Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Developer: InLight Entertainment
Release Date: April 15, 2008
When players think of the walking dead on consoles, Capcom usually comes to mind, thanks to Dead Rising, Onimusha and Resident Evil. The DS has also felt the cold grip of the grave thanks to Eidos' Touch the Dead, and now Ignition Entertainment joins the monster mash on Nintendo's handheld with Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys. The 1950s-styled title puts you in control of three walking corpses in a quest for juicy, delicious, pink brains, and it will also test your own grey matter in making sure that they survive long enough to enjoy the buffet.
Faster than Zeus can say, "Rise from your grave," three teenage zombies are awakened from their moldy slumber. Fortunately, the aliens that have invaded and enslaved Earth provide plenty of pink, pulpy goodness for their bottomless appetites. Through more than 30 stages of harrowing adventure, these three unlikely heroes will inadvertently try to save the world by munching on the enemy.
Each stage will require you to work with all three zombies, each with unique attacks and abilities. "Fins" Magee spent too much time underwater, which has left him with tentacles growing out of his back, a feature that allows him to climb up walls, shimmy across ropes and pipes, and attack in three directions at the same time. Zack "Half-Pipe" Boyd's lower body is replaced with a skateboard, which allows him to slip into small holes and coast down sloping floors and catch some air at the end, since he has been granted with the greatest jumping ability of the trio. Lori "Lefty" Lopez is missing an arm but can attach rivet guns, umbrellas or vacuum cleaners to it in order to dish out some pain. Her only arm allows her to jump and grab onto ledges to get the drop on your foes.
Their strengths and weaknesses will help you solve the puzzles on each level, and they also come with an additional temporary special ability, depending on what you find. While Lori might be able to attach stuff to her stump to give her Mega Man-like abilities, Fins can eat spicy garbage, which turns his breath into fiery sludge, or an acid spit that dissolves bars that block your way. Boyd can trick out his skateboard with giant tires to crush all before him or safely roll over electrified floors. Paint cans also allow Boyd to jet down, or up, slopes to get past more traps. Saving these helpful tools and knowing when to use them will become part of how you make your way through each level. They may not be Three Dirty Dwarves, but they get the job done.
Teenage Zombies is played on the top screen, and on the bottom screen are the coffins where the other two zombies rest as they await their turn at the buffet table. You can always swap them on the fly, as long as current one you're controlling isn't doing something. Progress is automatically saved at the start of every stage, so once you make it to the next area, it's safe to turn off the DS and do something else other than save the world from flying alien brain thingys. There's also a limited form of camera control that you can use to look up or down to get an idea of where you might have to go, but it's not as useful as I hoped, especially in the later stages, when the game begins throwing everything at you.
Zombies are hungry, not indestructible, and their flesh isn't going to last forever when exposed to a barrage of energy pellets, lasers and other insidious traps that lie in wait. All that flesh being fried will take its toll and eventually kill them a second time. Even if one of them dies, you have to restart the stage since all three are needed to pass through most of the levels. This might seem overly brutal, but the stages aren't very long and require only a few minutes to play through. The good news is that the brains on which you nosh help restore some of your lost ... er, vitality. Scattered body parts of a zombie can also be collected, and once you have all of the pieces, you can play the minigame to put him back together and restore all of your health.
Controlling your trinity of death is easy enough to do with the DS. The d-pad moves them around, the buttons get them to attack, jump or use a special ability if they have the right item, and the stylus is used for minigames and to select another zombie from the bottom screen. One odd thing that I noticed is that you can't initiate actions while in midair, so you can't jump and attack a floating brain thingy that's zapping you. If you want to use a power in midair or while falling, you can't do that, either, making the controls feel like a throwback to the days when Arthur from Ghosts 'n Goblins couldn't shoot upward.
The puzzles provide some challenge but won't tax your brain to the point where you feel you need to hand in your platforming card. Since each level has been designed to be solved in a handful of minutes, Teenage Zombies is a title that you can pick up and play without needing to invest a lot of time. Minigames help spice up some of the action, with a few arcade-flavored segments that put the stylus to good use and can add points to your score. Once the minigames have been unlocked, you can replay these from the main menu.
In addition to figuring out how to get from point A to point B across construction sites, demolished malls and underground sewers, you also have to contend with the alien brain thingys. They'll attempt to stop you with a variety of means, such as floating into battle armed with laser cannons, using laser pods mounted on walls, guarding specific areas with mind-controlled humans, and even bringing out telekinetic brains that whip all sorts of debris in your direction. Fortunately, they're not that tough to bring down once you get close enough to smash open their protective cases, and if you savor more of a challenge from your alien overlords, you can always start the game on the "Hard" difficulty setting.
The DS is turned into a comic book as it reveals the tongue-in-cheek tale of the alien Big Brain's attempt to find the perfect snow globe by conquering Earth. True to its "E for Everyone" rating, the title's comic-styled panels introduce the story's harmless humor. This helps to keep things lighthearted, sometimes even dropping hints as to what new terror to expect from the insidious invaders.
In keeping with the comic approach to the story, the characters are fleshed out with funny animations. The act of dying can send undead heads rolling on the floor, brains flopping on the ground, or mesmerized humans running around in panic when you manage to free them. The stages don't look bad; they're functional enough to do what the game needs them to do, but don't expect any more art than what you might find in a comic that's shorter on detail than setup. The music manages to keep the sci-fi horror vibe going, but it can get repetitive as it endlessly loops, making you wish that there was more to it. The voice acting, however, was spot on, with the performances capturing plenty of the intentional cheese served up with every comic panel.
As fun as Teenage Zombies can be at the start, its short length and the often simplistic puzzles that merely require you to survive to the next checkpoint aren't compelling enough for this to stay in your DS once you've beaten the game. You can always go back through on a higher difficulty level and improve your score, but don't expect the puzzles to be any different or the game to be any more fun. There's not a lot else to it when every level feels like the previous one, only with more puzzles tacked on. Unlike classic platform puzzlers such as Out of This World and Heart of Darkness, the generic feel that pervades almost every stage can make each one feel like a repetitive exercise.
The use of the stylus was also something of a mixed bag with Teenage Zombies. Other than being an option for tapping out your dead, the only other times that the stylus is really useful are in the minigames that you find every few stages, or in putting together a zombie whose body parts you find lying around in order to restore your health. It works fine for minigames that have you tap out your choices, but when it acts as a d-pad replacement, it can feel like a rough substitute. If you're looking to exchange scores or zombies via Wi-Fi, forget it; this is strictly a one-brain experience.
Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys is the kind of game that you can take with you on a trip and play in bite-sized chunks, but the forgettable puzzles and overabundance of dull stages do nothing to help the feeling that it's trying to drag out the dead for as long as it can. The gameplay has its macabre moments of undead fun, and there was always something to eat, but with so many other titles on the DS that provide the same challenges and so much more, this dance with the dead might only appeal to fans with a taste for '50- styled sci-fi and juicy, delicious, alien brains.
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