Teenage Zombies - hands-on

Part game, part handy guide to surviving a Brain Thingies invasion, Teenage Zombies is a side-scrolling, puzzle-filled action platformer with a sense of humor. You swap between three zombies, each with their own special moves to get through the obstacle-filled levels and eat through an army of evil brains. Combat isn't very difficult (partly because the brains you kill can be consumed to regain health), but it's not really the focus of the game, either. Instead, the challenge comes from navigating clever, puzzle-filled levels - nothing too tricky at first, but they get progressively more complex as the game moves through construction sites, a mall and other locations. Eventually, the puzzles become far too complex for ordinary, stupid zombies, so it's a good thing you're the one controlling the heroic (but dilapidated) trio.

Each of the zombies has a few things that make them unique (aside from being undead). Lefty Lopez is a tall, skinny zombie with an extendable left arm that she uses for pulling herself onto high platforms and whacking floating brains. Fins Magee, meanwhile, is a rotund zombie who was lucky enough become fused with several purple tentacles that he can use to climb walls or slap at brains in several directions at once. Half-Pipe Boyd only has a torso, so he moves around on a skateboard. This seeming disability allows him to fit into tight spaces and skewer brains with his exposed spine.

The levels are designed to require frequent switching between the three to get through the puzzles; only one zombie is onscreen at a time, with the other two staying buried underground until you switch over to them. For example, Fins might have to climb a wall to reach some inaccessible tires. Why tires? Because Half-Pipe can dig himself up, grab the tires and use them to temporarily power up his skateboard and Monster Truck over an electrified ramp and swarm of rats his two brainless buddies can't cross. Other power-ups are littered throughout each level as well, ranging from spicy food to hoverboards and rivet guns, and each one is meant specifically to help one of your characters overcome a nearby obstacle. Use them right, and you'll eventually make your way to the comic books sitting at the end of each level, which sometimes give you a comic-book-style update on how the evil Big Brain's world domination plot is coming along.

The Brain's never doing very well, but that's what happens when you use a brain army to fight zombies. To keep things interesting, however, there are a few other, less appetizing enemies roaming around. You'll have to kill rats, for example, and stop mind-controlled humans by finding powerful mind-control brains and getting your snack on. Luckily, all three zombies are lacking brains of their own, so they're safe from psychological attacks.

Exploring the levels will unlock a few other goodies, like mini-games that you can find and play to compete for a high score. We also dug up a few brains while moving dirt and logs with the stylus to keep rats underground, and played a skate-ramp game where the idea was to run into as many brains as possible (notice the theme here? It's eating brains). You'll discover zombie parts littered throughout the levels, too. We're not sure why this is, but collect enough of them and you can put a zombie buddy back together and restore your collective health bar - zombies are very communal, apparently. Look for Teenage Zombies to shamble into stores April 15th.

Mar 12, 2008