Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys (Video Game)

Teenage Zombies Review (click for larger image)Reviewed by Mr. Dark

Developed and published by Ignition Entertainment

Platform: Nintendo DS

Some ideas are just good. Our own Mr. Butane likes to call them ‘fried gold’. Without even getting into the details of execution, these ideas work right out of the box.

Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys is one of those ideas. Let’s say Earth was invaded by super intelligent alien brain, well, thingys. Flying around, zapping some people and using mind control powers to manipulate the rest, generally causing mayhem. Who would be best suited to stop them? Who would be their natural enemy?

Zombies, of course.

Zombies eat brains, and don’t have minds to control, so all Earth needs are some zombies who are hungry and those alien brains are history. That’s what we get in TZ-IOTABT (the most ridiculous anagram ever, I’ll stick with TZ from here on out), tongue-in-cheek zombie brain eating action.

TZ is, at its heart, a puzzle game. You have three different teen zombies, each with a specific set of talents. One can climb up vertical walls and traverse ropes and other hanging lines. One has a very long left arm that can be used to climb up to ledges far higher than her pals can reach. The last is a legless skateboarder who can race down hills and jump much higher than the others. These abilities, tied with character-specific power-ups, make up the majority of the gameplay. Which ability do you use to get past an obstacle? What path do you need to take to get to the next level?

As it may sound, this isn’t a pure puzzler. It’s a platformer as well, and this is where the problems start. Most of the platforming is resolved via thinking as opposed to thumb twitches, but on occasion you find yourself trying to accomplish a difficult jump or race past a specific obstacle. It’s when the action becomes platform-heavy that the game begins to drag.

The problem is that the engine supports the puzzle aspect of play perfectly, but the platforming is sketchy. Collision detection is a problem. Sometimes you find yourself performing what looks like the same jump ten different times when finally you strike the lucky spot that registers your contact with the ledge. Also, the relatively low-res 2-D graphics can be confusing as to what is a ledge and what isn’t. The game’s sense of humor comes out by making certain text bubbles actually part of the architecture, but it’s unclear when this is the case, resulting in many missed jumps and the loss of much progress.

Text bubbles? Yes, the entire game is framed as if it were an old-fashioned EC-style comic book. This results in downright hilarious cutscenes between major chapters chronicling the measures taken by the master brain to defeat our mind munching heroes. It’s this structure and the cutscenes that give the game its value. You really feel like it’s worth going through another level to see what happens next.

The problem is that you will be going through another level in spirit…but damn if it doesn’t look like the last one, just longer. Repetition is a huge issue here. While it’s clear the developers attempted to differentiate each level by changing details in the environs, in the end a ferris wheel car is just another ledge to reach, just like any other flat surface in the level before or after. The levels get longer and more difficult, but that doesn’t mean they get more interesting.

Late in the game, the emphasis seemed to shift more towards platforming and away from puzzles, and that wasn’t a wise choice. In longer levels, missing one jump can result in five or ten minutes of re-work getting back to the same point and trying the jump again. A certain amount of that is expected in a platformer, but all too often the difference between a landed jump and a miss seems completely arbitrary due to the unpredictable collision detection.

One really odd thing to is that the game feels like a GBA title that was ported to the DS. You play the majority of the game without the stylus (you can use the stylus for some navigation, but it feels like it was tacked on, and the key-based controls work much better) and only some scattered stylus-centric mini-games require it. The mini-games range from amusing to dull, but there’s no drive to succeed so you aren’t forced to play them again and again.

The one really positive stylus-based play in the game is a boss battle with the master brain. Using ‘puzzles (he) solved as a baby’, you’re brought into a zombie-fied spoof of a Brain Age-style brain exercise program. The satire here is very amusing, and the puzzles are good for a few grins as well.

The overall mix of playstyles is to be applauded, and at the core this is a tricky, challenging thinking person’s platformer. The retro-horror theme is great, as well. It’s refreshing to see something very non-PC as the basis for this kind of game, where you’d usually expect some forest creature hyped up on meth rather than tentacled undead teenagers.

Unfortunately, the game’s flaws outweigh its genius, and I’m not able to give it the rave review I’d love to give. I can only hope that they sell enough to make a sequel, then can fix the design problems and make a more balanced, enjoyable game to go along with the edgy, dark humor. They certainly have the creative chops to do it, and know their horror, now they just need a better vehicle to show it off than TZ.

2 out of 5

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Mr. Dark

A man of mystery. An enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a low-carb whole grain tortilla. A guy who writes about spooky stuff.

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