The Typing of the Dead – Dreamcast
Platform: Sega Dreamcast
Developer: WOW Entertainment, Smilebit
Release Date (NA): January 23, 2001
Genre: Survival Horror, Educational
Nerd Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Reviewed by Nike Halifax
“You know what’s a great idea? Typing with zombies.”
Peripherals. Pretty sure every major console had them. And a lot of the not major ones. I mean, a controller is limiting. You can only do so much with one form of interaction, right? Sometimes you have to branch out. If you’re a hardcore fighting game player, sometimes you want a good old-fashioned arcade stick. If you’re a Smash Bros. fan, sometimes you need to spend 20 dollars on a special adapter so you can resurrect a 13-year-old controller even though there are like five other ways to play the fucking game.
You’ve got your guns, your musical instruments, your weird and wacky alternative controllers, paddle controls, microphones, and your official SEGA-licensed vibrator (no, really). You’ve got your multi-taps for multiple controllers. You’ve got that bullshit remote control thing so you can watch movies on the original Xbox. Back in the day—like way, way back in the day—they had keyboards. What better way to disguise a gaming console than slapping on a keyboard and calling it a computer? The Atari had it, COLECO had it, and the Famicom had it. The Odyssey 2 had it built into the console itself. Did people ever use it? Like, barely. Maybe for those bullshit BASIC carts companies packed in with everything.
It goes without saying, but I’m glad I was born in a time when we didn’t have to worry about console manufacturers ham-fisting keyboards into their technology.
Oh no. Oh no no no. Oh no. I thought we put this behind us. I thought those days were over!
You said you wouldn’t do this shit to me anymore, SEGA. You said I wouldn’t have to worry about shit like this ever again.
I’m not ready for this level of commitment, SEGA. Not after the 32X, not after the Sega CD, not after I saw you eyeing Bandai like some two-bit floozy.
SEGA please, this is so awkward, I don’t want to talk to other people right now; I just want to talk to you.
SEGA I CAN’T KEEP GOING THROUGH WITH THIS I JUST NEED SOME SP—hey, wait a minute. What is…is that? Okay, I’m listening…
Two keyboards and one game purchase later and I regret nothing. Typing of the Dead is wonderful. It’s what happens when someone at late 1990s SEGA sees the writing on the wall and thinks “fuck it, I’m gonna lose my job soon anyway,” then proceeds to lock Mavis Beacon in a room with House of the Dead 2 and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. The next day, the SEGA employee (who by this point has downed half a bottle of cheap rotgut himself) stumbles into the board room piss-drunk, pants around his ankles and tie around his forehead, and presents the resulting abomination to the board of directors. The members of the board think “fuck it, we’re going to have to liquidate everything anyway,” and decide to take it to the company president. The president, who by this point has played Sonic Spinball for seventy-two consecutive hours and has lost the will to live, jumps onto his desk and screams:
“Ākēdo de kono tawagoto o irete itte kudasai!~~~”
Which roughly translates to “Put this shit in the arcades.”
And they did. And it was great. I think. I don’t know; I didn’t play the arcade version.
I did play the Dreamcast version. I played it because they made it. They made it and they pressed it to millions of discs and shipped it out for sale. Because fuck it, they (thought they) were going out of business anyway.
What is Typing of the Dead? Why is Typing of the Dead? The “what” is simple: The Typing of the Dead is House of the Dead 2 with keyboards. The “why” is self-explanatory. Typing of the Dead is fun. It’s unbridled fun, and it has a relatively low barrier to entry provided you have a Dreamcast keyboard and touch-typing skills. Actually, that’s a substantial barrier to entry… well, it’s on the PC now too, but we’re gonna stick with the Dreamcast version here. Why?
So anyway, did you ever play House of the Dead 2? If you didn’t, that’s alright, it’s a simple premise. The House of the Dead is a series of light-gun rail shooters. You use a gun peripheral (either provided to you at an arcade or purchased separately for home console use) to point and shoot at different enemies on screen—in this case, zombies. You move on a predetermined path and do your best to kill as many enemies as you can while avoiding incoming attacks. Games are short, usually lasting well under an hour, and are designed with arcades in mind—short, intense bursts of entertainment and plenty of cheap, easy deaths. It’s an arcade staple and a former favorite for home consoles. Long story short, both (first person) rail shooters and light guns are basically dead in the console scene; the former having been usurped by FPS titles, and the latter rendered obsolete by the advance of technology.
Light guns only work on traditional CRT televisions, so…that’s why Duck Hunt doesn’t work when you hook it up to the plasma. By the way, good on you for having a plasma; I hate that those are dying out too. The best way to get your rail-shooting fix nowadays is to either play that Jurassic Park game that’s at literally every fucking arcade or settle for the thirty thousand or so titles released for the Wii. It’s close enough, but not quite the same.
So it’s serendipitous (albeit a bit weird), then, that the Dreamcast version of TTOTD can still be played on modern televisions. It doesn’t look that great, but that’s okay, the game’s wonderful. Anyway, here’s how all this works: In House of the Dead, Zombies take several shots to kill. TTOTD translates this into button presses. Every enemy has a text box in front of them displaying a set of words or letters. Your job is to type these letters out as quickly as possible. Each correct keystroke counts as a shot on the enemy. If you miss a letter or type something out incorrectly, the shooting stops and you’re left staring awkwardly at an axe-wielding corpse for a few seconds. It ends badly for you.
