"To win the game, you must progress through twelve levels. Each is sandwiched between brief but amusing cutscenes featuring voices provided by the people responsible for the TV series. The cinema sequences set things up nicely as the trio of heroes advances from one stage to the next, but don't really hide the fact that the fun diminishes significantly once you actually start playing. That's because with the exception of a tutorial and three racing events, every stage unfolds the same way."
Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Zombie Ninja Pro-Am, the first and perhaps the final PlayStation 2 game to feature the talking milkshake, box of fries and slab of meat from the Cartoon Network lineup, is proof that clever concepts and faithfulness to source material don't always lead to great games. The title takes a potentially exciting idea--a bizarre combination of racing, action and golfing--and blends it seamlessly with the humor fans expect from the show. It's a nice attempt to produce something special, just not a particularly successful one.
The game's overarching story unfolds like an extended episode of the show. Frylock has gained entry to a prestigious golfing establishment and now Master Shake and Meatwad are joining him on the green to cause trouble. In the process, they'll venture into the depths of hell, roam the surface of the moon and even journey to a dimension where the landscape is comprised of massive candy bars. Most of it doesn't make sense and is just barely coherent, but that's fine. We're talking about Aqua Teen Hunger Force, not Zelda.
To win the game, you must progress through twelve levels. Each is sandwiched between brief but amusing cutscenes featuring voices provided by the people responsible for the TV series. The cinema sequences set things up nicely as the trio of heroes advances from one stage to the next, but don't really hide the fact that the fun diminishes significantly once you actually start playing. That's because with the exception of a tutorial and three racing events, every stage unfolds the same way. You start at the tee and you try to sink a ball in the hole at the opposite end of the course using the lowest possible number of strokes. It's standard golf with a twist: you'll have to fight enemies as you chase your ball along the course. That might not seem bad, but a lack of variety kills it.
For starters, Master Shake and Frylock are the only characters you'll control directly (with Meatwad reduced to the role of distraction). They follow one another throughout the course and share the same life meter, plus you can switch between them instantly if you need to switch from melee moves to projectile attacks and vice-versa. Neither one moves quickly enough. Environments are fairly large and for the most part detailed nicely, but you'll tire of them early on because of your snail's pace and the redundant enemies. They're interesting at first, but then they're just annoying. You know there's a problem when you reach the final level and you're still facing the same crabs and mobile brownies that you've battled since the earliest stages.
Items break up the monotony to a point. Since combat occurs regularly, you'll need to grab restorative items and special weapons along the way. After all, there's nothing more effective than sawing your way through a forest of angry trees with a chainsaw. If you rely on just your default weapons, you'll either fall in battle a few times or find yourself constantly dashing for the next bag of healing enchiladitos. Special weapons function on a time limit and could have provided some much-needed tension, but they're so plentiful that often you have to decide which option of several you want to use the most.
Boss battles are another wasted opportunity. They consist of popular fixtures from the cartoon show, but they're too easy and the strategy is always the same: dodge attacks until you see an opening, then drift in and use whatever special weapon happens to be littered throughout the area.
Not every stage ends with such an encounter. In some cases, you'll have to face moving barriers that block your putts. In another situation, you'll be zapped to the back end of a maze and then must zig-zag your way through it before you can fight a boss. Along the way, you'll battle a bunch of the same enemies, spawned at nearly every corner for your amusement. Like everything else, it takes too long.
That's especially true of the three racing events. At various points throughout the game, a duo of aliens will challenge you to a race to pass through beacons that line three laps around the course. Unfortunately, your cart moves at a crawl. Reaching the end could literally take you five minutes. Control is horrible, too. The vehicle sometimes gets caught in a loop that forces you to let up on the accelerator and hope you pull through the disaster without losing too many seconds to your competitor. Sometimes you might even run into a wall or something and find that the game has frozen, a particularly irritating experience if you were otherwise about to win. Missiles deposited along each course add to the excitement, but you'll probably take the lead early on and not need them after that. You'll just keep driving and hope you don't hit a ramp wrong four minutes into the race.
If in spite of its quirks you find yourself enjoying the game, you'll probably be dismayed by its brevity. There's a multi-player mode and a sandwich fight mode to unlock if you're interested, but those are brief attractions at best. At least you can snag cameo clips from the cartoon, along with four episodes. Three of them are fan favorites, while the fourth is all-new. It's mostly filler, though, since Master Shake and Frylock don't even make a proper appearance.
Like that bonus episode, Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Zombie Ninja Pro-Am is a disappointment because of the potential it squandered. The game took a popular license, stayed true to its source material and combined that with some great design ideas. At the end of the day, though, it fell victim to the same pitfalls that have ruined hundreds of its predecessors. Tedious gameplay, glitches and a lack of variety can take their toll on any project, even when the setting is a golf course from hell and the heroes are a milkshake, fries and a hunk of meat. The project really could have used some more time in the cooker to fully realize its concept, perhaps in the form of more courses, weapons and enemies. In the future, someone may very well produce a title that nails both the cartoon's personality and the play mechanics inherent to fine interactive entertainment, but this isn't that day. Consider this game a broodwich.
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 15, 2007)
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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