It's not every day that a video game almost takes your life, so forgive me if I spend a few minutes rattling on about the dangers of Midway's newest "sports" game. It was only a few short weeks ago on a day much like today, I was rushing out to retrieve the mail and see if any new games or accessories had shown up. I was halfway out the door when I tripped on a mysterious package and came within inches of falling head-first down a long set of stairs.
Bruised and confused, I decided to open up this mystery box and see what it was that almost sent me to an early grave. I tore into the package excited to solve this mystery only to find a copy of Aqua Team Hunger Force: Zombie Ninja Pro-Am, a golf game based on a popular cartoon. Now that I've officially been introduced to all of the zaniness that makes up this bizarre sports game I kind of wish that I would have fallen down those stairs and spared me from having to suffer through this thoroughly terrible PlayStation 2 game.
Aqua Team Hunger Force: Zombie Ninja Pro-Am is a golf game ... an incredibly stupid, out-dated golf game. As the title implies, the game is based on Aqua Team Hunger Force, which is a show featured on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. I'll be honest with you, this little fact means nothing to me, I don't regularly watch the show and I've done my best to avoid the recent movie. But I'm not lucky enough to avoid the official video game, for whatever reason it decided to track me down and almost kill me.
The game opens up with Frylock (a floating box of French fries) getting accepted to a local golf course. Of course Master Shake (the talking beverage cup) is none too pleased about this and demands to tag along. Along the way the creepy neighbor, Carl, gets involved and from there all hell breaks loose. Of course, this introduction (and boring tutorial mode) is nothing more than an elaborate way to get you to the scummiest golf course around, a place nobody in their right mind would want to visit.
At first the game looks a lot like any other golf game; you pick a club, aim the target and do your best to get it in the hole in as few strokes as possible. For the first few minutes I actually thought that this game could be a lot of fun, it's not very often that you see over-the-top golf games, and even when you do see them they are usually get old quickly (see: Outlaw Golf). I hoped that Zombie Ninja Pro-Am would be different, but it proves to be just another licensed sports game that thinks it's funnier than it actually is.
Let's address the golf aspect of Zombie Ninja Pro-Am first, since it is without a doubt the most solid aspect of this game. Now keep in mind, when I say that it's the most solid that should not imply that the golf mechanics are actually up to snuff, because they aren't. In a lot of ways this Aqua Team Hunger Force game feels exactly like the golf games from 15 years ago that are showing up on the Virtual Console. Your options are extremely limited, you can't zoom in to properly aim your target and you hit the ball exactly the same way you did 23 years ago when playing Golf on the NES. This golf experience feels extremely dated, especially when compared to the things Electronic Arts is doing with the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series.
If this was just a funny, over-the-top golf game then I could accept that and move on. I probably wouldn't have given the game a high score (after all, the one gameplay mechanic dates back to the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System), but there would be no reason to spend a thousand words dogging on the title. Unfortunately Midway decided that a half-baked golf simulator wasn't good enough, Zombie Ninja Pro-Am needed something extra. Unfortunately that something extra ended up being the thing that completely breaks this first Aqua Team Hunger Force game.
You see, the way Zombie Ninja Pro-Am works is that after each shot you actually have to spend the time walking to the ball before you can take another shot. There's an obvious problem with this, walking across the golf course to collect your ball is a boring activity that nobody wants to do unless they have to. But this game forces you to make the journey, which is made worse by the fact that you're constantly fighting enemies looking to keep you off the course. That's right, as you walk to your ball you'll have to play a Final Fight-style brawler that involves you smacking weird mutants and other creatures with your golf clubs.
This weird mini-game would be acceptable if the controls were good, but they aren't. Most of time you are spent just mashing buttons and hoping for the best, it's as if play mechanic was thrown in at the last second. Unfortunately the game forces you to spend more time fighting these weird cartoony creatures than actually playing the round of golf, which is ultimately the downfall of this game.
You see, even though this is a golf game it's clear from the get-go that Midway is going to do everything in its power to keep you from actually playing a round of golf. In theory this could work, I'm certainly not opposed to a parody golf game that tries to keep you from actually playing golf. But if you're going to do that you have to do it well, and Zombie Ninja Pro-Am does not do it well. The various mini-games you get yourself involved in are not very exciting and will only make you want to get back to the regular golf simulation ... which isn't that fun to begin with.
