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Welcome guys and gals to yet another review. MOSS (Month of Side-Scroll Shooters) continues to roll on ahead with a look at a rather unusual game I happened to come across one night as I was scrolling through the Xbox Live Indie Games section. It drew my attention because it happens to have character that looks like President Barack Obama fighting a horde of zombies with a Japanese samurai. What’s not to love? This is 8Bits Fanatics: The Tempura of the Dead.

Is this a zombie slaying campaign trail worth traveling through?

The game begins with an amusing cutscene, which is similar to those seen in Ninja Gaiden in terms of visual style. In the scene, we see President (Barack?) Thompson and his aide over looking the now zombie infested California from the safety of a helicopter. As he wonders what to do about the situation, he notices that a samurai by the name of Sugimoto is single-handedly fending of a pack of zombies to save a group of cornered civilians. Thompson is inspired by this and decides to grab his gun (a sweet old school gangster tommy gun. Wait, is that why he’s named Thompson? Clever? I don't know) and lend the samurai a hand. Before leaving, Thompson says that if the worse happens, his aide will become the new president (isn’t that what the Vice President is for?). Meanwhile back on the ground, the zombies appear to have Sugimoto on the ropes but at this exact moment “Hope” arrives in the form of President Thompson, who leaps from the helicopter, ready to kick some undead ass and save the day. But before the first shot is fired, Sugimoto explains that when dealing with the zombies, they must be decapitated and their heads must be juggled until the human souls within them are purified and can pass on peacefully. Once that bit of bushido is explained, the incredibly unlikely duo set off on their zombie killing across America tour.

The story (or lack thereof) is simple but definitely original and interesting in its own right. I actually find the concept of the President of the United States slaying zombies with a Japanese samurai to be pretty damn cool and it is actually what drew me to the game in the first place. Well that and they happened to model the president after Obama, which is hilariously awesome! I mean, how could you not laugh at the image of Obama fighting off zombies with a tommy gun? It would have been nice to see some references to his campaign/presidency (like the infamous Hope banner) used for comedic effect but I guess they wanted to be respectful which is fine I guess but respectful parody can also be quite funny when done right. Now that I think about it, maybe they should have went with President Bush. Now that would have been hilarious.    

(Not the best translation but it gets the point across)

In terms of sound, the game uses vintage 8-Bit music to match the use of 8-Bit graphics. I have stated in every review I have done of an 8-Bit game that I have an undying love for 8-Bit music, so I figure that a seemingly kick-ass 8-Bit zombie would have some pretty kick ass bleeps and bloops to match. Well, my expectations were dashed the split second I realized that the bland and mediocre (would have said stereotypical if this wasn’t made by a Japanese developer) music from the opening were the only tracks that would be heard throughout the entire game. I know plenty of classic 8-Bit games like the original Super Mario Bros. trilogy also had very limited soundtracks back in the day but nobody complained. Why? Because the songs in those games were good and they were longer than 20-30 seconds. Normally, I wouldn’t complain about music that is just generic rather than horrendously awful but when all you hear throughout the entire play through (well except for the map screen and the few and far between boss battles) is the same mediocre song looping after every 20-30 seconds, you begin to desperately want another song after awhile. The Map Screen is just the typical dread filled track you would hear in any early horror game and I can’t even remember what the boss theme sounds like except that it wasn’t very good.

The sound effects are pretty good though. Well except for the head juggling noise, which sounds like a louder and sped up version of the coin collecting effect from Super Mario Land.

In terms of presentation, I actually have no complaints. The team did a really great job here. The characters and backgrounds just scream classic 8-bit and by that I mean when the 8-bit era was in its infancy. The characters aren’t all cartoony and polished like in Super Mario Bros. 3. They’re more blocky, like the chaps from Balloon Fight, the youthful Ice Climbers, the spinach loving sailor man Popeye and of course like Mario and Link in their first outings. If those comparisons don’t do anything for you, than think Cave Story but with slightly bigger character models. I really liked the variety of different zombie and monster types that I was blasting through during my time with the game and I really must say that the few human characters are designed really well to. I should also say that the creepy backgrounds like the demolished cityscape and desolate desserts are also pretty cool but besides these and a few water levels, there really isn’t much in terms of level variety. I could also compare the way in which some of these levels are designed in terms of platform placement to Cave Story, except, there really isn’t much in terms of exploration. Some might find this throwback art style to be a little off putting in this new HD age but I personally find it charming. Not to mention that is also really cool to see zombies get blown up into little bits of purple (“Bleeding purple? What the Hell is that?”) 8-bit blood and gore!

Oh and the anime style cutscene that was used to open the game and give us the few plot points that the game has, was just great. I really wished that there could have been more scenes like that.

(The Obama clone keeps Hope alive through the second amendment)

Well, considering that I placed this review in the month of side-scroll shooters, The Tempura of the Dead is obviously a side-scroll shooter, although this time around, there is more emphasizes on the platforming aspect, rather than just going from one side of the screen to the other. The goal of each level is to not take out all of the zombies and focus on the whole bit of juggling their heads to purify their souls and what not. You know, like in the opening. No. The goal of the game is actually to kill a set number of giant monsters in each level called the Germs of Calamity (clever name eh?), which are actually the root cause of the zombie outbreak. You search over the entire level by jumping from platform to platform and obviously travel on down the road by moving from the left side of the screen to the right or vice versa. Once you kill all of the germs, the level abruptly ends with the screen turning white and giving you a nice little congratulatory message and then you move on to the map screen to choose your next level and the great presidential samurai zombie germ caper continues.

