The joke's on us.
Back in the 1940's, nothing was more terrifying than Martians. People were convinced little green men would come to Earth, maim our livestock, shoot us with ray guns, blow up our houses and explore our daughters with syringes. This fear held fast through the 60's and 70's, freaking us out all the way up until E.T. turned aliens into alcoholic stuffed animals with great comic timing. The 80's ruined everything.
For proof, just spend a day with Cosmi, star of Capcom's quirky import, Under the Skin. Our Smurfish hero from Planet Mischief is sent to Earth in order to prove his mettle as a sneaky little troublemaker by playing pranks on unsuspecting humans. Unfortunately, his timing is way off and the only one doing any drinking will be you, because his repetitive game is about as rewarding as a surprise anal probe.
The gameplay had promise, at least. In the game's main Story mode, you play as Cosmi through eight small levels and set about annoying, irritating, and generally pestering people. This is accomplished by playing any of forty different pranks on them. And when I say "playing pranks," I obviously mean "using items," because that's really all you do here.
The humans might be stupid, but they're not dumb, and do in fact know the difference between a little blue alien and a normal human being, so you have to disguise yourself by shooting them with your handy little zapper. You then scamper over to any of several UFOs floating around on each level to transform into that person. Doing so gives you that person's camouflage and particular assortment of five pranks, which you then use on the other humans in order to scare them out of their'coins.
Yep, your ultimate goal is to collect coins. Either you have to collect a certain number before time runs out, or you have to collect more than an opposing alien. No matter how you slice it, you're grabbing coins. Coins. Now there's an otherworldly concept.
Obviously, much of the game's success hinges on the pranks themselves, but sadly there is little rhyme, reason, or complex strategy here. Basic pranks like laying down tacks, bopping people with a boxing glove or shooting them with a rifle can be just as effective as the more creative ones, like the swarm of land sharks, thegiant hamburger of doom or " you guessed it " the pungent fart. Naturally, nailing lots of people at once nets you more coins, but there just isn't much skill to any of it.
As you annoy the masses, they get upset and chase after you. You can take two hits before turning back into your original blue form, at which point you'll also lose a heap of coins. The only way to make the mob chill out is to find a UFO and transform, a feat that boggles the crowds even if they are staring directly at you when you do it. Transforming is also the only way to gain new pranks, so it should come as no surprise that the game quickly turns into a boring routine of pranking, zapping, transforming and repeating. This is not a deep game.
Part of the problem is that the eight levels are categorically tiny. You can scope out the whole level in about one minute, leaving you a good nine minutes to just scare people out of their coins. Under the Skin tries to add some flair in the form of Panic Time, level specific incidents that crop up a few times during the course of a round. The danger level increases, but if you play it correctly you'll pick up tons of coins. More often than not, you can almost ignore it altogether.
However, you can't ignore Under the Skin's graphics, clearly the game's brightest spot. The cel-shaded look is somewhere in between Jet Set Radio and Viewtiful Joe, with sharp, clean lines and surprisingly fluid animations. More could have been done with interactive environmental objects, but by and large the graphics don't disappoint.
Especially when compared to the sound. The shrieks and groans of the humans grate on the nerves after an hour or so, and the music is pretty bland throughout.
If the repetitive nature of the gameplay wasn't rough enough, Under the Skin is also thin when it comes to game modes and replay value. Aside from the Story mode, you can play a Vs. match against another alien from Planet Whatever, try your hand at Co-Op, or eventually open up Training mode, which essentially lets you grab as many coins as possible in a certain amount of time. None of these add any new levels or gameplay tweaks and wind up doing absolutely nothing to heighten the experience.
Under the Skin would be better suited as a free online Flash game than something sold at retail. It fails to live up to its odd premise and relies too heavily on being offbeat, ultimately turning into more of a cute diversion than a full-fledged game. Under the Skin proves that we are not alone, but maybe we'd be better off if we were.