At first glance, Little Red Riding Hood’s Zombie BBQ looks like an awesome freak accident involving Ikari Warriors and Capcom’s Darkstalkers. Upon closer inspection, though, it’s just not as enjoyable as either of those classics. Zombie BBQ is essentially a vertical-scrolling shooter; quite an innovative one at times, but for the most part, it’s tedious and overly fussy. It casts players as one of two selectable protagonists: Little Red Riding Hood and Momotaro (bringing the bedtime heroine and the Japanese storybook character together for the first time). The premise is simple: Begin each level at the bottom of the screen, blasting everything that stands between you and the end of the level — which is always punctuated by some sort of boss battle or miniboss encounter. You use the DS stylus to direct your machine gun or throwing stars (which offer unlimited ammo, but require reloading); this does a good job of emulating 360 degrees worth of shot angles. Enemies — primarily zombies — erupt from the ground and march their way downscreen, which is where the bulk of the problems arise.
Since Zombie BBQ doesn’t feature a scoring system, you have very little reason to shoot the zombies at all, since most of them walk right on by without so much as glancing your way. Shooting them just gives you something to do as the screen slowly trundles by at a glacial pace. In theory, you could just press left and right and avoid the zombies altogether…at least until you progress deep enough to discover the more mobile skeletons who throw skulls at you, or the coffins that pop out of the ground to do the same. It’s mostly slow going until you reach the mid- to high-level stages, at which point almost too much stuff’s happening at any given moment. The zombies multiply in excessive numbers; they become too hard to dodge with all the crap flying at you, and it’s obvious that the developers implemented things like exploding barrels to help alleviate the chaos — except they’re usually too far from the zombies to offer much help at all. And — when you haven’t accidentally blown these barrels up with friendly fire meant for an incoming zombie — they inflict little splash damage, which makes them less effective than just shooting enemies head-on. Power-ups (like flamethrowers and shotguns) hidden in crates scattered around each stage offer meager variety, as none of them last very long and aren’t powerful enough to bother with.
Click the image above to check out all the Little Red Riding Hood’s Zombie BBQ screens.
A few other issues hamper what should’ve been a no-brainer blaster. The weapons force you to reload by lifting the stylus off the screen and pressing it down again, which is highly annoying. Can you imagine playing Gradius and reloading every five seconds? Didn’t think so. The top and bottom screens also don’t align well, which causes problems when zombies are popping up on the bottom screen, skull-chucking coffins appear on the top screen, and you’re trying to shoot at a distant dog who’s carrying a health power-up. When the shots you fire on the bottom half reappear on the top half slightly misaligned, you then have to re-aim and fire again — which, in a shooter like this, is an almost unforgivable sin.
Fortunately, Zombie BBQ’s boss battles shine. Featuring an almost Treasure-esque caliber of ingenuity and design, these fights — versus reinterpreted incarnations of Hansel and Gretel, Pinocchio, and other fairytale favorites — are usually clever and strategy-filled, in stark contrast to the rest of the game. Great boss battles can often salvage a mediocre game (see: half of Treasure’s games), but in the case of Zombie BBQ, it’s just not enough. People who like deliberately campy, cheesy premises (like a Tarantino film) might find some subversive pleasure in this unique-yet-half-baked effort, but those looking for a little more depth would do well to pass this one by.