30 Days of Dreamcast – Day 14: The Typing of the Dead

totdcoverThe Typing of the Dead
Developer: Smilebit
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Typing
Release Date: 01/23/2001

You just knew we weren’t going to do a feature on the Dreamcast without bringing up Typing of the Dead. We’re talking about one of the weirdest games to ever be released on any console. Who would think to take a light gun game and turn it into a typing one?

More to the point, this game sets out to do more than simply let you kill zombies with nifty typed phrases. It actually encourages you to improve your typing skills. Whether you’ve somehow never learned to type properly or were just never that good at it, a fun way to increase those skills is not something you should turn down.

So, just how good is this game? Let’s find out.

Modes

Most of the modes in TotD are equivalent to those in HotD 2, but with some changes. Most of the changes are actually great improvements on the system.

For one, Arcade Mode and Original Mode both let you play the main game with varying rules. Original Mode allows you to earn and store bonuses that can be activated using the function keys. These range from weakening the zombies to allowing you to type whatever you want instead of the word on the screen. You can just tap keys at random and kill zombies. These are also occasionally found in Arcade Mode, but you won’t be able to store them for later use. Also, Original Mode will award you coins for completing certain objectives in the level. Most of these are in regards to speed and accuracy. Collecting coins will unlock bonus options to tailor the game to your liking, much like in the first game.

Both modes change up how you get into the game. Instead of forcing you to start at the beginning and work your way forward, you’re allowed to chose any of the first five chapters from the start, with only the final chapter need to be unlocked. Once you’ve beaten a level, you can play any level higher than the one you’ve beaten. You’ll have to beat level five to play level six, however. This means you can jump practically any where you want. This is stellar. I never have to see that first level again!

There are two modes dedicated to teaching and improving your typing skills. You have Training Mode and Drill Mode. Training Mode is like most typing programs you might have used in school. It gives you a layout of the keyboard and tasks you with hitting the keys as fast as possible. It’ll start with the home keys and then slowly move towards the rest of the keyboard. When you’ve finished an exercise, depending on fast you accomplished it, the game might give you a supplemental test. These will focus on your worst keys and the game will drill you until its satisfied. Each lesson ends with you blasting zombies in various conditions. Drill Mode tasks you with completing various objectives focused on increasing your accuracy, speed, and ability to master special keys. You’ll have multiple drills for each. Most boil down to shooting down zombies or barrels. After each drill, you’ll have the option of playing it again to practice your worse keys without keeping score.

Finally, Boss Mode returns this time around as well. You’ll be able to select any boss you’ve beaten in the main modes and go toe to toe with them in the hopes of getting the best time.

totd1As both a game and a typing instructor, these modes do a fantastic job. I found myself balancing my time between having fun with the main game and improving my skills in the various training modes. I even had the occasional fling with a boss in order to get down their trick a bit better. This is the most complete typing game I’ve ever seen and also one of the most complete shooting games.

Oh yeah. The story’s the same as the last game, but now everyone is using keyboards instead of gun. It makes the whole thing that much more hilarious while you’re playing it. I’ll write more about that in a bit.

Graphics

Looking back, I was probably a bit too harsh on the graphics of HotD 2. However, what I said there goes for TotD as well. The problem is that these graphics are exactly the same and are two years further into the life of the Dreamcast. For a non-launch game to have launch game graphics is a bit sad, and even lazy.

Basically, I love the character models for the zombies and how the blow apart as you type. The rest of the game just doesn’t impress me. The animations for the humans is suspect, and the backgrounds are well detailed but a bit too fuzzy for my tastes. It’s below what the Dreamcast is capable of.

There are some nice touches that save the game though. Rather than carry guns, the AMS agents all wield keyboards identical to the one you play with, as well as Dreamcast’s hooked up on their backs. This is no end of amusing any time you see it. One of the best scenes in the game is your character asking a civilian to stand back as he blasts away a lock on a door by tapping a key on the keyboard and having bullets fly out.

Audio

For most of this section, I’m just going to use a bit from my HotD review. New stuff will not be in italics.

