Version tested: Xbox 360
There's a moment in the first Charlie's Angels film, that underrated and (literally and figuratively) flab-less movie, when Drew Barrymore tumbles semi-naked from the sky into a suburban garden. Two young teenage boys are sat playing Final Fantasy VIII in the front room inside. As they catch sight of her unexpected curves through the double-glazing, the pair pause the game and stare, mouths agog, as this fallen angel slinks off into the night and their forthcoming puberty-soaked dreams.
It's unusual that Hollywood would choose this videogame to illustrate the scene for two reasons. Firstly because, y'know, it's not actually a two-player game and secondly because, regardless of Final Fantasy VIII's merits, a JRPG is probably not representative of what the average non-game playing movie-goer imagines a typical videogame to look and play like.
Despite Wii Sports' educational stabs at the mainstream consciousness, videogames remain, in the minds of the uninitiated populace, hyperactive experiences for kids with short attention spans. They're about little cartoony characters running about dementedly, killing one another in gruesome and repetitive ways. Ask the average Joe what happens in most videogames and they'll probably talk of running over zombies in big-wheeled cars, of maiming axe-murderers with sawn-off shotguns, hurled trash cans and big swords; of a juvenile symphony of camp destruction and brainless button-mashing.
Games exactly like Monster Madness then.
This is a big, dumb videogame; a relic from the mash-the-buttons scrolling beat 'em ups of the early nineties, so obvious and clichéd that a non-gamer might have written its core design document from their vague and imprecise knowledge of what games should look and play like. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing because, like Charlie's Angels, big, dumb things, when executed with flair and wit and self-depreciation, can be good and fun. But, while this game aims in that direction, it mostly falls short.
Monster Madness' limited narrative is revealed through a series of well-drawn and animated comic book strips. They tell the story (poorly) of four different high school stereotypes - the geek, the normal, the cheerleader and the self-harming goth girl - who find themselves in each other's company at the moment of a zombie invasion. Actually, 'zombie invasion' is far too limited a description of this crisis which features, over the course of the game's twenty levels and five chapters, over seventy schlock horror antagonists. Vampires rub shoulders with Mummies, UFOs, Giant Spiders and Evil Clowns, all of which must be defeated as you and up to three of your friends hack, slash and gun your way through suburbia in search of a conclusion.
The first level, set in geek boy Zach's house, presents an overwhelming number of items and traps, which can be picked up with the X button and used against the undead intruders. Lamp-stands can be hurled, kitchen knives stabbed or you can simply flick the 'on' switch of your father's lawn-mower and send it eagerly into the pursuing hordes. This concert of adolescent destruction is headlined by a boss who, once defeated, sets you upon your top-down viewed, scrolling path through the game.
After the game's introductory and self-contained level you'll become much more reliant upon your default melee and projectile weapons, which, in the case of our main character, Carrie, took the form of a glinting katana and a handmade nail-gun. Hundreds of items are scattered through each level which must be collected and traded in at Larry Tools' trailer, a biker-style mobile shop which crops up a couple of times during each level. Larry can supply your character with a vast number of Heath Robinson-esque weaponry (as well as bullets and health), which he builds from the items you've collected. The wide range of weaponry is generous but unnecessary, as you'll just need one or two key weapons, which can be switched between quickly in battle. Once you've settled on your favourites the need to explore levels in search of new items is gone and you'll soon just stick to the main paths.