Friday, August 24, 2012

The Tempura of the Dead

[This was originally posted at my personal journal way back in January of last year.]

Oh man you guys, so, TEMPURA of the DEAD (Xbox Live Indie Games, 240 MS Points, by 8bits fanaticsII) is pretty spectacular. 

DC beat it just a few minutes ago, and by "just a few minutes ago" I really mean "late at night on the 4th of January" (that's what I get for sitting on LJ posts for too long). Parts of it are way, way too tricky for me--at least the head-juggling gameplay was something I could never get the hang of--but the graphics are amazing and the plot/writing is amazing and the characters are amazing and the entire thing is just a really well-put-together package.

First of all, watch that intro--it's great, isn't it? The monsters-taking-over-America thing has been done in any one of a number of games, most obviously Meldac's Zombie Nation (which the entire game seems to be a riff of, especially the final boss, details on that later), and we've seen the President thing before from Metal Wolf Chaos, but Tempura puts a surprisingly sincere spin on all of it.

Like, obviously Thompson's HOT BLOODED NATURE and eagerness to call in air strikes is a joke about American sensibilities and military might, but compare him to Metal Wolf Chaos's President Wilson: Wilson accomplishes his goals through total and wanton destruction (if well-meaning) of private property, et al; Thompson just wants to save all of his citizens, and even embraces Japanese bushido techniques along the way! It helps that he's got a good support network, as Gates is, spoiler? a genuinely nice guy. So is Sugimoto.

(Actually, I should probably do a more in-depth comparison between Metal Wolf Chaos and this game, but I haven't seen the Metal Wolf Chaos cutscenes in forever.)

The surreal thing about it, and this is kinda easy to overlook, is that even though the entire game takes place in America (AMERICA!!), all the music has a Japanese flavor, the art style and backgrounds are distinctly Japanese, and hell, you even see people with kimonos on fleeing in terror. At the same time, all of the health up items are things like soda cans and hamburgers. A nice touch: you start out on the East Coast, whose cities are starting to crumble, and you work your way to the West Coast, which is marked by canyons and cacti, before wending back to New York, where you fight the final boss...

Spoiler warning...

...the Statue of Liberty.

I mention it in the video (it only occurred to me later that I should have just taken the game audio and not our voices), but yeah, it's a pretty clear callback to Zombie Nation's first stage boss:

And the ending is equally amazing. I won't spoil too much of it because it's funny and sweet enough that everyone who's interested should see it for themselves. But there's one little part that really got me: after you beat the Statue of Liberty, Thompson is like "okay, everyone! Now that the hard work is over, let's have a tempura party!" And Sugimoto, of course the only Japanese person there, goes "No thanks! I've had enough tempura for a lifetime!" And everyone laughs. It's like the ultimate 80s/early 90s video game or cartoon joke. It's stupid, but it's stupid enough to be perfect. It totally caps off the entire oh-god-this-is-terrifying-but-also-strangely-nonlethal atmosphere of the entire game, and the atmosphere of the entire period of 80s media that Tempura of the Dead is evoking.

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