Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Developer: InLight Entertainment
Release Date: April 15, 2008
Back in the mid-'90s, there was a particular type of 2-D platform-adventure game that was all the rage. These platformers were a mix between action and puzzle games, revolving around three teammates, each with their own special abilities, who would have to traverse through danger-filled areas; players would have to switch between the characters at will in order to progress. Titles like Blizzard's Lost Vikings, Warner Brother's Animaniacs and Nickelodeon's Ahh! Real Monsters! were all part of this short-lived genre. However, once the PlayStation took off and 3-D games started to get big, this type of game faded into the ether. With the popularity of the DS and its brand of 2-D gameplay, however, this long-dead genre can finally rise from the grave with Teenage Zombies: Attack of the Alien Brain Thingys.
The plot of Teenage Zombies is, unsurprisingly, modeled directly after a '50s-era pulp comic, and the story segments are told in a comic book format. Players even hold their DSes like a book during these moments to complete the feel. The plot is pure pulp: A race of evil sentient brains, led by a particularly megalomaniacal guy, "Big Brain," has come to Earth to take over, and humanity is helpless against his advanced technology and … well, his big brain. "Luckily," salvation comes in the form of three zombie teenagers who rise from their graves with an insatiable hunger for brains. Normally, something that would be a disaster for mankind, but when a race of evil brains is attacking, who better to stop them than zombies?
The teenage zombies are made up of three particularly unfortunate deceased teenagers. The first, Lori "Lefty" Lopez, was a tall, thin girl in life. Her death left her with only her left arm, but between her natural size and her unnatural ability to stretch her remaining arm like a grappling hook, she can climb up onto ledges that none of the other zombies can handle. Finnigan "Fins" Magee is the most inhuman of the zombies. In life, he was simply an overweight young man who loved swimming, but in death, he has somehow sprouted unnatural tentacles from his back that allow him to climb any vertical surface. Unfortunately for Fins, he has no jumping ability, so unless his climbable surface is on the ground level, he'll have to leave the ascent to Lefty. Zack "Half-Pipe" Boyd is the last of the ghastly trio. His death split him in half, so the plucky teenage zombie gets around by riding on a skateboard. Since he's half the size of the other zombies even before he got cut in half, Half-Pipe can slide through small cracks in the floor that the other zombies can't. On top of that, losing his legs hasn't removed Half-Pipe's skateboarding ability, and he can skate down ramps to gain some major air time.
Beyond their innate abilities, each zombie can also find a series of special power-ups scattered around the levels that can be used to access new areas or defeat particularly tough foes. Fins' insatiable appetite means he can eat anything, not just brains, so finding stockpiles of garbage means that he can gain the ability to shoot out his own stomach acid to melt through objects in his way. Half-Pipe can modify his skateboard for added power, allowing it to travel over normally inaccessible areas. Lefty, with her single functioning hand, is capable of using rivet guns and other objects that would be worthless to her heavily decayed partners. Of course, these special powers come at a cost. You can only use them once per power-up location, so you have to save them for when you really need them, or else your teenage zombies will have to backtrack if they want to continue.
None of the teenage zombies is capable of taking on the Big Brain alone. The path from the graveyard to the Big Brain's lair is littered with obstacles, and passing through the many pulp-inspired locations will require you to switch from zombie to zombie on the fly. You might need to have Lefty climb up a girder, have Half-Pipe slide down a ramp at the top, and then use Fins to climb a wall on the other side. As a result, using all three zombies isn't just a good idea, it's critical to success. Being able to switch between zombies at will also has its downside: All three share the same unlife bar, so if you lose one zombie, it's back to the graveyard for the entire trio.
The zombies' primary foe is the nasty spawn of the Big Brain. These "Alien Brain Thingies" are armed with the most advanced technology the universe has to offer, each one floating around in a glass jar equipped with various kinds of weaponry. There is, however, an advantage to facing superhuman sentient brains, at least when you're a brain-hungry zombie. Every single brain you defeat will be knocked from its glass jar onto the ground, where your chosen zombies can promptly devour it, eliminating another of the invaders while simultaneously recovering a healthy dose of your unlife bar. Unfortunately, brains aren't the only enemies you'll be facing on your way to the Big Brain, and while brains provide a healthy supply of zombie chow, the teenage zombies can't eat the brains of the various non-alien creatures that block their path.
On top of the found power-ups, each teenage zombie will also occasionally be able to use his or her special abilities in unique minigames to fend off a particularly intense brainspawn attack. These minigames, which exclusively use the DS's touch-screen ability, can range from simple puzzles involving all three zombies to more action-packed scenarios, like Half-Pipe using his skateboard and a series of tricks to eliminate attacking brains while defusing the bombs they launch to try to stop him. Generally, each stage has some kind of hidden minigame located within, and while the minigames themselves aren't needed to complete the plot, finding and playing them is part of the challenge.
It's rather fitting that we have zombies to thank for reviving a buried genre. Teenage Zombies: Attack of the Alien Brain Thingies is shaping up to be a fine example of the puzzle-and-action gameplay that made those classic hits so fun, and the goofy pulp-inspired plot certainly doesn't hurt. It's easy to pass up something like Teenage Zombies based on the unusual name and bizarre concept alone, but DS gamers looking for a fun and unique platforming experience may want to give Teenage Zombies a second glance when it hits store shelves this April.
More articles about Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys!