Windows Phone 7 has no shortage of tower defense games. In addition to numerous indie offerings, Xbox Live games Star Wars: Battle for Hoth, Plants vs. Zombies, and geoDefense will all be available by the end of June. Then there’s Zombie Attack! 2 (AKA Zombie Attack! The 2nd Wave) from IUGO Mobile Entertainment. “Sweet, zombies and tower defense go together like brains and ketchup,” you might be thinking. Don’t get too excited just yet…
Zombie Attack 2’s claim to fame is that the player controls a human survivor that runs around planting and upgrading towers. Standing next to a tower boosts its damage by fifty percent. The survivor can attack zombies directly with a machete or shotgun, but zombies can hurt him or her as well. If the human dies, he or she will re-spawn at the base after several seconds. The base has its own health meter. If the zombies destroy the base, the game ends.
The six playable characters include: Survivor, Red Ninja, Fighter, Super Spy, Santa, and Daisy Mae. They don’t play differently and are fairly generic, except maybe for Daisy Mae. She’s actually the star of a separate indie WP7 title from IUGO.Creep past the break for our full review.
I don’t mind directly controlling a character in my tower defense games, but Zombie Attack 2’s controls aren’t what they should be. Instead of touching anywhere on-screen to move to that location, the game creates a temporary virtual stick wherever the player’s finger rests. You then press in a direction to walk that way. It took me a little while to adjust.
Attacking zombies handled by standing close to them. Unfortunately, the survivor doesn’t always attack when you would expect, standing there and getting hit instead. Don’t these guys want to live? Better auto-attacking or a way to manually attack would have helped.
To build or upgrade?
Another unique element is the way Zombie Attack! 2 handles building and upgrading towers. Everything costs money, which the player earns by killing zombies. Standard tower defense mechanic so far. Tower defense games typically balance the benefits of upgrading towers instead of building new ones with higher costs, a simple and intuitive system. But here, the more towers the player builds or upgrades, the more it costs to build or upgrade additional towers. The cost of everything is constantly in flux, creating a new variable to worry about without adding any fun. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, IUGO.
Survival of the fattest
Zombie Attack! 2 has two modes of play: Survival and Challenges. In Survival, players face endless waves of zombies on a map of their choice. Survival has 8 Achievements, all of which will be earned by surviving to the fiftieth wave of any map. You probably won’t play it again after that. Survival serves to train players for Challenges, the real meat of the game.
A multitude of Challenges
Challenges mix things up by assigning specific conditions and target scores to different maps. Several challenges prohibit the use of specific weapons, while others affect the distance that towers must be spaced apart or the amount of bonus damage a turret does while the survivor stands near it. There are 20 challenges, but only 12 of them have Achievements, which basically means people will only play those 12 challenges and never see the others.
Challenges are a good idea, though they feel like they’re stretching the game’s four maps a bit thin. At least the game’s developers put a little thought into variety. The real problem comes from their length and the game’s pacing. Simply put, challenges go on for way too long. The target scores needed to earn Achievements (which are not even stated explicitly in-game) are stratospheric. Each one will take around an hour to complete successfully. That’s way too long for a mobile game or even a tower defense game, period. Levels in Plants vs. Zombies, for example, last only 10 waves. They don’t overstay their welcome. Staring at the same map for 50+ waves of a single challenge in Zombie Attack 2! is incredibly boring. Plus you’re not guaranteed to even win, so it’s possible and super frustrating to die 45 minutes into an attempt. The issue of challenge length is impossible to miss. Zombie Attack 2! Was originally released on iOS in 2009, and I can’t believe IUGO still hasn’t fixed it two years later.
Hello? Is this thing on?
So Zombie Attack! 2’s challenges are long and boring. What could make them even less exciting, you ask? A complete lack of music! Yes, the developers ignored a core part of practically every game since the NES era. Why? There’s so much public domain music out there that they could have used. Publishing a professional game without music is like producing a silent movie for modern theaters. Actually, that would be at least be bold, whereas excluding music from a game smacks of laziness.
As if the absence of music wasn’t bad enough, Zombie Attack 2’s latest update, published on April 15, actually broke the game’s sound completely. Yes, much of my playtime for this review was spent in complete silence. I have to hope the sound is fixed in a subsequent patch.
As I mentioned before, 8 of Zombie Attack 2’s 20 Xbox Live Achievements are awarded from Survival mode. They’re impossible to miss as long as you can make it to the fiftieth wave, which I did on my second or third try.
The other 12 Achievements are tied to earning specific ranks on challenges. The game doesn’t actually say what score is needed to earn each rank, so you have to look them up online or just play the challenges and hope for the best. Every challenge Achievement is worth 10 GamerScore, and challenges take about an hour each, so these Achievements feel like a lot of work for very little reward.
Prior to Zombie Attack 2’s release, I was excited about a zombie tower defense game coming to Xbox Live. Then I actually played it. Zombie Attack! 2 tries a few unique things, like putting the player in control of a human survivor. But the same idea was done much better in games like PixelJunk Monsters on Playstation 3 and South Park: Let’s Go Tower Defense on Xbox 360. Zombie Attack 2! just feels undercooked. The boring game play and lack of music show the developers didn’t put much care into their game. As a result, there really is no reason for you to care about it either.
Zombie Attack! 2 costs a merciful $2.99, and there is a free trial. If you must, get it here on the Windows Phone Store.