Thursday, August 27, 2009

PS2 look: Under The Skin

Being without internet access did little to dissuade me from purchasing games. Sure any other time I could have gone to gamefaqs or some internet messageboard and found out everything I needed to know about any prospective purchase but all the same I made do without that particular luxury. I say this because if I had internet access I guarantee I never would have purchased Capcom's Under the Skin. 

This game is very different. I can imagine why it did poorly as the back of the box tells basically nothing about what the game is about. In fact even the manual is a bit of a head-scratcher until you actually sit down and play the game. The story is about a young alien who as part of his training(for what I don't know) must undergo a test on an alien planet. This alien planet just happens to be Earth. On earth this alien competes or cooperates with various other aliens to annoy humans and collect coins. 

The genre for this game is not something you can describe very easily. It has some aspects of a competitive game but it's also light enough to be a party game yet also features some elements of action and even puzzle games. When you start your first stage your alien is briefly shown until he takes the form of a human and is given various items. There are many items and they range from cannons to rockets to guns to pies to fireworks to karoake microphones to farts to well you get the idea here. The trick is to go up to humans and use these various items to beat them up/annoy them and collect the coins they drop. Getting hit with a pie or a missile is bound to make people angry though and they'll chase you down. If they hit you you're reduced to a swimsuit(just like Ghosts & Goblins) and one more hit will put you back in alien form and minus a ton of coins(which are strewn about for your rival to collect). In order to recover you have to capture a human and find one of the various UFOs scattered about to change into them. A list of items is shown whenever you target a human and you get whatever they're holding when you get to a UFO. 

Your rival will be out and about trying to cause havoc like yourself and they can goof up and lose their coins as well. Furthermore you can actually target the rival yourself and cause them to drop their coins(though they'll just as likely do the same to you). While you don't know exactly what your rival is carrying different humans tend to carry certain items. 

To further complicate things the various stages the two of you participate in have a little something called "Panic Time!". During Panic time fortunes can be reversed and chaos takes over. In one stage everyone gets a case of road rage and tries to run you over, another stage giant rolling rocks are replaced by golden boulders that drop serious coinage if destroyed, and others offer similar effects. This happens a few times over the course of each match and can be used to turn the tables if need be(or just as likely ruin a great advantage). 

Surprisingly there's a bit of depth and balance to this game. Items can be comboed depending on how many humans are hit and this results in bonus coins. Since a UFO moves to a different spot after being used you can really annoy your rival by "stealing" UFOs that they need to recover a human form. Items like vacuums can gather up coins lying around the entire playfield, thus punishing players that focus merely on grouping lots of humans together to amass combos. Some humans actually carry (?) items that either hand out random items, give an alien-exclusive special item(like one that turns the main character into a superhero), or give out a virus that swallows up their various items and reduces them to alien form if they don't get rid of it or change humans again. There are a lot of variables to keep things fresh but it never gets to the point where things become completely random and the winner almost always turns out to be the one who found that particular item.

The single-player mode uses an actual ranking system that judges players on collecting coins and causing chaos and punishes them for continuing and/or saving their progress. It's a nice feature and really helps to show off the effort Capcom put into making this as functional a game as possible. However like similar titles this game really shines when played with a friend(though a friend within reach willing to sit down with a game like this is definitely a luxury).

Overall this game is a bit of an odd bird and once again it probably isn't for everyone but I like it. On the other hand if I read reviews of this game beforehand(even positive ones) I can guarantee I wouldn't have picked this game up. Whatever genre this game is is really not my type at all.

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