I dug out the old Dreamcast and Playstation 2 game systems, hooked them up to my big ass widescreen HD TV, and delved into three games based on the Evil Dead movies, all featuring Ash voiced by Bruce Campbell: Evil Dead: Hail to the King, Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick, and Evil Dead: Regeneration. Were they all as frustrating as I remembered? Let’s find out.
EVIL DEAD: HAIL TO THE KING
The first game, which came out for PC, PS1, and Dreamcast, is very short—if you can finish it. I’ve always done so by using a Gameshark, because it is absurdly combat-heavy for a game modeled after the original survival horror genre.
I played it on the Dreamcast, which has a crappy controller as it is. On top of that, the controls in this game are quite limited, perfectly demonstrating why Resident Evil wasn’t an action series back in the 90s. Tank controls are infuriating when there are loads of enemies coming at you all the time. There’s no quick turn, but you can sort of jump backwards if you hit the stick right. Little good that does, because deadites and other enemies respawn incessantly. And forget stopping to catch your breath, because standing still just makes the baddies pop out again. And running through areas over and over again only to be chased by baddies you already killed half a dozen times is infuriating, especially since half the time you can’t even run around them; they block the path, leaving you no choice but to fight them every time.
Your main weapons are your chainsaw and an axe, which you can use simultaneously, one in each hand and each assigned to a different button. You also have some guns, but they aren’t very accurate in aiming, and eventually you find your boomstick. Unfortunately, the chainsaw, the best weapon by far, needs to be refilled constantly, so you desperately need to keep finding fuel that you must carry it with you at all times in order to fuel up when you’re low. You have to turn on the chainsaw then hit another button to use it, and if you hold the button down there’s a finishing move you can do to grind up enemies. If you axe them while doing that, Ash drops a one-liner, but they are very repetitive, as are the constant “I’ll swallow your soul” threats from deadites. You also have a one-liner button you can use at any time if you get off on the sound of Ash’s voice, but doing so often attracts more deadites, and the number of one-liners is limited.
You need health constantly because you will die constantly. And when you’re not fighting regular enemies, you’re thrust into too many boss battles to count for a game so short. Every damn bad thing about this game is constant!
Enemies include floating ghostly deadites that rise from the ground and spit at you, zombie deadites, skeletons, hillbillies, dwarf-like annoying guys with crossbows, bigger burly deadites with melee weapons, and flying deadites that look like skulls with wings. Occasionally when you kill a deadite it will leave something useful behind. If you pass by without picking the item up, it won’t be there when you return, but the deadite will.
Meanwhile, with all this fighting going on, you’re supposed to be finding the pages of the Necromonicon. Yes indeed, this is a direct sequel to all three movies. Your girlfriend has brought you back to the cabin to face your past, the bitch gets abducted, and you’re left in the same hell you still haven’t gotten over.
Much of Hail to the King is spent running back and forth through a maze of forest trying to collect items in order to progress.
The map is basically a useless pencil drawing, plus to get to it you have to go into the inventory screen to select map.
There’s an all-in-one save/storage trunk system like Resident Evil, but you still need a tape reel to save, and they are few and far between.
Items you can pick up shine clearly enough to spot them. You can combine items, mostly to make more fuel for your chainsaw, but near the end of the game it becomes more common to combine items to craft things you need to progress. There are other items you must interact with that blend into the background, so you feel the need to click on everything. Making matters worse, you can only interact if you stand completely still while pressing the button. If you click while walking you won’t trigger the prompt. And since the game suffers from collision issues, you often find yourself getting stuck on scenery. Grr…argh.
The game begins in the cabin, but there’s not much to explore there, and even after I found a crowbar thinking it would get me into the trap door…nothing. The first save trunk isn’t even in the cabin by the damn reel-to-reel tape player, it’s around the corner in the shed, and every time you go there, the same deadites have to be killed to get them out of the narrow path you’re traveling.
There’s a maze section in the woods that is infuriating and impossible to memorize, so you keep running in circles and keep fighting the same baddies. Spawn spots are always the same, so you hope you can sort of circle around them to prevent triggering the baddies. There’s also a pig slaughterhouse in the woods, and it is a cool, gross, bloody setting, but the evil pigs are a pain in the ass. And of course there’s a fruit cellar segment.
Finally, you get teleported to a medieval style area of the game, ruining the horror tone just like Army of Darkness did. Blech. While there are some cool pre-rendered backgrounds of castles and such, this segment has ridiculous fighting skeletons and obnoxious little chicken monsters, and there are lots of boss battles. In this final section of the game my infinite chainsaw fuel Gameshark cheat stopped working for no clear reason, forcing me to go on fuel hunts, but I still made it through somehow.
