Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys
About half an hour into Teenage Zombies, I realised that I was missing something vital. The game's disjointed nature (and its low production values), I realised, must be down to it being a tie-in with a cartoon series. It would all make so much more sense if the central characters were much-loved laugh-along pals for the 8-12 year old post-school TV brigade. So off I went to check my facts like a good little journalist, and along the way I discovered two pertinent things.
Firstly, there was indeed a movie called Teenage Zombies. It was made in 1959, is considered to be one of the top 50 worst films of all time, and has nothing to do with Teenage Zombies on the DS. It does, however, have a much better tagline; we'll take "Young Pawns Thrust into Pulsating Cages of Horror in a Sadistic Experiment!" over "Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys" any day.
Second, there is no cartoon, movie, book or artificial colouring-heavy snack for Teenage Zombies to tie in with. This is bad all on its own - a game that looks and feels like a cheap, rushed and exploitative TV tie-in without actually being one.
The basic idea is that Earth is being invaded in comedy fashion by floating alien brains in glass jars - so you play the planet's rescuing heroes, a troupe of zombies who rise from their graves at the prospect of so many tasty brains to munch. That's quite clever, in a way. Unfortunately, within seconds it's degenerated to the level of a really, really dull platform game, and it proceeds to wallow at that level the whole way through.
At the core of the game are your three protagonists, each of whom has different powers that you need in order to move through the levels. Lefty is tall, and can extend her arms to reach ledges the others can't. Half-Pipe has no legs and trundles around on a skateboard, so he can dive through low gaps and fling himself down inclines. Finally, Fins has odd tentacles on his back that allow him to scale vertical walls, and has the best combat abilities of the trio.
All the action happens on the top screen, with the zombies' coffins displayed on the lower screen. At any moment you can tap a coffin to swap to that zombie, so the whole game is essentially an exercise in identifying which ability you need, swapping to that zombie, and proceeding. There's remarkably little puzzle-solving, and on the occasions when you do need to find a power-up to get through an area, you'll generally find it right next to it. The plodding pace of the game also makes combat incredibly dull, as you might expect.
On the plus side, Teenage Zombies' presentation really isn't that bad. The whole thing is styled like a retro comic book, and there are some nice little flourishes like the appearance of tutorial text boxes that you can actually clamber over and interact with as though they were part of the environment. The cartoon artwork also includes enough squishy zombie gross-out moments to entertain younger players - but not for long, since even pre-teens are likely to have finished the game within a few short hours.