The Tempura of the Dead

A game by 8bits Fanatics for Xbox 360, originally released in 2010.
There once was a time when the President’s only role in an action game was to be kidnapped by ninjas or other nefarious ne’er-do-wells. Presidents and their daughters have been getting kidnapped for decades now, with little means to fight back on their own. For a long time, it seemed that Mayor Haggar would be the only public official capable of taking matters into his own hands.

But all of that has changed, and people seem to feel that President Barack Obama is a much more action-oriented fellow, his feats of fictionally-overblown heroism possibly even surpassing those of vampire-slaying President emeritus, Abraham Lincoln. And now, rather than being kidnapped by ninjas, the President of the United States of America is actually teaming up with a sword-wielding samurai to rid the country of its latest threat: zombies. The character in the game isn’t actually called President Obama (he is President Thompson), but the intent is clearly there.

The story is played out through a stylized introduction that hearkens back to the 8-bit cinematics of Ninja Gaiden and the games that followed. Everything is displayed in exaggerated stills, with text appearing beneath the characters. The story is over-the-top and largely nonsensical, and the text features plenty of possibly accidental Engrish (this is a Japanese-developed game) which completely sells the retro flavor, whether intended or not. The story is that the U.S. has been overrun with zombies. The president is flying in a helicopter and sees a samurai down on the ground fighting off the hordes of undead. Rather than retreat to the safety of his zombie fallout bunker (you know he has one), he grabs a machine gun and dives out of the helicopter to help.

Some even more whacked out dialogue occurs, where President Thompson learns that samurai Sugimoto is not only killing zombies but rescuing their souls using the “Tempura-Ryu Samurai Arts”. Basically, if you decapitate a zombie, and then juggle its head long enough, the head will turn into tempura and the zombie’s soul will be freed. The President, not arguing the logic of this statement, is only concerned that he has a machine gun rather than a sword. But Sugimoto assures him that the method works with any weapon, because Bushi-do is in the mind. And so the action begins.

Throughout the game, you are able to switch between Thompson and Sugimoto at will by pressing the right bumper. From a combat standpoint, this allows you to toggle between the president’s long-range machine gun and the samurai’s shorter but more powerful sword. This isn’t terribly dissimilar from the sword/shuriken combo available in the Shinobi series. The characters have different movement abilities as well. For instance, the samurai is capable of jumping slightly higher. As the game progresses, you will be able to unlock new weapons and abilities for each character (more on this shortly).

The most abundant enemy in the game is the zombies, which come in several varieties. By slashing a zombie a few times with your sword, or unleashing several bursts of machine gun fire, its head will pop off and fly into the air. From there, you need to hit it again to juggle it back into the air. Keep doing this until you get in enough hits, and the zombie’s head will be transformed into tempura, and you’ll be rewarded with additional lives. This puts you into “Tempura Fever” (spelled “Tempura Feaver” in-game), which allows you to instantly tempura-ize any zombie head with just a single hit. The chain continues until you let a zombie head hit the ground.

However, the zombies aren’t actually the primary focus of your mission. Instead, you need to clear each of the levels of several mutant creatures known as Germs of Calamity. These germs are a bit more difficult, and are capable of doling out more damage than your standard shambling foe. At the beginning of the game, they’ll be in plain sight, and not terribly dangerous, allowing you to hop in and slash/shoot them for all you’re worth.

In later levels, however, you’ll need to traverse dangerous environments and seek them out, and they become more dastardly and disgusting as you progress through the game. You’ll need to defeat them all before you can move to the next level, and an indicator at the top of the screen shows how many are remaining.

Many of the levels have alternate paths, which allows for a bit of exploration, and sometimes you’ll find that one path through the level is safer than another. You will fight your way through buildings, the sewers, the outskirts of he city, and several other environments. There is also a secondary objective where you can rescue innocents to be rewarded with extra lives.

Controls are a bit on the sticky side, and it can take some time to get used to juggling zombie heads properly, and to time your jumps. In addition, you don’t have any temporary invincibility when hit. Instead, you’ll go into a short rolling animation and won’t be able to fight back for a second or so. This allows enemies the opportunity to simply keep walking into you – as the shambling dead are wont to do – and cause continuous damage until you die. This may be the root of some frustration, but the levels aren’t terribly long, and you’ll have plenty of lives on hand, particularly given that your life counter is a whopping 10 digits in length!

At the outset, you may be wondering why the game is rewarding you with so many lives, as you watch 1ups, 5ups, and 10ups appear with great frequency. You’ll get extra lives every time you use the Tempura-Ryu Samurai Arts, when you kill germs, and when you rescue citizens, so they will accumulate very quickly. Your remaining lives essentially act as the game’s currency, which you can spend in some between-level shops to purchase new moves or weapons. For instance, the samurai can be upgraded to perform a multi-slash combo and to dash in the air, and the president will get some new weapons and earn a double-jump.

While there are some inaccessible areas early in the game that can only be reached with these earned skills, this isn’t really a Metroidvania style adventure. Inaccessible areas aren’t essential to progression, and the game is comprised of individual levels, rather than a large interconnected world. Levels appear over a map of the United States, with the levels spanning most of the country, which is somewhat reminiscent of the Rampage games.

As one level is completed, the next opens, and players may replay any previously-completed levels as often as they like, particularly to grind for extra lives. The game has 20 main levels and 4 boss levels.

The game has a heavily retro feel, from its well-designed sprite-based enemies and environments, to the game’s soundtrack. The game does not take itself at all seriously, and is filled with little bits of humor in the in-game animations and cheesy chunks of humor in the story and cutscenes.

As their name implies, 8bits Fanatics focuses on creating retro-styled games reminiscent of the 8-bit era.

After the release of The Tempura of the Dead, 8bits Fanatics released Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes to the Xbox Live Indie Games channel. In the same vein as super-hard platformers Spelunky and La-Mulana, the game has you platforming through dozens of enemy- and trap-filled rooms. As you might imagine, there are some spike traps… lots and lots of spike traps. And if the spikes jutting up from every conceivable surface aren’t enough to stop you, the arrow-firing blocks, patrolling scorpions, falling rocks, and pits of lava should be more than enough to do you in. An enhanced version of the game was later released by Nicalis under the title 1001 Spikes, with new levels, unlockable costumes and characters, and 4P multiplayer.

Prior to The Tempura of the Dead, the 8bits Fanatics game that was best known among English-speaking audiences (because it received an English translation) was a freeware PC game known as Challenge from Kiyoshi (a.k.a. Takeshi no Chosenjo). This is an extremely challenging and unforgiving 2D platformer that will try the patience/sanity of even the most hardcore game fans.

The game also appears to have been the basis for Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes, as evidenced by its difficulty, falling rock traps, fireball-spewing lava, and of course, its numerous blood-tipped spikes. The game is chock full of trial-and-error gameplay and numerous insta-kill traps. Oh, and the game also gives the player 2 different jump heights and a starting cache of 1,000 lives, further proving its ancestral nature.

Kolkhoz2928 is a Russian themed game about a robot farmer in the year 2928, who must harvest crops and dodge enemies through numerous single-screen platforming environments. The robot must harvest a certain crop quota in each level in order to provide food for the people who are suffering due to global climate change and population explosion.

And finally, there is Christmadius, which seems to have gained its name as a combination of the words Christmas and Gradius. In this game, you take control of Santa on his sleigh as Rudolph pulls him through the skies, and he hurls presents and candy canes at hapless little boys and girls. Then he collects their love, which appears in the form of floating hearts. This is a casual sidescrolling arcade-style game with very mild shmup elements.