A lot of the games that I’ve been reviewing for the Nintendo consoles recently have been of the family friendly variety. I’ve also had the misfortune and having to get to grips with a lot of shovel ware (not to be confused with ‘Shovel Knight’ which is a masterpiece in my opinion). If there’s one thing I have learned recently it’s that for every ‘Mario Kart 8’, ‘Hyrule Warriors’ or ‘Beyonetta’ there is always an ‘Olaf’s Quest’, ‘Legend of Oz’ or ‘Sea Battle’ to balance things out. It’s ironic how the company that introduced its own official seal of quality as a way of approving which games were allowed to be sold on their consoles could offer so much of this shovel ware in today’s market. Having said that I guess all of Nintendo’s consoles have had their fair share of poor quality titles.
Maybe this is due to the fact that Nintendo has a very family friendly demographic, so companies feel as if it’s easier to sell poor quality titles to younger players rather than exclusively adults? So when I was given the opportunity to play a 90’s style arcade beat ‘em up complete with hoards of Zombies, buckets of blood and three big breasted rock chick witches I reached out with both hands grasping. I was prepared for a testosterone fueled violent rampage, but did ‘Rock Zombie’ deliver?
Our story begins with three heavy metal witches ‘Zoe, Sasha, and Crystal’ who are performing on stage during a rock concert when they realise that they are in fact surrounded by a hoard of zombies. Armed with their spells and their guitars they escape from the concert into the night to try and find out what’s happening and if possible put a stop to this Zombie pandemic.
Before the game starts you are given a choice of character, costume, guitar and difficulty setting. Each character, guitar and costume combination will result in how high your attributes are. Attributes that are affected include speed, strength, magic power etc. There is an ‘easy’ and ‘normal’ setting which both offer unlimited continues, however there is also the 90s Arcade difficulty which restricts the number of lives that you’re given. Up until this point everything seemed fine, unfortunately when I started the actual game alarm bells started ringing.
The opening story (and all the cut scenes for that matter) are conveyed as a comic book. I thought this was a neat idea and suited the horror theme really well, unfortunately the way it was presented was poor. Rather than creating something in the style of a genuine comic book with vibrant hand drawn artwork, we instead see a series of pictures rendered from the game’s 3D models with what appears to be a blotchy Photoshop filter over the top. As a result the images look rough to say the very least. In addition to the graphics looking drab I noticed a lot spelling and grammar errors in the text. Either this team that made this game didn’t speak English and the errors crept in during translation or someone was just sloppy.
Once the first stage began I quickly learned that this title wasn’t built to the same level of quality as the past arcade hits that inspired it. The stage itself looked baron and void of any detail, the zombies initially appeared perfectly still and the graphics looked to be PS1 standard at best. I walked straight up to the first Zombie, positioned myself so I was standing almost directly in front of it, swung my guitar… and missed! I hadn’t been playing for five seconds and I was experiencing hit detection issues. Fortunately, despite this initial hick up I quickly got to grips with the combat and no less than a minute or so later I had beaten what was essentially a tutorial stage. Once the stage had finished I witnessed what has to be the biggest offender this game had to offer as far as the graphics were concerned.
On beating a level the two characters you didn’t select will run up alongside you creating the impression that they’re always on your tail and allows the story to continue with all three of them in the cut scenes. This is all well and good, however when it happens you get a good close up view of the character models. It’s here that I realised that characters in this game look dreadful. They do not look like women or witches, instead they look like damaged mannequin dolls. If this was a game about how three window display dolls had come to life to fight Zombies they may have gotten away with it, but alas these are supposed to be living, breathing women. Their hair consists of solid segments which do not seem to join up convincingly and there’s no movement or change in their facial expressions what so even. What little movement they can perform appears to be wooden and unconvincing. When the characters walk there is no natural bounce in their step as if their legs are not really reacting to the floor. Instead their legs are performing a walking motion and the whole model is being dragged independently across the screen.
The game can be controlled either by the WiiU gamepad or a Pro Controller. You can use either the D-Pad or left analogue stick for movement and the four face buttons perform attacks (Two melee and two magic). You can swipe your guitar, thrust it downwards in the style of a sledge-hammer, produce a projectile fireball which has a slight homing property, or produce a devastating death ray (which is actually very satisfying). Melee moves can always be performed however to perform spells you will first need to do some killing as you will need to fill up your blood meter. Performing magic attacks will then subsequently use up some of that blood. The L trigger makes you run (well… jog at the very least), and the R trigger will perform a dash which I didn’t use too often but I was grateful for it when facing the game’s later bosses. One thing that’s absent from this game is the ability to jump. Normally in these types of games you have the ability to jump, usually so you can combine a jump with an attack like a drop kick, but not here.
