Inside Pulse 12

Review: Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys (Nintendo DS)

teenagezombiescoverTeenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys
Genre: Puzzle/Platformer
Developer: Inlight Entertainment
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Release Date: April 15, 2008

It’s been a long time since I played Lost Vikings, but it was good enough that I still remember it to this day; so much so that when I heard about Teenage Zombies, I instantly made a connection between the two in my head. Here we have 2d platformers with three playable characters; each with strengths and weaknesses that allow them to go places and perform actions that the others can’t. Using these characters, you had to make your way through fun environmental puzzles and fight off enemies. If that doesn’t sound like a good time, then you’ve been playing far too much Halo.

Of course, now that Teenage Zombies has been released, and I’ve had my chance to play through it, I can tell you that it is not an exact copy of Lost Vikings. It has its own unique premise and gameplay styles. Just how good is the game? Let us take a look.

Story

Teenage Zombies goes for two kinds of aesthetics at once. From the beginning cinematic, it becomes clear the game is going for a pulp fiction horror feel. The main menu even has a feaux comic’s code authority seal of approval. This continues on throughout the game as all story sequences are told through comic book like storyboards that require you to hold the DS on its side while you read them. The game also sports a Saturday morning cartoon presence, as despite the sheet gruesome nature of the subject matter, the whole thing plays off in fun and light hearted matter. People even die only after spouting off one last comical line.

The story itself goes as such; Earth has been invaded by aliens! (You might have guessed that from the title of the game.) Using mind control devices and laser beams, these glass encased extraterrestrial brains have either enslaved or killed the entire world! Earth is just about to become the latest in the Big Brain’s snow globe collection of conquered planets, when his number 1 informs him that their forces are under attack by three beings that are impervious to all conventional forms of destruction. These would of course be the teenage zombies; Fins, Lefty, and Half-Pipe. All three have risen from the dead thanks to the smell of countless alien brains circling up above. One by one they start a warpath of destruction and gluttony, all in hopes of eventually getting to the largest entree of all…..the Big Brain himself!
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The whole thing ends up being as funny as it sounds from scenes where Big Brain exclaims his horror after seeing Grand General Blinky devoured to trying to convince his mother that global domination is indeed a real job. All of the story sequences really involve him and Number 1, his miniscule yes man. Being zombies, the teens only mutter the word “brains”. That’s the extent of their vocabulary. Still, the solid comedic presence of the brains manages to keep the story light and fun, if nothing deep. Don’t expect any character development here.

Graphics

This game isn’t going to blow you away in visuals department. Most of the animations in this game could use some serious overhauling. Lefty, for example, feels like she’s only got two different frames when you play as her. She moves awkwardly, even for a zombie. When you turn, it just feels like the sprite has been flipped, and there’s no sense of any real change. Characters in the game tend to have a flat appearance compared to the rest of the environment, which considering the comic book like feel, is kind of weird. You’d expect some consistency there.

On the flip side, the artistic style is pretty damn good. The environments in the game are nicely varied and often feature a good amount of detail. There are plenty of nice touches all around, such as Fins’ body seeming lax, while his fins are active. One of Lefty’s feet is even inverted!

There’s nothing spectacular here, but it does what it needs to.

Audio
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Like a lot of DS games, the audio can sound a bit tinny at times, but that’s the only bad thing I can say here. The music is well suited and dynamic. It’s perfect for what’s going on at all times. It would have been easy to just slap on a horresque theme to the proceedings and call it a day, but the dev team didn’t take that shortcut here. The music manages to convey a Halloween-like tone that helps keep things both dark and light at the same time. (Think “Monster Mash”) It may not be anything special on its own, but it fits the game like a glove. And that’s all that really matters.

There are only a few cases of voice acting in the game, but they’re surprisingly good. Again, there’s the tinny factor, but the voice acting for both the Big Brain and Number 1 are amusing. They certainly fit the cartoon vibe.

Sound effects are a bit weak. Killing aliens generally results in a generic crash sound when the glass shatters, and slurping brains sounds too much like yogurt for comfort. They may not have phoned in the music, but the sound effects just might have been.

Gameplay

Here’s a basic rundown of the controls. You have an attack button, a jump button (Lefty and Fins have the same layout here, but Half Pipe has these buttons flipped for some reason.) Y will activate your various powerups and x will activate elevator switches. You’ll be able to switch between the three zombies on the fly by tapping the r and l buttons, or by using the stylus to select each character. I’d recommend using the shoulder buttons, as they make control the game much more streamlined, and any one zombie is only one button press away. (You will have to use the stylus to activate the corpse assembling minigame though. It’s the only basic mechanic that requires this, which is pretty strange.)

The controls feel pretty sluggish to be honest. (They are zombies. It might have been on purpose) You’ll plod along while enemy brains will fly around you and zap your health away. Jumping in particular, is handled pretty poorly. Lefty has the ability to grab on to ledges, but three are some serious hit detection issues here, as you’ll often find yourself failing to grab onto the ledge, despite being able to see that you’ve touched it. This can cause you to get hit more times than you’d like. Once you’ve defeated a brain though, you’ll be able to eat it and regain a substantial amount of health, so the small advantage they have over you is quickly lost.

