With its previous app store hits Fruit Ninja and Monster Dash, Halfbrick Studios has become a hot developer for NoDpad reviewers. And so it’s with no small amount of anticipation that we awaited the release of Age of Zombies for the iPhone and iPad.
Age of Zombies first released to rave reviews on the PlayStation Network as a Mini, a bite-sized downloadable game for the PS3 and PSP. The game was charming, but having been designed for the PSP — which lacks a second analog stick — the firing controls were assigned to the face buttons on the PSP and PS3′s dual-shock controller. Because of this, the controls were a great hinderance to the gameplay and I couldn’t help but think what a natural fit the game would be for the iPhone. And so I was understandably pleased when Halfbrick announced the game coming to Apple’s app store.
Age of Zombies is a dual-stick shooter, like so many other dual-stick shooters. What sets the game apart, however, is it’s sense of humor, retro presentation, and fun level design.
In terms of story chronology, Age of Zombies takes place after Monster Dash. While the only way of ending a game of Monster Dash is for the player to die, Age of Zombies presupposes that protagonist Barry Steakfries survived his journey and was able to reach the laboratory of the evil Professor Brains, whose brains Steakfries immediately uses to splatter the floor. But not before Brains is able to open a portal scattering his zombie hoard through time. Being one super badass, Steakfries leaps into the portal in pursuit.
Just as Monster Dash saw Steakfries warping from one location to another during the course of play, the stages in Age of Zombies see him warping through time. Each of the game’s areas are themed around a location and time period. In prehistoric times, Steakfries will combat zombie cavemen and dinosaurs. In the 1920s, he will do battle against undead mobsters. And in ancient Egypt, he will fight against mummies among the pyramids.
Retro Presentation: Like Monster Dash, Age of Zombies feels like a throwback to the 16-bit era of SNES games. Awesome!
Stages: The period-piece stages are loads of fun and totally charming. Environments are unique and colorful, with cool set pieces. Each setting feels distinct from the others, with each time period further divided into a number of stages with individual map layouts. Some stages are wide open spaces, while others will force you to fight in narrow corridors or around obstacles. The game really mixes things up from one stage to the next, and the variety is fantastic.
Bosses: At the end of each time period, Streakfries must do battle against a stage boss, such as a Zombie T-Rex or a gangster car spraying machine gun fire. The bosses take a pounding to put down, and help to set the game apart from other dual-stick shooters, many of which lack boss battles and rely entirely on increasing numbers of peons.
Death by Hoard: Age of Zombies presents a unique death mechanic. Steakfries doesn’t have a health meter, and cannot really be brought down by a single zombie. Instead, danger happens when Streakfries fails to manage the oncoming hoard and becomes overwhelmed by sheer numbers of the undead. While Steakfries will die if he takes enough damage, you will most often expire beneath a flood of zombies, as is often the case in zombie films.
Weapons: Shotguns, machine guns, grenades, landmines, rocket launchers, flame throwers and more implements of destruction await you. Steakfries is not ashamed to admit his love of guns, and you shouldn’t be either. The variety of weapons in Age of Zombies is good, clean fun.
Universal App, Game Center Support: Age of Zombies is a universal app, playable at native resolution on either an iPhone or iPad. Personally, I prefer the game on the iPhone, as the dual-stick controls on the iPad are a little more difficult to manage. That’s a matter of personal preference, though. Game Center support is also a nice touch.
Vulgar and Tasteless: “Surprise, Professor Shit-for-brains!” Steakfries shouts as the game’s very first line of dialogue, and it only gets worse further in. The humor in Age of Zombies is vulgar, off-color and may offend some gamers. While the humor in Monster Dash was very clever, and of the charming, all-ages variety, Age of Zombies is definitely intended for a maturer audience. Despite cutesy appearances, this is not a game for the children.
It’s important to bear in mind that Age of Zombies has been ported directly from the PlayStation Network version of the game, and was originally designed for a different audience. PlayStation gamers are somewhat more accustomed to and accepting of vulgarity in games. The PlayStation is a console targeting serious, grown-up gamers, and not so much the younger, casual gamers who frequent the app store.
Return of the Tutorial: No matter how many times you’ve played the game before, the first stage of the campaign is always a tutorial and cannot be disabled, skipped or played in the normal fashion. No so bad on your first outing, but the tutorial stage becomes a major drag on replays.
As dual-stick shooters go, Age of Zombies is definitely worth checking out. While imperfect, it’s a great game and highly entertaining. The game is marred by its vulgar humor, though, which will be a turn-off to some gamers and which lessens the game’s appeal for younger gamers (or maybe heightens the appeal for younger gamers, but lessens it for their parents). By comparison, Monster Dash seems a game much more refined, focused and appealing to a larger audience; in generally, a game approached with a greater degree of care and a more even hand. Age of Zombies is great, but has a different and less appealing vibe. And honestly, I would have liked had the game been cleaned up for the kids. It would have been a great Halloween shooter for the little ones aside from all of the cursing and tasteless humor.