Obviously, accuracy is important. Luckily, the game gives you several cues to let you know if you’re doing something correctly. As you type, your input shows underneath the initial text prompt, but only if you’re typing it correctly. For example, let’s say the enemy has a prompt that says “All’s well that ends well,” and you type it all out, but the line of text underneath only reads “All’s well tha.” If you’re looking at the screen, you’ll notice your text isn’t showing up and the zombie is no longer being blown to bits. If you’re looking down at the keyboard, you’ll still hear the distinct sound of your shots “missing.” Things can get pretty intense as the game goes on, so you’re bound to make a few errors. You may look down and realize you’ve been hitting “R” instead of “T” on the keyboard this whole time, and that’s why the rest of the phrase isn’t coming up. You have a very short amount of time to fix that mistake before you get your ass handed to you, especially in the later levels.
It creates a very frantic, sometimes frustrating tension, but you get an odd sense of satisfaction when you successfully type out a phrase and blow an enemy away. Each correct keystroke provides immediate feedback—the same kind of feeling you get when you pull off a great combo in a fighting game or nail a perfect headshot. It helps that the game scores you based on how quickly and how accurately you type out each phrase. There’s a zen to it, and the better and faster you are, the more satisfying it will be.
The game also starts you off easy and scales up with reasonable difficulty. You start off with single words and letters and build your way up to increasingly complex phrases. Machine and shotgun powerups from House of the Dead are replaced with thesaurus or dictionary upgrades. Instead of rapid fire, every word has something to do with animals for the next thirty seconds, or every word starts with the same letter, things like that. Obviously the game’s been adjusted to accommodate the completely different play mechanics, so zombies don’t come to you as quickly or as aggressively. Bosses have been completely retooled and serve to spice up the action, and are probably the most interesting part of the game.
Basically, the boss fights have different gimmicks. My personal favorite is the third boss (creatively named “Tower”). It’s a three-headed hydra thing, and the first half of the fight is based around answering questions. The game presents a question, and each head lists a different answer. Only one is correct, and it’s up to you to choose it and type it out within the few seconds you’re allotted. Another boss chases you down a hallway with a chainsaw and it’s your goal to type out a paragraph as fast as you can.
The premise and the gameplay alone are enough to warrant high marks for TTOTD, but the game goes out of its way to make sure you enjoy yourself. One thing I’ve neglected to mention is that most of the phrases presented to you are off-beat, off-the-wall, off-color, and at times just hilarious. It’s exhaustive, as well; I’ve played through the game several times and have yet to see everything it has to offer.
The whole game’s just funny. From the premise, to the phrases themselves, to the cutscenes with voice acting that’s so terrible that it had to be intentional. Then there’s the fact that the cutscenes have been altered so that the main characters are shown running around with keyboards strapped to their chests and Dreamcasts and giant batteries strapped to their backs. Typing of the Dead knows it’s stupid, and that’s wonderful. Basically, if you’re a good typist, it’s an instant recommendation.
“But Nike,” I hear you asking, “what if I’m not a good typist?”
Have no fear, sweet child, the game’s got you covered. In addition to the main game, TTOTD offers a full suite of touch-typing tutorials in the vein of Mavis Beacon. The exhaustive lesson plan is presented as a series of unlockable modules that teach everything from finger placement to…well…typing without looking at the screen. The game even drills you and lets you know what keys you have an especially difficult time with. Separate from the straight tutorials are the drill games, which test you on different aspects of typing such as speed and accuracy. These are fun little mini-games that keep track of your high scores and offer a nice break from the main game. The inclusion of these drills and the full-fledged touch-typing modules elevate TTOTD from a fun gimmick to a legitimately educational game. That’s pretty amazing, all things considered.
So what’s the downside? Well, the peripheral, of course. The keyboard is great but the usage is limited. Only a few Dreamcast games actually utilize it, and the device itself utilizes the Dreamcast controller’s proprietary connection, so its use is limited strictly to the Dreamcast. Both the game and keyboards are pretty cheap (well, they were…the game’s gone up in price quite a bit recently), but it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth the expenditure. Additionally, the game looks none too pretty, even for Dreamcast standards. It’s hard to expect much, considering the color palette consists of browns, greys, and gross vivid greens, but the blurry textures and bland locales don’t translate well to high definition displays, and are merely serviceable in standard-def.
Typing of the Dead is also very short, which is good because it doesn’t outstay its welcome, but bad because it’s not long before you start to get bored with repeat playthroughs. Like any arcade-inspired title, it’s something better played in short bursts every now and then.
Lastly, multiplayer. It’s great, but it does require two keyboards, and it also requires equal levels of typing prowess to really be any fun. Otherwise, one person will just completely dominate the other. Players will often find themselves typing out the same phrases, and it becomes a race to see who can finish faster. In theory, you could attack different enemies, but this is a reflex-heavy game, so you’re both likely to focus on whatever’s closest to you. If there’s a skill gap, it won’t be that fun of an experience since only one of you will be getting any points.
Truly though, these are nitpicks. Even if you don’t play two-player, The Typing of the Dead is still a great party game, and just a great game in general. It’s fun, it’s satisfying, it’s funny, and it’s unique. It is, to me, the quintessential Dreamcast game. But yeah, if you want to play it on PC, that’s okay too. It’s just…you know…not as cool.
I’m too cool to think about losers.
That’s…that’s one of the sentences in the game. I was gonna use a screenshot for it as my end picture but I couldn’t find any so…have this instead, I guess.
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