"These monsters are planted in specific locations, and your zombies' only defense against them is based on their current ailments. Lefty uses her right arm to whack enemies senseless. Fins uses his tentacles (Or are they fins? They look like tentacles...) to simultaneously strike enemies in three directions. Zack, the young skateboarding star without legs, is able to stretch his body like Dhalsim from Street Fighter II and attack with his board."
Finnigan "Fins" Magee was born a normal man. He spent his youth in the water, dedicating his time to a local swim team. Though he longer walks the earth as a living man, he does walk the earth – albeit with tentacles sticking out of his back.
As a basketball star, Lori "Lefty" Lopez was unstoppable. Likewise, Zack "Half-Pipe" Boyd was once a master of skill and finesse with his skateboard. But it's not easy to stay in shape when living six feet underground. Lori had to say goodbye to her left arm, which was apparently lost when her corpse began to rot. Zack's fate was even less pleasant, as he is now forced to exist without the lower half of his body.
Had it not been for an unexpected alien invasion, these three souls would have rested in peace forever. Hence the formation of Teenage Zombies: three heroic undead warriors with a grudge against dying. Because you have to wonder – if you're already dead the next time you're killed, what will happen? Can you be dead twice?
That and other questions lurk within the depths of Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys, a Nintendo DS action/puzzle game. Built around the complexity of three playable characters (the aforementioned undead citizens), Teenage Zombies unfolds with a comic book presentation. The main menu is shaped like a comic book cover, stretching across both game screens. Still graphics, overacted voice-overs and big, bold text messages are used to further convey the feeling that you are reading a comic. Most of them fall somewhere between entertaining and laughable. The jokes are great when they're intentional, not-so-great otherwise. Among these scenes, the intro is by far the most important because it sets the tone for the game. Thankfully, it is also the best of the bunch. There's a quirky, over-the-top element applied, and with decent-quality voice-overs used for the intro, the game is that much more immersive.
Of course, this isn't an RPG. You won't spend the game leveling up a party of swordsmen and spellcasters while battling monsters that are delivered at random. These monsters are planted in specific locations, and your zombies' only defense against them is based on their current ailments. Lefty uses her right arm to whack enemies senseless. Fins uses his tentacles (Or are they fins? They look like tentacles...) to simultaneously strike enemies in three directions. Zack, the young skateboarding star without legs, is able to stretch his body like Dhalsim from Street Fighter II and attack with his board.
Visually, the zombies’ attacks look decent. Their graphical appeal isn’t mammoth; the number of frames of animation is rather low. That’s not an enormous issue considering the life zombies lead – as a member of the undead, you’d think mall walkers and Rascal Scooters are lightning quick.
In keeping with that trend, the game not only looks but also feels very slow. Character movement is above a snail’s pace, but not by much. Enemies are highly repetitive – their brain-in-a-bubble aesthetics repeat themselves more times than anyone can count. But as a brawler, Teenage Zombies nearly succeeds in these areas. It’s slower than it should be, a flaw that’s bound to be a deal-breaker for some players. But this is a zombie game. Speed is not one of the things that should be expected.
What doesn’t work – and could be a deal-breaker for many players – is the puzzle-based level design. Rather than piece together another beat-‘em-up that challenges the laws of allowable redundancy, the developers surrounded Teenage Zombies’ beat-‘em-up combat with levels that were designed to make you think. Conceptually, this idea is great. But as anyone who’s ever been overlooked on a holiday (and gifted after the fact) can tell you, it isn’t always the thought that counts.
Each level is multi-tiered with obstacles and instant-death onslaughts. Progress will be held up by special wall, floor, and ceiling pieces. Puzzles are formed by the way these obstacles need to be removed. Fins can swallow an Acid Puke power-up that enables him to hurl a barrier-diminishing fluid. If the barrier is on a lower part of the level, Fins will need to stand above it while vomiting or the deadly substance won’t reach his intended target. This is frustrating because there’s no indication of where to go next – all you know is that you can’t proceed from the current location.
When looking for another route, there are only a handful of other puzzle/barrier types you’ll have to break through to reach the area above. This may involve the use of Lefty’s grip technique that allows her to stretch her arm to reach platforms that are too high for the others to grab. If no platforms are available, Zack may need to acquire the hover board power-up, which gives him the ability to fly up in a straight path. It looks cool, but brace yourself for incoming frustration. The only way he can move left or right is by flying his body into a slanted ceiling, creating another path for confusion.
And if none of these obstacles appear, you may encounter an electric floor (use Zack’s monster wheel power-up to bypass), a thunderstorm of undead objects (use Lefty’s umbrella arm power-up for protection), a cluster of enemies with itchy trigger fingers (kill their big-brain leader before proceeding) or some other odd, inventive, confusing, and/or ridiculous “puzzle.” Each of these puzzle types must be solved frequently. Expect the levels to become more confusing with each repeated appearance.
All told, Teenage Zombies is hurt by its own attempt at variety. Had the game been split in two, it would have been a decent brawler and a lousy puzzler. When brought together as one package, Teenage Zombies is irreparably damaged by seek-and-solve monotony.
Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (May 06, 2008)
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