posted by Leah Haydu
Editor’s Note: This is an article I wrote a while back, and I’m pretty sure it never got published. If it did, someone should probably email me and link it so I can acknowledge the origins. Thanks! -L
Zombie games are in vogue these days, but really, when haven’t they been? You’d likely be hard-pressed to find a twenty-something gamer who doesn’t have blissful memories of stepping into an arcade in the days of his or her callow youth to step up to a House of the Dead (or similar) cabinet to pump in some of those hard-begged quarters and blow some zombie brains all over the virtual pavement. I’m no exception to this rule, which is why I jumped at the chance to get my hands on Destineer’s quirky DS offering: Little Red Riding Hood’s Zombie BBQ. This straight-up rail shooter isn’t just a hearkening back to those arcade days of yore; it takes the classic zombie formula and adds a unique twist that will keep you glued to your screens.
You play as one of two heroes: the buxom, all-grown-up version of Little Red Riding Hood or her pal Momotaro, a Japanese fairy-tale figure said to have been born from a giant peach. Red’s home, Fairy Tale Land, has been overrun by hordes of slavering baddies, coaxed from their coffins by what you eventually discover, through increasingly silly dialogue between Red and her companion, is some sort of evil, unnatural plague. Your job as self-appointed undead exterminatrix in these parts is to—what else?—burn them down by utilizing an array of exclusively touch-screen moves and special weaponry. Every board you barbeque brings you to another corrupted fairy-tale icon, from Pinocchio to the Three (very vicious) Little Pigs, and another step closer to finding out what’s caused this mess so you can end it for good.
Zombie BBQ is, at its most basic, a rail shooter adapted for the DS. This is a formula that’s been tried before by games such as Eidos’ Touch the Dead, but for my money, Red does it better. The view is top-down, allowing the player to duck and dodge with greater precision by using the stylus. You have the option to use the directional pad for some of these moves, but the stylus affords a much quicker method of escape from some of the deadly moves these creatures can throw. The bottom of the screen is laid out in a row of squares which comprise the shooter’s range of movement, and tapping any one of them causes him or her to dash almost instantly to that space, which is an indispensable move, particularly in some of the later boss fights. The duck, performed by double-tapping the on-screen character, can be a bit trickier to master, as its recovery time can leave you vulnerable, but it too can save Red’s barely-covered butt when executed well.
The heart of any rail shooter, though, is the weaponry, and Red Riding Hood delivers admirably on this front, with basic equipment that never runs out of ammo (a machine gun for Red and ninja stars for Momotaro). Shooting these weapons is accomplished simply by holding the stylus on the screen in the direction you want to shoot, and picking it up to reload. Should your foes get too close and attempt to give you a big squishy hug, you also have the option of slashing them away, although this should be considered a last resort, as it’s nearly impossible to execute without taking damage. The basic weapons are supplemented by a special arsenal for which ammo can be located by breaking the numerous set-pieces like crates and barrels that litter your path throughout. There are few greater pleasures in this game than being able to fire up your own titular barbeque by aiming a flame thrower into a batch of charging brain-hungry deadites, while weapons like the laser gun are often best saved for one of the bosses or mini-bosses you’ll encounter along the way. And the shotgun…. well, it’s a shotgun. Those are always handy.
If I have one minor beef with this game, it’s the enemies. Don’t get me wrong, I love zombies as much as the next girl, but these do get a bit repetitive. With only a few exceptions, most of the boards use the same four or five palette-swapped creatures, and after a while you get kind of tired of seeing them. By contrast, the variety that I would have liked to see there shows off admirably in the boss fights. These are spectacularly creative and frequently hilarious, with a difficulty curve that can leave you frustrated but which is ultimately rewarding when you figure out an effective plan of attack. JRPG fans will probably not be surprised to learn that this game has a particular fondness for multi-phase boss encounters, though, so be warned that losing will frequently entail going through quite a bit to get back to where you were.
Red Riding Hood features three different play modes: History, Boss Attack, and Survival. The latter two are unlocked by completing History mode on Normal and Hard difficulties respectively, and the third difficulty, Extreme, is required to view the game’s “true” ending. Once you get into the swing of the game, it’s not particularly brutal to begin with, but as I mentioned before, some of the boss fights will definitely leave you growling at your DS (or maybe that’s just me). Overall, the game ranges from challenging to insane, so there should be something there to satisfy most players, and the multiple gameplay modes ensure that there’s always a reason to come back and pop some more zombie skulls.
If you can handle the quizzical looks you’ll probably be getting from your friendly neighborhood game store employees when you ask about this title, then you should definitely give it a shot…. er, pun intended. Even if you can’t handle their potential judgement (or just don’t want to make that tiring trek to the store), you can still pick up the title via DSiWare. The simple but well-executed game mechanics coupled with the off-the-wall storyline (not to mention plenty of undead to be put back into the ground) should entertain most DS owners and keep them wanting more than just breadcrumbs and gingerbread houses in their bedtime stories.