Ugly Americans, for those unaware, is an animated series on Comedy Central. Ugly Americans: Apocalypsegeddon is thus a licensed game based upon an animated property that I’ve never seen. That is usually not a recipe for quality. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that it was actually pretty good.
For a game based on a cartoon, I’d really expected more from the graphics for this game. It is rendered in cel-shaded 3D, with “animated” cut scenes before and after the more intense levels. I put animated in sarcasti-quotes because, for some reason, the cut scenes are more of a slideshow than a cartoon, with characters jumping from one pose to another, with no attempt made to synch lips, or for that matter, even move mouths. Again, we are talking about a cartoon here. The source material has animators. One wonders why they couldn’t have tossed three or four minutes of full motion animation in the direction of the developers.
The in-game visuals are more along the lines of what I’d expected. Reasonably faithful representations of the characters, a small assortment of enemies with color variations to indicate toughness, and play area scattered with assorted destructible tidbits. When it comes to the functionality of the graphics, though, things improve. Attacks prompt red damage values above the targets when they connect, healing items produce green healing values. Critical hits produce larger numbers, and even when an attack does no damage, there is a visual effect that indicates that you are on-target. This is useful, because unlike most twin stick shooters, Apocalypsegeddon is played from from an angled point of view, rather than top down. This skews your aim somewhat, which takes some getting used to. The indicators of various power-ups and status ailments, both for you and for the enemies, are easy to spot and easy to understand, and there are even quick ways to know what weapons are best suited for which characters, thanks to the appropriate player’s portrait showing up beside the weapon-switch button when they get near. Strange though it may be for the graphics of a licensed game to place greater emphasis on the gameplay than the story, that seems to be what happened here. With any luck, it is the start of a trend.
Traditionally, the gameplay in a licensed game is vestigial, existing only to the minimum degree necessary for it to be called a game. Such is not the case at all in Ugly Americans. Generally speaking, Apocalypsegeddon is a twin stick shooter, a genre that takes on many forms, from the Robotron/Smash TV variants to the more recent Age of Zombies and Geometry Wars types. This certainly trends toward the AoZ end of the spectrum, but with considerable added depth. One stick moves, the other aims and autofires. The types of guns – or rather the types of ammunition – are unique to say the least. Basically, there is an assortment of common items (snow globes, salt shakers, baseballs) and less common items (harpoons, demon penises) that can be found and put to work slaughtering the enemy. Two of the four playable characters are magic users and as such can summon the items in question. For the two vanilla humans on the crew, the BSU (Blow S**T Up) 2000 provides you with the same ability. Different items have widely varying – and frequently nonsensical – combat characteristics. The humble baseball, for example, fires rapidly in a straight line. The hammer fires in pairs that crisscross in a sine wave pattern across the screen. There are items that are lobbed, heat seeking devices, and even things that are distinctly rail gun like. Adding to the strategy of the game is the fact that each character adds effects to certain weapons. Mark lends stun or slow effects to his chosen weaponry, Leonard increases weapon penetration, Callie boosts the damage, and Francis increases the size of explosions. When things get hairy, each character has a special attack that is good for clearing huge swaths of the screen.
On top of the various weapon effects, each character has got different starting and maximum levels of various attributes: strength, vigor, spirit, guts, agility, and fortune. Every time you level up, and it happens pretty quickly, you earn a point that you can pour into one of these areas, allowing you to hit harder, take more hits before dying, recharge your special faster, move faster, or just find more loot. As if that wasn’t enough customizability, starting at about the midpoint of the campaign certain levels will have hidden baby, which if found goes to the orphanage. You can foster one of these babies at a time, gaining a passive effect along with it. Some have simple benefits, like raising your defense, while others are more complex, like increasing your attack as your health decreases, or increasing the duration and effect of power-ups. Think of the animal orbs in Castle Crashers and you’ve got the idea. Speaking of power-ups, you’ll find the usual assortment. There are energy drinks to speed you up (both movement speed and rate of fire), boost your defense, and boost your attack. Likewise, tacos and ‘egg dogs’ restore a certain percent of your health, which is nice, because it means that boosting your vigor won’t require you to hog all of the health items to heal up. Your teammates will appreciate that. Once you get enough points, and you’ve got a pretty firm grip on the controls, you’ll be able to easily solo each of the levels, but that isn’t the intention of the game. Ideally, you should be playing with as many as three friends locally or via Live. Doing so, aside from being much more fun, affords you certain benefits, like the ability to revive fallen comrades when their health reaches zero. Being multiplayer, there really doesn’t need to be any consideration for replay value, but the developers threw some incentives in anyway. Aside from the standard completionist desire to max out the stats for all characters, there is also an extras menu that will let you purchase deleted scenes from the series, and collections of voice work from the enemies… if you’re into that sort of thing.
I did not like the sound in this game. There wasn’t anything wrong with the voices. The main characters are obviously done by professional voice people, their on-screen performers, and are suitably well voiced. I’m sure that the enemies are voiced by their television counterparts as well. The problem I had was that the enemies are exceedingly chatty, but don’t have much to say. The birdmen of the first level, for instance, speak exclusively in a handful of comically profane comments. I understand that this is a reference to the show, in which the creatures evidently have managed to make a whole language out of the bizarre potty talk, but that doesn’t change the fact that I was sick of being told to “suck my balls” after the hundredth time, which I believe was forty-five seconds into the first level. Each enemy type has its own short list of taunts, and they all got on my nerves in record time. Yes, the zombies are confused, and want Nyquil. This has been established. The enemy audio could have used a bit more variety or, failing that, a lot less frequency. Preferably both. As a side note, this is rated M, and the seven dirty words are in full force, so keep away from the kiddies.
For those who have not seen the show, like me, it takes place in a world where zombies, demons, and other horror staples are a fact of life, and must all try to live together in peace along with standard mortals. Some try harder than others. Our heroes all work for the Department of Integration, and find themselves with their work cut out for them when something starts stirring up the crazies more than usual. It is eventually discovered that much of the mayhem stems from the music of a demon who bears a remarkable resemblance to Callie, one of the protagonists. Generally speaking, it is a plot at least good enough to carry an episode, and like the plots of the show, it exists primarily as a means to deliver horrific dead baby comedy. If you are easily offended, probably you’re better off seeking out something a bit more PG.
Ugly Americans is a game that is easy to write off as just another licensed piece of trash, but if you give it a moment of your time, you’ll find that it is actually a reasonably deep and, dare I say, enjoyable multiplayer shooter. Ironically, virtually all of the things I found problematic about the game were a result of its source material, as though the only thing holding it back was its own license.
8.0 / 10: A surprisingly deep and enjoyable twin stick shooter.