Back at the height of the popularity of arcades, the most prominent games that garnered the most attention and gobbled up the most quarters were typically centred on the beat ‘em up genre. Games like Golden Axe, The Simpsons Arcade, Final Fight, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all had the same premise: Reach the end of each level while beating up as many bad guys as you can either alone or with local buddies.
It’s a genre that has largely been ignored since consoles have taken over, but there have been a few classic throwbacks like Castle Crashers and Shovel Knight that have looked to feed the nostalgia of a simple time. Rock Zombie is yet another game that capitalizes on this idea, as well as the popularity of zombies. Developed by Quaternion Studios, Rock Zombie is a side scrolling zombie beat ‘em up that features an all-female heavy metal rock witch trio. It follows the same basic formula as other games in the genre, while tries to add a unique flavour through its customization features.
Rock Zombie: Xbox One [Reviewed], Wii-U, PC, iOS
Developer: Quaternion Studio
Publisher: EnjoyUp Games
Release Date: 4 December 2015
Price: £6.39 [Disclosure Game Copy provided by Publisher]
In Rock Zombie, you can choose to play as one of the members of the band: Zoe, Sasha and Crystal who also happen to be witches. Not much else is described as far as their back-stories, and the game kicks you right into the plot right at the beginning. During one of their gigs, the band realizes that everyone in the audience has turned into zombies. After escaping the concert, the trio travel to various locations trying to figure out what exactly is going on, and how to find a stop to the zombie apocalypse. The story is told primarily through comics before and after certain missions, and they provide just enough information to explain why the witches are running through a spider infested park or down the sewers.
Much like the story, the gameplay in Rock Zombie is very simple. Each level is a linear path where players progress horizontally while beating zombies, spiders, marines, and more zombies with their guitars. There are three different attacks: A horizontal slash that is fast but doesn’t do much damage, a vertical attack that is slower but does more damage, and magic attacks that consume a magic meter. Furthermore these attacks can be done together to create short combos and increase the players magic pool. None of it is really anything already done in previous games, and with only four combos, the combat gets stale and repetitive rather quickly.
You face the same types of zombies throughout the game, so there isn’t much of a challenge near the end once you figure out the best method of combining simple melee button mashing with the occasional magic burst that will clear groups of enemies, nor are you even encouraged to master each of the combos. While each witch has their own stats, it didn’t really make them feel that much different from each other overall. The action is broken up with a couple of driving levels, but those were the worst. It was very easy to drive into a wall or off of a bridge due to the slippery controls and bad graphics.
Visually the game is rather unimpressive. Character models are bland and simple, and there isn’t much to distinguish between the three witches aside from the colour of their hair. Most of the environments are a mix of the same dark colour palette, which made it hard to distinguish between the twenty levels in the game and largely forgettable. The soundtrack doesn’t fare much better either, with the same generic metal track that loops over and over.
Rock Zombie also suffers from a plethora of bugs and glitches. Hit detection was off at various moments, and there were times in which a boss would get stuck where he would do nothing while also being invincible. It basically meant that I was unable to do anything at that moment, and had to restart the level again just to be able to finish the level. None of it was frustrating enough to discourage me from finishing the game, but it was still rather annoying during those instances.
Perhaps the biggest oversight in Rock Zombie is that there is a lack of co-op play whatsoever. There is no local or online multiplayer, so anyone looking for a fun game to play with friends and family will have to look elsewhere. While the game features three heroes that work together to help stop the zombie apocalypse, none of that is actually represented in the gameplay which is a rather large oversight on the developer’s part.
Overall, Rock Zombie relies more on what’s popular these days and nostalgia over solid gameplay and reverence for the source material that it is based off of. Much like the zombies that are littered in the 20 levels of the game, everything is just cold and lifeless. The characters, plot, and gameplay are largely uninspired and generic. All this along with the technical issues and lack of any co-op gameplay makes Rock Zombie a difficult game to recommend to even the most diehard zombie or beat ‘em up fan.