As for bosses, the first boss is a big spider that shoots stuff at you. The second boss must be defeated by hitting support posts to drop rocks on him. Problem is you drop the rocks on yourself half the time. Not to mention that without a quick turn button, getting between him and the post is infuriating. You also get an Evil Ash boss. The final boss, centered between four post corners, is annoying. You have to hit all four to make him temporarily vulnerable, but there’s no way NOT to get shot by his fire while running from one post to the other. Behind each post are mushrooms for health, which is detrimental to you making it past this final fight. If it weren’t for the Evil Dead name, I would get rid of this game and never mourn the loss.
EVIL DEAD: A FISTFUL OF BOOMSTICK
A Fistful of Boomstick is such a relief after the horror that was Hail to the King. While it does require plenty of hunting for objects and back and forth tasks, it trades a survival horror feel for hack ‘n’ slash action, which means no tank controls and plenty of health and ammo to be had, as well as loads of new weapons to find.
My only real problem with the controls, aside from some oddly placed button mapping, is the camera control with the right stick. There’s no option to invert the X or Y axis, and the preset is the total opposite of what I’m used to. What makes that even worse is that once again there’s no quick turn button, so very often you find yourself running in circles around an item you are trying to approach directly.
In retrospect, now that we’ve lived through games like Dead Rising that offer loads of flexible movement to avoid hordes of the undead, it’s weird to not be able to do something as simple as jump, because Boomstick has swarms of baddies coming at you at all times, and it’s very easy to have a whole crowd swallow your soul!
Ash once again carries a gun in one hand and chainsaw in the other. You do need to pick up ammo, but thankfully there’s no longer a need to find fuel for the chainsaw—it runs infinitely. The chainsaw is better for hacking through crowds, while the guns are good for targeting and blasting away approaching enemies. What’s also cool is that you can run and shoot behind you because Ash does an awesome over the shoulder maneuver with his weapon.
There is a block button, but you’re likely to forget to use it in the heat of battle…or to have the time to coordinate the move. There are also magic spells that you find along the way, some of which are necessary to move ahead, others that can be used to kill baddies. You need to gather green orbs that come from enemies you kill in order to have enough power for magic, so you’re better off saving it all for crucial tasks. Besides, doing a spell means going into your inventory, looking through the spellbook to find the button combo for that spell, then executing the sequence just right while holding the R1 trigger. If you screw up Ash gets zapped and has to do it all over again. And unless you find complete clearance away from enemies, they will strike you and break you out of the spell before you can finish. So annoying.
Killing the variety of deadites is fairly easy, but they become tougher later in the game. They often drop health, bullets, etc., and you can find more supplies throughout levels. You can also find save tokens, and the great news is you can use them anytime, anywhere. There are also plenty of them to find and the game automatically lets you save before boss battles and after you finish a level.
The no nonsense inventory screen is very easy to use, and features a To Do list of things you must accomplish to complete each level. Yes, levels. There are six levels, each with its own unique aspects.
You start in a modern city. The streets all look alike and there’s no map system, so you’ll be running back and forth a lot trying to find places you’ve already been. There are characters to help steer you in the right direction, and when not talking to them you can press the talk button to drop one-liners. Overall Ash’s dialogue is much funnier in this game.
Throughout the game you sometimes have to save characters to get items from them, but you can also hit them accidentally during battles with enemies. It doesn’t seem to hurt or kill them.
The main goal here is to find pieces of silver that let you close numerous vortexes around town that are allowing deadites to infiltrate. In other words, deadites just keep coming while you’re trying to put a stop to their entrances. During this level I accidentally shot a car on the street! It burst into flames, but sadly that didn’t seem to have any effect on the deadites.
One of my favorite levels, this takes place in a museum. You have a radar system that leads you to walls you need to blow up to find various items.
This is a tricky one you’ll probably need a walkthrough to complete. There are loads of deadites, lots of backtracking, and you won’t really know where to go to collect the things you need. The setting is a very maze-like, colonial village at night, so it’s hard to even remember how to get back to buildings you need to revisit.
Still in the same village, you need to get two different forts to agree to work together by bringing them various items. You also have to close more vortexes, and now there are big baddies stomping around as well as deadites with scissor hands.
This otherwise short final level is infuriating. It is a horrible labyrinth of underground caves and tunnels that all look alike. But here is the worst part. You need to use magic to possess a certain beast that unlocks doors to move on, but I accidentally blew up the lone beast near one door while hastily casting the spell (yes, that happens), and I was absolutely stuck. He would not regenerate for me to use him again and there were no others like him anywhere near. I had to start the level over. Argh!
There are loads of enemies, making this magic-heavy level extra challenging. Also, you have no way of knowing, but you pick up more spells that require you to use a different baddie to open up doors that are hardly noticeable. You will not finish this confusing underground maze level without a walkthrough, and even then it’s confusing.
