Published on March 12th, 2015 | by Lee Davies
Format reviewed: 3DS eShop
Other formats available: MSX
Website: Zombie Incident
Hamartia, the Great Citadel, became the symbol of human sin. After centuries of excesses its penance was going to come. In the darkness of the night, chaos invaded everything. Beasts started to scream. Nothing was like before! No one sane would go to a place like that. What! You want me to go, oh OK then, why not.
Zombie Incident is a screen-by-screen 2D platformer that puts the player up against a Citadel full of zombies. When I say zombies you’ll automatically think of humanoid forms, but this game throws you against a very limited set of zombies of different species, birds, dogs, rats, etc., but all act exactly the same in a mindless wandering back and forth along set paths. Does this game fare any better than a shambling corpse?
The heroine, who resembles some maternal representation of a younger-looking well-built grandmother with all the curly hair and square low to the ground body that it comes with (it seems an odd design choice), is tasked with finding 8 Golden Stars within the Citadel and then escaping. Yes, the plot is as simple as it gets, and tries its hardest to hark back to old-school 8-bit pixel-art based platforming experiences with chunky characters that look blurred and very simple backdrops seen throughout. It was looking at the sparse graphics that my first impression of the game was cemented in a negative light, but that slowly changed with repeated play sessions.
Each room/screen is full of the usual platforms to jump up and around on, and between 2 to 5 enemies. Every enemy is coloured coded and following their set-path. It is best practice to dispatch all enemies within a single screen as enemies never return once eliminated. Clear a room and the map of that room, represented on the bottom touch screen, turns from red to green. Incomplete rooms with enemies that can’t be destroyed turn blue. “What’s that?”, I hear you say, invincible enemies. You character has an ever increasing blue power bar at the bottom right of the touch screen. This can be filled by killing enemies and once completely filled allows access to another coloured enemy. So previously invincible enemies soon become fodder for the mighty boot of Sturdy Woman. At the very beginning of the game you can only kill green zombies. Power up and you’ll be able to dispose of more and more coloured bad guys. This, as you can imagine, takes the game into a back-tracking slog with which the coloured map helps greatly.
Killing zombies must require some oversized weaponry, right. Wrong. This 2D platformer really plays on nostalgic elements, so get your boots in gear and jump on everything to kill it. Sounds simple until you know that enemies follow a colour pattern, that happens to coincide with your power collecting colour abilities. Jump on a green enemy and it turns into a skeleton form of its good self. Jump on the skeleton and it’s game over for that walking cadaver. However, face off against a blue coloured undead creature and it will follow this pattern; Blue>Red>Green>Skeleton>Death. That’s 4 separate jumps on one enemy to finish it off. Leave the enemy for a while and it will power all its way back to full health. Now, you can collect up to a level 7 colour, that’s 7 jumps before that enemy is sent back to where it came from, it‘s like some infernal traffic light. There’s a lot of waiting for cadavers to walk across the entire length of the screen before you can jump on it, for it then to walk the length of the entire screen once more, and back again, before you can jump on it for a second time. When you factor in 7 jumps for later zombies, Zombie Panic tests even the most resilient of patient gamers.
Movement is fluid, but there is something slightly off with the collision detection in this game. It’s a pixel or two out when judging moving enemies, so it’s always pays to jump early. There is also a wall-jump mechanic, which is downright broken and frustrating because of it. Jump at a wall and keep pressing in the same direction and the heroine will bounce up an additional 1/2 jump height to get to the next ledge. It’s just that this always isn’t the case, and when a jump requires a wall-jump and the other option is falling down 2 screens, it can all become frustrating very quickly. And the wall-jump fails, for some reason I can’t quite fathom, too often to rely on.
Music is atmospheric and spooky in a cute zombie way, but adds tension when your Heroine lacks health. The music score builds pace the lower your health goes and adds a feeling of oppression. You do start the game with an extremely large health bar, but this is slowly whittled away as you play through the campaign with just a single life. Die once, and it literally is Game Over for you. It is after dying, or completing the game, that you’ll be treated to the Online leaderboards. Local, World, Country, Friends, and Weekly highscore leaderboards are all present and correct. There is the ability to save, but not whenever you feel like it. Save points are only available when collecting a Golden Star. If you do not know the location of the next collectible, it can be an incredibly long time until your next opportunity to save, making this another infuriation if you just want to pick up and play for 5 minutes. You’ll end up playing for at least 30 minutes before seeing the first possibility to save.
Zombie Panic completely lacks any form of tutorial. Instead you are thrown into the first screen, not knowing what buttons to press and what your abilities are. It is a single self-contained screen that only opens up after killing all enemies. Later on in the game you’ll come across doors that appear after clearing certain rooms, which lead to the collection of one of the 8 Golden stars of your quest, however I didn’t know how to get through it. Pressing all buttons, pushing up and down on the Circle Pad until I realised that I had to press the Left Shoulder button to use the door and enter the room. No indication of what you are supposed to do just leaves the player feeling infuriated.
The use of stereoscopic 3D with Zombie Panic is goddamn awful. Backgrounds sometimes overlap the front layers and hurt your eyes. The objects you have to jump over are on a completely different 3D plane. They jut out in front while your character remains within the middle layer. It is so completely off-putting that I recommend the use of the 3D slider turned to OFF.
Zombie Panic first shocked me at its rudimentary nature and lack of precision handling, but with repeated playthroughs it is the type of game to grow on you. You’ll end up liking the challenge of making a successful run through collecting all 8 stars, but it does come at the price to your patience. If you like very simple 8-bit 2D platformers this might be right up your Citadel.
Summary: Infuriating gameplay aside, this is a cheap and well made eShop download. It hits all the retro buttons whilst retaining a challenging experience that will grow on the gamer if given a chance.