Lying just on the outskirts of the Milky Way, Mischief planet is home to the most preeminent prankster aliens in the galaxy. Such status is the result of vigorous trickster training. That is, when the beings that inhabit the planet turn 3 years old, they leave their homes and travel to other worlds to terrorize those populaces with cream pies and flatulence. Capcom's PS2 game Under the Skin tells the story of Cosmi, an alien from the Mischief panet who is having no luck at trying to earn his stripes to become a full-fledged mischief maker. He turns at last to the planet Earth, the most dangerous prankster spot that exists. If he can pass his test there, he'll be a true hero among his irritating alien brethren. However, it's not going to be a cakewalk. We spent some quality time with the first level of this bizarre game.
The area we explored consisted of a small city block, complete with automobile traffic and a large number of milling pedestrians. The object is to play tricks on as many people as possible, thus causing them to drop coins that count as prankster capital. Cosmi has a special scanning ray that lets him both shoot humans and "store" their data, one at a time. Once he's got the data, Cosmi can step into a "mystery circle" underneath any one of a number of small UFOs scattered around the level to transform himself into the human he just scanned. The humans come with up to five items that you can use to create chaos in your surroundings. You can set down tacks for the unwary to step on, you can toss a cream pie in someone's face, you can pass a noxious cloud of gas, you can set up a karaoke machine and do cruel things to people's ears--and these are just for starters. It's when you start doing things like dropping a gigantic dinosaur into the center of town that things get totally out of control, because as you successfully play tricks on people, they start to freak out and chase you angrily while screaming. If you're hit once, your human form loses its clothing and ends up wearing nothing but a bathing suit. If you're hit twice, you'll turn back into Cosmi, and you'll start to lose the coins you've gathered. To make things interesting, you're usually in direct competition with another alien for humans to terrorize, and your competition can injure you and collect any coins you might drop. Then again, you can do this to your competitors yourself, and you can often earn the highest number of coins by playing tricks on your competitor and then reaping the rewards. The action all comes at a pretty fast clip, so you'll always be racing around, playing pranks, avoiding angry mobs, collecting coins, scanning a new human, stepping into the mystery circle, and repeating the cycle, all while trying to harass your opponent while not getting hit too often, hopefully.
As well as prank items, humans can also come with various other helpful tricks to ease your way. You can strap on a pair of Rollerblades and skate quickly through crowds and away from danger. You can whip out a vacuum and use it to suck up the explosions of coins in a short space of time, and you can even turn invisible to move past angry people. While your threat level builds as you repeatedly tick people off, once you change your form from one person to the next, the angry mobs won't recognize you and will stop chasing you, thus letting you queue up your items so you can then do it all over again.
The game also has a two-player mode that lets you compete against a friend as you both race around and attempt to both stir up the crowds and antagonize each other. As you progress in the single-player game, you'll be able to unlock more characters and more stages that you can then use in the two-player mode.
Under the Skin is brought to life with bright, cel-shaded art and a selection of suitably cartoonlike characters of every shape, size, and fashion that you can transform into on your journeys. The art style has a simple but distinctive look to it, and the various men, women, children, police officers, cheerleaders, dogs, dinosaurs, and other creatures you'll encounter give a lot of visual diversity to the constantly moving crowds. The environments are also simply drawn, providing a bright and serviceable backdrop to all the gags and other action that go on all the time. All the voice work in the version we played was still in Japanese, and much of the time you're running around you're subjected to assorted high-pitched screams and men angrily shouting, "Wait!" The music is light and up-tempo, and it complements the action well. Most of the time you'll hear the various sound effects from your special items, in addition to the sweet sounds of coins jingling in the air from every direction.
Under the Skin definitely has a quirky sense of humor, as well as its own particular charm. If you're a fan of wacky Japanese games, you may want to keep an eye out for the game when it's released later this year.