In early 2001, with a wad of post-Christmas store credit and a head brimming with near-universal acclaim, I purchased The Typing of the Dead along with a requisite keyboard. The title’s premise seemed filled with Japanese quirk: as a riff on Sega’s celebrated The House of the Dead series, players battled a parade of encroaching foes by typing words as fast as possible. As the game progressed, resilient bosses required participants to type phrases and even answer simple questions. Over the years, Typing would garner a cult-like following, and be remembered as one of the highlights of the Dreamcast’s library.
Yet, for a gamer who spent years under the tutelage of Mavis Beacon, Typing of the Dead seemed woefully similar to the drills presented by my fictitious typing coach. Substituting the intuitive mechanic of aiming a light gun with tapping out words didn’t feel as visceral, making the title feel more ‘edu’ that ‘tainment.’ Despite many gamers enthusiasm for the title, my copy of Typing was quickly shelved.
Like Pieces Interactive’s Fret Nice, Rock of the Dead offers an interesting alternative for neglected plastic guitars and drums. Drawing undeniable inspiration from Sega’s oft-adored title, the game takes players for an on-rails trek through trailer parks, graveyards, and water treatment facilities, as they defend both themselves and innocent bystanders from a constant barrage of baddies. To combat the flood of zombies, bats, and tentacled creatures, players tap out riffs on their simulated instruments. Unlike the requisite note highways which players are likely accustomed to travelling down, Rock of the Dead presents these combinations as horizontal sequences. For many music game aficionados, this change can be disorienting, especially when players are required to quickly assess the level of danger each on-screen threat poses. Expect to invest a an hour or two before adapting to the new perspective.
To complicate things further, fret presses and strums aren’t usually synchronized to the game’s music. Instead, players pound out clusters of notes as fast as possible. While participants are given visual feedback as they punch out each combination, the game lacks the distinctive musical accompaniment of most rhythm titles. As such, Rock of the Dead doesn’t always cultivate the sensation that players are grooving along. Like Typing of the Dead, there’s a small but discernable disconnect, which thwarts the trance-like ambition of the game. An exception can be found in the mid and end-level bosses, which present brief sequences that recall the note-scrolling mechanics gamers are accustomed to. While these bits feel derivative, they are also indispensable in linking all the fiery finger work to the musical accompaniment.
A solid aural accompaniment is crucial for the success of any music-based title. In this respect, Rock of the Dead is a decidedly mixed bag. While the inclusion of Rob Zombie’s music, likeness and voice elevate the game, hard rock remakes of prominent classical pieces reveal the game’s modest budget. Perhaps the finances spent on Neil Patrick Harris’ and Felicia Day’s clumsy deliveries would have been better spent on licensing an up-and-coming indie band. Rock of the Dead‘s visuals are inelegant but consistently serviceable, recalling the fidelity and animation silkiness of a downloadable title.
Although my affinity for Rock of the Dead never rose above gentle amusement, a number of rhythm-game enthusiasts felt differently. Of the five colleagues who played the title- two adored the game, two others expressed mild enjoyment, while one disliked the title. All stated the game’s two-player cooperative mode was superior to playing a solo campaign.
Rock of the Dead‘s forty dollar MSRP should be applauded for challenging the standard pricing structure of a retail disk-based release. Yet, I can’t help but think that the game might have worked better either as a shorter, less expensive downloadable title without licensed music or as a full-blown release with a soundtrack which could rival the Guitar Hero/Rock Band franchises.