Students, it’s time for more throwbacks this week that bring us not just the power of bloodshed and 70’s exploitation, but also… learning! With that mix, I give you The Typing of the Dead: OVERKILL! Getting this game on a whim, I didn’t know how much I would enjoy it. But it’s not only a throwback to the grindhouse era, but a throwback to 90’s gaming as well.
Typing of the Dead is a very simple game: zombies try to kill you, you kill them by typing the words under them, live zombies turn dead, win game. Now, you might be thinking, “Oh, great, a typing game? BO-RING!”, but you have clearly never typed for your life.
Blending both the intensity that comes from a light-gun game with a typing test gives you a panic that isn’t explored often in high-octane games. Skill-based games are more focused on quick reflexes that come from lining cursors and pulling triggers. Taking the same need for skill but instead requiring full awareness of your keyboard? That’s alienating in the best way possible. With other games, you generally have more comfort with your controls. Not here: you better know your way around a keyboard if you want a good score.
Even if you are more used to a keyboard than others, you aren’t going to have a cakewalk (unless you’re the type who prefers to play on easy… no judgment here, I’m not a quick typist myself). While you will have your easy words, you might need to write full sentences about being attacked by Byzantine, or Shakespeare quotes. In a leisurely setting, that wouldn’t be too bad. But with the undead trying to kick your ass, it can be a bit panic-inducing and can make it easy to mess up what you’re trying to write.
I absolutely love that. It’s a good pace of difficulty that doesn’t make it impossible to win, but tricky to keep a combo going.
What if you don’t want to type things? You came for the arcade shooter, and you wanted the goddamn shooter! Good news for you, then! Since this is a modification of the original Overkill game on the Wii and PS3, it also comes with the original shooting mechanics! Personally, I don’t find them as magical as the typing bits, mostly because a light gun game with a mouse doesn’t feel as special. But that mode allows you to buy guns and upgrades, which can pack a punch and can still lead to a very enjoyable ride, especially if you play the game co-op with a friend. However, it is online only, so it won’t be the true arcade experience (unless you want to get the Wii/PS3 versions, but I don’t see how you’d want to kill zombies without typing).
This game isn’t just genius from a mechanical standpoint, but its narrative is as well. Considering how the series is known for its hilariously awful voice acting (“Suffer? Like G did?”), Overkill chooses to embrace that. It tells the story of two agents trying to find the people who started the zombie outbreak while dealing with mutated prisoners, swamp monsters, and each other. It knows how silly the whole thing is, and makes sure you know it too, starting every level with a gruff grindhouse announcer as the cutscenes gain a momentum too absurd to believe. The way it ends is both so hilarious and so disgusting that I won’t even tell you what happens.
You should find out yourself rather than me telling you. It’s the perfect length to get its silliness across, and very easy to replay if you’re itching to get better scores. It’s also very easy to pick up and put down after a long period of time, making it great to replay then and now. But not only is it funny, it’s pretty messed up, too, in that “creature-feature” way. The bosses you deal with in each level are all kinds of gross. From a pus-filled giant in the bayou to a half-cow-half-butcher lady, there’s a real spectacle in the bosses that make them as much of a joy to see as it is to subsequently massacre.
Are there some issues? Of course, every game has them. The issues that come from this game are minor, though. This might have to do with the PC port (being a port of a Wii/PS3 game), but there are some minor sound bugs that can happen where speech and sound effects can cut out at points. Online isn’t perfect either; it can be laggy. However, they’re rather minor and didn’t diminish the fun I had with this game, online or off.
Typing of the Dead is a great throwback, not only to exploitation films, but also that mindless fun that comes from a light gun game like House of the Dead. Both experiences are quite similar, being generally cheap thrills that give some fun splatter to those looking for it. Sure, they aren’t the most tasteful or mentally taxing ways to spend an afternoon, but they still give a joyride that we don’t experience often in this day and age. If you want to kill zombies with your sweet typing skills (or just with your mouse if you’re boring), I’d suggest it.
The Good: A fun blend of arcade and edutainment with a tongue-in-cheek story that’s absurd, disgusting, and a joy to experience. Plenty of replay value if you are a lover of leaderboards or brushing up your typing skills.
The Bad: The audio and graphical bugs can be distracting and lag was an issue when I played online.
This game is like: A naughty joke you giggled at when you were younger that still makes you giggle.
With that praise out of the way, and all of that viscera to be washed off our clothes, what can we learn from Typing of the Dead: Overkill?
1. Exploitation is powerful
Now, a game going a purposefully shocking route is a difficult route. I mean, look at Hatred. Apart from its marketing, the game didn’t shock any farther than with its concept (which Matt Forney talked about here). But Overkill is able to make that tastelessness work beautifully. Why?
It’s done out of love for the shock than the desire to spite. This game wasn’t made to “get back” at anyone. This was made to see how far they could go, and it becomes artistic in its own right. As a kid, I always loved the dumbness of YouTube Poop. While Overkill isn’t in the same vein at all, it still is a tribute in immaturity that succeeds in being too over-the-top to take seriously. There’s a power in that. It crosses boundaries that don’t often be crossed. If you wish to be offensive, don’t do it to piss someone off. Instead, do it because you have a sick sense of humor, and have the same love for the grotesque that Tarantino, Rodriguez, and the devs of Overkill have.
2. Be careful of going down the “so bad it’s good” route
Overkill is one of the few successful cases of something intentionally bad, and that’s because it follows an important rule: bad isn’t an excuse to be lazy. There’s an earnestness that comes through with the most well known works of “so bad it’s good” (The Room being one of the greatest examples). Taking that earnestness with your own self-awareness is a very dissonant feeling, and will require more brainpower than you’d expect from making something silly.
If you do love schlock, you will need to look at works that succeed at being horrible and entertaining. If you would like to see something that succeeds at purposefully being cheesy, I would recommend watching Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. It’s so good at being intentionally bad that it does look like something you’d see on 80’s primetime on a public access channel. It’s not a style that you can half-ass. You need to embrace the bad, and then can something good come out of it.
3. A genre’s only as dead as you believe it is
With how our industry has been moving forward, we can either focus on two moments of time: the now (with trying the genre that can make the most dosh), or the 8-to-16 bit past. Overkill’s choice to call back to the lightgun era of the mid-to-late 90s isn’t a common one. Adding a typing tutor to that mix would be seen as insane. The fact that it’s able to work as both is nothing short of spectacular.
Sure, some genres will be seen as more desirable for specific eras, but it’s possible to bring that genre to a modern age, risky though it is. Don’t be afraid to take a risk if you wanna try making a throwback to something you loved as a kid. There might be a niche for it.
Remember: the work you make out of love will be more fun than the work you make out of spite.
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