Sadly it's not just these lame combat stages that get in the way of the golf, you also have to deal with a number of excruciatingly lame racing games that involve golf carts. While I appreciate that the cart racing is a welcome alternative to the brawler portions of the game, they just aren't exciting enough to be fun. One problem is that the whole thing feels extremely slow and sluggish. Maybe it's because you're racing golf carts or because this was clearly an afterthought that came late in the development cycle, but whatever the case is the races are the very definition of boring.
By now the problem with this game should be obvious, you're combining three different types of games that not only don't go well together, but also need to be well executed to be fun. But none of these modes are any fun, and it seems like the worst aspects of the game are often the things you'll be doing the most. Every time I went to hit the ball I tensed up a little because I knew exactly what was in store for me, a lot of boring fighting levels where you can't tell when you've hit something and you're always an easy target. It didn't take too many levels of this before I started to get real tired of Zombie Ninja Pro-Am.
As I played through this game I started to wonder if maybe the problem wasn't the game at all, but rather I was the one to blame. Perhaps I'm just not hip to all of the Aqua Team Hunger Force references. Maybe if I was addicted to the TV show I would suddenly come around and include this on my list of the best games of 2007. Perhaps all that's true ... but somehow I kind of doubt it. I don't think the fact that I wasn't very familiar with the characters has any bearing on the clunky play mechanics and annoying mini-games. I probably would have laughed at more jokes, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have found the game to be any more exciting.
That's not to say that I didn't find the game somewhat amusing. I'll admit, there are a few funny lines snuck in from time to time, including a number of on-running jokes that I laughed at every single time. The game also features what has to be one of the strangest celebrity cameos of all time; it involves ESPN's Scott Van Pelt arguing it out with a foul-mouthed robot. It's very weird, but extremely awesome stuff. But for every comedy bit that works, there are at least five jokes that just aren't funny. I definitely like the direction this game was going, but the crummy controls and below average mini-games just get in the way of the humor.
After playing through this entire game I'm left trying to determine whether this game just got away from the developers, or if it was meant to be bad on purpose. Believe it or not there is actually a lot of evidence to back up the theory that this is meant to be a bad game, including interviews with the "creative" team behind the game and show. The extras also suggest that Midway knew that they couldn't get away with selling this game based on its own merits, so they decided to include four different animated episodes (one of which is exclusive to this disc). The whole game feels slapped together, which is frustrating for somebody who is trying to review the various components of the gameplay. If all you want are a few episodes, some interviews and a game you can enjoy for only a few minutes then Zombie Ninja Pro-Am may be worth your $30, but anybody who actually wants to enjoy their time playing games should do everything they can to avoid this game.
After hours of banging my head against the lame single-player story mode, I did manage to find one mode that brought a smile to my face. It was the moment that I introduced a second player and went on a tour of the course trying to outdo each other. The reason this mode worked is because it cut out everything I didn't like about the story mode, such as the lame racing sequences and all of that fighting. Instead the game was just the two of us playing a regular game of golf in New Jersey's worst golf course. It was here that I had a good time, but true to form it was all over far too quickly. This isn't one of those games with dozens of courses, in Zombie Ninja Pro-Am you're lucky to even be able to play a full round of golf.
Aqua Team Hunger Force: Zombie Ninja Pro-Am is the kind of game that could have been a lot of fun with slightly better gameplay, a deeper golf game and by cutting out those mini-games altogether. I can appreciate what Midway is trying to do here, but this wacky golf game fails on practically every level. Regardless of whether you're a die-hard fan of the show or have never seen it, Aqua Team Hunger Force is one game you should avoid at all costs.
I'll make this easy for you: The controls are crummy, the graphics are terrible, the humor mostly falls flat, there aren't very many levels, the mini-games get in the way of the outdated golf mechanics and it's absolutely no fun to play. Outside of that Aqua Team Hunger Force: Zombie Ninja Pro-Am is a blast to play!