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.
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
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
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, the
giant 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.
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.