American television is a strange beast. Every year hundreds of pilot TV shows - mainly sitcoms - go to air in an attempt to become the ‘next big thing’. Often they are recorded in front of brain-dead studio audiences that all sound like deranged seagulls and star some washed up actor or actress. Their success seems to defy all logic, with abysmal attempts at comedy like 'Two and Half Men' and 'How I Met Your Mother' drawing in millions of
idiots viewers every week. Meanwhile, other creations of absolute comic genius struggle to even get funding for a second season.
Ugly Americans, which appeared on Comedy Central last year, sadly falls into this latter category. Despite the show’s clever dry humour, memorable characters, and racy subject matter, it failed to impress audiences in the States.
Thankfully, Comedy Central has signed up for a second season, but it appears that Ugly Americans is destined to be short-lived. The worst part is, this new Xbox Live Arcade game, based on the show, isn't really going to aid its fledgling cause.
For those who aren't familiar with the cartoon, it's a black comedy set in an alternative New York where humans, vampires, demons, mythical beasts and wizards all co-exist and live (relatively) in harmony. Walking down the street and being attacked by a werewolf or seeing a stray disembodied, talking brain is the norm.
The colourful cast of characters is boundless, but the show centers around human social worker Mark Lilly, his disgusting zombie roommate Randall Skeffington, the raunchy as Hell succubus Callie Maggotbone, an unstable wizard Leonard Powers and Mark's demonic boss Twayne Boneraper. In fact the surname ‘Boneraper’ pretty much sets up the whole tone of the show’s lewd, but smirk-worthy tone.
Other characters include Doug, a pathetic asexual Koala bear, half-men-half-bird creatures obsessed with their own gigantic testicles, and pink ectoplasmic blobs with a taste for child flesh. Everything has a classic B-movie vibe to it and a lot of episode titles and themes are references to old horror films.
Agreed, the above doesn't paint Ugly Americans as a comedy classic. Even the animation style is bordering on amateur. But the show is brilliant, mainly thanks to the writing talent of David M. Stern (formerly of The Simpsons where he took great joy in writing the Treehouse of Horror Halloween episodes).
The good news is, the same team behind the show have also been heavily involved in the video game. Stern has written the story while the cast have lent their voices to all of the characters in the game. So where did it all go wrong?
Simply put, Ugly Americans: Apocalypsegeddon isn't fun. The game is packed full of amusing dialogue and features characters, settings, and even in-jokes that fans of the show will greatly appreciate. But the gameplay is repetitive and unoriginal.
Apocalypsegeddon is your typical 'twin-stick-shooter', the type of game where one one stick controls your character and the second stick dictates your shooting. It allows you to shoot in 360 degrees while avoiding enemies and their projectiles simultaneously. But unlike most stick-shooters, this game is a side-scroller, rather than your typical top-down view.
Although this suits the Ugly Americans' aesthetic (the game looks exactly like the TV show), trying to get a sense of depth can often be confusing. This is compounded by the fact that there is often so much happening on screen at once, the amount of pixel clutter can border on frustrating.
Up to four players can team up at once, and each starts by selecting either Mark, Leonard, Callie, or Detective Grimes as their character. Each character plays in a similar manner - shooting projectiles via a gun, slingshot, or magic wand. Projectile upgrades can be picked up along the way, which are usually revealed by destroying objects like statues or park benches, and they include hammers, baseballs, gas tanks, and more.
In a desperate attempt to add strategy, the game rewards players by matching up their character with a type of projectile for extra damage. For example, Leonard the Wizard inflicts more damage if he picks up the Crystal Ball weapon. Each character also possesses a special attack, activated by pushing R1 which acts like a smart bomb and often clears the screen of weaker enemies.
Players progress from left to right, scrolling along and laying waste to wave after wave of baddies. The enemies are taken directly from the cartoon show, like brain hungry zombies, possesed lawyers, and axe wielding demons. Although they are all well animated and amusing, their shear repetitive numbers and looped sound bites make them more a nuisance than fun cannon fodder.
The main bulk of the shooting action is broken down with some thought-provoking boss battles at the end of each stage, but ultimately the variation in the gameplay is minimal.
The only replay value comes in the form of leveling up your characters and unlocking fan-fare extras, including footage from the TV show. Even as a big fan of the show it was a chore to play it through once... and the game isn’t even all that long clocking in at under 2 hours for a first run through.
Unfortunately Apocalypsegeddon is an average game that doesn’t live up to the brilliance of the cartoon. For 800 Microsoft points (and an 875 mb download) it’s a title that can only be recommended for true Ugly Americans fans. Even then, it’s only enjoyable with three other enthusiasts to play co-op with. Just.