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Under the Skin (PlayStation 2) artwork

Under the Skin (PlayStation 2) review


"Aliens, we just can't seem to live with them and we sure as hell can't live without them. Though in the past they've used us as incubators for their young, processed our children into hamburger mince and hunted the remnants of humanity to the brink of extinction, we still find ourselves fascinated by the unknown mysteries that these galactic beings represent. Are we suckers for punishment or is our continued persecution justified? Who knows... but whatever the reason may be, their next visit to ..."



Aliens, we just can't seem to live with them and we sure as hell can't live without them. Though in the past they've used us as incubators for their young, processed our children into hamburger mince and hunted the remnants of humanity to the brink of extinction, we still find ourselves fascinated by the unknown mysteries that these galactic beings represent. Are we suckers for punishment or is our continued persecution justified? Who knows... but whatever the reason may be, their next visit to planet Earth is going to be unlike any other. For through all the abuse and general nastiness of the past, there's been one tactic that these nefarious intergalactic bad boys have thus far failed to employ. Plain and simple terrorism. Granted you won't be finding an alien that crawls up your arse in order to feed, nor are you likely to encounter something that turns your neighbors into mindless plant people... what you will find however is a brand of terror that is sure to make even the most fanatical of Afghan madmen stand up and pay attention. With a bad moon rising then, players will be relieved to hear that rather than appearing on tonight's menu, they will in fact be filling the shoes of our latest alien nemesis... a little blue terror that goes by the name of Kozumi...

Who just so happens to be the world's first ''itazure hero''. Now, according to the Japanese pocket dictionary that is my wife, itazure can be translated into English as mischief... but really, the world's first mischief hero? That just sounds ridiculous. No, rather than anything so corny, Kozumi would be better labeled as a threat to homeland security as he has come to Earth in order to sow the seeds of terror. And though he may be seen as having a jolly good old time, some consolation can be had in the fact that when all is said and done, he didn't really want to be here in the first place. The chaos, the mayhem, the abused innocents... all this insanity is simply a part of his coming of age ceremony that will ultimately make him a man... or whatever it is that his species calls a blue nappy wearing biped that lusts after the cute hotties. So go on then, pack your ray gun and venture out into human society. Don't worry though, there's no need to panic. All that stands between you and a hot date of your choice are 8 stages and a number of equally as determined extra-terrestrial teens... each like you, probably just looking to get their end away. Welcome to Under the Skin, the world's first itazure action game.

Before you get down to business however, you're going to need a disguise. While walking down the street with your full third person alien-ness exposed is sure to start a panic, it's also going to leave you feeling quite vulnerable. As such you'll be wanting to zap the closest human possible in order to graft their likeness over your own bulbous blue body. It's with your second skin firmly in place then that you're thusly charged with creating as much mayhem as alien-ly possible. Mind you, when I say alien mayhem I'm not talking about ye standard death rays and atypical mind control techniques. That's the stuff of Hollywood! Rather than running with the mundane, Kozumi will find that he has access to 5 randomly selected itazure items each time he adopts a new human form. Whacked out super weapons, wild animals and other assorted chaos causing paraphernalia make up the mix as each item proves to be as insane as the next. Whether you're dropping thumb tacks for a pedestrian to step on or are simply blasting their ear drums with a maddening volume of soul destroying music, the results will always be the same. Their fear and panic will cause them to drop a mass of coins that you'll be looking to collect. The catch is however you'll only have a few seconds with which to do so before being set upon by an angry mob. And then my friends, it would be time to run...

It's here with the humans in hot pursuit that some of Under the Skin's unique strategy begins to shine. With the crowd closing in, players will be happy to know that they've got a number of different options up their sleeve. They could for instance, absorb another human's likeness thereby throwing the mob off of their scent. Effective sure, but it's not really a lot of fun. The more confrontational among us however will see the situation for the opportunity it presents and instead choose to drop one of the bigger itazure items. What? Did you think it was all just thumb tacks and ghetto blasters?! HAH! *queue little known fact* Where humans are concerned, nothing says panic and terror quite like a rampaging herd of wild elephants... or the sudden fury of a tornado strike... or perhaps a punch swinging alien superman. Bash' em, smash' em, crash' em, double the damage and you'll double the rewards... woohoo, now let's make those useless sacks of meat hurt! No matter your ultimate instrument of terror, players will inevitably find themselves grinning from ear to ear as Under the Skin's abundant insanity really begins to hit home. It's fast, it's furious, it's clearly going to upset the President. Terror has rarely looked this insane!

