It’s been a while since I did a game review. I intend my reviews to be a notable section of this site at some point, so I thought I’d get back to it and review a game or two for October. However, we’ll be doing two indie games. The first is a humble Flash game called Zombotron.
Zombotron is a shooter-platformer with zero story aside from the basic premise (you’re escaping a zombie-infested mine on an alien world), and it’s crafted as one of those highscore-based games for an online Flash game arcade. However, unlike many such games, it’s the sort of game that’s a worthy experience on its own. Continue reading for the details, otherwise you can play the game here, here, or here. It seems to also be available on other sites if you search for it.
Zombotron is a pretty straightforward platformer game. There’s common WASD (or ESDF) controls for moving and jumping, and four more buttons for switching weapons, reloading, using health packs, and interacting with environmental objects. You aim with the mouse and fire with a left click. There’s nothing original about the gameplay here, but the controls are solid for the most part. I also always love platformers with mouse aiming because of the slight increase it adds to combat versatility.
The goal of every level is simple: Get to the exit. This is more interesting than it is in the average platformer, however, because of the level and enemy design. This game ends up being one part shooter, one part physics platformer… with even a handful of survival-horror elements thrown in here and there. Enemies often take multiple hits, and ammunition can be scarce at times (particularly early in). Because of this, you often want to be careful with your shots and skipping enemies can become a viable tactic. The levels have multiple branching paths and secrets, allowing you to bypass enemies or locate items and currency for the shops. Environmental objects like elevators, crates, scaffolding, explosives, and more, can be manipulated to your advantage or end up hindering your progress. Sometimes a well-placed shot can take out a large group of enemies for you, costing you only a bullet and a little bit of planning. Creative kills are highly rewarded. At other times, the environment may literally come crashing down around you and blow you up.
The game is reasonably challenging. There are two difficulty settings and depending on your skill level, you may die a few times in either of them. You will start out only fighting a zombie or two, but later on several other enemy types are introduced and situations accelerate until you’re fighting large groups of enemies that are fighting each other as much as they’re fighting you. At the same time, the later weapons are very powerful and will probably balance this out. Deaths give you no real penalty if you’re just trying to progress since you spawn nearby where you died, although I would assume they lower your score.
Extra challenge is introduced through additional missions on every level; each level has 3 extra objectives that range from completing the level in under a certain time or by firing a minimum of shots, to collecting bags or the heads of certain enemies. It’s difficult to complete all three on each level on your first run (I only did so on two levels during my run through the game), providing extra content after completing the game aside from going for the highscore. There are also 12 achievements to collect from the game overall. With 10 levels, completing the game took me about 2 hours going at a medium pace. Completing it 100% could take an additional hour or two at the same pace.
The gameplay is creative and mostly fun. There is a flaw or two, though.
As I said, the controls are mostly solid, and you should have little to no problems outside of elevators getting blocked by debris, which is usually easily overcome. The real problems come in with the aiming and jumping, though thankfully they are minor. The aiming appears to be intentionally inaccurate, causing you to occasionally aim a little higher or lower than where the pointer is. While this is interesting, it feels out of place in a game like this, especially when you’re trying to save ammo or blow up barrels. At least it’s still pretty close to being on-target and rarely became a problem for me. Lastly, like a lot of indie games of this sort, there are odd consistent jumping glitches, where if you contact the edge of a platform in the right way as you’re jumping up past it, you’ll get a weird boost into the air.
Overall, however, the gameplay is solid, and the level design is great.
+ Simple but with options
+ Great level design
+ Optional objectives
– A handful of minor control issues
Despite the name, you don’t go into a Flash game expecting anything flashy, but you can expect solid visuals and nothing ugly. Thankfully Zombotron delivers… and then some. These are visuals that would look at home in a professional handheld game or a downloadable title.
The characters are simple, but they’re colored and animated great; all the motions are smooth and the sprites themselves are attractive, with quirky designs on the enemies (especially the zombies and skeletons… though the game’s only boss fits the bill as well).
The environments are just as good, and although the majority of the game looks pretty similar, there is some variation in environments as the game goes on, and some of the areas end up looking really nice. Perhaps it could have used more variety, but this would only become a major issue in a longer game.
+ Simple yet professional-grade
+ Quirky designs
– A tiny bit stale by the end
There’s not much to say about audio. The game is fairly quiet, with sounds mostly just for things like attacks and activating devices. It’s enough to give most of the objects in the world some weight, though, and it helps the game’s immersion.
The soundtrack helps there as well. There’s a nice amount of songs, mostly laid-back tunes that help set the mood, making things immersive and involving. The atmosphere isn’t scary, but more calming and ambient.
It might have helped to include sounds for a few more things, though. Moans for the zombies, footsteps, and the like. I realize these are rarely present in this kind of platformer, but in one that has this kind of immersion, it might have made things even cooler. That said, the audio is great without them.
+ Good music
+ Immersive and laid-back
Zombotron is very obviously an indie game and you’ll have absolutely no illusions about that at any time playing it (especially when it ends quickly without really evolving much along the way). That said, it’s among the best games I’ve ever played of its kind, and it’s a solid, fun experience. It’s not really original, yet it still somehow has a bit of its own flavor between its humble style, action, creative design, and additional objectives. Considering it’s also free, it’s worth spending the hour or two it’ll take to complete.
+ Charming, simple, fun
– Short, gets a bit stale