As a child of the ’80s and ’90s, I spent a lot of time playing arcade beat-em-ups (or brawlers). This quarter-munching genre was always a favorite of mine due to the addictive action and great co-op experiences. Sadly, the brawler isn’t a genre commonly explored in today’s gaming landscape, with a few like Double Dragon IV and the TMNT: Turtles in Time remake failing to capture an audience. Developer nDreams decides to give the genre a spin with the recently released Bloody Zombies, a four player brawler set in a zombie infested London. Can Bloody Zombies rekindle the love for a forgotten genre? It comes close… very close.
London has Fallen
Bloody Zombies takes place within the streets of London, England after it has been overrun with mutated zombies. Players will assume the role of one of four lone survivors who group together to fight off the zombie horde. The game sports a fun, comic book inspired art design that reminds me of the games developed by Klei like Shank and Mark of the Ninja. While the character designs are fairly generic, the 2D levels are set in a variety of London landscapes that are fun and fit the tone well.
The gameplay consists of your standard beat-em-up action. Players will scroll across the screen to the right and beat the tar out of any enemy that approaches by using their fists, feet or random weapons. Once all enemies are dispatched, the level will continue forward. Mini bosses will often pop up in the middle of a stage and a large final boss appears towards the end. Each player has three lives to their disposal. Once all three lives are lost, it’s game over unless another player can revive them (which can only happen once from what I experienced). Many objects in the environments can be destroyed to reveal health power-ups, energy refills and extra lives. Thankfully, each level replenishes the lives of your group, making the game a little more managable.
What I appreciate about Bloody Zombies is that the combat isn’t bare bones like most brawlers. While the gist of attacks found in most beat-em-ups are intact, the game also employs a special and passive skill system. Special skills can be pulled off by using a special set of inputs similar to a fighting game, but take up energy from a specific meter to do so. Passive skills, such as status effects to enemies by performing a well-timed dodge, can also be equipped to your character. Players can collect money throughout each stage that can be spent on new special attacks or passive abilities within a special shop.
Each level also has a hidden loot box that can be found filled with goodies and special abilities that can be equipped. A dodge ability can also be used to roll away from incoming attacks, with a well-timed dodge netting the player status effects like stuns and slower animations. All of this combined makes for a more deeper gameplay experience than we’re used to in most games of this type.
I was also happy to find that each of the 10 stages progressively introduce new enemy types that make players change up their strategy. Many beat-em-ups suffer from repetitive enemies throughout the entire game, while Bloody Zombies does a great job at avoiding the fatigue. Even the stages themselves include special traps and environmental hazards that allow players to take a break from the punching and kicking. The one big problem we found is that a specific, football helmet equipped mini-boss, kept re-appearing in almost every stage. This particular enemy was obnoxious to fight and ended up being harder than the actual end-stage bosses were. Several times they would throw more than one at you too, causing some hair-pulling moments.
As Sluggish as a Zombie
The biggest downfall that Bloody Zombies possesses is its unresponsive controls. Every punch, kick, roll and jump feels very sluggish and laggy. I even tested the game offline to make sure lag wasn’t an issue, and it definitely didn’t factor into the problem. Bloody Zombies tends to throw some pretty nasty enemies at the player that require some time-sensitive counter-attacks and dodges. Unfortunately, the sluggish controls make fighting these enemies frustrating, even with four players. As a result, Bloody Zombies feels like a title every player must brute force through instead of carefully planning out a course of action, praying for good results in the process.
I also noticed that any progress made through the game does not carry over to the single player experience. If your co-op group fails to finish the game in one sitting, you’re going to lose your progress. Thankfully, the game does save all of the abilities that you’ve earned while playing, which carries over to a new game. Bloody Zombies’ online mode mode also suffered from some nasty lag spikes every so often that would sabotage the experience, yet the majority of our time with it was fairly smooth.
Even though the sluggish controls and that obnoxious repetitive mini-boss really hurt the experience, Bloody Zombies isn’t a bad brawler. It sports a fun art style, a great variety of enemies and a combat system that goes beyond the status quo. The game even includes some fun extras like character building, loot box hunting (that doesn’t require micro-transactions) and full four player online co-op. While the game doesn’t quite breathe fresh life into a stale genre and isn’t very easy to pick up and play due to a loss of progress with friends, it doesn’t do a terrible job at honoring the brawlers we knew and loved. You could find a lot worse ways to spend $15 and a weekend of your time.
Check out our Let’s Play video of the game below to see if Bloody Zombies is something you’re interested in.
Bloody Zombies was reviewed on an Xbox One with copies provided by the publisher.