Well, Halloween is approaching and I really want to take this opportunity to have some spooky halloweeny fun.
Recently I was at our local grocery store and bought a video game from a bin. The store’s called Real Canadian Superstore, they’re like Wal-Mart but in reverse. The price tag said $15 but when I went to cash out the machine said $10…I wasn’t going to correct them.
The game was oddly enough titled Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys…Eloquent. Also, it’s spelled Thingies. There’s no “Y”.
Anyway, the game itself is a puzzle-platformer themed around an alien invasion of Earth. The aliens appear similar to human brains, and apparently they smell similar too, because the stench of brains somehow penetrated six feet of soil to awaken three young zombies, kinda like how the smell of coffee wakes people up in a Folgers ad.
As premises go, it’s not that bad. Not only that, it takes two things nerds love, aliens and zombies, and combines them in one efficient package. All it needs is robots and it’ll make every nerd in the country cream their pants with glee!
The three zombies control differently and have different abilities and capabilities. Finnigan “Fins” Magee, who is the fat kid who apparently was also an avid swimmer, not sure how that works. He has tentacles growing out of his back, again, not sure how that works. I think they use the word zombie as a euphemism for “making shit up”. He can use his tentacles to climb walls…again, not sure how that works-what the fuck!?-and he can use them to hang from wires and grapple across. He can also use his fatness to eat disgusting food, like garbage and soap, and barf it up, which is where the “puzzle” in puzzle-platformer makes its contractual appearance. But we’ll get back to that.
Lori “Lefty” Lopez, is a tall girl who was on the basketball team before she died, and before she ironically lost her left arm, I assume at the same time. While she can’t actually jump very high, she can reach ledges, and if she can’t she can dislocate her entire right arm and reach higher ledges. She’s also the fastest brain-eater, which you do to gain health, or unhealth as it’s known in the game. Her missing left arm can be replaced by various items in the game, like a gun or…well why would you need anything else?
Zack “Half-pipe” Boyd, is a short kid with a skateboard, though his shortness may be a result of him losing his entire lower body. He can crawl in tight spaces, slide down ramps and fly off them if there’s a lip at the end, and he can modify his board to hover, zoom very fast or grow big wheels and slow to a crawl. Not very impressive I might add.
You know, it’s never explained how these kids died. That’s something I’d like to know. But if I had to guess, I’d say the one with tentacles coming out his back was attacked by a squid.
My biggest complaint with the zombies is, their slow movement speed. Not that they need to move like a bullet train, but I lose patience quickly just trying to get halfway across the screen. I keep trying in desperation, holding the attack button while moving, hoping the game will get the hint…but it does nothing. The only zombie that moves at a decent speed is Zack, but that’s only if he lies prone on his board, faster if it’s downhill. Which also shifts the view down, and it really pisses me off when I’m looking for something above.
Jumping is also a pain in the ass, primarily because they don’t do it. Both Fins and Lefty barely jump an inch, however Zack is a completely different story, he jumps higher than Super Mario on a trampoline. Which means you might end up switching zombies more often than you move to attack. The sharp contrast in movement abilities is good for some things, but moving and jumping shouldn’t be one of them.
Switching between the three zombies reminds me of Trine, a game I have only played the demo of, where you can switch between any of the three main characters at any time. Each of the characters had their own special abilities, but basic controls were still the same for all three. The controls in Teenage Zombies feels stiff and rigid. It’s like you have to devote a lot of energy to do anything. Which might make sense considering you’re playing three long-dead zombies. Who, by the way, apparently had a great embalmer.
Considering this is a puzzle-platformer, I think it would be a good idea to check out the puzzles. There is one big problem with the puzzles, in that they are virtually non-existent. You are hand-holded through the first few levels and whenever a new power-up is introduced, you are told what it is used for, then whenever you see a specific obstacle, you know exactly what power-up to use. The only challenge comes in identifying what’s a path and what isn’t. It took me a while before I realized I could use Fins to grapple on the chain of Christmas lights. I thought it was just a background texture. Exploration is the only real obstacle, and once you fully explore an area, any puzzles in your way solve themselves. I bought this game a week ago and already, I finished it. That’s not how puzzlers are supposed to work. I didn’t get stumped on any obstacle for very long, and that’s why the puzzles are cheap.
The only real challenge comes from combat, which isn’t so much a challenge, as it is a test of patience. As I said before, the controls are ass, but in combat, they are even worse. Each zombie has a unique attack, Lefty has a bitch-slap, Fins can stab in three directions at once with his tentacles, and Zack can throw his skateboard. None of which do much anyway, and if you are fighting more than one enemy, you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed because you can only attack one enemy at a time, and the shitty movement controls make it almost impossible to turn around and leg it when things start to get desperate.
The only character worth using in combat is Zach, not for his primary attack, but for his jump, which doubles as an attack. Which is something that took me half the game to figure out. Unfortunately his jump has the same problem I mentioned earlier, you can only attack one enemy at a time. What I mean by that is this: every time you press the attack button, you can only kill one enemy max, unfortunately this does not mean you can simply jackhammer the attack button to kill the fifty enemies bunched up in range of your attack, because you also have to wait for the attack animations to complete, and that takes a while, and it gets even more aggravating when you’re under fire, and want to move. Which is why Zach’s jump is the best for attacking, because you can move while you are doing it, but you still need to land before you can kill another enemy. The shitty combat is compensated somewhat by combat power-ups, but they don’t appear in every level and some only work under specific circumstances, so that can be frustrating.
Of course what I really hate is the final boss fight. It consists of crossing a multitude of enemies, so you can press buttons to turn off portals. Once you turn them all off, that’s it, game over, you win. You don’t get to fight the big baddie, and you don’t get any real closure to the story, except that the invasion of earth has been cancelled. It feels cheap, I wanted to kick his ass!!
Speaking of bosses, there are none, where you might expect a boss, you get a minigame. Now, minigames crop up in almost every DS platformer, and Teenage Zombies is no exception. The biggest problem I have is that they feel shoehorned. With no purpose. Changing up the mundanity of continuous platforming sounds reasonable enough, except the platforming is the only reason I bought the game. I think the reason the minigames exist is to give it a reason to be on the DS. But you don’t need a reason other than: it’s the biggest selling console currently on the market. You don’t need to use the DS touchscreen, or the microphone, you just need it to be fun. Every platformer I own does this, sometimes it forces you to play the minigame, but I don’t want to, if I did, I’d put in a game that was just a collection of minigames, I didn’t. I put in a platformer, so I want to platform. Thankfully with Teenage Zombies you can simply set the DS down and wait for the timer to run out. The only point of the minigames is to gain points anyway, which have no gameplay benefit. Since when does anyone care about points anymore?
Next is the story, presented in comic book form. The gameplay doesn’t really connect to the story at any point except to tell you where you are, and during the final boss fight. The story seems to try to get by on comedy, but I guess it’s just not my style, because I didn’t laugh once. It seems to be based on a style which I call “idiot comedy” which is basically the comedy arising from someone being very stupid…and someone not, the straight man. I tend to despise that type of comedy. But that’s just me.
The game is full of flaws, but was it worth the $10 I paid? …probably, I mean it did distract me for a week, but the combat and controls did frustrate me. However, if you die, you lose nothing and go back to the beginning of the level which typically isn’t that far, so dying isn’t really a big problem. I think it might have been overpriced. However if you really want to play a game where you play a zombie fighting aliens, go for it. It’s a fun ride while it lasts.