So, it's zombies...but the zombies are like pikmin in the sense that they wander around but you use the stylus/touch screen to send them to different parts of the top-down 2D map...where you need to pick up presents and also kill civilians. The civilians are really hard to kill - doing lots of damage and even killing your zombies! There are also often environmental hazards - e.g. moving cars - that knock zombies around and do damage. I played 7 levels or so...and I always started with 20 zombies.
BUT, in between levels - all your zombies live on a farm - and from the presents in the levels they collect stuff you plant that then grows (every other mission) into things that the zombies eat to get stats boosts...so, each of your zombies can improve in their stats and thus, presumably be better in the missions. I don't know if there's a way to select which zombies to go on the mission (it's all in Japanese...so I have no idea what the instructions are, or what the cut-scenes, with lots of text, are saying).
But, it's really cute! When you attack a human, especially when they're mobbed, they start yelling out for help - and the game is just...adorable...there's no gore obviously.
Thankfully for me, the tutorial was pretty clear - it starts explaining the basic actions:
- Swipe across a group to get them to go in that direction
- Tap the screen (twice?) to get them to run away from where you tapped
- Hold stylus to screen to get them to converge on where you're holding
- Draw a circle around a group and then swipe from inside the circle to get the group inside the circle to go in the direction swiped.
The game does have a fair amount of progression - but I'm not sure how much further longevity there is - you improve your zombies, but do you get new types? new actions? etc. I must have played about 45 minutes or so...
So I'm actually playing the Japanese version of this game - and it looks like there IS a Europe and US version...but I can't find anything listed on ebay so who knows how many copies are out there?
It's a surprising game - and I benefitted from an existing saved game, AND there's lots of Japanese text so I have no idea what's what for a lot of things...but, the surprising thing is that as far as I can tell the game is a 2D brawler like Super Smash...there's a roster of characters (presumably unlocked through play/completing missions) and you fight enemies, and there's combos, and lots of items to pick on the levels, and the levels are dynamic in fun ways, and it's chaotic and visually noisy...and it seems really fun. I messed around a bit, but clearly there was lots of depth I had no idea how to tap into (and no interest at the moment to spend the time experimenting and documenting either)....
I'm surprised there are so few other games like this out there...and this one's pretty old tbh. Is Super smash really the only 2D arena brawler? It's so succesful, why hasn't anyone else tried to come out with their own? (I'm vaguely remembering Playstation All Stars which I think was similar...and there might be another one or two...but STILL).
Apparently this game's even got local co-op (and versus?) too...there's also a tap in/call for help from a buddy (on the lower screen) that was neat. I don't know any of the characters really (did read a bit of Shonen Jump back in the day - but the manga and anime are waaaay longer now).
So, I'm thinking how hard I should try to get a European copy to play...
Now that I'm back home and can take a look at the box, the cover says "Inspired by the Tim Burton Film" - and then I remembered that there WAS a movie! And...I'm not really sure what/where the inspiration in the game lies?
As you play you pick up collectibles and I took a look at a few in one of the menus. They're pretty cool - some are concept art that shows different designs - including ones that were developed but not used/considered! Many were quite different from the final game (and, to be fair, looked more like the style used in the movie). Others showed the triangles for the 3D models for the characters - although the game is 2D - the characters are all 3D models (pretty low rez, of course) and it was neat to see the breakdown - it's wild how things have changed in terms of optimization for art and so on...
The more I played (I'm probably half-way through Chapter 3, having located all 4 characters) the more I realized that the game really is a Metroidvania in terms of its core design. However, it "deviates" in a few ways that, for me at least, make the experience less interesting (leading up to my decision to not continue playing). So, here goes:
(a) The game features a fair amount of backtracking (standard for metroidvanias) but adds a wrinkle that sometimes you need to plan your backtracks - this is because of how you can move map pieces (levels) around such that certain ones connect to others and so on. It's a cool feature - and definitely a novelty in the space. I think this feature would STILL be a novelty nowadays even though the game is from 2009! However, the backtracking has little in the way of shortcuts (that I could tell) and, because the game is puzzle-oriented, often requires "solving" the same puzzles again. They're not hard by any means - it's just time consuming and so things start to get a bit dreary. Combat is also, unlike most metroidvanias, unavoidable - there are moments in the game where the navigation stops, bag guys warp in and you HAVE to defeat them - again, this starts to get a bit tired especially when you're backtracking. I know why it exists in the game - it breaks up the action - but when you're backtracking it just feels annoying to me.
(b) New abilities unlock new parts of the map (common in metroidvanias) but here new abilities are connected to characters (there are 4) and their upgrades (another 4, though technically each character has two upgrades - the 2nd is for combat). Because the game is stylus-based, you have to to tap/select and so on which makes the switching slow down the game's pace a little bit...this compounds with the backtracking...
I was having fun but only decided to stop playing because I got to a point where I could not progress because I lacked the right upgrade - and I just was too tired to want to backtrack and try to locate the chest with the upgrade I lacked. So far I had found everything "naturally" on the way - so this felt a bit unfair.
(c) The game has a feature for you to mark the map with question marks - super cool feature and is a nice fix/reminder for things/places to go back to.
I'm not sure what I was expecting - perhaps something like Skylines? Also, when I started playing I only had the game - no box or manual to look at or refer to.
So, I was pretty surprised to start the campaign and having to build a pre-historic "city"! All I had to worry about was pathing to food sources and wood was the only resource... I didn't play too long since, I'm neither particularly good at these games nor do I enjoy them that much AND, there was no tutorial either - so I was doing lots of things by figuring out the interface.
But, a few thoughts:
(a) This MUST be some sort of reverse port? There's a character - who looks vaguely like Will Wright but is rather chibi and talks very much like Japanese game characters often do (what I'd call a sort of super positive encouraging way of giving instructions) that I'd guess this game was made originally for Japan and then ported West? Or maybe it's a DS port of some Japanese SimCity game? I should look it up...
(b) I saved twice. And the loading times were REALLY long. This surprised me - for a DS cart game especially. I don't think I've experienced a game that took this long to save in a long time.
(c) Although I never made it past the pre-historic age, I'm going to assume that the progression slowly increases complexity and I realized that it's a pretty good way to onboard and tutorialize. And, you can also get cool things/features that are era-dependent. I'm guessing that there are certain city-features that were really important back in the day, but are much less important now?