Windows Phone Xbox Live Review: Z0MB1ES!!1 (on teh ph0ne)
Few professionally-made games attempt to embrace the punk rock culture. After all, most games strive to look and sound as professional as possible rather than adhere to a DIY philosophy. But that’s just what Ska Studios’ I Made a Game with Zombies in It!!! (aka I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1) did in 2009. Released as an Xbox Live Indie Game on the Xbox 360 and sold for a mere 80 Microsoft Points ($1), it quickly became a big hit among cost-conscious 360 gamers. With the move to Windows Phone, the game received official Xbox Live status. The mobile version couldn’t be sold for a dollar since Live titles start at $2.99. Thus the developers threw in a couple of new game modes, and Zombies on the Phone (Z0MB1ES!!1 (on teh ph0ne) was born.
Three games in one
Zombies on the Phone consists of three distinct game modes: I Made a Game with Zombies in It!, ‘Endless Zombies!,’ and ‘Time Viking.’
I Made a Game with Zombies In it! Is a faithful port of the Xbox 360 original, lacking only that version’s 4 player co-op due to current Windows Phone restrictions. At its heart, IMAGWZII! (as I’ll now shorten it) is a top-down twin-stick shooter. Players run around shooting enemies, collecting powerups, and trying not to die. Fairly standard stuff so far.
What sets IMAGWZII! apart is the experience. It feels like going to a rock concert, thanks to the marriage of music and visuals. The entire game is accompanied by a lengthy lyrical rock song; when the song ends, so does the game. Instead of distinct levels, the action takes place entirely in one large arena with no walls. As the song moves through its various phases, the background changes to match it. You’ll see flashing lights, space patterns, and even the Ska Studios logo pop up as you battle zombie hoards. The crazy, flashy stuff might give an epileptic person a seizure, but it’s a lot like the trippy visuals you might see projected in the background of an actual concert.
Besides looking and sounding like going to a show, IMAGWZII! proudly looks like it was made by a single dude (James Silva, who we interviewed last year). Neither the player character nor the zombies are very well-drawn, but they get the job done. One enemy is even made of Ascii symbols for some reason, which has always undermined the zombie theme a bit in my eyes, but that’s besides the point. This is a game you play for the silly, not because you specifically loathe the undead. The theme song is equally silly and DIY. If you can stomach Silva’s intentionally grating shrieks, you’ll hear all about how the game has zombies and costs only a dollar. I am one of the few who never enjoyed the song, but even I dropped a buck on the Rock Band version for some reason.
If we put aesthetics aside, is IMAGWZII! a good shooter? Mostly. Enemies drop a variety of limited-ammo guns, several of which are quite fun to use. The rocket and laser are duds in this version due to the slow aiming, but I’ll get to that in a bit. On the plus side, ammo stacks, so you can grab two of the same weapon and get twice as many shots off. Enemy variety is also surprisingly decent for such a small-scale development effort.
On the down side, enemies randomly spawn all over the place – sometimes so close that you have no time to react to them. Not cool. Exacerbating the problem, the player character walks too slow for comfort. Something is wrong when zombies move faster than the player (28 Days Later not-withstanding). Similarly, the virtual twin-stick controls don’t function as responsively as they do in other games like Rocket Riot and Square Off. Slow movement and slow aiming don’t ruin the game, but they keep it from feeling as good as the console version.
‘Endless Zombies!’ ditches the concert-like vibe and finite approach of the original IMAGWZII! in favor of a more structured approach. The action now takes place in a mansion-like setting. Players clear a room of zombies and then select which direction to head from there. After making a complete loop around the mansion, the whole thing repeats, and so on. It’s not tremendously different from the original game, but the more realistic environments and instrumental song definitely provide a different flavor. It would be nice if the possible exits were more clearly marked after the carnage dies down, though – arrows, maybe?
‘Time Viking’ functions as a spiritual successor to IMAGWZII!. Players take on the role of a time-travelling Viking whose helmet shoots bolts of energy. He travels to the future only to be assaulted by robot ninjas, Space Invaders (Don’t tell Rafael! He’ll have a heart attack!), and even the developer’s laser-eyed cat. Defeated enemies pile up beneath the titular hero, creating a tower that eventually reaches the moon (!). All this insanity takes place from a side-view instead of an overhead one, but otherwise it plays quite similarly to its predecessor.
While it’s still a low-budget affair, ‘Time Viking’ does look a lot nicer thanks to character art drawn by James Silva’s partner, Michelle Juett (or is that Michelle Silva by now?). The backgrounds feature some choice parallax scrolling with a good dose of IMAGWZAII!-style flashy animations. The new lyrical song matches the action just as well as before. On the whole, ‘Time Viking’ rounds out the package nicely.
As if Zombies on the Phone! Wasn’t weird enough, it also allows users to stick photos from their phones in place of standard enemy sprites. Depending on what your photo library looks like, the effect can be pretty funny. This feature, dubbed ‘Mega Games Creator 2000,’ doesn’t work with ‘Time Viking,’ presumably because that mode uses larger and more uniquely shaped sprites.
Zombies on the Phone!’s Achievements range from fun to frustrating. ‘So SRS’ is either mislabeled or doesn’t track properly. It reads “Kill 10,000 things,” which would seem to be cumulative. Unfortunately, all 10,000 kills must be done in one session, necessitating about an hour of grinding. Hopefully that gets fixed in an update, but I’m not holding my breath. On the truly challenging end, both IMAGWZII! and ‘Time Viking’ have an Achievement for reaching the end without dying. Considering that each mode lasts over 10 minutes and the controls and movement speed aren’t up to par, only dedicated players (not me!) will be getting those two.
Zombies on the Phone! is like nothing else in the Xbox Live lineup. None of the game modes is particularly tight or polished, and I wish it controlled a little better. But the loudness, humor, and attitude mostly make up for its shortcomings. I’ve seen a few people complain that a one dollar XBLIG title costs three times as much on Windows Phone. Those folks probably shouldn’t be gaming on this platform considering that mobile Xbox Live titles just about always cost more than their iPhone counterparts. Besides, Ska Studios basically tripled the amount of content to make up for the higher price. If you crave a little shooting action, this game packs plenty of bang for the buck.
Z0MB1ES!!1 (on teh ph0ne) costs $2.99 and there is a free trial. Pick it up here on the Marketplace.