In essence, that is pretty much all this game is. You go from level to level, killing all of the germs, maybe save a few zombie souls and occasionally (four times to be exact) jump into a boss level that are oddly placed on the map and make me think that the developers just choose those spots at random. Once you complete all 24 levels, the game is over.

But does it play well? Pretty much but there are a few problems, but I’ll address them when they come up. First off, I must say that the variety of enemies is just fantastic. There are plenty of different multicolored zombies, ghosts and of course, the Germs of Calamity, each with their own abilities. They can be pretty powerful but they can be taken out with enough fire power or sword strokes. Besides, it just wouldn’t be fun without a challenge.  However, the challenge that these enemies provide can be incredibly frustrating because of one simple fact. The more zombies you kill/purify, the greater the number of zombies that will burst out of the ground (although it is pretty cool) to take their place and eat your brains. They can completely drain your health (even if you have all of the hearts you could possibly buy) in a matter of seconds, so you are always going to have to be careful, which is actually pretty annoying, since these bastards keep popping back up like the T-1000. You kill one, two more take its place. You know the drill.

Secondly, jumping can feel pretty stiff at times. Sometimes I felt as if I had to really press down on the A button to force the characters to jump. There were even times when I pressed the button but they would botch the jump or even walk right off of the platform. I should also say that both characters jump differently, which is a standard when it comes to character statistical differences. Obama’s, ah damn it! I mean Thompson’s has a good distance but the height is just pitiful, which makes it impossible for him to reach certain platforms (I guess somebody won’t be able to pass the presidential fitness test) but thankfully you can switch characters at anytime because Sugimoto can leap pretty damn high. The only real draw back to Sugimoto’s jump is the strange way he drops back down to the ground and by strange I mean he gently floats down at a slightly slower pace than that of a normal person. Stranger still, if he is attacking during his jump, he will hover in mid-air until he completes it.

Speaking of attacking, Oba…..Thompson is by far the better of the two characters. Thanks to his firepower, he can blow zombies into little pieces of 8-bit blood and guts with his ability to rapid fire (by holding the attack button) from a safe distance away. The only real downer is that for some reason, when you rapid fire as you are trying to juggle a zombie’s head, the head will for some reason, fall through your bullets, lasers or what have you. In order to get him to do the juggle correctly, you have to time your button presses just right and even then, the head is bound to fly over to the other side of the screen and hit the ground before you can complete the dang juggle. Sugimoto, well he can’t really juggle worth a damn. He is way too slow when it comes to drawing his sword, which causes him to drop the head after one strike. On the plus side, his attack is actually more powerful than O-Thompson’s but considering that his sword is an incredibly short range weapon and he is pretty slow when it comes to drawing out his sword, you’ll be taking some massive damage by the onslaught of zombies before the sword gets a chance for a second swipe. So, use Sugimoto for high jumps and Obamson  for well, everything else.


(One of four annoying boss battles)

So, let’s review: We have some over powered zombies that completely clutter the screen and characters with fairly weak attacks or jumps. But fear not, dear reader. This game has your back with a few things that will help make the experience just a little bit easier. First off, you can find some tasty treats like Soda Pops, T-Bone Steaks and Hamburgers in what look to be mail boxes but are probably trash bins (either way it’s not very sanitary) that can replenish health. We also get an incredible abundance of extra lives, which are called Lefts (as in you have this many turns left). You can get anywhere between 10 and 250Ups for every successful head juggle and 10Ups for every rescued civilian but don’t shoot them or they will get very mad at you (smoke will literally shoot out their ears…this is a weird game). Now you might be wondering how your are supposed to get these stockpiles of Lefts if the zombies are so powerful and have heads that are so hard to juggle? Well, if you manage to do a successful juggle, you catch Tempura Fever! Tempura Fever! gives you a temporary boost in power that will make killing zombies and using there decapitated skulls for soul saving street performances a Hell of a lot easier and you will even have an easier time wiping out the super strong Germs of Clammily! But be warned. Once you fail a juggle (which is only a matter of time) your case of Tempura Fever! will be cured and you will once again be left to your own devices.   

But wait! There’s more! In a rather confusing twist, your huge stockpile of extra lives also act as the game’s currency. That’s right! You can choose to basically have unlimited continues and live forever or you can piss away your wealth of mortality for addition health (up to 20 hearts), jump and gun upgrades for Thobama and new sword techniques for Sugimoto. You can also buy a special potion that will grant you an extra hit. This is all well and good but you will be pretty bored of the game before you earn enough lives to get these much-needed upgrades. If you don’t buy them, all of the mulligans in the world won’t save you from the frustration that comes with constant failure. Yes I said the game is only 24 short levels long but you will find yourself playing the same levels over and over again to earn the Lefts needed to buy the health, stats and weapon upgrades that are needed to progress through your nation wide campaign tour of death.


(Zombie eat brains but no can swallow high prices!)

I am honestly struggling with the review score here because as a huge fan of the 8-Bit era and political satire and zombies, I absolutely love the game’s style and concept but some clunky mechanics and a frustrating upgrade/economics system make it more difficult and twice as a long (it takes 4-6 hours to complete instead of the 2-3 that it should be) as it should be and the game really suffers because of it. It’s kinda middle of the road for me. It wasn’t bad and I did have some fun with it (it is a weirdly cute little time waster) but it wasn’t all that great either. However, despite the mediocre score I am about to give it, I will say that it is only three bucks or 240 MS points, so fans of platform or side-scroll shooters may want to give it a try, but don’t be fooled by the demo. It gets a lot harder in heart beat or lack there of, if you happen to be one of the zombies.   

Final Score: 5/10