This game is LEGENDARY for its voice acting, and not in a good way. The voice acting is some of the worst ever recorded in the history of mankind. The main characters are so bad that you’ll pray for their death so you never have to hear them again. The first boss manages to say simple statements so they sound like questions. It’s all kind of bad. However….

The sheer epic badness that is the voice acting takes it whole new levels of “so bad it’s good” territory. Even if the script had been read by the best in the business, it wouldn’t have mattered. Its just too simple. Thanks to what we got, you can’t play this game without laughing at the sheer hilarity of it all. It makes the game markedly more fun when you play it, so even though the quality is bad, the experience is good.

The music in the game hardly gets noticed over the screams, moans, and gunfire, but when you do get to listen to it it fits the bill pretty well. Of particular note is the tune that plays when you get a game over. Its a little jazzy piece that conveys your failing in just the right tone for the B movie type atmosphere.

The sound effects are where the changes are. Because you’re using a keyboard as a weapon, you don’t have to worry about reloading. Instead, you type. Let me tell you, the rapid fire gunshots ringing home as you click at the keys is something that is simply amazing. It really gets you into the game in a way you wouldn’t otherwise feel. Trust me, when you’re playing, the sound is infectious.

With the improved sound effects, the audio here is superior to HotD 2. It still contains that laughable dialogue and cheesy music and that’s fine. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Gameplay

totd2Despite being a typing game, TotD retains the core gameplay from HotD2. What that means is that this game is on rails and you’ll need to take out zombies as they jump out at you on the screen. In front of each zombie is a box that contains a word or phrase that you’ll need to type. As you correctly hit keys, the zombie will be riddled with bullets and slowed down. Once you’ve finished what you need to type, the zombie will go down and you can move onto the next one. You target zombies by pressing the first letter that appears in the box. After that, you need to continue typing that target, or press the escape key to switch. If you do that, however, the words you’ve already typed will no longer count. There are times when this is necessary, as there are zombies that will throw projectiles at you. These often only require a single letter or two.

What makes this whole thing great is the words and/or phrase you end up typing. These are often comical because what you’re typing is absurd given that you’re trying to kill zombies. When a snarling undead minion is racing towards you with an axe, the last thing you’d expect to be popping up in front of him is, “Let’s play house!” or, “Live long and prosper.” What’s even better are the weird things you’ll type after you’ve screwed up. I’ve gotten, “You suck!” and, “Rather poor.” It’s rare for a game to make fun of your lack of skills. Its all kinds of awesome.

During levels, there are other things besides basic zombie killing to get you by. There are barrels and crates to blast away. They only show up for a second, so you need lightning quick reflexes. There are also sections where you’ll be tasked with specific challenges. You’ll need to kill a certain number of zombies in a time limit or complete the trial without taking a shot. Doing either of these will reward you with special items.

Bosses are some of the best things about the game. They all require you use a different strategy. For one boss, you can only type when his weak spot is open. Especially fast typists might have trouble here as they’ll continue moving on after the weak spot has closed. There’s another boss where a question will pop up, and the only thing you should type is the answer, even when there are multiple things to type. These fights are really cool.

Typing with accuracy builds up a combo meter. The higher the chain, the more points you’re given. Points are then used to fill a special meter. Once full, it will reward you with an extra life. Basically, if you can beat a ton of zombies without missing a stroke, you’ll be swimming in extra lives before you know it.

Overall, this is a ton of fun to play. You wouldn’t think that typing would be that great of a game mechanic, but here, the accuracy and reflexes needed to kill the zombies without taking hits makes this an absolute blast. The only other typing game I’ve even had half as much fun playing was Typer Shark.

Replayability

You might be surprised to find out that this game features a multiplayer element as well. Two players can hook up keyboards at start clacking away at zombies together. You can’t hit the same zombie at the same time, so there is a good bit of a competitive edge to co-op as you’ll want to take down the zombies to rack up your score.

totd3Speaking of which, just about every mode has a ranking system. Depending on your you speed and accuracy, you’ll get different ranks for hitting zombies. These add up to cumulative points at the end of each level. The game keeps track of the top scores and names. For a mode like Boss Mode, which is really short and satisfying, these scores are that much more fun to try and beat.

This is the kind of game you can play a little bit every once in a while indefinitely for fun or simply to work on your typing skills. With multiple difficulties and options, expert typists can have just as much fun as people who are just learning the basics.