If there was a downside to all of this it would unfortunately be Under the Skin's length. Much like its stunted anti-hero Kozumi, the overall challenge comes up incredibly short. How short? Well, would you be disappointed to learn if I told you that on its easiest skill level, Under the Skin could be finished in little under an hour. That's all, there's no more to see, it's time to go home! In Capcom's defence however the higher difficulty settings do offer a far greater challenge, but the price paid for such longevity may very easily put some players off the game altogether. With Under the Skin already being a fast and frantic exercise in insanity, the higher skill levels up the ante to such a point that there are times when it all becomes too difficult to keep up. Sure the increased pace may extend the amount of time that Panic Maker spends loaded in your Playstation2, but in doing so it also looses out in the controlled chaos department. And that's unfortunately quite essential to the game's overall flow. Still, in the end a shortened challenge may have indeed been a good thing. For as entertaining as it is, I have a sneaking suspicion that the action could have become quite repetitive over an extended period of time. Smart game design or simple laziness? It's simply a matter of opinion...

While you find yourself contemplating the ups and downs of life as an intergalactic terrorist, be sure to cast a critical eye over Under the Skin's superb map design. Never too large nor too small, each of the 8 stages on offer has a look and feel that wouldn't have been out of place in some of today's best first person shooters. With central arenas connected by branching corridors or over hanging platforms, Under the Skin's level design is sure to evoke only the fondest of multiplayer memories. Yes, I was quite surprised too! Rather than letting such elegant beauty go to waste, Capcom have thoughtfully seen fit to provide players with a handful of multiplayer options that help to make up for the otherwise limited single player experience. Even still however, I've been left to wonder why the original panic spreading theme hasn't been put to better use. Versus and tag team won't set the world on fire, but the laughs do come thick and fast as some particularly nasty itazure combos are put to good effect. Go on, smack your opponent with an over sized hammer. Follow this up with a well placed bomb blast and then send them running home to mommy as a pack of rabid dogs go to work on their knees. And all you need to do is provide the competition! How easy is that?

Finally as if to prove that terrorism isn't all bad beards and vacant stares, Capcom have coated Under the Skin with a bright child friendly cel shaded exterior that literally drips love. Had love been a redefined as an eye pleasing Playstation2 game that is. The cartoon-esque animations are surprisingly smooth even through the most intense of attacks while the character designs manage to sit comfortably somewhere between stereo-typed blandness and humor soaked originality. To be sure, it's a dangerous line that Capcom have straddled, but in Under the Skin's case the risk has paid off in full. Hunchbacked drifters, momo wearing grandmothers and the obligatory hordes of Japanese high school girls all vy for attention as players are reminded of the jam packed streets of Jet Set Radio's Tokyo-to. Rarely has a single environment seemed so alive! Though some may argue that they're quite generic in theme, Under the Skin's backgrounds look great and go a long way in setting the mood for the cartoon style chaos that is to follow. And the inclusion of a Biohazard stage was a nice touch as well. Made all the more memorable by the way the level is introduced... BIOOOOOLANNNDD.... it's so very Capcom. Kudos on the sweet tip of the hat! Now step back for a moment as we light a fire in the pants of any nearby survival horror fanboy.

Attitude, spunk, terror and mischief... all perfectly capped off with the brilliantly appropriate theme song, ''Little Green Bag'' by the George Baker Selection. Don't know it? Well then, think back to the theme song from Quentin Tarantino's seminal mobster master piece Reservoir Dogs and you'll start to understand some of the tongue in cheek attitude that Capcom's Under the Skin has employed. It may be violent and perhaps it's more than a little politically incorrect, but then again the terror/panic motif is quite kiddy safe and as such only the most sensitive of social groups are likely to object. Yeah, you know they will anyway! Ultimately however, Under the Skin is a fun game that could have used a little more meat on its bones. While the original gameplay concepts are sound, the game's all too brief life span drops the ball in a way that only a full priced title can. For here is a game where the laughs are likely to last a single weekend before being forgotten about and returned to the shelf never to be seen again. If you're ok with this then by all means, check it out. Under the Skin is a great niche title that deserves to be explored in full by players searching out something a little different. Those of us on a budget however may want to look elsewhere for their human persecuting thrills...

Pros
----
* Highly original gameplay that's laugh out loud funny
* The action's fast and frantic with just the right portions of cruelty
* There's a wide range of itazure items available for use and abuse
* Excellent map design has been put to good use
* Under the Skin's bright and vivid cel shaded graphics really catch the eye
* 2 multiplayer modes extend the gameplay experience
* The character designs are memorable
* BBIIIOOOLLLAAANNNDDD..... great cameo appearances by Jill Valentine, Carlos and the Nemesis!
* As always, ''Little Green Bag'' makes for one killer theme song

Cons
----
* With only 8 stages, Under the Skin could easily be finished in one all too brief session
* Extended play may prove repetitive
* The higher difficulty levels result in the gameplay becoming too chaotic at times
* A little more thought could have been put into crafting the game's multiplayer aspect

Rating: 7.0/10

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Community review by midwinter (August 22, 2004)

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