I’m a superstar at the cracker factory
Corpse Killer on the Sega 32X feels like the ultimate luxury game. You were already a rich kid if you owned Sega’s 32-bit Genesis/Mega Drive add-on, but to also have a Sega CD? Gosh, your parents must be pretty big wheels down at the cracker factory.
But those were the requirements for Corpse Killer on 32X. It was right there on the cover of the game: Sega CD 32X. You needed both of the system’s expensive attachments to play this super-deluxe version. Otherwise, you had to just buy the Sega CD version. Don’t get them confused! If you’re unsure, just ask the sleep-deprived clerk at K-Mart for the Sega 32X version of Corpse Killer. I’m sure they wouldn’t make that mistake.
So, wow, a game that requires two very expensive add-ons just to play. That must be one extra-special game, right? No, not at all. I was going to make a joke about how it’s “special” in the way a mother might use the word to explain to a relative how you can remember the names of 151 Pokemon, but can’t correctly spell Saskatchewan or remember its capital city. But even then, its brother, the Sega CD version, is just as “special.” So, I guess the only way that Corpse Killer on 32X is extra-special is in the way that it’s extra-special disappointing, because it’s an extra-specially pointless way to play a bad game.
The era of FMV games was pretty embarrassing. We probably should have known by the rise and fall of the LaserDisc arcade games that this style of barely interactive movie games is better as a curiosity. However, I still sort of respect developer Digital Pictures for giving it their all. They were behind Night Trap and Ground Zero Texas, and while their videos were in the sub-basement of B movies, they obviously had some effort behind them.
Released in 1994, Corpse Killer is a Digital Pictures game that maybe most resembles a video game. While it makes heavy use of live-action footage, it’s largely a shooting gallery. However, this isn’t in the same style that 1991’s Mad Dog McCree went with. While Mad Dog McCree just showed you a video and then judged if you pulled the trigger while your lightgun was pointed at the correct part of the screen, Corpse Killer has a slow pan of a background and then super-imposes people in their pajamas wobbling across the screen.
In 1995, versions came out for the 3DO Interactive Mutliplayer and Sega Saturn platforms, and they seem to better capture what Digital Pictures was going for. Not only does the actual video portion of the game take up more of the screen, but the actors also look much clearer. Even with the bottomless power of the 32X, the actual zombies look like the film crew wandering in front of the green screen while it was being filmed with a Game Boy Camera. When you look at a better version and what they should look like, it all makes sense. But the versions of Corpse Killer that run on Genesis appendages look rough, to say the least.
Powered by the Sega Slab
One of the things that drew me to Corpse Killer beyond having a use for my Sega monstrosity is its use of lightgun peripherals. However, for some reason, Digital Pictures only chose the Menacer and the “American Laser Games’ Gamegun.” I own Konami Justifiers for my Genesis, which is fine, because I didn’t want to truck my Sega Stack into another room to plug it into a CRT. However, I did try it with a Sinden, and it didn’t like that. So, eventually, I gave up and just went with moving a cursor with the gamepad.
That sucks. It would probably be okay if the movement was smooth, but not only is the cursor choppy in the most ideal of conditions, but the game constantly hitches whenever the Sega CD has to seek anything on the disc.
Must not accidentally type “Corpse Party”
However, a lack of lightgun is the least of Corpse Killer’s discomforts. The game, in general, just vociferously sucks. A lot of this comes down to the fact that the gameplay and the video exist in separate rooms. It doesn’t explain many mechanics well, such as the difference between enemy types.
Every so often, a mean-looking zombie or one that’s enveloped in the flashing lights of a rave wander on screen. Shooting the walking personification of a meth-infused party will cause it to die the same as any zombie, but sometimes it will hurt you, and other times it will kill everything on screen. The game tells you to shoot it when it’s glowing, but what the fuck does that mean? It’s always just a single flashing color. It is always glowing by my definition. However, it gets maybe, like, more saturated. That’s what it means, apparently. Shoot Captain LSD when he’s the most colorful.
And then there are the more mean-looking zombies who fly at you. They’re impervious to bullets, and the game doesn’t tell you why. It just lets them hurt you as your shots ricochet off. You need to use Datura-infused bullets on them because… Because. However, these bullets are always in limited supply, so you need to scrounge for more, and Corpse Killer does a poor job of telling you that these are required. And considering you can only hurt bosses with these bullets, you’d better not waste them.
And you might. You have four different ammunition types, and you swap to them by hitting B. However, Corpse Killer doesn’t give you any convenient times to do this. You’re always being swarmed by zombies. You never know when these reaper guys will jump out, and to see what bullets you loaded, you have to take your eyes off the screen. It’s easier to remember that your Datura bullets require three presses of the B button, then hope that the video hitching doesn’t interrupt a press. If you choose an ammo type that you weren’t intending, it will swap right back to regular rounds if there are no shots remaining.
This means that Corpse Killer requires you to observe an enemy that requires a special type of ammo, look away from the screen to ensure that you’re selecting the right ammo, then aim and fire within the two-or-so seconds you have before taking damage. It is absolutely ridiculous.
Oh, and if you’re using a lightgun, you need to shoot the tiny text at the bottom of the screen to select your ammunition. It is not, in any way, a better choice.
Underlying this is a campy B-plot about a government cover-up. You play as some hapless jerk who parachutes onto this zombie-infested island and is immediately bitten before getting saved by a stereotypical Rastafarian. Said Rastafarian, Winston, is played by Jeremiah Birkett, who I’m reasonably sure isn’t actually Rastafarian. He puts on a good performance, but you can tell he isn’t comfortable with the accent. Even if he was, half his dialogue is indecipherable beneath the act.
You’re there to stop an evil mastermind, Dr. Hellman, played by the late Vincent Schiavelli. He hams it up as a mad scientist who has unlocked the secret of resurrecting the dead. You’re assisted by Bridget Butler as Julie, who is given absolutely the worst lines in the script. She’s a reporter who is trying to prove that the Pentagon was behind the zombie project, which is pretty obvious from your briefing material.
All in all, it’s bad, but in a way where Corpse Killer seems to know how bad it is. There’s the one scene that I’m a fan of where Dr. Hellman has a little action figure rigged into a model electric chair. He pulls the switch to execute the action figure, and after a few seconds of blue lights and smoke effects, the toy is replaced by a little plastic skeleton. Genius.
Double down on trash
If there’s one thing that Corpse Killer does well, it’s allowing you to move about the island on your own. If you abort during the initial raid on Hellman’s fortress, you can take on side missions, build up your supply, and prepare yourself for another raid. It would be a worthwhile addition to a gallery shooter if it was a better one than Corpse Killer.
Overall, though, Corpse Killer holds up as an awful curiosity. It’s really the fitting embodiment of kusoge (crap game in Japanese). It’s dopey and painful to play, but in an interesting way. That’s perhaps why Limited Run Games decided to re-release it. You can now get it on Switch, PC, and PS4 through Corpse Killer: 25th Anniversary Edition. This is thankfully not just a port of the Sega CD and 32X versions, so you can see what the enemies should look like, but also it sadly loses that bit of trash appeal.
I don’t know why you’d want to play Corpse Killer with less trash. Corpse Killer is all trash, so you might as well double down on it.
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