Despite having a heavy interest in gaming since I was first able to run off with a controller, the brawler genre has never been something I’ve been too heavily interested in. Sure, you’ve got your classics like Streets of Rage and Golden Axe, but even those failed to spark much of an interest for me. Recent years have been rather quiet on the brawler front, but the guys over at nDreams hope to change that by bringing the once popular genre to Xbox One. How? With a hit of side-scrolling and an infusion of zombies of course.
But does Bloody Zombies have what it takes to kickstart the genre once more?
Bloody Zombies takes players to the streets of London, as you take on the role of one of the last four remaining survivors found in the destroyed capital, all after a mutated zombie virus has run riot in the city and turned the majority into the mutated and shambling undead. After witnessing their ability to survive, an offer is made, and all survivors team up to help take back the city of London and end the undead plague.
If you’re someone who experienced the delights of Guns, Gore & Cannoli, then you’ll probably be pleased to hear that Bloody Zombies comes with a similar design, from the cartoonish look to the wise cracking protagonist – albeit a little more thuggish. In fact for the most part, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s the same game, until you actually get down to playing of course. You see, whilst Bloody Zombies initially had me excited, there’s a lot of things that quite simply let it down, setting it miles apart from the 2015 zombie hit.
Gameplay consists of battling your way through eleven stages, all of which offer classic beat’ em-up side-scrolling action throughout. Each stage in the game takes players through various London landscapes, all of which are quite interesting to gaze at in passing, however whilst they come off as 2D in appearance, gameplay is actually more 2.5D. And that brings us to my first issue with Bloody Zombies.
Progress is made via the scrolling sections of the game, but the combat isn’t tied to simply left or right, and instead players and enemies alike are able to move around the screen as they please, utilising the unseen depth to their advantage – or disadvantage. Although the idea certainly merits credit, the execution just isn’t there, with combat instead feeling horrible. To attack an enemy, you must be stood within relatively close distance and the same depth as the enemy – whilst hard to explain, that basically means you need to be right in front of them. That may not sound too challenging, but with the enemies constantly moving, as well as capable of pulling an attack that can reach much further than yours, it can be really awkward finding the right time to step in to put the undead numbers back in the ground. That is something which only gets even more frustrating as newer and harder enemies are introduced.
Unfortunately that’s not the only issue with combat either, because the controls are unresponsive and sluggish. Even with an early tutorial level to teach players the gist of things, and an alert to tell you the number of combos that are available with the right button presses, nothing ever feels very fluid or polished. After spending the first few levels bashing my way through London, it didn’t take long before the lack of speed in character movement, combined with unresponsive controls, saw me needing to restart an entire level again just because of an unfair death after the game failed to follow my input.
This becomes a true problem in later levels too, as enemies only become more difficult, and this ensures the overall challenge feels near impossible for a solo adventurer. I’d like to say at this point that it’s fortunate that there is at least online multiplayer available for up four players to battle the streets of London together, but if you hope to find anyone to help you along, you may just be out of luck already. You see, the player base has either upped and left or become one with the dead already – not that it matters much because you’ll need to complete the game in one sitting as online progress doesn’t seem to save. That’s not to mention the server issues currently plaguing the game either – issues which only saw me able to join a few online games with other attempts proving unable to connect, no matter how many times I tried.
Despite things looking terribly bleak for this title, there is one feature that, even though awkward to understand at first, is still an impressive addition. The loot-style feature.
Throughout each level, players can collect coins from certain destroyed objects that then allow for a spending spree in the underground shop. In here you can buy a range of different skills in both special and passive form. The Special skills are abilities pulled off by perfecting a specific combo, much like the ones you see in Mortal Kombat X, only not as gruesome. These skills do however take up energy and have a limited number of uses before your energy bar is exhausted. Passive skills on the other hand can bring status-like effects to enemies should you manage to perform a well-timed dodge – although with the sluggish controls, this was something I couldn’t manage often.
If you’ve struggled to save enough coins however then it isn’t entirely the end of the world… well it is, but there’s still a chance for you to get some new power-ups and abilities elsewhere. Each level contains breakable objects and a hidden loot box. In these you will find all sorts of lovely treats, from health and points to new weapons and refreshing abilities. Unfortunately, even with all these lovely new things I never managed to get too far on my own, something which is entirely down to just how awkward the combat is. And that never improves.
Another disappointment I found with Bloody Zombies was just how uninspiring it was to bother collecting the various hidden keycards that are dotted throughout the levels. During each level players can find small platforming areas, most of which end up bringing some kind of loot box and Keycard – however other than popping an achievement each time you find one, I’m not sure what other purpose they actually have. Do they unlock something amazing? Do I gather a new ability if I get them all? What’s the point? It would have been nice to have had an answer to any of these questions, but after spending a few minutes in each section searching for one, and with no obvious reason to be bothering, I decided to give up and focus on just getting to the end instead.
Although there are many disappointments to be found within Bloody Zombies, there is one thing worthy of praise. Though many may not manage to make their way through each of the levels, the enemy variety found throughout is certainly impressive. With many games often re-using the same foes over and over, or giving them just slight upgrades, Bloody Zombies introduces completely new enemies each time, something which makes a new strategy for each level essential.
Overall, and despite some clever ideas, Bloody Zombies fails to deliver where it counts most. With sluggish and unresponsive combat, all of which fails to match the overall speed of the game, Bloody Zombies isn’t the best thing you’ll be playing this year. Whilst I would love to have found myself enjoying this one, there are many other titles on the market that simply do things better.