Rock Zombie, a game that was originally released on Wii U, then ported to Steam and tablets has now made its way onto Xbox One. This is a side-scrolling brawler where you control one of three witches, that are also members of a rock band, where everyone starts turning into zombies due to a green smoke. You have to battle through this zombie apocalypse in order to destroy the source of the green smoke using nothing more than their indestructible guitars and magic powers.
Saying that Rock Zombie has a “story” is probably exaggerating it a bit, because at its core the game is nothing more than a side-scrolling brawler, from its sketchy story to the similarity of the playable characters. Not only do Zoe, Crystal, and Sasha have no voice (except some exclamations every now and then), nor any facial expression whatsoever during the gameplay, the only differences between them seems to be the colour of their magic (red for Zoe, blue for Crystal and yellow for Sasha) and their outfits. Not even the different stats of each seems to be noticeably different during the game, with all their combos and moves being exactly the same as well.
As I mentioned earlier, the story is about a female rock band that have to deal with a zombie outbreak due to some mysterious green smoke that has turned almost everyone into zombies. You’ll need to fight your way from the concert place to the green smoke origin against zombies, spiders, and marines, using your magical witch powers and armed up with a guitar that is indestructible (I’m sure lots of musicians would love to have guitars like that). The story is told in comic book strips that act like the game cutscenes between some levels.
At its core, Rock Zombie is similar to arcade games such as Double Dragon and the like, but it also has some modern features like the “casual” and “normal” difficulties that grant you unlimited continues. The hardest difficulty, that of “arcade 1990,” sends you back to the menu when you run out of lives. In addition to that, your magical attacks are quite powerful and enemies rarely require more than two or three hits to finish them off with your melee strikes, which results in an easier game than that found in regular arcade brawlers. One of the features in which this game lacks is the fact that there aren’t any weapons to pick up, like almost every other game in the genre. Although zombies aren’t exactly known for using weapons, at least the marines’ weapons could have been made available to be picked up once they were killed. Even the possibility of picking up weapons that could just be scattered throughout the levels would add a bit more variety to the game.
As for the attacks that have been included, there are two types; melee strikes and magic attacks. The melee strikes are divided in two, one being a horizontal attack and the other a vertical one. Both have their specific uses, with the horizontal being more suited to crowd control while the vertical one has a longer reach and is more in tune at hitting the crawling zombies and spiders. Each time you kill an enemy you will fill up the magic meter which is then used for the three different magic attacks. “Magic ball,” does exactly as the name suggests and shoots a magical ball of light that damages enemies, whilst another one, “magic thunder,” shoots a magic beam of light that evaporates all enemies in the direction where it’s fired. The last one is called, “magic rain”, and it shoots three magical light beams from the sky that can be used to eliminate multiple enemies that surround you. Honestly, I’ve hardly used the last one, not only because the magic power that it costs is high, but also for the fact that it is not as useful as you would imagine. The first two are way less expensive (in magic power) and significantly more useful.
There isn’t much abundance in what comes about from the enemy types, as the zombies can be divided into six types; the standard shuffling zombies, running zombies, crawling zombies, zombies that are on fire and will explode after you kill them, fat zombies that vomit deadly poison onto you and dog zombies. There are also spiders and marines present. The zombies are the common enemy in all the levels, with the spiders and the marines specific to only a few levels each. Even then, they are still mixed up with a number of zombies. It is Rock Zombie after all!
As for the levels, they are pretty much all the same, excluding the boss levels. The only thing that changes the levels scheme are the two driving levels, one with a motorcycle and another with a car, where your objective is to run over the most zombies that you can while avoiding some obstacles along the way. These levels could be a good way to break the “monotony” of the rest of the game but instead they turn out to be the worst levels included – for no reason other than the fact that the driving mechanics are amongst the worst that I’ve ever seen in a video game. The zombies are more like statues standing in the way just waiting for you to hit them.
One feature that might get on your nerves will be the unexplained environmental traps that are scattered through some of the levels, I’m talking about the spider webs, land mines, brown puddles filled with tentacles and the dripping poison areas. These traps can be annoying for many reasons; the first for the lack of information about them, the second for the fact that besides the land mines, they only affect your character and the third one being the fact that they take large amounts of health without any obvious reason. I’ve learned about these traps the hard way, not only for the fact they can be noticed in some cases but also because there is no information whatsoever about them in the game. The only good thing is that after the first time you fall into any of them you will start to be more careful on where you go, although sometimes the camera doesn’t help.
Another annoying feature of Rock Zombie are the occasional explosions that happen through some levels in order to block your passage with a stream of fire. Don’t get me wrong the stream itself is not the problem, the big issue is that if you are too close to that exploding object (which you will never know what is it until it blows up) you will be in serious trouble, losing a life along the way and making you need to restart the entire level. A bit of personal advice from me – dont rush forward until you get the ‘go’ pop-up arrow.
Although there is not a single game that is 100% bug-free, the only game that I accept to have visually and presented bugs are the Goat Simulator games (where the bugs are meant to be funny and actually created to be part of the game). Any other game that presents too many visual and unreliable bugs during the entire gameplay do not deserve the money asked for them. Rock Zombie is one of those and comes complete with some serious bugs that should have been fixed even before the game hit the Xbox Games Store. Some of the bugs that I’ve encountered and ended up finding a bit of a game killer are that sometimes the ground will become an ocean of blood, or water when you get a slow-motion sequence once you kill the last zombie of the “wave”. I’ve become stuck in invisible walls several times throughout the game, especially when the camera moves forward which would put me off screen, unable to move to get back to the visible area with the only way to solve it being to restart the level. I’ve only been “gifted” with this invisible wall bug after the first playthrough, and probably due to the fact of knowing the levels by memory and rushing in some parts, so once again I leave a bit of advice to not rush through the game if you don’t want to experience this.
Since we are in the “annoying features department” of the game, there is another one present just before the final boss. The game will begin to shake a lot, not that kind of little rumbling shake effect, I mean a shake like a nine on the Ritcher Scale every five seconds or so. By this point, everyone should be a “pro” in this game and will have no trouble finishing the level (even on the Arcade 1990 difficulty) but even so this is something that is a complete distraction and completely unnecessary to the game.
In the graphical department, Rock Zombie has both good and bad qualities. To start, the lighting is actually pretty atmospheric and interesting, but on the other hand, the character models and textures are of a noticeably low quality, something which is tried to hidden by the subtle outline that appears around the characters to give it a more comic book look, instead of a realistic one. Although it is not perfect in terms of visuals the game can be enjoyed without many problems, with the rain on the camera effect being the only really annoying graphical feature.
If we’re looking for something that Rock Zombie excels at, then it would be in the sound department. The entire soundtrack is an instrumental mix of Hard Rock, Nu Metal and Alternative Rock which suits the game perfectly. Although there are a few glitches in the soundtrack especially in the loops that are not always the most perfect, it’s compensated by the diversity and quality of the soundtrack.
In summary, those who have played the game on other platforms will notice that the Xbox version is nothing more than a poor port of the original game, where the only changes are the control schemes which have been adapted to the Xbox controller. Besides that, the game continues to have the same issues that seem to have afflicted the previously released versions and that is something which disappoints me. With a bit work in a bunch of different aspects, this could have been a promising game, but in its current state it’s hard to recommend it as a good game.