Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie BBQ. Just process that for a moment so you can take in one of the most bizarre, interesting and accurate video game monikers you've ever read. In Zombie BBQ, Little Red Riding Hood picks up a machine gun and kills an enormous number of zombies. It's certainly a bizarre game, and it somehow manages to be a pretty fun and amusing way to pass the time. Zombie BBQ's price tag is $20, and at that price in today's economy, you could certainly do a lot worse.
Half of the fun of Zombie BBQ is in its outlandish premise. You are Little Red Riding Hood, although this is an angry girl and not the innocent child from the fairy tales. At the first sign of danger, she'll ditch the cloak for skintight, revealing (yeah, she got sexy somewhere along the way) clothes and trade in her basket for a machine gun. In this retelling of the fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood is some kind of legend for defeating the wolf, even though, from what I can tell, the game picks up mere hours after the end of the story that we all grew up on.
Little Red Riding Hood returns home to find that the impossible has happened: a zombie plague is spreading across fairy tale land. Suddenly finding a very convenient use for that previously mentioned machine gun, Riding Hood teams up with Momo Taro, a ninja born from a peach to find the source of the zombie plague. Nobody is spared; Pinocchio, Hansel and Gretel, and even Santa Claus get their due. Everything about this title is completely and utterly absurd, so the developers clearly went off the deep end with the concept and ran as far as they possibly could with it. When you start each stage for the first time, you can't help but smile at how bizarre it all is. Someone will say something crazy, and away you go,
Zombie BBQ is a top-down shooter ("shmup," or shoot-'em-up). As Little Red Riding Hood, you'll slowly march toward the top of the screen and blast away at as many zombies as possible. You'll often stop and sometimes speed up to shoot anything that moves. In the meantime, you'll need all the reaction time and wits you can muster to survive until the end of the level.
Like most shmups, Zombie BBQ can and will provide a pretty stiff challenge. Since the game is story-based instead of the usual arcade fare, it can be fairly annoying to reach the end of a 15-minute level and die because those last 15 minutes will need to be repeated until you manage to survive the affair. Dying is fine with arcade shmups, as you either need to start over when you die, or you pop in another credit and the game continues from where you left off. With Zombie BBQ, it can get frustrating when you constantly have to repeat the same segments just so you can try to beat the boss again.
Thankfully, the core gameplay manages to be a lot of fun. The touch-screen controls are generally very well implemented, allowing you to simply touch and hold on-screen where you want to be firing your machine gun (or ninja star gun, if you play as Momo Taro). Reloading is done by taking the stylus off the touch-screen. You move around by tapping one of several small squares on the bottom of the touch-screen, but if you're in the heat of combat, you can use the d-pad to move between the squares. If you're really in a bind, tapping your character with the stylus will make her duck, magically avoiding the giant chainsaw that was sent flying at you moments before. Unfortunately, this mechanic doesn't really work as well as it needs to, often interpreting your press as firing or movement instead of ducking. This can become a pain when you reach areas where you'll frequently need to duck.
Defeating any zombie horde is impossible without weapons, and any shmup just wouldn't be as fun without some weapon variety. Zombie BBQ delivers with several weapons that you can pick up from destroyed crates as you weave your way through the zombie onslaught. You have your standard zombie-killing shotguns and flamethrowers, but if times get truly desperate, you can double-tap the screen to break out a grenade launcher. If you get really lucky, the ultimate destroyer of zombies is the laser cannon. Some enemies will use this against you to some effect, but you have health and can take anywhere from five to 10 hits before you go down for good. Switching weapons is easy, but the limited ammo means that you can't really abuse any of them, so you'll spend a majority of your time wasting away the zombie hordes with your machine gun.
Zombie BBQ takes place over the course of seven stages, each of which is split into three smaller levels. The general layout is that you'll spend the first two levels fighting the endless hordes of zombies, and many of the stages will have some sort of mini-boss. As an example, you must fight each of the three little pigs individually. The third level will be a boss fight, which is by far the best part of the game because this is where the developers like to get wildly creative. The whimsical fairy tale creatures have gone mad from fighting the undead hordes or have been converted into zombies themselves. From Little Red Riding Hood's Grandmother to a Godzilla-sized Pinocchio, every single one of the boss battles is an absolute delight to partake in.
Part of what helps make these battles awesome is the Zombie BBQ's visual style, which uses a mix of 2-D and 3-D sprites. Environments and boss characters are 3-D and reasonably detailed for a DS game, while the normal characters are 2-D sprites. There is a decent variety of zombies, amplified by the fact that you can shoot off their limbs and be greeted by a lovely burst of blood. The effect is cosmetic, though, and doesn't influence the zombie's ability to kill you. While all of this gives the game a unique visual style that you wouldn't think would push the DS very hard, it's rendering this on both screens (you can shoot at the faraway enemies on the top screen), so whenever there is a reasonable amount of enemy projectiles on-screen or more than five enemies, the game slows down to a crawl. This happens more often as you progress and the difficulty level increases by throwing more stuff at you.
Audio is as cheesy, as you would expect from a zombie game. Music sounds as bad as it always does when it's emitted by the DS speakers, and the riffs and sound effects are largely forgettable, although they fit the game quite nicely. There are even a few choice bits of voice acting that sound like Japanese people trying to be edgy English speakers. Unfortunately, it's hard not to laugh when they try to sound edgy and come across as awkward.
If you can manage to overcome the challenging story mode, there are a few modes to unlock, such as survival and boss attack. A couple of harder difficulties for the main story can also be unlocked, and you can give them a try if you want. These are modes that most players won't really touch, so the potential audience is largely limited to completionists.
Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie BBQ is one of the most bizarre games in recent memory that I've had the chance of playing. It's fairly well-designed and manages to stick with its premise throughout the entire game. If you were to replace the characters with fighter jets and war-torn environments, nobody would even give this game a second glance. The incredible concept and execution really make this a unique game that plays really well. If you like shmups, need a hearty laugh, or just feel the need to blow up some zombies, you really can't go wrong by dropping $20 on this title.
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