All three characters have exactly the same attacks, which is a wasted opportunity as at the very least the developers could have given them different magic abilities. You are also supposed to be able to pull off combos, however when I tried a few of them I discovered something strange. Normally in a fighting game a combo is a smooth, seamless move that can be pulled off by stringing a series smaller moves together, but here the combos do not appear any more effective than if you were just pulling off the moves individually. There was nothing smooth of seamless about the transitions.
Throughout your journey you’ll travel through a number of different locations such as streets, a grave yard, a sewer, a few buildings etc. On your journey you’ll encounter a number of problems and design floors. For a start there isn’t a huge variety of enemies to beat. For the most part you’ll be fighting standard zombies who have no AI outside of ‘move closer to the player and attack on contact’. This is really weak as most arcade fighting games include enemies that are much more threatening with patterns of movement and a better range of attacks. New types of zombies do begin to appear like the acid slingers and the flaming zombies who explode once defeated. Also some stages have their own additional enemies such as giant spiders in the grave levels and armed police during the siege. Unfortunately these additional enemies are few and far between offering little variety.
Occasionally I bumped into restrictions in movement. I can’t call them clipping issues as such but it did seem as if the field of play included some odd barriers. For example in one of the grave stages you’re allowed to run onto the grass in the background but only on certain patches of it. If I tried to continue running across the stage on the grass I ended up getting stuck running into an invisible obstacle, forcing me back onto the foreground path. I had a similar experience when environmental object were placed closely together and I attempted run between them. Some small gaps I could pass through without issue yet other gaps that appeared to be exactly the same width apart wouldn’t allow me to. My magic attacks suffered in the same way, being able to attacks enemies through some gaps and not through others. The layout of the stages just seemed like a bit of a mess in this respect.
If this wasn’t enough there were also some additional problems with the camera angles. You have no control over the camera in this game and it remains static in one position until you move into a new area, at which point the angle will change. There were a couple of occasions when I unknowingly stood still at the point where the camera was about to switch angles. When this happened the game couldn’t determine which section of the stage I was standing in, believing that I was stood in both. As a result the camera would have a fit and start leaping from one place to another until I stepped forward or back.
Early on in the game is a driving stage which at first I thought was a pleasant change of pace as it broke up the monotonous combat, however this stage actually turned out to be worse than the fighting stages. For a start you’re just driving on a straight stretch of road with no bends or branching paths. There are some obstacles to avoid but the aim of the stage is to run over as many zombies as you can. Unlike the zombies in the combat segments these ones do not move at all. They stand perfectly still like cardboard cut outs with big red arrows pointing at them just in case you’re going blind. Again the worst offender during this stage is the camera. Rather than just stay in the one place behind you the camera swerves left and right as you move. If the stage was in a first person prospective then this would be fine, but because the camera is behind you it’s actually nauseating to look at. If you suffer from motion sickness you’re going to hate this stage.
There is one other driving segment close to the end of the game which is longer and harder, but all in all you only have to endure these stages twice in one play through. The quality of the sound throughout the game isn’t bad, it’s just a bit bland for the most part, however during the second driving stage the noise of the car you drive is excruciating. Once the car takes a little knock it will begin to screech. This high pitch whine will persist throughout the stage and only gets worse as you take damage. It’s painful to listen to and I was so glad when the stage was finally over.
This game is very easy to criticise however about an hour in (after I’d eventually numbed from all the problems it has) I did start to enjoy myself a little. There was something satisfying in hacking the small enemies to bits to store up the blood I needed to blast my death ray at the larger ones. Unfortunately the truth is if I wasn’t reviewing this game I would have switched it off a long time before I got any enjoyment out of it. For what little fun there is to be had it’s not worth enduring all the dull patches.
To Rock Zombie’s credit this must have been a labour of love for somebody in the team since there were some nice additional elements which were by no means necessary but show that a bit of passion went into making it. Additional touches like the unlockable comic books, the health bars above the enemies heads, the collectables, the money system which allows you to buy addition weapons and outfits, the achievements. They’re all lovely extras to include if the game was actually good, but unfortunately they do not make up for the lack luster combat and repetitive gameplay.
It wasn’t actually until after I beat the game that I noticed the biggest elephant in the room and was a bit shocked I hadn’t realised it earlier. Just as I began to write this review I ran over to my WiiU and had to double-check for myself. I turned on my control pad and there was no problem, I then tried to activate my second pad and nothing happened. The game wouldn’t even allow it to power up. This game is single player only. Just let that sink in for a second. An arcade style 90s inspired beat ‘em up… and it’s single player only. At the very least there may have been some pleasure to ensue from this title if you had the option of enduring it with a friend, but no such luck.
In summary Rock Zombie is very bland with poor graphics and little enjoyment to offer.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Wii U code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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