I say hook up a Dreamcast and a copy of this game in every school across the country. Sure would have made Typing class that much better.

Balance

One thing I like about the game is the excellent sense of progression it has. In the early stages of the game, the words are short and the zombies are quick to go down. As you progress, one word will become two, two will become four, and all kinds of punctuation and special keys will be sprinkled in until your typing skill is really put to the test.

Since the game has such as strong focus on improving your typing skill, that kind of balance is nice. If the game was hard from the outset, it could frustrate some would be players. Instead, the game is accessible and challenging at the same time.

For an experienced typist, the best thing to do is to bump up the difficulty soon after starting out so that it can really test your abilities. Playing on normal difficulty, I found the early levels unbelievably easy and wouldn’t even take a hit on some of them. To be fair, I’m not even that great of a typist. I suck at the special keys and have the tendency to get ahead of myself, causing all kinds of spelling and grammar errors. (You should see one of my reviews BEFORE I run it through spell check.)

Even still, with multiple difficulties, differing numbers of live and continues, and a great difficulty curve, this game never feels cheap and rarely feels too easy. I find that to be just right.

Originality

When The Typing of the Dead first hit the arcades, there was nothing like it. Coming across a cabinet with two keyboards was quite the sight, and even playing it on the Dreamcast illicited surprised looks from anyone who saw the keyboard sitting in front of my TV. While there have been typing games and software practically since there were computers, there aren’t any like this.

Even today, eight years later, you don’t really find that many typing games. English of the Dead came out in May of 2008 over in Japan, but that doesn’t sound likely to make it over to the states. That just goes to show you how rare something like this is.

As far as being a simultaneous rail shooter of sorts, TotD doesn’t add much to that genre, but the mission mini games in the middle of levels isn’t something I’ve seen elsewhere.

When all is said and done, this is still an incredibly unique game that you won’t find most anywhere else.

Addictiveness

I mentioned earlier about the satisfying rapid fire gunshots. You wouldn’t believe how much they cause you to get addicted to the game. The gameplay by itself is as satisfying as any other typing game on the market, but for some reason that sound is so satisfying that you want to continue on. When you’re blasting away with full length sentences, you’ll see what I mean.

The gameplay sessions are still pretty short. Much like HotD 2, you won’t often find yourself playing for more than half an hour to an hour at a time. While there’s plenty of content, a lot of it is centered in replaying sections to beat high scores or improve your skill. Thus, the game pretty much demands that you play it in short bursts.

Still, I had a lot of trouble putting this game down for longer than a day or two before I had to play it.

Appeal Factor

This is the kind of game that a lot of people think is stupid based on the name and concept alone. However, there hasn’t been one case I’ve seen where one of those people sat down and actually played the game and didn’t get hooked. The game is fun.

totd5Part of this had to do with the fact that typing is a skill almost all of us posses at this point. You almost can’t go through school without taking some sort of typing class. Unlike a lot of games, anyone can jump right in and do well. I’ve seen countless a casual gamer get lost in some of the more complex games out there. This game keeps it simple and thus accessible.

All of that adds up to a game with a far broader appeal than most games out there.

Miscellaneous

I don’t know how many more good things I can say about this game. Its fun, funny, and can help your improve and important life skill. There are very few game that can claim that.

I’ve played quite a few typing games in my life. Before I played this, Typer Shark was easily my favorite. I used to spend hours playing the trial version on Yahoo when I was learning the ins and outs of the keyboard. Had I known at the time that there was something like this out there, I would have found a way to grab it in a heartbeat.

If you’ve got a Dreamcast lying around, you should probably find a copy of this game and a DC keyboard. Its just worth it.

The Scores

Modes: Great
Graphics: Poor
Audio: Great
Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Great
Balance: Very Good
Originality: Classic
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Very Good
Final Score: Very Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjackWhat it all boils down to is that The Typing of the Dead is the cream of the crop among typing games. Despite being eight years old, it still holds up thanks to timeless gameplay and the ability to improve an important life skill. From where I’m standing, this is one of the true classics on the Sega Dreamcast and one that should be in every collector’s collection.

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