With a name like Teenage Zombies: "Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys", it would be safe to expect that the plotline for this was going to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek... and those expectations would be right on the money. In fact the story here is reminiscent of that in the THQ title Destroy All Humans!, in that a race of bizarre-looking alien beings has come to Earth intent on wiping out all life, and the whole thing is played for laughs, with the aliens themselves not exactly being the sharpest tools in the box, if you get my meaning.
Unlike THQ's title though, we don't side with the aliens on this one, instead it's the more traditional 'save the Earth from the evil aliens' plotline that you tend to encounter in the movies, the twist here being that the 'heroes' tasked with fighting off the extra-terrestrial hordes are themselves usually the bad guys when it comes to the cinema: zombies. And teenage zombies at that.
Yes, the heroes of this title are rotting, adolescent youths, the kind that most people would probably have crossed the street to avoid when they were still alive, never mind the fact that they're now animated lumps of rotting flesh. There's Lori "Lefty" Lopez, the female teen zombie, a genuine 'size zero' if ever there was one, who looks for all the world like someone's killed and then reanimated Kate Moss. Then you've got Finnigan "Fins" Magee, the requisite 'fat kid' (or in this case: fat zombie') who doesn't look half as emaciated as zombies usually do, presumably because he 'ate all the pies' prior to popping his clogs. And last but not least there's Zack "Half-Pipe" Boyd, who has no legs and travels around on a skateboard... oh, and he also wears a hoodie, which alone would be grounds where I come from for instant arrest, zombie or not!
Each character has different talents and weakness. Lori has only one arm and is limited to only jumping straight up into the air, but her remaining arm can be extended to catch high ledges and pull her up. Finnigan extrudes strange tentacles which allow him to climb vertical surfaces and also swing along ropes. Zack has a decent horizontal jump, can crouch low to get into small tunnels and can slide on his 'board down ramps to leap across wide gaps. After a brief tutorial where you are introduced to each of the characters, you can then switch between them at will in order to tackle the various challenges of each level. This can be done by selecting them from the bottom screen using the stylus, but an easier, and quicker, way is by using the L and R shoulder buttons. The latter is actually the more sensible method, because as you get further into the game, you need to switch zombies more and more often, and repeatedly picking up the stylus to do it each time becomes a pain.
The enemies in the game, as the title suggests, are 'alien brain thingys' - essentially - and in true B-movie style - just large brains floating in glass domes, who come at you in a variety of different forms, all under the command of their leader, the 'Big Brain'. Gameplay is fairly simple, in that this is at heart an old-school 2D platformer, so you basically need to make your way through each level from beginning to end, overcoming any 'puzzles' and wiping out the alien brains along the way. Being zombies, our heroes are also quite partial to a bit of brain, and so eating your vanquished foes rather handily replenishes your energy. The aforementioned puzzles are usually fairly straightforward, and it's basically a case of figuring out which zombie has the appropriate skills to overcome each problem. In addition to their standard abilities, each zombie can also utilise power-ups which, when collected, can make their life - or rather their undeath - a little easier. These are all gradually introduced as the game progresses, and come in useful when faced with the more dangerous brain incarnations that you encounter and also in dealing with various other enemies like mutant rats, crocodiles with a penchant for rotting flesh, and a bunch of alien brain-enslaved humans.
What you've got here is a very neat, very nicely presented little platformer, which isn't exactly going to tax experienced gamers, but which is nevertheless a lot of fun. Throughout the adventure you encounter various brain and zombie-themed touch-screen mini-games which need to be tackled, some of which work well, some not so, but none of which appears to be vital towards finishing the main game. The comic book-style narrative presentation is top-notch however, and deserving of a special mention, in that it's clear a lot of time and effort has gone into recreating an old-style interactive comic through which plot developments are gradually revealed - a really nice touch is the way that these scenes are presented, with the DS needing to be turned on its side so that the two screens act as the comic book pages.
As I've just mentioned, the gameplay in this isn't going to tax the fanbase of hardcore gamers out there, of which I consider myself a part, however I did find myself drawn back to playing it on several occasions, mainly due to the relaxed pace of the whole thing, and the nice touches of humour throughout - I particularly liked the mini-game that sees you trying to piece together zombie bodyparts with the stylus to earn a full energy top-up while the dismembered zombie shouts insults at you. For younger/less obsessive gamers, this is yet another handheld title that is great fun, and should keep you amused on those long train or bus journeys for many happy hours. It's certainly worth playing it through to the end, if only for the excellent tongue-in-cheek story. In summary: good, harmless, undead brain-eating fun!