Sometimes a game will need to do the bare minimum to grab my attention. This is certainly the case with Ed-0: Zombie Uprising, which does the simple but ingenious thing of smashing together Japanese fighters and zombies. What more could I possibly ask for?
Now, the story behind why there are zombies everywhere is a little out there, but essentially the western world is tinkering with technology and using zombies as an unstoppable labour force. The game is set in the Edo period, where Japan shut itself off from the rest of the world. However, the zombie hordes have managed to infest the once peaceful lands, and you play as one of the few heroes who emerge with any hope of putting a stop to it all.
You can take control of either a Samurai, Sumo Warrior or Ninja to take the fight to the undead hordes, but you’ll start out playing as the honourable katana wielding warrior. The “Zombie Industrial Revolution” is in full swing (don’t ask) meaning there are plenty of the undead pests that need dispatching. There are subtitled cutscenes with Japanese audio which tell the story behind the action, but I’ll be totally honest and say I had no idea what on earth was going on most of the time.
Things kick off immediately with a tutorial that walks you through how it all works, but completing it isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. In a way, it sets the tone for the game overall.
Anyhow, despite the rather busy looking menus, things are not too complicated once you get used to what it all means. Ed-0: Zombie Uprising is roguelike in structure, as you head out on runs through dungeons, aiming to survive each floor before taking out the boss zombie. If you die, you’ll lose all your items (including a good chunk of your cash) but not your overall progress.
Each floor of the dungeon is themed, and the maze-like layouts are home to plenty of zombies. However, several torii gates are randomly placed on each floor also, which are portals to the next stage of the dungeon via different routes. Depending on the colour, you can target the items you need the most, whether that be health, secret arts, charms etc. It’s there where you’ll have the option to suspend your run and return to it later, or sometimes you’ll get the option to head for home, cutting the run short if things are getting a bit too hot to handle.
You will also be subject to random conditions, for example zombies who are killed may explode shortly afterwards. Or the rules may change on a floor completely. For example, the torii gates needing a key to be activated before you can progress.
You can choose which difficulty to tackle each dungeon on, starting with normal and going all the way up to some horrendous sounding one that I daren’t touch with a bargepole. This is because normal is enough of a challenge in itself, I had no appetite to make things any harder for myself.
Before you head out to kick some undead backside, you’ll have a chance to prepare in the rather lovely Kuku village which is something of a safe haven. It’s here where you can upgrade abilities, buy extra items to take with you, view found journal pages and more. I’d strongly recommend banking any loose change too, because taking it with you can be very risky.
Of course, combat is the main attraction in Ed-0: Zombie Uprising. At your disposal you have a regular attack backed up with a slightly more powerful one which you can charge up. With a quiet footing (and a little luck) you can also sneak behind enemies and assassinate them, killing them with one fatal blow. This is especially useful when it comes to the more powerful zombies. However, you’ll need to make use of the secret arts to survive for any meaningful amount of time.
These can be found as you progress through each dungeon, assigned to any of the A,B,X and Y buttons. If you come across a duplicate, they can be stacked to level up the ability. These range from powerful attacks to stat buffs. Some are even just for show. They do take a little while to cool down however, so choose when to use them wisely.
You can also pull off a block if you time it right, but I found this to be very inconsistent. You cannot defend yourself from certain attacks either, so dodge rolling out the way always feels like the safer option.
You’ll also happen across charms as you play, of which you can equip numerous at a time. They have all sorts of effects on your character, good and bad, but can prove very very useful. Once equipped however, you’ll need a certain type of talisman to swap them out for another.
The dungeons are littered with items which can be used to manage your hunger and health bars as well as defending yourself. You can chuck most items at your enemies too, which can prove handy when trying to keep them at arm’s length. Not all items will benefit you in a positive way either, so make sure you’re familiar with what it does before you decide to use it.
Picking items up requires a press of the Y button, but if you hold Y you can use them straight away. I fell foul of this a couple of times, either equipping a harmful charm or consuming some poisonous herbs. The mind lapses at times due to the repetitive gameplay in Ed-0: Zombie Uprising.
That’s right, apart from hacking and slashing away at zombies there isn’t really much else to the proceedings. The dungeons are randomly generated in terms of layout, enemies and items but the same assets are re-used pretty frequently. This adds an element of longevity, but the gameplay is too basic to be masked by the variance in dungeons.
As I mentioned earlier, playing on the normal difficulty provided plenty of challenges. So much so that a handful of enemy attacks will strip your health away and end your run pretty swiftly. Even if you’ve laid into one with a combo, they will often manage to get an attack in which borders on feeling unfair a lot of the time. This frustration is only increased when you head into the final floor and take on the boss.
These enemies require a little more strategy to take down, and can deal a whole load more pain too. On one of my runs, I had made it all the way to the fifteenth floor to be confronted by a huge zombie emitting steam. Before I could figure out what was going on, it had launched itself at me, killed me on the spot, and ended my run. At that point I just wanted to switch the Xbox off. It felt cheap.
The third boss (who I have just referred to) marks a huge lift in difficulty, and requires an awful lot of patience to take down. Considering you’re at the mercy of lady luck (in terms of which drops materialise) it can sometimes feel fruitless even attempting the encounter. It’s most likely going to put a lot of people off battling on through. This is evidenced perfectly by the diminishing percentage of players who have the achievements for clearing each dungeon, the further into the game you go.
That’s a key issue with Ed-0: Zombie Uprising – there isn’t enough replayability value. After a few hours, it feels like you’ve seen pretty much everything on offer. After a few unfair deaths, you’ll question if it’s worth seeing through to the end. Indeed, before long I ended up adopting a policy of legging it to the torii gates as quickly as possible to avoid engaging in combat.
Not only this, but a couple of my runs ended prematurely because I literally died of hunger. Once my stomach was empty, my health bar began to deplete. The problem was a distinct lack of food items to replenish my hunger bar; it felt as if the drop spread of items was inconsistent to say the least. Having a run completely ruined through no fault of your own, as well as no way to prevent it, again felt pretty cheap.
On a better note, Ed-0: Zombie Uprising looks pretty (especially in the lush, idyllic Kuku village). However, you’d be missing out on the full experience without turning on the EDO Shader effect. This instantly applies a cel shaded comic filter to the game, and looks absolutely gorgeous.
When all is said and done, at £24.99 it feels rather expensive for what’s on offer in Ed-0: Zombie Uprising. Replay value is limited, despite there potentially being many hours of gameplay on offer thanks to the randomised elements.
Ed-0: Zombie Uprising is built on sound ideas and there’s so much to love about the setup. However, the brutal, inconsistent difficulty coupled with the repetitive, imbalanced gameplay prevents it from reaching full potential.