The good news is the final boss is a snap. The boss from the previous level was much harder.
Once the game is through there really is no replay value, and you don’t unlock anything or carry weapons over to a replay.
EVIL DEAD: REGENERATION
The final game in this trilogy is total hack ‘n’ slash fun as Ash takes on his next epic journey through a mental institution, cemetery, mines, catacombs, a town…even the good old cabin in the woods!
Actually, the game just begins in the cabin with a tutorial teaching you how to fight, and it’s true to the movies, with everything in the place coming alive. Yes, even the deer head.
Then your journey begins—with you locked away in a looney bin. The game is mostly linear—as long as you do all the necessary backtracking chores to move on—but there are some secret areas where you can find pages that unlock bonus material not essential to the game. Even so, I was kind of pissed that I missed a few along the way.
This is the most gamish game of all three. You have true fighting flexibility. There are single trigger button presses to switch melee and firing weapons. You don’t need to collect ammo or gas for the chainsaw. You can jump and roll and do a bunch of fight combos, most of which you’ll probably never remember but just accidentally do while button mashing. And you have full camera rotation ability, plus this time you can change the axis in settings. Unfortunately, because you can jump, there are also platforming segments. Ugh.
To gather health you have to shoot health boxes and crates, and you also get health when you kill enemies, so that’s quite an advantage. But enemies aren’t the only health risk. Doors will slam in your face. Radiators explode as you go by them. And you have to weave your way over and through electrified areas.
You can also collect energy from the same containers you find health in, and filling your energy meter allows you to turn into Evil Ash temporarily. He’s definitely a bonus when you get overwhelmed by baddies, and you will. This game totally swarms you with baddies all the time. And you get locked into fight arenas—you step into a new area, barriers come across all the doors, and you must kill all enemies to reopen them.
Brace yourself. You also have a buddy with you this time—Sam the little wiseass deadite. It’s on the level of the stupidity of Army of Darkness, so at first I was annoyed by this cheesy addition, but Sam does come in quite handy even in non-essential moments; he actually helps you kick monster ass! He also gives Ash ample opportunity to vamp and make bad puns.
The downside is there are essential Sam needs, from kicking him onto and into things to open new areas to having him help fight bosses. Sam is mostly invulnerable in that he respawns every time shortly after he dies, but he’s also a pain in the ass when you need him to absolutely stay alive to get through an area—you have to defend him and keep him from dying at those times, and he has a habit of running ahead and directly into trouble before you can catch up with him. So damn frustrating.
The beacon of hope for me in this game was the save beacons. You find them periodically as you travel on, and they can be used repeatedly provided you can get back to them before moving on to a new section. Plus, the game asks to save before boss battles and at the beginning of new levels.
Enemies are numerous and change throughout the game, and you find better weapons along the way to better deal with more difficult baddies, including a hook gun that catches enemies and brings them right to you so you can blow their heads off. There are deadites, rats, skeletons, flying monsters, deadites that can block your hits, bigger deadites that spit acid, monster dog creatures, hags, witches, and these damn bloated deadites that explode on contact if you don’t shoot them fast enough. Guess who usually runs into them before you can shoot them when you desperately need him to stay alive? Sam. That means numerous replays of certain challenges to get him past those fat bastards.
As the game progresses it does become annoyingly repetitive with a few basic chores you have to do over and over. First—fight hordes of enemies while trying to kick Sam on top of a giant deadite monster, which gives you the opportunity to shoot its vulnerable spot temporarily. When he eventually dies, you can go through to a new area. There are also times when Ash can possess Sam and you control Sam so that you can maneuver through tight areas and past enemies to hit switches or do other tasks that open up the next area for Ash. Often this requires Sam riding and controlling the deadite monster, which allows you to bash through barriers to get them out of Ash’s way.
Most annoying is the giant head monster that blocks areas and needs you to feed him souls. This requires doing all kinds of tasks to find eggs in various areas of a level. You chainsaw the egg, a spirit is released, it possesses Sam, and then you have to accompany him safely back to the giant head as Ash and kick him into its mouth after all enemies are dead. You usually have to do this with three spirits before you can get through. If Sam dies during any of these backtracking situations you have to go collect the spirit again and start the trek all over again. Ugh.
When you finally reach the temple, the final section, it’s an exercise in fighting off waves of enemies as you travel through the corridors and rooms. You occasionally have to light birdbath torches on fire to open more doors, and in a couple of instances the doors they open or stairs that rise from the floor are on a timer. Get to them fast or they seal back up and you have to go light the torch all over again.
The good news is the final boss isn’t so bad except for the fact that you have to kick Sam onto his magic book whenever he goes back to regenerate, otherwise his health fully restores. Annoying, but not impossible. And hey, the game is called REGENERATION, so I guess we should have seen that one coming.