I assume the process of adapting an animated comedy into a quality videogame is quite challenging. The first hurdle is to think of what genre would best suit the property and, in the case of Comedy Central’s Ugly Americans, developer Backbone Entertainment apparently figured a dual analogue shooter would work. While such a straightforward genre may be easy to execute, the downside is the large number of strong competitors in the downloadable marketplace. This is the ultimate undoing for Ugly Americans: Apocalypsegeddon because, although it has many flaws, they are made all the more glaring by how many better alternatives exist.
The story involves the approach of Armageddon/Apocalypse when Ellie’s demonic half-sister, Desdemona, becomes a heavy metal star and plans to marry fellow demon Twain. Mark Lilly and his pals at the Department of Integration in New York City decide to intervene by killing the rioting monster population, in what seems like a gross abuse of government authority (but no one in the game seems to find it odd). The narrative stays true to the show’s humor, though it is not afraid to make full use of its M rating to indulge in swear words and more “adult” content not suited for television broadcast.
The narrative is told through partially animated cutscenes. The animation sequences resemble more of a motion comic than the actual TV show. Even though most of the cast reprise their roles, the dialogue features no lip synching and the overall effect is choppy. What should have been a treat for fans - a complete story wrapped around a videogame - is actually one of the biggest disappointments; the cutscenes are not enjoyable to watch.
Gameplay is rather standard for a dual analog shooter. You mow down hordes of enemies by tilting the right stick in the direction you want to attack and move around with the other. There are powerups that temporarily increase your character’s speed, strength, and defense. Characters also level up the more you play. At the end of each level, provided you performed well enough, you have the opportunity to boost some of your stats. There is a small but noticeable difference between the characters, so you are likely to develop a preference at some point. They all have their own special attacks that help get rid of an encroaching crowd of enemies in a pinch, my favorite being Grimes’ (he dons an 80s mullet complete with matching machine gun).
The name of the weapon used by all of the characters (except the wand-waving wizard Leonard) is the BSU, which stands for Blow Shit Up. It allows you to turn common everyday objects, such as baseballs, propane tanks, and snow globes into deadly projectiles with their own rate of fire and trajectory. You find new weapon pickups by destroying objects in the environment and picking them up by pressing the right shoulder button. The weapons behave differently enough in range and power that it actually is a smart move to think about which one you want to use before the start of each level.
The game’s enemies get stronger, faster, and more aggressive over time, but the game actually gets easier as you progress if you stick with the same character because of how ridiculously strong you get through leveling up. You can also adopt a demon child who provides unique advantages such as stronger attacks the closer you are to death.
The game is playable with up to four players online or locally. The four characters are Ellie, Mark, Leonard, and Grimes, with Fred being glaringly absent. If one player dies their partner(s) can revive them. The game does not get any better with more players (things actually tended to be a bit awkward when sharing such an unexciting experience with a group of friends. It was as if we all knew there was a better way to spend our time but were too afraid to say anything).
Aesthetically the cel-shaded graphics just do not cut it. The game resembles the look of the show but from afar, or through the eyes of someone not familiar with the property, it looks like a very ugly game. The levels don’t display any creativity, the terrain is always flat and you are always moving in one simple direction. There are parked cars, benches, mailboxes, and other objects on the side of the road (some destructible, some not). Most of the time it looks like the same assets are re-used, except towards the end of the game when things look a bit more apocalyptic with fires and destruction everywhere.
Another drawback is that the game is just not funny, no matter how hard it tries to be. Most enemies repeat the same one liner that falls flat endlessly, the worst offender being the Birdmen who not only spew crap out of their rear ends, but also say things like “Gobble my knob.” The humor is so juvenile and crude that it distracts from some of the more bearable aspects of the game. Wading through streets covered in Manbird feces is no one’s idea of a good time.
The music has a retro arcade vibe but you won’t notice it unless you really try. There are also some areas where death metal will take over the soundtrack though. These tracks are terrible and meant irritate the player. The metal also serves a gameplay purpose, because when it blasts out of a stereo it powers up nearby enemies with either extra strength, speed, or defense, until you destroy the musical source (as if you needed more incentive to do so).
The game is not only bland but short. There are 11 stages in total, three of which are boss battles, leaving the remaining 8 to be short space fillers. With enough persistence you could beat the game in under an hour. Dual analog shooters live and die by their replayability and to be fair Ugly Americans does try to give you incentive you to keep playing. In addition to trying for a higher score, you can level up all of the characters to maximize their skills, find the remaining demon babies for the orphanage, or just collect enough money to unlock all of the extras in the in-game shop. The extras mostly include art galleries, but the most worthwhile bonus is a full episode of the show which is fully animated and features the show’s trademark macabre humor. That is still not enough, however, to justify spending $10/800 MS Points on the game when there are so many better dual analog shooters available for download.
Ugly Americans: Apocalypsegeddon is boring, shallow, and repetitive. It features crude animation and even cruder humor. Not even fans of the show should bother with this one. Even taken as a mediocre shooter wrapped in Ugly Americans' skin it fails to entertain. This is a bad game not worth anyone's time or the price of admission; the presentation and gameplay alone make it the bottom of the barrel among the downloadable marketplace.