Teenage Zombies may look like an action game at first, what with its wealth of enemies and combat, but it’s actually a puzzle game at heart. You’ll spend most of your time in the game exploring the levels and figuring out what powers/characters you’ll need to advance. Each character has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. Fins is slow and can’t jump, but he is able to climb walls and has the most useful attack. Lefty has no range with her attacks, but can jump really high and grab on to ledges. Finally, Half Pipe can crawl into tight spaces and jump off ramps due to his lower torso being replaced by a skateboard.
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You’ll be constantly switching between the three characters to advance. In addition to the abilities I listed above, each character will be able to hold one powerup at a time. Collecting these and using them at the right moment is paramount to your success. You’ll be able to switch characters on the fly, meaning you’ll never have to worry about one character getting stuck behind. Of course, this is balanced by having one shared health meter for all three zombies, so you won’t be able to just switch out when health runs low.

There are occasional stylus mini games that pop up from time to time, such as a Robotron-like zombie shooter and anther where you need to slingshot brains into Fin’s gaping mouth. These are all nice distractions when they pop up at random during the levels. You’re forced to play them once, and then you can play them whenever you want to get more points, which are only used for unlocking a Warioware clone of sorts where you face off against Big Brain in a series of quick minigames. There is also a minigame that actually affects the main game itself. Throughout levels you’ll find various body parts. When you have all the limbs and the torso, you’ll be able to assemble them to create a whole corpse, and he’ll reward you by refilling your health meter.

Replayability
Teenage Zombies is not a long game. There are about 35 “chapters” to play through which only take a few minutes or more to complete each. Count the times when you end up stuck or dead, and you’re still looking at a five to six hour playing experience.

Once you’ve finished the story, you’ll have the option of completing it again on hard mode, or playing the stylus mini games again. These are amusing, but none of them are good enough to keep you entertained for more than a few minutes. You might feel like playing through again to earn enough points to unlock the hardest Big Brain challenge, but more likely than not this will be a one and done game for most people.

Balance

Balance is a fairly solid strength for the game. Throughout your journey to the Big Brain, you’ll slowly be introduced to new enemies and powerups until you get near the end, where the game will challenge you to combine various powerups and skills to progress, as well as enemies to conquer.
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That being said, the game never gets too frustrating or difficult. You have unlimited lives from the outset, and you’ll respawn only a few minutes behind. The only real penalty you’ll suffer is a loss of a barely noticeable amount of points, which again, only unlock a minigame for you to play. No big loss. You won’t find yourself punching the wall or throwing your shoe at the dog over this game.

Originality

While I was able to compare this game to Lost Vikings at a glance, it doesn’t mean the game is a clone by any means. Its not often you find a game like this on the market. Most 2D platformers are either action or exploration based. It isn’t too common that you find one in the puzzle genre. Still, it must be said that the core gameplay isn’t particularly new.

What is new, at least as far as I know, is the subject matter. I can’t think of too many games that have you playing as a zombie, let alone having the zombie be the “good” guy. It takes a pretty special game with a unique premise to pull that off, and Teenage Zombies most assuredly has that.

So while there are games like Patapon or Echo Chrome out there for people who’re looking for truly original games, Teenage Zombies is definitely not too familiar.

Addictiveness

I’ll be honest, as fun as the game can be, I didn’t find myself too addicted to it. In fact, the gameplay can feel a bit monotonous after a while, so it’s best to take short breaks in-between sessions.

There really isn’t too much variety to be had, and since the zombies move so slowly, there’s a chance of you ending up bored, although it’s not prevalent. This is not one of those games where you’ll be shouting “one more level” when someone asks you to take out the trash.

Appeal Factor
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This isn’t a game for everyone, but anyone should be able to enjoy it, at least for a little while. It harkens back to the days on the SNES and Genesis with its 2d graphics and gameplay. Old school gamers should definitely give it a try (although they’ll probably want to put it on hard mode for nostalgia purposes), while newer gamers who haven’t experienced this kind of game will be sucked in by the funny story, and charming atmosphere. Seriously, who doesn’t like games with zombies AND aliens?

Miscellaneous

There are some nice touches in this game worth mentioning.

For one, to keep up with the comic book feel, you’ll often come across narrator boxes in the middle of a level. These will offer up some hint like “press b twice to double jump” or “Half-Pipe’s big wheel powerup can go across electrified floors”. This is cool to begin with, but they are actually part of the level design and can be used as platforms! That is just cool.

The game also has an ending that leaves it wide open for a sequel, and believe me when I say the premise of that sequel is well worth exploring. I look forward to any future games that come out under the Teenage Zombie name, and I’ll go on record saying that I’d throw down my hard earned dollars to play some more of this.

    The Scores

Story: GOOD
Graphics: DECENT
Sound: GOOD
Control and Gameplay: VERY GOOD
Replayability: BAD
Balance: VERY GOOD
Originality: GOOD
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal Factor: ENJOYABLE
Miscellaneous: AVOVE AVERAGE
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME!

    Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjack Teenage Zombies isn’t a game that is going to blow you away, but it can be some solid fun until it last. You won’t find too many games like this out there, so those with a DS and a penchant puzzles and/or platformers should feel more than welcome to give it a shot. It’s got some good gameplay, a fun story and great music. All in all it’s a pretty damn good game.

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