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The Player 

by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Touch the Dead & r & & r & Rated Mature; Nintendo DS & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & Z & lt;/span & ombies are evasive little suckers. As one cluster after another shamble towards me, I've come to realize that their lurching slowness is just a disguise for a wily, sinuous dodge. It's how they avoid my bullets. I swear I've pointed my DS's stylus dead-center on their brows, only to see them jerk to the left as my bullet pings through the air, their heads still lazily swaying at me.

Shooting their limbs is a slower way to stop them, but more certain. Zombies don't windmill their arms or churn their legs. They simply shuffle forward, reaching vaguely towards me with limp appendages. I can blow them off and watch the zombies drop to the ground, still trying uselessly to move. A few shots in the stomach are quicker, but less dramatic.

Nothing really matches a head shot, which splits the zombie's skull down the middle into two dark meaty halves with a quick double tap of my stylus. It also kills the zombie, turning it into a pile of polygons fading on one of Touch the Dead's bland videogame floors.

It's about time the Nintendo DS got a quick 'n' gory shooter to complement the sophisticated Metroid Prime: Hunters. No clutching of the DS or navigating the battlefield is necessary in Touch the Dead -- I just set the machine down in front of me and start tapping away. Touch the Dead is an old-style shooter on rails, in which I glide through the world stopping for regular shooting-gallery zombie hunts.

This is a brutal, simple formula, enhanced by a straightforward use of the DS's touch-screen. As soon as I see a zombie coming at me down the hall, I can poke out his eyes with my gun. So as not to make it too much of a tap-a-thon, Touch the Dead's designers have incorporated a reload function into the gun. Just when I've killed a zombie, then the one behind him -- CLICK, CLICK -- I'm out of bullets, and the zombie on my left is starting to reach out...

Dragging and dropping the next clip's worth of ammo, along with the time it takes my onscreen hands to load the weapon, is enough to let even the slowest zombie take a swipe at me (at least until I have more than one gun). But even with full firepower and a face-bashing crowbar, in Touch the Dead I'm locked onto rails. I can't even evade the dead.

THE GOOD: The simple gameplay and short campaigns would be total rip-offs if it weren't for the fact that Touch the Dead is hellishly difficult. This makes it a perfect companion for a summer road trip, where it can alleviate boredom worse than that induced by repeatedly shooting zombies, then frantically reloading.

THE BAD: I accept that zombie videogames, like zombie movies, can be cheaply made affairs. But Touch the Dead lowers the standard for graphics in an otherwise decent DS game. The zombies are barely improvements on the graphics from half-a-dozen years ago in the Game Boy Advance version of Doom.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The frantic reloads and frenetic bursts of gunfire are fun once or twice, but after a few fights Touch the Dead starts to look a little rotten.

3/5 Stars

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