a fun vibe to boot. But the real selling point is that it is well targeted for younger kids and also works well in two-player mode. Many Amazon reviews mention that people got it for their kids or grandkids and they really enjoyed the game. It’s also a great fit for kids as you only shoot robots with Nerf guns, so it really downplays the violence aspect.
The game is actually dirt cheap (just a few dollars for the game itself) and you can often score one with the Nerf Gun in the $15 to $20 range. While there’s a lot of good, cheap Wii Games, it makes a solid honorable mention on our Best Wii Games Under $12 Guide.
Final Word: It’s a cheap gem that has some solid shooting gallery mini games in addition to on-rails shooting adventures. It also has a fun, youthful vibe and is a great experience for kids — especially with 2-player mode.
Link’s Crossbow Training
Link’s Crossbow Training isn’t a complete rail shooter, per say, but a light gun title which begins as a rail shooter and then layers on a additional levels of control in each successive stage until it ends up as Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition. There are 3 stage types in all, so a third of Link’s Crossbow Training is officially a rail shooter. The game is bundled with the Wii Zapper, the console’s light gun mold.
This third, titled Target Shooting, is really quite fantastically made. Targets are well positioned, the combo system rewards accuracy over spam shooting (as with HotD: Overkill), there’s a secret branching path in every stage, plenty of side fodder and the visual and aural cues are clear and effective. Furthermore, the feedback from the Zapper/Wii-mote combo is great and the Zapper mold makes for a convincing bow gun.
Final Word: Two birds with one stone, Link’s Crossbow Training is an ideally designed rail shooter game and a worthwhile starter kit if you prefer to use a light gun in your shooting games.
Medal of Honor: Heroes 2
Similarly to Link’s Crossbow Training, Medal of Honor: Heroes 2 isn’t a complete rail shooter, rather EA Canada decided to include a rail shooter mode as a way to appease the casual gamer crowd. This may sound condescending, but the rail shooter portion is surprisingly substantial and well-made. The only real concession made for newer gamers is the dense iconography populating the screen (used to distinguish soldiers from the drab monotonal backgrounds), but this is hardly affects play.
Fundamentally, the “Arcade Mode” is an on-rails version of the campaign mode, condensed into 8 levels. The shooting itself is good fun and includes all the standard tropes you’d expect from the genre (branching paths, health packs), however, the scoring system is admittedly quite weak, based solely on one’s kill count. Fortunately, this is partly rectified by the achievement-like awards offered at the end of the campaign based on certain criteria, such as 75% accuracy or achieving a set number of kills.
Final Word: The rail shooter mode is pretty decent on its own, and the bundling with a FPS campaign is a new idea used to appeal to a casual gamers which is a neat idea.
Eco Shooter: Plant 530 (WiiWare)
The bizarrely named Eco Shooter: Plant 530 is an environmentally friendly rail shooter for Nintendo’s WiiWare service created by Intelligent Systems, the developers behind Fire Emblem and Advance Wars. Eco Shooter’s story is equally as weird as its name. Aliens have come to Earth and are threatening to destroy humanity by using our discarded waste against us. As a worker at plant 530, it’s your job to remove the variety of cans (yes, all enemies in this game are/consist entirely of cans) with your special energy gun. I told you it was strange.
This odd premise acts to establish the energy management system which the rail shooting hinges on. Blasting a can foe twice will transform it into energy which acts as ammunition for your gun. The gun has two functions, shooting and sucking, once you’ve zapped a barrage of cans into energy, you can then switch to the suck function to absorb the energy for your gun. Since ammunition effectively takes the role of your health, Eco Shooter is a game which demands accuracy and precision, random blasting will only serve to make to squander your progress.
The energy management system is interesting and the pacing makes allowances for players to gather energy, however basic issues plague Eco Shooter. The cans are often difficult to distinguish from the moldy wasteland backdrops, the sucking of energy breaks the game’s momentum and the three bosses are identical, albeit successively more difficult. With only three levels total, Eco Shooter’s length is also rather short and the extra modes offer little incentive to keep players interested.
Final Word: A unique shooter which is unfortunately marred by occasional oversights.
Reload: Target Down
This one’s more like a shooting range simulator and it has a bit of a budget game feel. There’s a lot of different settings and scenarios, but it isn’t a story-type mode like most of the games above. One of the more interesting is an FBI section that’s kinda cool where you have to shoot the baddies but not the innocents. Has an interesting visual style.
