Being both relatively cheap to develop for and a market leader with over 50 million sales makes the DS a less risky and incredibly enticing piece of hardware to make exclusives for. Publishers can take a bit of a chance so we can see something a little different.
One publisher pushing the boat out is Ignition, who will be invading our hands with floating brain monsters in spring next year. Humans here are not only boring but ineffective, cattle to the slaughter for the mind-controlling aliens. No, what you will need to survive here is zombies. Three of them. Dress this bizarre concept in a comic presentation where you rotate your DS to watch cutscenes like reading a book, and give the trio of undead unique abilities like harmful vomit and the option of replacing a limb with a stick or something and it all sounds quirky and intriguing.
So, we sat down with developer InLight to find out just what it was all about and if it had any tips for survival. Creative development boss Darren McGrath and designer Mike Lowry put us out of our misery.
Eurogamer: Are Zombies more interesting than humans these days?
InLight: Zombies are much more interesting than humans. Sure their conversation is a bit lacking, but if you can get past all that and actually get to really know a zombie you'll find they've actually got a lot of great stories and have lead a pretty fascinating life compared to the average cubicle-working human.
Eurogamer: Was there something in particular that inspired you to make it?
InLight: We've always had a love of horror (even camp horror). Combine this with a personal love of the future-of-the-past (sometimes referred to as "retrofuturism" by label pundits) and it really felt like a natural fit. Adding the comic book twist (also an interest) makes this a child-friendly game where kids could get their zombie fix and parents wouldn't have to worry about the violent content because it's all just Alien Brain-smashing fun.
Eurogamer: You've got a unique story, but isn't it just a platform game under all that?
InLight: Not really. The game itself is chiefly puzzle based. As such, the platform aspect of it is more of an adventure - consisting of exploring the environment and figuring out ways to get from point A to B while smashing and eating Alien Brain Thingys. In addition there are over 30 gorgeous comic book pages to read, eight mini-games and, the Big Brain Challenge collection of micro-games.
All of these elements are encountered during the platform game and move the story forward. That said, the platform game itself is atypical in that you have the ability to switch between different zombies at anytime to achieve your goals. What really stands out during all of these different forms of play is the story and the characters and an overwhelming sense of fun that goes beyond the constraints of a platformer.
Eurogamer: How do you keep Teenage Zombies fresh?
InLight: Besides employing the obvious modern refrigeration techniques, we have seven different unique environments that the zombies encounter throughout the game. These include classic zombie haunts such as the graveyard and the mall and the city streets, as well as places like an amusement park and even a spaceship. Throughout these worlds the zombies also encounter different power-ups that give them new abilities. You will have the ability to puke fire after eating spicy food, or suck up objects with a vacuum used to replace a missing arm. Exploring the different worlds and using the different power-ups as part of the puzzle solving really helps to keep the gaming experience fresh.
Eurogamer: Tell us a bit about a typical level in the game, what kind of shenanigans will we get up to?
InLight: Immediately after you launch the game an intro plays. It's presented in a comic book fashion and introduces you to the characters and story. The cool thing is that you can turn your DS sideways and read it like you would a book. The basic premise is that the Big Brain and his cohort No.1 are devising a plan to deal with these super-human zombies that are thwarting their invasion.
Following the intro you turn DS back around and begin exploring your environment - as a zombie. We thought it was an interesting twist to actually play as a zombie rather than just kill them like in other games. You switch between the zombies by touching them in their crypts on the touch screen, and will need to use each of their unique abilities to overcome lots of obstacles and crush Brains effectively.
Once fluent with the navigation and controls you will happen upon one of my favourite enemies - an impassable cluster of mutant rats. After several failed attempts to take the rats on you encounter a pile of discarded spicy food that Fins (one of the zombies), eagerly eats up. But oh no this proves too much for his stomach and he pukes - pukes fire! Fortunately for him the rats are very flammable and you can pass with ease. This is a really fun power-up and several other areas involve different ones or combinations of them to be used.
Keep going and eventually you arrive at a Stylus icon that takes you directly to one of the mini-games. Here you use your stylus to pull back some power lines and shoot your rag-doll zombie up to the top screen to crush the floating Alien Brains Thingys hovering above. As the pieces of brain fall down you have to fling them back again - only into the hungry mouth of one of the zombies. When the time runs out you're given a score, then you find yourself back in the platform world on the other side of the power lines.
Now you have been playing long enough to get enough points and attract the attention of the Big Brain. He suddenly appears, full-screen enraged that you think you're smarter than him by helping the Teenage Zombies, so he challenges you to a duel. Now you cut to a quick brain-driven succession of micro games to test your intelligence against his. After this you are back to more comics and more diabolical scheming, before the next level begins.
Eurogamer: How long will Teenage Zombies last us?
InLight: For many, many hours of fun; from start to finish! The Stylus Mini-Games and Big Brain Challenge are designed to add lots of replayability. Doing well and earning more points (either replaying Adventure mode or Stylus Mini-Games) unlocks harder and harder Big Brain Challenges. Each level also provides a reward item once you perfect it, making it all very appealing!
Bragging rights combined with the appeal of replaying these will extend the experience long after you have completed the adventure.
Eurogamer: Why the DS?
InLight: The DS captures the market we are targeting with this game: the ever expanding casual gamers sector. Nintendo has been very smart by making a fun system that is affordable, so everyone can enjoy games like ours without breaking the bank.
Eurogamer: Which other DS games have impressed you with their use of the hardware?
InLight: Games like Elite Beat Agents, Feel the Magic, and Zelda: Phantom Hourglass have really made use of the touch-screen in unique and interesting ways - those you wouldn't be able to accomplish on any other platform.
Eurogamer: Will we see more Teenage Zombies?
InLight: Absolutely! The characters Fins, Lefty and Halfpipe are testing very well with kids (young and old). They're very likable and really lend themselves to further adventures that will likely extend to other platforms. We're even discussing a possible cartoon series - stay tuned!
Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys! is due out exclusively on DS next spring.