"Sometimes, the word will be simple, something like ‘Montana’ or even a simple phrase like ‘Adios’ or ‘Game Over.’ Other times, you’ll be asked to type something ridiculous. It’s funny that whoever put the game together thought to include words like ‘mullet’ and discussions about bed-wetting and sexuality."
The world is a dark and dangerous place. If you don’t carry your keyboard around with you, a wave of zombies will leave you lying on the ground, screaming as your body melts into an acidic pool of green slime. I’m joking, of course. None of that really will happen, not unless you live in the world of… The Typing of the Dead!
Imagine creepy organ music at this point, if you wish, then wonder how in the world this game even got made. A typing tutorial at its heart, The Typing of the Dead is one of the oddest Dreamcast titles ever brought to America. Your objective is literally to save the world from a madman known as Sir Goldman by typing.
To win the day, you’ll have to conquer a total of six missions. All but the final stage are unlocked right from the start, so you can begin your trek wherever you like. However, if you jump ahead to the later stage you won’t have the benefit of special items you can retrieve in the earlier ones. Though I never really found these additions to your inventory to be useful, there’s another reason to start at the basement and work upward: this game is tough!
Now, before you start with the “Poor Jason can’t type his way out of a paper sack” comments, you need to know that I do in fact type more than 90 words a minute on a regular basis. Despite that, The Typing of the Dead proved to be quite challenging. This was true for a number of reasons, the first of which is the sometimes cheap level design.
As you may have heard, the game was based on The House of the Dead 2, a zombie-infested game that players were meant to clear with light guns. The same art assets are mostly utilized here, which means you’ll be traveling through a city filled with rubbish-strewn alleys and empty stone highways set ablaze by an impending apocalypse. It’s the alleys that are of interest, as they exist for one reason: to startle you.
The game plays on rails, like you’re on a rollercoaster at a theme park. At any moment, a zombie might pop out of a door to your side, or some bats might swoop down from above just when you think you’re safe. Any time this happens, you have to react quickly or you’re toast. For the most part, the game tries to give you enough time to reasonably respond. But let’s suppose you drift around a corner. Your eyes are focused on the center of the screen when suddenly, something moves in from the side. You shift your gaze to meet the new arrival, then lower your eyes to see what word you must type in order to avoid taking a hit.
Sometimes, the word will be simple, something like ‘Montana’ or even a simple phrase like ‘Adios’ or ‘Game Over.’ Other times, you’ll be asked to type something ridiculous. It’s funny that whoever put the game together thought to include words like ‘mullet’ and discussions about bed-wetting and sexuality. Less amusing are instances where they take known phrases and add an unexpected twist that forces you not to read what you’re typing, but just to madly work your fingers so they match whatever’s on screen. Someone watching over your shoulder might chuckle as you mash the keyboard, trying to knock the flying ax out of the air before it strikes, but you are likely to feel quite frustrated by the whole ordeal.
Fortunately, you can adjust the difficulty level. However, doing so feels the slightest bit cheap. You’ll definitely want to beat the game on ‘Normal’ difficulty, not because the ending is any better (it’s not), but because failing to do so is like saying “Hey, I can’t type!”
However, the game doesn’t simply test typing speed and your ability to quickly spot approaching enemies; it also makes you think quickly. Imaginative boss encounters take that to a whole new level. Though you can defeat the first fiend simply by typing short sentences, later beasts will make you think on your feet. One example is a three-headed dragon. It asks a question, then you have to type the correct response from the three available choices. If you take too long, or if you type the wrong answer, you take a hit. The encounter is memorable, to say the least, though sometimes the questions are tricky enough that you won’t even settle on an answer before finding that you’ve taken damage.
Such tactics aren’t really fair. One minute the game rewards you if you aren’t reading what’s on the screen, then the you’re losing lives because you failed to do so! Fortunately, such encounters are the exception rather than the rule. For the most part, progression through the game is enjoyable. If somehow you don’t have fun and you start to think you’ll never see the closing credits, you can always choose the ‘Tutorial’ mode or play through the ‘Story’ mode, where good performance increases the number of continues available to you (it’s possible to get unlimited continues, if you’re good enough).
Some might argue that this option takes the challenge out of the game, but it doesn’t. You can always ramp up the difficulty, and you can always shoot for a better score. The game tracks your progress, grades you on certain skills and even includes an artificial ranking system where you can put in a memorable quote if you manage to beat pre-determined scores.
All in all, The Typing of the Dead presents a surprisingly enjoyable package. Sure, it’s just a typing tutorial. But if Mario and Mavis Beacon are allowed to teach us how to use our fingers with more dexterity, zombies should have the same privilege. If you own a Dreamcast and a keyboard, don’t hesitate to pick this one up at the earliest opportunity. It’s one-of-a-kind!
Staff review by Jason Venter (July 15, 2005)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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