Also, On the bright side, there are lots of gun styles and gameplay styles to choose from, which does add a lot to the replay value.
If you can find it on the cheap, you might want to pick it up, but don’t expect anything especially great. If you’re looking for a complete retail copy, you might find that it isn’t quite as cheap as you might hope. Loose discs might sell for $8 or so, while complete copies are in the $13 range. So unless you’re a dedicated collector, you might not find this worth the price.
Target: Terror is an arcade port originally developed by Eugene Jarvis, creator of arcade classics Defender, Robotron: 2084 and the Cruis’n series. Target: Terror sees you defending some of America’s popular cities and landmarks against an invasion of terrorist foe with a fairly standard, although sometimes outlandish, arsenal of weapons. I haven’t personally played Target: Terror and critical reception would suggest that I shouldn’t as reviewers have unanimously panned this title as a complete budget flop which best be avoided or purchased only for comedic value. The core criticism is that the technical issues impede significantly on what is a fairly bog standard rail shooter with a low frame rate and common glitches. It seems it would be best to stay away from this budget release.
Final Word: Doesn’t appear to contribute very much to the genre.
Mad Dog McCree Gunslinger Pack
Mad Dog McCree was born in awkward subset of 90s gaming when 3D graphics were in their infancy and developers were experimenting with interactive live video as a way to bridge to realism. The live action video caught the attention of gamers in the arcade, but it was notorious for not not providing a responsive gameplay experience in a genre that demanded accuracy.
This “Gunslingers Pack” includes three games: the original Mad Dog McCree, Mad Dog II: The Lost Gold, and The Last Bounty Hunter.
There’s only about 5 minutes of gameplay content in the original arcade game. It can take longer than that to actually play it, but it’s just not that deep. The original is also notorious for being REALLY difficult to get shots correct and not die constantly. Since it was made for the arcade, you can expect that it will try to milk credits out of you, but Mad Dog McCree often gets a little extreme in this department.
The sequel improves certain characteristics and its a bit more forgiving on its shot processing. The Last Bounty Hunter actually take things a step further in more diverse environments and four different primary enemies to take down.
Despite being heralded by many as the Wii’s worst game of 2009, I honestly think Mad Dog McCree is a title you should consider if you’re a fan of light-gun games. It plays like no other, with the one hit deaths and quick draw style, and looks like no other, with its satisfyingly cheesy cowboy stunt show. It isn’t especially cheap, however in the current $16 to $20 range.
Final Word: True to the arcade originals, this trilogy might be a fun endeavor, giving it a try, but it’s not as fun as one might expect. It’s really more of a novelty than anything and a frustrating experience once that novelty wears off.
This budget release definitely gives the impression of the shovel-ware type of games that started accumulating near the tail end of the Wii’s lifespan. While it’s not deep or impressive, it can provide some cheap fun.
Copies typically have been selling for $3 or $4 online, but perhaps you might stumble on the game for a couple dollars out in the wild.
It could be a good fit for kids to play with or just something else to fill your shooting time when you’ve played most of the other game mentioned above.
Check for Chicken Blaster on eBay
Check for Chicken Blaster on Amazon
Sin and Punishment: Star Successor
This under-appreciated classic from Treasure is possibly one of the very best games on this list but one that doesn’t fit the fit into the light gun style game as much as the others. However, it is very much an on-rails shooter but with a third-person perspective. This is the only reason this selection is so far down the list.
Many old-school gamers are quite familiar with Treasure’s work: the likes of Gunstar Heroes, Radiant Silvergun, and Ikaruga. Star Successor is a follow-up to a Japanese-exclusive N64 classic.
Star Successor features excellent, fast-paced shooting action. In trademark Treasure fashion, the game largely consists of a gauntlet of memorable boss and mini-boss encounters that put both the player’s reflexes and wits to the test. Skilled players, however, will be able to take advantage of the game’s unique lock-on and projectile deflection systems to multiply their scores.
Extra Light Gun Style Mentions
- Wii Play – has some target shooting sections with a Duck Hunt style
- Cabela’s Hunting – there’s a handful of these games. Not quite the same gameplay vibe as traditional light gun/on-rails shooters, but focus more on precision shooting.
- Rayman: Raving Rabbits – had a few rail-shooter levels, which were fairly decent. You have to work through a fair bit of the other content to unlock them, though.
- WiiWestBang (Home-brew) – pretty basic formula but light gun game fans should find some enjoyment.