Deep-Fried (?) 8-bit Goodness
HIGH Getting a huge Tempura combo...
LOW ...and losing it by falling down a pit at the end of the level.
WTF Is up with the Tempura reference? I thought that was to do with deep-frying.
It's generally a lottery as to which games do well on the Xbox Live Indie channel, so picking titles is usually done by looks and title alone. However, the thing which drew me to The Tempura of the Dead over all others was its price.
Getting indie games for 80 MS Points (1$/70p) is always great, but Tempura is priced at 240 MS Points, one of the most "expensive" titles offered. It was curious and a little bold to see developer 8bit Fanatics price their game at three times more than virtually everything else, and it was this that initially drew me to Tempura. By the end of the trial I was hooked.
Tempura, like many other indie titles, is an 8-bit 2D action adventure, except the level of polish distinguishes itself from its peers. Unlike some NES-era style titles which can look ugly and end up grating on the eyes and ears, Tempura finds the right balance between nostalgia and standing up on its own merits. Graphics aren't usually a chief concern of mine when playing titles, especially XBLI ones, but in an arena where ideas are often the greatest weapon, to have one which packs both great mechanics as well as looks is all the sweeter.
The game begins in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. The President of the United States leaps from his helicopter to the aid of a Samurai warrior who is defending survivors against the undead. President Thompson and the Samurai team up to defeat the zombie menace, but not before a quick lesson in "Bushi-do" (the way of the warrior).
It transpires that rather than simply killing zombies, their heads needs to be juggled to in order to salvage their souls. Most players will care little for a zombie's soul, but each head juggled successfully is rewarded with lives (or "lefts" in the game). The collection of lefts becomes more interesting when it's shown that they also function as currency in the game's shops. It is possible to complete the levels without successfully juggling heads, but without lots of lefts, players can't purchase upgrades for either character, and such a state leaves one at the mercy of this game's punishing difficulty curve.
Speaking of which... For the first few levels Tempura feels a little tame. The player will find themselves facing the first boss without too much bother, but don't be fooled—this is essential practice time! After this point, the game begins to bring the challenge thick and fast, and if juggling skills aren't quickly brought to bear, players will have a tough time on their hands.
In addition to the juggling and upgrades, Tempura also has players swapping between the machine gun-toting President and the Samurai warrior. As you might expect, each of the duo has their own strengths and weaknesses. The President can't jump as high, but he can attack at range, something which becomes essential later on. The Samurai can jump higher, but can only strike enemies close by. This sounds fairly standard by all accounts, but the level design and the various enemies are coupled with the buyable upgrades mentioned earlier to alter the dynamic of each characters as the game progresses.
This constant push for change and increasing difficulty force the player to constantly modify tactics in order to succeed—a punishing, yet rewarding feeling when it pays off. Of course, some might regard the whole set up as unfair, especially when simply touching an enemy knocks a character off their feet while dealing damage and leaving them open to further attack. On some occasions it is possible to be killed by the most basic enemies thanks to a mis-timed jump or by being backed into a corner.
Alright, I'll admit it now, Tempura is not going to be for everyone. This 8-bit title is tough yet appealing and has the risk of being labeled "expensive" when compared to other XBLIG titles, but The Tempura of the Dead is a game which can hold its own against other XBLIG titles without being shamed. The combination of mechanics is where the enjoyment lies, and both its depth and its polish make the experience worthwhile.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via paid download through Xbox Live Indie Games and reviewed on the 360. Approximately 5 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed once).
Parents: Game contains violence and decapitated zombie heads throughout, although because of its retro looks, does not appear that graphic. There is no sexual content or questionable language.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing: While cut-scenes and dialogue are subtitled, there are no essential audio cues needed for gameplay.