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Under the Skin
  opened by paleface at 23:50:36 11/01/04  
  last modified by paleface at 12:27:18 03/05/24  
  paleface [sys=PS2; cat=Puzzle; reg=NA]
It's hard to know what to make of a game whose back cover brags of incorporating over forty "pranks" including a "big ol' FART!" I can see Capcom marketing pulling hairs over this one, because it really is quite unusual. It's also rather fun in its own way.
You're a little blue alien guy with a zap gun. When you zap someone you capture them, then when you run under a usually conveniently-located little flying saucer, you take on that person's appearance, and you gain possession of whatever "prank" items they were carrying. Why ordinary citizens would be strolling around the streets with nefarious prank items in their pockets is a question best left unasked.
"Prank" items include things like a big boxing glove, inline skates, fireworks, a portable karoake stage, circling sharks, and so forth. When you let loose a prank, anyone hit by the prank's method of attack (although some pranks, like the skates, are purely evasive) drops coins. You pick the coins up and you're so much the richer. Get enough coins and you clear the stage.
To complicate things, people eventually figure out that you're up to no good, and start chasing you. This lines them up nice and convenient-like for many pranks, but if they manage to catch you they'll first beat off your clothes, then beat off your skin and leave you running around as an alien. When they beat off your disguise, and then beat you up as an alien, you lose lots of coins. Not good, considering that you have to get a certain number of coins within a time limit. So, to lose the pursuit, capture another human with your zap gun, find a saucer, transform into the human and voila, the chase is foiled by your new disguise.
A rival alien also tends to run around pulling pranks of their own, which are dangerous to you and your intended victims. Fortunately the rival is also vulnerable to your pranks, and in fact makes for a particularly rich source of coins.
It appears that different stages have special threats that come out during periodic "Panic Times." The first stage, for instance, has "rush hour" panic time, during which period traffic is particularly nasty and will run you over without hesitation. In "Big Booty Bay," panic time takes the form of a pirate cannon bombardment. Your wacky training master says that you can avoid being a target of this attack by having a pirate disguise on at the time, but I haven't found that to help. Basically, just keep switching disguises faster than the cannons can knock your disguise off, and you'll be okay.
The action can get pretty chaotic, in fact it has to if you're going to beat the time limit. You'll frequently have a dozen or so angry people chasing you, panic time going off, your own bomb going off, and dozens of other people just running or milling around--oh, and your rival in hot pursuit. It makes for a crazy, usually fun, sometimes stressful game experience. It can be particularly frustrating to get near to the coin collection goal, then get flattened a few times and lose nearly half of your coins in just a few seconds. At that point, unless you were ahead of the time limit by a huge margin, you'll probably just have to restart the stage.
Graphics have a very polished-looking cartoon cel-shaded style and the framerate so far has been quite smooth. Music is wacky upbeat alien synth type of stuff. The game as a whole has an energetic irreverent presentation, with charming bits such as the way that your instructor talks to you entirely through a toothy hand-puppet. Then again this can backfire into juvenilia such as the aforementioned fart prank or "big booty bay."
I've read that the game can be completed fairly quickly and the small number of stages on the select screen seems to bear that out. I can't say that I would cry rivers if this is true, but so far the game has been pretty fun on the whole. The 40+ pranks thing sounds complex but really the game has simple controls and simple objectives. There are a couple unlockable modes on the main menu aside from Story and Vs. mode, but I've only tried Story so far. Vs might be interesting... then again it might be the kind of thing that gets old fast.
I wish there was a Jump button to help dodge angry mobs, it seems odd to have a 3rd-person game like this without one.

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