It’s fair to say gaming has had something of an awkward addiction to zombies over the past decade, with the undead thrown into the majority of game series’ and hundreds of indie hits at some point or another. One thing you don’t usually tend to put together however is zombies and parties. But can it be done? Peach Pie Productions certainly think so. Does it sound silly? Well, from the outset it sounds ridiculous, but nevertheless, where there’s a will there’s a way and with a keen interest for all things zombie related I decided this was one party I didn’t want to miss.
Zombie Party is one of the latest indie titles to make the jump over to console after quietly going about its business on PC. It is probably another of the many games that have arrived that few of us have ever heard of, but after spending several hours trying to conquer the many dungeons, bosses, and monstrous enemies, I’m still not entirely convinced that it’s one gamers on Xbox One will be rushing to.
For those not in the know, Zombie Party is a twin-stick top down bullet-hell shooter in which players take on hordes and hordes of the undead, as well as various other non-zombie monsters in a bid to survive. There are four different game modes on offer, each of which offer a unique challenge.
Out of the four available, Adventure was where I started. This sees players trying to survive multiple horde-style waves of ever increasing enemies before things culminate in a boss fight, with victory meaning progression to the next area. Each wave is fought by utilising the vast armory of weapons, skills, magic and power-ups that are available, with all weapons and skills upgradeable at a shop with coins collected during each game.
There are a handful of different arena areas available for players to progress through in Adventure mode, all of which take you through different dimensions – not that there’s much in the way of gameplay differences other than the colour of the floor and the selection of enemies. That said, getting through them won’t be a first-time thing and will no doubt result in several failed attempts until you have at least levelled up your characters and assigned skill points in the appropriate areas. Damage output, firing speed, health points and movement speed can all be upgraded and this is something which is especially needed for the boss fights.
Before I talk about the other game modes, it’s well worth mentioning that none of them feature a story for players to work through, with each instead calling on the charm of besting your own high score for its replayability. This works well early on, but it does start to feel a little repetitive after a few hours of chasing down your own scores. It’s one of the disappointments I found with Zombie Party, especially given the exceptionally large number of playable characters available, with fifty unique characters ready to be unlocked throughout.
Fortunately, there is at least a vast abundance of items available to go along with the large roster of characters, and these help keep your mind off the slightly repetitive nature of the game. With over 150 unique guns and weapons available – you’ll find huge energy beams, teddy bear launchers, machine guns, a weapon that fires exploding fish, and pets all available to be used in the fight against the enemy. And that’s without mentioning the full magic and elemental system to go alongside them all.
It’s always lovely to see any game provide a ton of unlockables and different gameplay features for its players to pay attention to, however I can’t help but feel that Zombie Party often fails to recognise and imprint exactly what it’s trying to be. I say this because other game modes on offer are largely different to the Adventure mode, so much so that they feel more like four separate mini-games rather than four modes of one game. Add in that in Zombie Party, many of the enemies couldn’t be further away from zombies if they tried, it begs the question as to why the game isn’t called Monster Party… or at least something more fitting to the content.
Away from the Adventure option and Dungeon is the closest you’ll get to it, but this changes Zombie Party into an RPG Rogue-like experience. In this mode the wave based system from Adventure mode is no longer present and instead players must work their way through the large areas to find the exit, much like the many other dungeon crawlers that have arrived on Xbox One this year. Finding the exit in each area is how players progress, with each taking players to the next floor, with a boss appearing after you’ve progressed enough, and a new biome coming into play should you manage to best the boss. In this mode the shop isn’t something you can simply visit after each wave either, so finding new weapons and power-ups comes down to searching the many chests that are found on each floor. This is an interesting change and one that I found preferable due to the fact you never know what you will get, something which brings variety into play.
There is also an Arcade mode and once more this completely changed the way I played the game. Arcade mode plays out as a side-scrolling shooter, in which players must get to the end of each section whilst avoiding damage and killing all of the zombies and angry bats in their path. There are just two playable characters for this mode, Johnny and Sara, but neither are very different from the other, except for in their appearance and the initial weapon they carry. It is something which entices players back to beat their own high score, but once interest for that fades, there isn’t really much other enjoyment to be had.
The final option that deserves a mention is that of Deathmatch – one that was clearly built with the online multiplayer the game originally had on PC in mind. But this is probably the worst game mode in Zombie Party.
Deathmatch allows up to four local players, or you and three other A.I. bots, to go at one another in order to see who can come out with the most kills. Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of polish, with no way to tell how many kills you have other than physically counting, something that isn’t easy when half the screen is covered in excessive colour thanks to the bright flashes of everyone firing their weapons in the tiny confined deathmatch arenas. One thing that would have made this a much more prominent game option would have been using the large areas seen in Adventure mode for the deathmatches, as well as including things like health bars and a kill feed.
Other than the main game modes, there are a few other options. Pet Sanctuary is an area in which players can buy and watch over a selection of pets, Discoveries allows you to see everything you have unlocked in the game so far, whilst Slot Machines allows players to choose to play for twenty-five coins per spin, with a typical goal of matching all three pictures for a prize. This is one area I gave up on pretty quickly however, due mainly to just how simple it is to lose a vast number of coins. When new character unlocks, weapons and upgrades rely on coins, wasting them away isn’t particularly enticing.
Whilst there are no game destroying features within Zombie Party, it’s fair to say that with the variety of games available on Xbox, Zombie Party doesn’t ever possess anything that will keep players coming back for more. The vast number of items and unlockables are certainly deserving of praise, but the gameplay shows nothing more than a lack of identity and fails to bring anything memorable to the table. Zombie Party is instead a game that, with the right touches could be something enjoyable. However, with online multiplayer already removed in the transition to console, it’s fair to say that there is not too much to write home about and is only worth playing if you really have nothing worthwhile in your backlog.