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Zombie Wranglers Sierra Online/Frozen Codebase, Microsoft Xbox 360 Live Arcade, May 2009

Zombie Wranglers
Developer
Year
Players
Price
Frozen Codebase
2009
1-4
$10 (800 MS points)
If you have kids they might love Zombie Wranglers. It's a much friendlier entry into the zombie genre, as you're more likely to smirk than scream. The colorful levels are a strange choice for a game involving the walking dead, but then again, it's nice to see something ghoulish that doesn't make you want to vomit.

...on that note, the zombies in some levels totally vomit. Were I introduced to this game through a fellow grade schooler at a younger age, I may have shortlisted it as a potential game-of-the-year for that alone. Unfortunately, the game feels a little rushed and repetition tends to set in somewhat early. It's a campy b-movie all the way, right down to the fact that you'd enjoy it more with a friend to make jerky comments with while you all play.

Control

Pretty basic fare-- left stick moves character. Right stick moves camera. Buttons activate weapons. Depending on the child (yes, child) you select, you have weapons like a flamethrower or an ice blaster. You can also suck up the zombies in a vacuum, like Ghostbusters but not. The camera is also funky-- the right analog stick moves it, but it moves in the opposite direction from what you might expect when it comes to left and right. Or so we found while playing, perhaps a patch is coming.

Shoot, Run, Repeat (mostly Repeat)

If attacked by one or two creatures, they're easy to destroy. If you're swarmed, you basically will want to dash off and pick them off one by one... if you can. There are other special weapons you can use, and as the game gradually builds you up with new skills and missions, it really doesn't seem to reward you. The single-player experience isn't particularly memorable, although I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy running through this game with a friend. Specifically, a friend who is willing to give anything a go and makes jerky comments about things. (Hello, Shaun.)

The HUD/radar makes it reasonably easy to see what's around the corner, although if your attention is properly diverted you might get surprised by these ghouls. Probably not though. The game takes the fear one step further by making animals like squirrels even more frightening than the zombies, given they'll run up to you and really hold on until you shake the stick to rid yourself of their bushy-tailed influence.


Multiplayer

We live in a world where online play and lag can be a problem, it's nice to see that whatever code they used simply functions as it should. Unless you're on a slow or bad connection, it's going to work and work well. With the game's largely slower pacing when it comes to tracking down various objects, you can actually hold a conversation while running around an infested neighborhood. It works well over Xbox Live.

Locally, the game changes completely. Rather than have that behind-the-character perspective, you and your couch-mate are given a top-down view. This effectively turns the game into a Gauntlet clone and has the added benefit of making it easier to see what's sneaking up on you. I prefer the look and feel of single player or online multiplayer, but it's a way to give the game a different flavor without actually changing the adventure in any notable way.

Graphics & Sound

The sound involves a lot of groaning and about 30 seconds of looped music. There is no voice acting, rather you're being asked to read the dialog much like you would have during the Super NES or Playstation eras. Visually, the game sports an animated cartoon look and feel. It's simple, which is unfortunately why it doesn't impress-- perhaps if you saw this before the likes of Jet Grind Radio, it'd be pretty swell. On the bright side, I didn't experience pop-up, broken polygons, or any of that. While obviously not a AAA title, it does seem to have been well-crafted in many respects.

Character

The heroes: children, modeled loosely after the likes of Codename: Kids Next Door. The game has cops roping off the streets so these kids/tweens can fight the bloodthirsty undead menace. This seems like something George A. Romero might have considered in his films, but pulled back because it was too gruesome to consider doing to children. Each has unique powers and little in the way of distinctive personalities.

The villains: zombies come in a variety of flavors, like hobo, emo, skater, middle-aged balding guy, and a giant "zomball" which looks like it was borrowed from an unused Katamari Damacy concept, or that ball of corpses in Castlevanias since 1997. You'll also face rogue agents of some organization which weren't mentioned in the "story" until you fight them, and squirrels. The squirrels are more dangerous than the zombies-- they can't be killed and they're tenacious. The zombies are fairly easy to burn down or dispatch to Hell. Survival is key, and the game is intent on making you wait rather than fight it out at times.

The levels: rather than simply naming stages "level 1-1" we instead get names like "Desperate Housezombies" or various forms of "insert the world Zombie in familiar title." Despite the fact that it's three-dimensional, it's a pretty flat-looking world, but a colorful one with a fair amount of trash cans you can interact with. Oh, and various cars seem to be placed so it looks like one is attempting to pleasure another one with its hood? Or perhaps... mouth? If this was meant as a dirty joke, and not merely my imagination, I give them points for getting it in there. The game wants to be funny, but the jokes only add a little bit of levity rather than any laugh-out-loud moments-- much like the cartoons from which it borrows its look.

Is it worth buying?

RATING
C-
PLAYABLE
Not particularly-- if you're hard up for something new, absolutely, otherwise you might want to explore your options. Gamerscore fiends would probably enjoy this as a rental, but this is not presently possible to do. Unfortunately, the levels aren't all that different visually speaking, and with stages that are simply "survive for 5 minutes," it may not be the most fun you'd expect to have around the undead.

While playing with other contributors to the site, the reactions were negative. I found this interesting because there's nothing particularly awful about the game, it's just that there's nothing really great in it. After putting a few hours into playing it for this review, I feel I could go back and give it another whirl. If nothing else, Zombie Wranglers showcases the value of other players on Xbox Live and their ability to improve the gaming experience just by having someone to chat with while trying something out.

It's hard to tell who the audience for this game truly is, but if they did aim it at kids they did an excellent job. It's not too scary and younger gamers shouldn't have a problem with it, but the thing with younger gamers is that they all want to play what the adults are playing anyway. I won't say "avoid," but I will say "approach with an open mind and don't buy without trying."

--Adam Pawlus
May 28, 2009

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