Look, let’s face it, Billy. I know you have dreams. We all did once. I can remember the halcyon days of my youth. I wanted to be a doctor. Seems funny now, of course, but at the time I was dead serious. I wanted to help people. I wanted to make a difference. Of course, after barely making it into community college, and then being promptly expelled for introducing the dean’s daughter to a little move I’ve since dubbed “the reverse Dutch toboggan ride”, I had to let that dream go.
Doctors don’t have to type, Billy. They don’t even have to sign their name legibly. Now you know I want you to grab for that brass ring with all your might. But just in case you end up having to sustain your miserable failure of a life through an endless string of soul-numbing temp jobs… Well, let’s make sure you can type.
There have been plenty of edutainment titles aimed at teaching li’l Billy how to touch type, but the only one I know that is fun enough to truly call itself a game is the infamous Typing of the Dead. Plus it’s got more bloody reanimated corpses than Mario Teaches Typing. The reason it plays like a fully realized game is that TotD is essentially an official mod of the already excellent House of the Dead 2. The only significant difference is that you’ve swapped your gun for a keyboard. So, rather than shooting the drooling deadite lurking your way, you’ll have to quickly type a word that appears beneath him.
Typing of the Dead began its life in the arcades (yes, an arcade cabinet with two full QWERTY keyboards) before becoming one of the more quirky Dreamcast titles, and then finally being brought to the PC which is the version we’re looking at. The PC port seems to be a direct copy of its Dreamcast brother as evidenced both by the cute Dreamcast backpacks the heroes wear as well as the sometimes wonky control scheme. More on that later.
If you’re a reasonably competent typist you can jump right into the game proper, but if you are playing this to actually learn the fundamentals of typing, TotD has you covered with the tutorials section. Here, our hero James walks you through such gripping concepts as the home row, which fingers are responsible for the most keys, and why the semicolon (bastard child of the comma and the colon) is given such a preferential key position that really should belong to a letter of the alphabet (HINT: follow the money). Having trained for this game in my tenth grade computer skills class, I easily whizzed through the basics. But having to find the damned squiggly bracket key before a zombie could eat my brain still put me to the test. Incidentally, I also had my share of problems with the number keys since that same computer class encouraged use of the separate number pad which TotD doesn’t recognize. The reason? To train us as sales clerks. Not kidding.
Once you’re comfortable with your WPM, you’re ready for the story mode which comes in “Arcade” or “Original” flavors. “Arcade”, predictably, is a straight port of the arcade version of the game, while “Original” adds new items and the opportunity to earn skill coins at the end of each chapter. Both modes include all the action of House of the Dead 2 as well as the incomprehensible plot and hilariously voiced cut scenes. You start off easy with slow zombies that can’t take a three letter word to the gut. Gradually, you work up to long, complex words, then phrases, sentences, and even paragraphs with accurate punctuation. Small, one-shot enemies like the little snake things or the axes and knives that some of the zombies lob at you can be dispatched with a single key rather than an entire word. Reflex is crucial here as these come at you quickly. Single keys might also show up beneath bonus items like health that you’ll only have a scant second to collect as the camera moves along its virtual rails.
Typos count as misses and reset the “perfect” counter which increases with every mistake-free word or phrase. But wrong keys don’t seem to do much more than waste the critical time between seeing a zombie and allowing it to get close enough to damage you. Slow speeds impact the letter grade rating you receive on each word or phrase which in turn affects your overall score. But as long as you finish typing before you take a hit, you get to continue unscathed. Several items are present such as tranquilizers to weaken your foes with easier words and Molotov cocktails that can torch zombies with no wordplay required. Occasionally you’ll encounter mini-missions within a level that will require you to defeat a certain number of creatures before the clock runs out or without taking any damage. These asides net you extra points and items if completed successfully.
Bosses have their own special rules, based loosely on their patterns in the light gun version. If a monster could only be shot at a key moment, then the game only accepts words at that moment. Baddies that took clip after clip to dispatch now require a thesis paper. Harder bosses will penalize you for typos or force you to choose the word that answers a particular question, all while they prepare to attack. This “type or die” scenario makes for some of the most intense word-processing of your life.
However, the developers never pretend that converting a horror shooter to a typing tutor is a serious idea. The farther you progress, the more you’ll notice humorous words and phrases popping up. These range from the silly (“Out of toilet paper”) to the purposely difficult (“Indirect vendetta”). From the deceptive (“I have a sore trout”) to the vaguely sexual (“Which hole?”) You can also pick up alien dictionaries that up the nonsense quotient considerably and genre dictionaries that give you a string of related words. You get a real sense that the creators had a blast tossing out stupid things for you to type. The words are selected randomly each time you play and you’ll almost never see the same words twice in a single session. Waiting for the next one-liner keeps you engaged enough to measurably improve your typing proficiency quicker than a more generic program could.
Like the game it’s based on, Typing of the Dead is pretty short. Aspiring administrative assistants should be able to knock it out in less than two hours easily. If you do complete the story or just tire of it, there are several different drill and training modes for you to hone your speed, accuracy, and reflexes. The boss drill allows you to fight any of the game’s bosses to get their patterns down. All of these come complete with high score records.
Graphics and sound are straight from the source material which was a very nice looking 3D rails shooter for its time. There is an option to turn the blood off, but if you’ve got the stomach for it you can literally watch as each letter you enter takes an oozing green chunk out of your opponent.
Most of the control just involves typing, of course, and this works beautifully. A particularly handy feature is the ability to cancel a word you’ve begun typing with the escape key. This allows you to reprioritize if you suddenly realize the fellow running full speed at you with a chainsaw is a more pressing matter than the one slithering toward your shins, or if you need to abandon a long phrase to quickly nail a one-letter projectile flying toward your head.
But exiting a sequence and returning to the menu is unnecessarily cumbersome. At first I didn’t have the manual and recieved no help from the game or readme file. When I tracked it down, I learned that you have to press ALT F2 to retun to the title screen, ALT F3 to return to the menu from a drill, and ALT F4 to exit the game which is simply the windows shortcut for closing a window. This isn’t difficult but it is obscure. At the very least, an in-game option to return to Windows should have been provided. Another interesting note on control is that the game doesn’t give a crap about case or spacing. You’ll only need the shift key for punctuation and you can forget the spacebar entirely. This does make for a faster, more streamlined experience, but as far as real world typing skills go, you’ll eventually need to throw a space or two in your memos.
Like the original, there is a two player network mode that is a real blast. Comparing WPM with your pals has never been this fun. Or fun at all. All on-screen words are first come first serve, meaning that you might start typing a word only to realize you’ve wasted your time since your teammate typed the first letter before you and thus locked it for himself. But this is a relatively minor concern.
The only genuinely disappointing thing about this game is that it reminds me how much better I am at typing than playing House of the Dead. Typing of the Dead is not only a great example of a studio having some playful fun with an old title, but it manages to also be the best educational software I’ve ever used. Make sure to stick around for the credits.
Fun and humorous mod of an already fun game that uses zombies to teach a useful skill.
Some minor menu control issues and a fairly short length.
“Hiking is fun!” — A zombie