[3 February 2009]
“I so don’t even know what’s going on but I’m thinking we gotta like stop this before it’s too late.”
—Little Red “Ready to Rock” Riding Hood
Playing Little Red Riding Hood’s Zombie BBQ is a decidedly unsettling experience.
The very title may well imply as much, given that despite the game’s “T for Teen” rating, there’s no doubt that what you’re going to be doing for most of the game is mowing down the undead with a popular children’s storybook character. That character can be either Red herself or Momotaro, the Japanese “peach boy”. The zombies do what most zombies do—that is, they throw their own heads at you, they stick out their arms and grab you, and they eat your brains if they get close enough. The game’s a shoot ‘em up with an interesting (if sometimes awkward) stylus-and-directional-pad control scheme, and the number of zombies you take down in the time that you play it may well hit four digits.
Lest ye think that Little Red Riding Hood and Momotaro are the only links to the culture of children to be seen here, you don’t know how wrong you are. The entire game actually bases its world on the children’s fantasy realm, most of which has already been zombified. As the game progresses, you actually must defeat the three little pigs (no longer so little), Pinocchio, and Gretel, who has at this point eaten all of Hansel but still has his leg available to throw at you.
Sure, the very idea of this game is a bit hilarious.
Even so, my god, what if the kids see this? How are we to explain to our sons and daughters that we just blew up Santa Claus? Never mind that he tried to maim and/or kill us in a variety of ways—it’s Santa Claus, for God’s sake!
We’ll keep it away from our kids of course, but it’s still an odd experience, even as an adult, to be traversing this particular collection of challenges. Even through adult eyes, we’re watching the characters that symbolized the innocence of our youth torn to shreds both figuratively and literally before our eyes.
Perhaps most jarring is the presence of Riding Hood herself. Here is a character who most of us picture as a child—maybe not a toddler, but adolescent perhaps—who innocently wanders into her grandma’s house only to find a terrible wolf where grandma should be. The Riding Hood that Zombie BBQ presents, however, is one defined by Japanese anime films, all eyes, breasts, big guns and pigtails. On one hand, perhaps it’s a nod to the “attractive, well-bred” (not to mention utterly doomed) title character of Perrault’s original, written Red Riding Hood tale. On the other hand, it’s probably not. This is a sexualized, air-headed Riding Hood played up for titillation’s sake, who barely pauses for a second before blowing up zombie Granny toward the beginning of the game.
Those who would be bothered about such things are not the target audience, however, and the teenage boys that comprise this target audience are going to eat this stuff up. Honestly, the Nintendo DS doesn’t afford its owners all that many opportunities to simply walk around and blow stuff up. The DS software library is dominated by slow-moving, thought-based games and things that are palatable to a young audience. Sure, there’s a Dementium here or a Metroid Prime Hunters there (and even, say, a Nanostray or two if that’s your bag), but it’s easy to lose the experiences that are targeted toward older teenagers in the sea of kid stuff. Using the stylus to aim, select weapons, and duck (and, if you’re adventurous, even to move) in a constantly-scrolling, Ikari Warriors-esque environment is not always the easiest play mechanic, but it doesn’t take long until you’re used to it enough to begin blowing limbs off the undead à la Dead Space.
On the normal difficulty setting, the game is tough but not overly so, and sharp players will find the secrets to defeating even the most difficult bosses in matters of minutes. The five hours or so it’ll take you to get through the main quest go quickly thanks to constantly-changing scenarios and the aforementioned fairytale bosses that get more outrageous as the game progresses.
Still, even as things progress quickly, the amount of repetition involved is regrettable; in the stretches of play that don’t involve blowing away a tremendous, zombified storybook character, you get a choice of 10 or 12 stock zombies to mow down over, and over, and over again. The benefit to this is that while the player learns the patterns of all of these stock enemies, the game can very easily up the challenge simply by throwing more of these enemies at you. It is difficult to get excited about the different scenarios, however, when you know that despite the new digs, you’re still going to be fighting the zombie that throws its own head at you, the zombie that grabs you and holds you until you slice it in half, and the big blob zombie that explodes into a torrent of acid when you blow it up.
Most importantly, the audience for Little Red Riding Hood’s Zombie BBQ is simply not going to care about the destruction of their childhood wonderland, nor the sexist overtones gleefully portrayed by the title character. They’ll just get a laugh out of the whole thing and wonder why the developers didn’t go further. The Tortoise and the Hare would have made great animal-zombie adversaries, after all.