Why bury the dead when you can touch the dead? Utilizing the touch screen and stylus in place of a light gun, Secret Stash Games brings a House of the Dead-style, on-rails shooter for the Nintendo DS. In Touch the Dead, players control prisoner Rob Steiner as he attempts to touch-shoot his way out of a zombie infested military prison. While this title does have some entertainment value, it doesn't quite hold up as an unofficial portable successor to SEGA's popular franchise.
It's clear the story of this adventure was put last on the developer's list of priorities. You play as the lone gunner, a prisoner named Rob Steiner. You awake in your cell to find that your door is open and that the rest of the facility is void of any life. You quickly find a gun and off you go......that's it. Even throughout the game, the story doesn't really progress into much, and overall it is just plain cliched, predictable, and boring.
The biggest concern for a game like this is how the stylus can be utilized in place of a gun. Perhaps most people would prefer to have the latter, but the stylus manages to provide fairly accurate aiming. In fact, it is probably a lot easier to aim since all you have to do is tap where you want your bullets to pierce. There are a total of four weapons you will access, including the pistol, shotgun, sub-machine gun, and crowbar. The pistol has infinite ammo, while the shotgun and machine gun will require replenishment ammo which is found in boxes dispersed through the levels. The crowbar is utilized by making horizontal slashes across the screen. Detection problems occur time to time when you use the crowbar, because unless you clearly make a horizontal slash from one edge to the other, you will be left open for a zombie to sink his teeth into you.
Reloading your guns can be a chore. In order to replensih your firearms, you need to drag a magazine from the right side of the screen to the left. If you don't touch firmly from one side to the other, your gun will remain empty, and most likely you will take some dammage from approaching enemies. Surely the team at Secret Stash could have devised a better system for loading yor guns, because when things start to get frantic on screen, it's harder to reload than it is to disperse incomming zombies! Speaking of replenishing bullets, when you initially pick up your weapons the reload speed is very slow and will cause some frustration. Every weapon has up to three upgrades which include reload speed, fire rate, and dammage. The crowbar only has two dammage increases. When it comes to effectiveness, the shotgun and pistol will be your greatest allies. The crowbar is useful when an enemy gets too close, but that's only when the game recognizes your stylus swipes. The machine gun generally isn't as useful due to it's general weakness and the lack of ammo you will find for it.
What really hampers the experience is the overall length of the game. With only four chapters, each consisting of three levels and one boss, you can easily breeze through the main story of this game in less than a few hours. Most levels periodically let you decide to take different paths. The only downside is that it doesn't really add that much variety since your choices are either left or right, and the ultimate destination of both paths is just beyond a hallway or room. There are artwork unlockables hidden in boxes throughout the levels, but they are quite easy to find. The Multiplayer options in Touch the Dead include wireless co-op story mode. In order for you to take advantage of this, you need two copies of the game. Due to the game's obscurity, single cart multiplayer should have been implemented. Overall, the lasting appeal of this shoot'em up is quite short.
Graphics in this game are not the best offerings on the DS. You traverse through generic looking hallways, control rooms, and warehouses. Aside from a few levels, everything looks the same. You encounter undead prisoners, guards, rats, leeches, and bats to name a few. The enemies are quite ugly, even for zombies. Up close, everything just blurs together into one big mess. The gore level is moderate, with some blood spattering and flying flesh chunks. The menus are nothing spectacular either. At least the framerate holds up quite well.
Touch the Dead's sound leaves more to be desired. The ambient sound effects set the mood, but hearing the same groans and wails rapidly grows tiring. Gun sound effects are decent enough. The few music tracks found in the game are generic rock themes that clearly took no effort to compose. You won't be humming any tunes from this game, that's for sure.
Unless you are desperate for some portable zombie blasting, I would recommend keeping this title on the rental list. The game, while repetitive and short, can keep you entertained through the adventure and therefore is worth checking out. The clumsy reload and other mechanics are frustrating, but not enough to make you give up on touching these dead. A lame story, ugly graphics, and lack luster audio all deter the appeal of this game. Hopefully for future games in this genre for the DS, we will see a better effort in production value.
Gameplay: 7.5, Graphics/Sound: 5, Innovation: 6, Mojo: 4.5. Final: 6 / 10