Halloween is just around the corner, meaning fun times for guys and ghouls of all ages. And while the kiddies have narrowed their focus to candy, the thing most on the minds of guys this time of year is hot undead chicks. Everyone wants a corpse bride of their very own, and to experience the sort of undying love that fairytales are made of. Namco has obviously had one ear to the ground — or maybe they’ve just been listening from deep within the ground, in their graves — and have reanimated one hot dead-butante just in time for the spookiest of days.
Garters & Ghouls clawed its way out of the earth and into the App Store last evening, the latest in a long run of Halloween-themed releases. And while the App Store is now rife with zombie shooters, it’s definitely been lacking in sexy zombies. Garters & Ghouls makes up for this by introducing zombie-protagonist Marie Dupois, raised from the dead — in her garters! — by a man of immediately questionable intentions to combat an evil known as the Thrum. Playing as Marie, you are tasked to destroy the portals in each of 25 levels through which the Thrum are summoning zombies, werewolves and other supernatural denizens into the world.
Garters & Ghouls is a dual-stick shooter similar to releases such as iDracula, MiniGore and Alive-4-Ever, and also bears similarities to the arcade classic Gauntlet. What sets the game apart from its kin, though, is its level progression and narrative. So load your guns, tighten your corset and hike up your garters! It’s zombie killing time!
Marie Dupois: Never look a gift horse in the mouth, nor an undead hotbox clad in a red corset and garters. Sex sells on Halloween, and Namco knows it. If you can get past her perfume — eau de decay — she may just be the zombie-slayer of your dreams.
Level Progression & Narrative: Far too many dual-stick shooters rely on survival and arena mechanics; far too few actually give you levels to explore. By their very nature, dual-stick shooters can be repetitive. Implementing level progression gives the player tangible goals, changing scenery and a story to follow, greatly alleviating the repetition of zombie-kill after zombie-kill. Garters & Ghouls offers 25 levels through creepy locales, and probably the deepest plot of any dual-stick shooter on the App Store.
Upgrades & Achievements: As you progress through the game, you will collect money from fallen foes that can be spent in the Steam Queen shops to buy upgrades for Marie, including enhancements to movement speed, weapon damage, health and more. There are also a healthy number of achievements to be gained for things like shooting 30 zombies without missing a shot, wasting multiple opponents in a single attack, etc. Taken as one, upgrades and achievements give you much to strive for while you play.
Controls: The controls for dual-stick shooters are pretty standard; left stick controls movement, and right stick controls firing direction. Perhaps a side-effect of the reanimation process, but Marie’s controls feel stiff and jerky, rather than smooth and silky. Have you ever seen a graceful zombie? But while the control issues may be explained away using the story, they just don’t make for good gameplay. Marie can move and shoot in 20 directions; that means you can send a bullet in a straight line at only 20 points in a possible 360 degrees. The result is that you will often miss your targets because you’re not perfectly in line with them. It leaves enemies and portals feeling very two-dimensional and hard-to-hit. The portals are huge, and should not be so difficult to hit. What’s more, the portals lack effective impact response, making it difficult to know whether or not you are hitting them at all. Why indie developers can release games like iDracula and MiniGore with controls that feel smooth, fluid and responsive, and a major game publisher like Namco cannot … well, I will just never know.
Weapons: The first time you pick up the grenade launcher in iDracula and realize its destructive potential, you smile, sound in the knowledge that you are now equipped to unleash a whole new world of hurt upon your opponents. And the grenade launcher in iDracula is only a mid-level weapon. The first time I picked up the grenade launcher in Garters & Ghouls, however, I was disappointed. “Huh? That’s it?” The grenade launcher feels more like a pebble launcher, and if the grenades are disappointing, do you think the lower-level shot gun or machine gun are built to impress? They’re not. The shot gun is a wide pebble launcher, and the machine gun is a fast pebble launcher. Namco really dropped the ball on the game’s weapons. Weapons in a game like this need to feel bad-ass; weapons in Garters & Ghouls just feel bad.
Repetitive: While the level progression, changing scenery, narrative, upgrades and achievements do much to alleviate feelings of repetition, the fact remains that from level-to-level, your primary goal is to survive the horde while taking down portals. You’re always doing the same thing.
Crashes: It may just be that my iPhone is being overwhelmed by the alluring power of the corset and garters combo, but this game crashes a lot. Let’s hope Namco makes stability improvements in an update.
Garters & Ghouls nails the Halloween vibe, but falters somewhat in gameplay. While the level progression and narrative help to make the game unique, there is a lot of room for improvement. By comparison, Alive-4-Ever innovated in its genre by introducing different types of objectives for each level, and by specifying trophy objectives. iDracula, also nailing the Halloween vibe, defined the genre early in the App Store’s life with its solid controls, excellent system of upgrades and shiny presentation. The nail in the proverbial coffin is the price. At $4.99, Garters & Ghouls offers little in terms of gameplay that cannot be found in Alive-4-Ever or iDracula, titles that sell for $2.99 and $0.99 respectively. On the other hand, it is nice to see an entry in the genre with a focus on story, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that Marie is the hottest zombie in the App Store. If you’ve already taken your fill of iDracula and Alive-4-Ever, and you’re on the prowl for a new shooter this Halloween, Garters & Ghouls is worth a look.