Rock Zombie recently shambled onto the WiiU eShop, just in time for Halloween. But how does this rockin' undead beat 'em up compare with the games of old that it claims to take inspiration from? Grab your zombie survival kit and read along as I tell you the tale of...The Rock Zombie Review!
Developer: Quaternion Studio
Publisher: EnjoyUp Games
Platform: Wii U via eShop (version reviewed), Steam (coming in late 2014)
Release Date: October 30, 2014
ESRB: T for Teen
Rock Zombie tells you most of what you need to know right there in the title - there's gonna be rock, and there's gonna be zombies. The name of the game is also the name of its trio of stars, Zoe, Crystal, and Sasha, who have formed an all-girl band called Rock Zombie. While rocking out at one of their shows though, things go a bit south when a green mist seeps into the venue and turns their screaming fans into moaning zombies. Now the girls have to fight their way across the stage and across town in search of answers. What is this green mist? Where did it come from? Whose face do they have to melt to find out?
The game promises an intriguing story, which is told entirely through static comic pages between certain levels. While there is certainly more story than your average beat 'em up, it's also a bit of a moot point when most players aren't going into a brawler for the story in the first place. It also doesn't help that the writing in the comics isn't particularly engaging or even grammatically correct at some points. Thankfully, regardless of if you care about why you're doing it or not, the game delivers plenty of opportunity to bash in some undead brains.
Rock Zombie is a pretty typical beat 'em up that doesn't try to change too much about the genre. You've got a regular attack, a strong attack, two magic attacks - because the characters are also witches, you see - and the ability to block and evade. The magic attacks are tied to a bar that fills as you take out enemies, and serve as great projectile attacks to keep enemies from getting too close. Your standard melee attacks do the job of killing zombies just as well though, so there's not a lot of incentive to mix things up. You can create combos out of certain moves, but they don't string together well enough to be any different than just performing each attack separately. As you might guess, you'll mostly be fending off zombies, which come in regular, flaming, and acid spewing varieties but there are a few non-zombie enemies in the game, like giant spiders. Naturally, you'll be seeing the zombies more often than anything, and you'll also face off against a few bosses over the course of your 4-5 hour journey, some of which provide more challenge than others.
And when I say "you" I unfortunately mean just you - the game lacks any multiplayer whatsoever. It's a baffling decision for a game that claims to have learned from the knee of its elders (like Golden Axe) to leave out one of the things that made those games so popular in the first place. The game was clearly designed with single-player in mind as well, as some of the areas would be too cramped for two players to move around easily, and there are a couple of atrocious vehicle segments that wouldn't work with two players. Most of the game isn't so challenging that you'd need an extra hand, but it would certainly make things more entertaining to bring a friend along. If you do soldier through the game alone, you'll find that there's lots of bonus goodies in the Zombie Museum to unlock with coins you gather through the game, as well as achievements to unlock that will require more than one playthrough to obtain them all.
Beyond the gameplay, Rock Zombie doesn't really have much in the way of distinct visual or audio flair. While the environments look good and there's some variety between most of the levels, there's just not anything that really stands out either. You'll see sewers, city streets, warehouses, and other places that look exactly like your typical video game sewers, streets, warehouses, and so on. The character models for the enemies don't look too bad, though the player character models appear as if they're made out of plastic, like dolls with shiny hair and painted-on clothes. The audio, meanwhile should be one of the standout features - after all, it's right there in the name. While there's plenty of rocking and rolling, most of the music and sound effects are so generic that you'll hardly give them a second thought. It's a bit of a shame, since one would expect a game that lists the varied soundtrack as one of its features to make sure that the soundtrack is actually memorable.
Perhaps more pressing, there were some glitches on both ends. The graphical glitches weren't too bad, and mostly consisted of the camera sometimes getting confused during perspective shifts and switching rapidly between different views, and just some oddities with enemy corpses and the blood that forms around them being wonky. There was also a pretty severe audio glitch around halfway through the game that caused the music and most of the sound effects to cut out completely, and the only fix was to quit back to the WiiU menu and restart the game. Overall the game definitely lacks technical polish, but fortunately there weren't any game-breaking bugs - everything works, it just doesn't all work particularly well sometimes. Given that it's mostly the work of a single person though, that's pretty understandable.
When it comes down to it, Rock Zombie is a schlocky B-game with a schlocky B-movie premise, and it makes no apologies or excuses for it. Even if you're into that sort of thing, though, it would be difficult to actually recommend this game. It's certainly possible that players might get some mindless fun out of it, and, at $6.99, it's pretty cheap - worse games have cost more money. Unfortunately, there's just no stand-out aspects of this game that make it something everyone should experience. If, however, reading this review has gotten you interested in playing it, go for it - just know that not everyone is going to enjoy rocking to this game's tune.
TL;DR version - Rock Zombie is a beat 'em up containing plenty of rock and plenty of zombies, with a storyline that delves into far more detail than most brawlers. While bashing in zombie heads over the course of the 5-ish hour campaign might offer some cathartic thrills, the lack of technical polish, of multiplayer, and of stand-out gameplay features means it's probably best to keep shambling past this title in search of something more engaging. Still, if you like B-movies, you might get a kick out of it, but you should probably still wait for a sale if you decide to try it.