There was once a time when I couldn’t get enough of the zombie culture. Whether it be the way the first two George A. Romero films split open my imagination or the time when one of the pesky blighters dived right out of a wardrobe after reading that certain diary in Resident Evil. Unfortunately, that love has somewhat dwindled in the past several years, due to how much various forms of popular culture have completely milked the concept dry. There’s hundreds of the undead featured in gaming, or perhaps thousands even if you consider mobile apps. Even The Walking Dead only really ever has two decent episodes per season. So, you can imagine my enthusiasm when this little zombie basher arrived in my hands.
None the less, I do love a good arcade beat-em-up. Or at least I used to anyway. The thing is, scrolling arcade brawlers in the traditional form were only really ever good with a pocket full of change. Sure, games such as Double Dragon and Streets of Rage bring back many fond home console memories of my childhood, but they were an early take on their kind. They were also one of the few genres that actually provided a true and simple same-screen multiplayer experience back in the day. Nowadays games such as Bayonetta and Devil May Cry have taken the concept and blasted it into a new direction. Or a more simple, fun and relevant example, in this case, is Castle Crashers. This really begs the question, does this classic formula age well for the gamers of today?
Bloody Zombies is a modern take of the old school genre that sees four dysfunctional cockneys as London’s saving grace to control the zombie pandemic that has destroyed the city. You can choose to team up with three other mates both locally or online to see if you have what it takes to beat your way through the zombie apocalypse. Each character has a handful of moves from the get-go with a few extra skills that you can acquire throughout your rampage.
Where the problems first begin to surface start with your choice of character. Despite each having their own specific personality, their overall combat styles are virtually identical. While this may keep things fair between your group, the lack of variation murders any reason to experiment with each character. Even The Simpsons arcade game gave each family member a unique hook to play around with when beating your way through Springfield. It’s a feature that feels sorely missed and is an early indication of how shallow this brawler is overall.
To say that there isn’t any depth at all would be a little unfair. You can extend your combat skills by finding them throughout the levels or choose to upgrade and purchase them at allocated shops with the coin that you earn. These special skills usually require you to perform a simple input command to execute them. You also have the ability to juggle most enemies with attacks, exercising your basic set of combos in the process. Your rolling mechanic can be useful as an option to evade an attack and especially comes in handy when faced with the generic bosses in Bloody Zombies.
The problem is, the combat doesn’t feel quite as satisfying as I would like it to. Besides the moderately fun juggling mechanic, the fact that you have to be perfectly in line with an enemy for your hit to count can prove to be quite frustrating. Then, there’s the walk speed of each character, who all move painfully slowly – especially laterally. You can run forwards to gain a bit of momentum behind an attack, I suppose. But, you just don’t generally move much faster than the actual zombies themselves, which then drags out the time it takes to actually finish a chapter. Of course, a game like this fits better among others so I managed to get all four spots filled with friends and family.
Everyone that I played with unanimously felt that they weren’t really enjoying themselves. There just wasn’t enough here to keep any of them entertained. While a lot of the feedback was based on the repetitive combat system, they also found it a little boring to look at, which I solemnly agree with. So, in an effort to try and get the most out of the multiplayer component, I was forced to venture online to get my buddy battler fix with any strangers that I could find.
Despite managing to fit in with a few games online, the lobbies were pretty barren. I did try to host for a while, in which nobody at all joined. In regards to the games that I did jump into, the experience was a complete laggy mess. Whether this was a server issue or another player’s connection wasn’t really apparent. You do have the option to set up a private lobby between friends though, which is actually more than what can be said for a handful of other Nintendo Switch titles out there.
At least the difficulty curve is fair, and it doesn’t feel impossible to trawl through on your own. When all your lives are spent, you respawn at the beginning of each chapter which usually takes roughly between 5-15 minutes to get through. You can also set the difficulty to Easy if you want a more reclined brain bashing experience. At the end of each chapter, you get a grade to summarise your performance. While this is definitely a positive addition, I felt no desire whatsoever to want to try and topple my score.
Visually, Bloody Zombies is technically not too bad. I didn’t experience any slowdown, and the 3D graphics blend well with the 2D cardboard-style characters. The backgrounds themselves look reminiscent to Telltale’s The Walking Dead series with its comic book-like composition. It’s just a shame that this title isn’t particularly interesting to look at, even with all of its famous southern landmarks. This may very well be due to the tired theme that it is going for, or the shadow puppet movement in how the characters are animated. The whole thing kind of feels like a free browser game that you would find on a million Newgrounds-style websites out there.
While games such as Golden Axe and Final Fight lie fondly in many of our hearts, it’s hard to deny that unless it contains a killer feature, modern games trying to take on such a vintage genre may fall victim to the nostalgia that it’s trying to recreate. This is most certainly the case with Bloody Zombies. Despite the developer’s efforts to slightly extend the combat system from such arcade classics as these, the game’s overall repetitive nature just doesn’t bode well enough to be interesting in the modern day. I could imagine that even purest would easily rather play something like Cadillac and Dinosaurs over Bloody Zombies, and, to be brutally honest, I felt a bit like a bloody zombie playing it.