Release Date: November 5, 2007
"Aqua Teen Hunger Force" is a television series that was — and is still — made pretty much for the sake of making it. There is no other explanation I have been able to humanly devise for the existence of a series with main characters like a mean-spirited milkshake, nerdy box of fries with eye beams and a childish meat patty. And their next-door neighbor has an above-ground pool. The series has a clear format, with a villain showing up and ... well, usually they don't wreak any significant havoc, but they're funny nonetheless, depending on your sense of humor. The ATHF series is the definition of "bad comedy show," with little to no sense, no character development and a tendency to be just plain inexplicable. You either like it or you don't, and until you've seen it, the TV series is sort of like Schrödinger's cat.
It's no surprise that the video game's exactly the same as the TV series in that regard. The game consists of the same three animated food items (and neighbor), the same villains who keep showing up for no good reason and the game is the definition of "bad comedy video game" — well, actually, there is sometimes a smidgen of sense here. It's still inexplicable though and attains something I didn't even think was humanly possible — taking an intentionally horrific play design, and then making it work … sort of.
The basic premise of Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Zombie Ninja Pro-Am is that Frylock is invited to Jersey Pines, the swankiest golf course in New Jersey. This isn't saying much, when it's a freakish toxic mess, full of evil animated trees, Carl's crabs and other nasties. Of course, Shake immediately decides that he should be the one playing golf even though he doesn't know how, and so they go to the golf course using Carl's car.
At this point, the title starts switching between three separate games. The golf segment is pretty plain and pathetically easy: Just aim with the analog stick, start the swing, set the power and time the swing so that it goes straight. This is all done with one button. If the shot lands within bounds, then the game converts into a brawler, with Shake and Frylock having to beat down all kinds of random enemies on their way to the golf ball. No, you can't just go for your next swing while being attacked by a murderous tree. Occasionally, you're put into a golf cart and must start racing around; it's standard racing, with bazookas strewn about the course just because. Power-ups acquired during brawling can have payoffs while golfing or racing, providing a slightly stronger semblance of connection between the three modes.
Unsurprisingly, the physics, controls, graphics — well, everything — are very simplistic. The ball moves as you'd expect, though rolling a little longer and with fewer bounces than you might see in real golf. Enemies take anywhere from three to 10 hits to smash, though they'll take fewer if you happen to pick up a sword. (Apparently someone who likes dropping stuff goes to Renaissance faires!) Golf carts don't seem to experience much recoil from being used as bazooka launching platforms, and missiles home in, too. Each level is commentated by the serious Commentator Guy, the only original character to the game, along with the very not-quite-right-in-the-head Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past, whose lines are the primary reason for the game's "Mature" rating. In an insult that will bring joy to the ears of all pirate lovers, there are no zombies or ninjas in the game.
The game was supposed to have "amazing graphics and cutting-edge technology," according to the interviews included in the extras (more on that in a second), but Turner Broadcasting understandably didn't want to pony up the funds, so the title basically ended up with the same style as every Simpsons game that's been made for PS2. Cel-shaded models look like the characters, but don't really resemble the show; everything generally looks fine, though no single area is particularly exceptional. The sound effects consist of generic stock effects or voices recorded by the show's voice actors. I don't even remember the music, but I might just be repressing the memories.
Sounds good, right? It shouldn't. Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Zombie Ninja Pro-Am is very close to Superman 64 bad, and was made to be very close to Superman 64 bad. It just makes you laugh enough that it manages to come around and actually be pretty fun nonetheless. To say that it's really exactly like the show on this front is a bit of an understatement.
Essentially 12 levels (there were a few repeats) that add up to four hours of gameplay aren't enough to justify the $30 price tag, so the developers threw in some secrets and not-so-secrets. To wit, in each level there is a film reel and a piece of the infamous Broodwich. The film reels unlock clips from classic episodes of the show, and the Broodwich pieces unlock ... well, let's just say it's strange and new and not spoil it. On top of these, however, a surprisingly hilarious preview clip that was made for the Adult Swim block on which ATHF airs is included, along with three classic full episodes of the show and one all-new (and hilariously creepy) episode, "Robots Everywhere." If you want to introduce yourself to the series, these four episodes would be a fine place to start — or it would be, if the game weren't more expensive than buying or renting a season of the show on DVD.
This pile-on of additional content, combined with a $30 price, makes Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Zombie Ninja Pro-Am a surprisingly good value if, and only if, you enjoy the show. The four included episodes and series of clips are great for introducing buddies to it, the gameplay's so bad that it almost becomes good in a sense, and the number of references to show episodes and elements will impress even some of the more hardcore fans. If you enjoyed the movie, you'll enjoy the brief game, and you may even play it a few times. If you didn't enjoy the movie, you won't like the game, so don't bother. If you've never even heard of Aqua Teen Hunger Force before, then your enjoyment of this game is in a state of quantum superposition, sitting comfortably next to Schrödinger's cat. Perhaps give it a rental and find out for yourself.
(With a Schrödinger's cat modifier of two points plus or minus, based on the player's like or dislike of the series.)
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