Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys
Humans are useless. At least when it comes to saving the world from a race of evil alien brain thingies hell-bent on our destruction, I mean. We’ve always been suckers for ray guns and mind control, you only have to watch cult films such as Mars Attacks! to work that one out. Fortunately, a trio of saviours wait underground, undetected, and totally undisturbed. That is, until now. Prepare to unleash the teenage zombies, mankind’s final hope of salvation!
Let me introduce you to the gang. You play as a threesome of brain hungry teens, working as a team and utilising individual powers for success. Unbeknown to them, these teenagers have slumped shoulders and rotting skin for a totally different reason than their age; they are dead. Get used to switching between Zack “Half-Pipe” Boyd, Lori “Lefty” Lopez and Finnigan “Fins” Magee, as this title forces players to alternate in order to manoeuvre through each level. Rising from their graves is just the start of things here, as these three have an entire alien horde to eliminate before they can peacefully lay to rest once more. As we all know, zombies feast on brains, and the main cast of Teenage Zombies aren’t any different; indulging in a bite of the succulent thought processor whenever they can in order to survive.
Needless to say, this game adheres to the stereotypical view of different archetypes and incorporates it into its gameplay. As an old-school, side scrolling platformer, the premise certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of potential. Players of all ages will be instantly comfortable with the controls, as the DS’ capabilities and layout produce a classic set-up. As stated before, each zombie has their own unique powers that are essential for progression. In fact, expect to be swapping between characters frequently, as the game begs players to use their initiative when tackling each level design. Combining Lefty’s huge reach, Half-Pipe’s ability to fit into small spaces and Fin’s ingenious climbing technique is the only way forward, and amounts to the full scope of the gameplay. The only minor addition throughout the game is the inclusion of special power-ups that are equally important for completing each level. Whether it be tackling hordes of enemies or traversing electrical floors, these power-ups must be used in order to succeed.
When beginning the game, this set-up initially feels fresh and entirely suitable for the levels on offer, as it works in a smooth and seamless fashion. Character abilities are certainly equal throughout; a notion that echoes the team-orientated gameplay that developer InLight Productions are trying to push to the forefront of this title. It must be said, at certain times it all works perfectly. A few correct combinations of characters in a level and the player will be flying through in an exhilarating manner. Unfortunately, as you enter the latter half of the game, this exhilaration quickly turns into sheer aggravation, as a minimal wrong judgement leads to an experience underlying with needless hassles and annoyance. It really is little things as well; as ledges become frustratingly tricky to grab onto, enemies clump together and the lack of variation begins to firmly settle in. Although the game is made up of over thirty short chapters, dying (or rather dying again) results in the player being taken back to the beginning of the section they were playing. This can become rather tiresome, as more often than not, death occurs towards the end of each chapter (after you have solved how to successfully manoeuvre through it), meaning that all your progression becomes undone and a complete waste of time. Granted, careful thinking adults who aren’t going to make many mistakes will play this title, but for a game that is primarily aimed towards the younger end of the market, this seems a rather infuriating blunder by the developers. The younger gamers of this world are bound to play through this, enjoying everything it has to offer en-route to an utterly disappointing checkpoint system that hinders a fair amount of the experience.
With those problems outlined, it must be said that there isn’t much else wrong with Teenage Zombies. The step up in difficulty towards the end is bound to catch a minority of players out, but on the flipside will act as an incentive to tackle the main antagonist, The Big Brain, for many more. It’s fair to say that the game is a breeze up until the last few chapters, where the steady formula used throughout is stretched to the limit.
As with many DS titles, the developers have felt the need to incorporate some mini-games during the story mode. These come as direct challenges from the invading Big Brain, as he tests the player’s mental abilities in “The Big Brain Quiz”, and an assorted range of other tried and tested recipes that work well with the stylus (such as catching your allies by drawing a line on the screen). These are effective first time, as it offers a break from all the action, but doesn’t offer the same impact on its later appearances. A series of simple spelling questions and quick fire mental exercises aren’t enough to offer respite from what begins to become an over-worked set-up after only a couple of hours of playing.
Aliens can’t spell!Somewhat ironically, for a game that challenges players to complete spelling tasks, there is a typo in the title. For those who haven’t noticed, “Thingys” isn’t actually a word. Now, if it was “Thingies”, then we would be talking…Enemies in this game are extremely reminiscent of Kang and Kodos from The Simpsons, as they follow the same brain protecting bubble gear of the world-renowned cartoon. And that is all they are really, brains. As the title suggests, you are going to face a hell of a lot of these pesky Earth invading parasites. Taking care of them is easy enough, as one swift swipe from any character is enough to squash the majority of generic opponents. At worst, players will need three hits to demolish the toughest enemies, something that only begins to appear after half way through the game. In true zombie style, eating the brains of those you have- ahem- slain is the way to maintain health and to get rid of the masses of opponents that eagerly await your arrival. With only four basic variations of foe, they do quickly begin to mutter the exhausted feeling that creeps over the game, especially towards the final showdown with the Big Brain.
If there is one thing that the developers have hit spot on here, it’s definitely the presentation of the game. Taking huge influence from ‘50s comic books and a handful of B movies, Teenage Zombies absolutely excels in the presentation stakes. The narrative is even told by turning your DS on it’s side, like a comic book, and reading through the events. Right from the brilliantly scripted introduction, there is a great feeling of humour entwined throughout the story, as the light-hearted silliness proves to be the correct direction for the title. Location design also runs alongside the game’s visual appearance perfectly, as players will travel through places such as a fair ground, construction site, and the ever-popular shopping mall. It seems as if the developers are paying homage to everything they ever loved about the whole zombie craze in a way that only the recent Dead Rising can understand. It’s impressive stuff, as innovative use of the DS screen, text boxes styled like that of a comic book and an obvious nod towards a number of past tales come together as one of the most accomplished and complete artistic designs on Nintendo’s handheld.
Sound codes throughout this title initially work very well, as they mimic the grotesque feel of the characters and the evil that has overran Earth like an unforgiving disease. Although this is the case, the game would have been better off with a few more tracks in its locker, as the same few tunes begin to feel horrifically bland and weak. A change in location should signal a change in soundtrack; although here every section is the same as the one before, meaning it becomes hard to distinguish each area from the last. For a game that has so much style, this is somewhat of a let down as it fails to follow the quirky attitude of the characters and narrative, giving the game- yes you guessed it- less variation, and adding to the undertones of frustration.
After the invasion is long gone, and the gang is back in their warm, cosy graves, it’s fair to say that this is one very solid addition to the growing library of excellence on the DS. Although it becomes frustrating at times, the short bursts of gameplay hold enough style and adventure to warrant a stumbling return. It’s to the game’s credit that, even after minor annoyances, the light-hearted humour and occasionally thrilling gameplay pulled me back in for another try. If you are a fan of all the aforementioned themes and are looking for a well-produced platform game to take with you on the go, this is well worth a bash. For everyone else, this title may have undeniable charm, but certainly suffers from a lack of bite in the long run.