Typing of the Dead was probably the stupidest Dreamcast game ever made (and that is from the console that gave us Seaman). It remains the standout title in the Zombie Shooter / Typing Tutor genre solely because nobody else would be stupid enough to replicate it, and since the dizzy heights of the Dreamcast era, very few consoles come with their own full QWERTY keyboard and Sega Arcade hardware. Still, it was the sort of game that felt designed for Sega’s doomed console. Quirky hardware, a corny Japanese import, and a gameplay concept that was borderline office work. A cult take on what was already a cult arcade conversion, Typing of the Dead should have been the House of the Dead 2 port nobody in their right mind would ever want to play. God, did I love it. Combining the campiness of the original title with the 90s “Edutainment” feel and the bizarre non-sequiturs the game asked you to type up created an experience that had to be played to be believed. Typing of the Dead has been gone for a long time now, but it has returned to a PC near you, with a conversion of the Wii’s excellent House of the Dead: Overkill.
Overkill was a remarkable game in its own right. The first title in the series to head straight to consoles, it was a game that really felt at home on the Wii. It took the series’ trademark violence and gore and partnered it with a well written parody of Grindhouse cinema to create a game that really feels like it knows its audience. Where House of the Dead in arcades was often unintentionally hilarious, badly translated and goofy, Overkill deliberately tries to cultivate the same feeling that you’re indulging in a low budget piece of crap. I was thrilled to see that this all carries over to its keyboard equipped cousin.
Typing of the Dead: Overkill is a very complete port of the original game, built around a different central mechanic. Instead of shooting zombies, you must crack out your secretarial skills and type a series of phrases to achieve total zombie explodification. This is better than it sounds, you don’t just type line by line, but instead are attacked by zombies in waves identically to the original game. Each zombie comes with its own hovering phrase, start typing to start shooting, complete the phrase to kill. Backspace to cancel and attack a different zombie. There are, of course, different types of zombies with different attacks; the difficulty of the opponent is changed by altering the complexity of the phrase. Early on you’ll encounter simple, ravenous foes that can be dispatched simply by typing “Nom.” Later you’ll be asked to tackle more complex phrases and sentences that are often hilarious in their construction. Some of the best moments come when the phrases you type reinforce the story, such as boss battles, where character motivations and feelings are often thrown up on the screen.
The change in mechanics comes with a few necessary drawbacks. The game is an On-Rails shooter anyway, when your central mechanic is typing, there are times when it feels like the game isn’t that interactive. It’s a lot more exciting that Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, but it’s hard to deny that most of the time you have no control over events. Type well, things move forward, type badly and the game stops. Hitting TAB in time will collect your power ups, but the rest of the time this is just about your skills hitting the keys. It’s to the game’s strength that it disguises how limited this experience actually is. In wears a bit in long sessions, becoming obvious that this is less of a interactive experience than the original game, but in short blasts I never lost the fun. It also necessitates a toning back of the game’s opponents. Maybe I’m misremembering the Wii original (it has been a while) but I never really felt like the enemies attacked me the variety or ferocity that they did in the original. I’m sure this is partly because your methods of response are limited, but there seems to be a lack of imagination in it too. Zombies rarely throw things, or charge the player, there are less trials of accuracy (for obvious reasons) but these could all be replicated on keyboard pretty well.
The only other criticism probably isn’t going to bother most people. Typing of the Dead: Overkill is a great game, but not a very good typing tutor. I know it’s marketed more as a kitsch take on the series, and I feel silly picking on the game for something it never really claims to be, but if you’re going into this expecting to be given some tutorials on touch typing first then you’ll probably be disappointed. This game will help your typing skills, I’m sure, just through the addictive gameplay and practice typing unusual words and phrases, but it will only build on the typing abilities you already have, not teach you any new ones. One nice feature, however, is the ability to add custom dictionaries so you can type themed phrases or foreign languages or just different regional dialects.
Typing of the Dead: Overkill is available on PC via Steam and probably some other retailers too but who uses them? It retails at around £15, but is on sale pretty often. This is an odd game to recommend, because I had a great time with it, but it’s not for everyone. I can’t say it’s the best way to play Overkill, but if you’re a fan of Grindhouse movies and zombie flicks, but not a big shooter fan, this might be a better way to enjoy it. All the content is still here, and the game plays as well as it ever did. If you’ve played Overkill before though, this is an easy recommend. It’s cheap and cheerful, a goofy way of experiencing the game again without the hassle of setting up a lightgun or playing with mouse. Better still, the typing mechanics and weird phrases actually make replaying a very different, entertaining way of replaying.
Typing of the Dead: Overkill might be a weird, cheap title, but it’s also a solid game that makes the most of the franchise’s history and the strangeness of its gimmick. It is what it is, and it’s hard to find fault with that.