Zombie Road Trip – Combines Two Dead Clichés for Some Fresh Fun
When it was first recommended that I play Zombie Road trip, I was more than a little hesitant. I like endless runners, but I’ve played a lot of them by now. Zombies are played out, at this point, so what could be so interesting about this free title by Noodlecake Studios? A lot, apparently.
I was wrong, but not completely; the undead conceit doesn’t find new life here. If it had been just another runner, I would have been just as tired with it as any other. However, Zombie Road Trip is a wonderful game, an addictive mix of endless running, 2D shooting, and trick landing. Despite some style issues, this game stands out as something I will likely keep playing for a while.
In ZRT, you control a vehicle trying to escape a horde of zombies, driving your dune buggy across seemingly random terrain as fast as possible and tapping the screen to shoot any zombies that might slow you down with the pistol duct-taped to the car door. As you progress through more and more treacherous terrain, the zombies in tow move faster and faster, so you must as well. This is accomplished by using clockwise and counterclockwise buttons in the bottom corners of the screen to do flips while flying off of hills across the landscape. If you stick the landing after some airborne flair, you get a brief speed boost immediately and a large meter at the top of the screen fills a bit. When you’ve filled the whole bar, you get a few seconds of extra speed that hopefully helps you leave the undead a bit further behind.
There are a couple of things I really love about this. Just like most runners, you can sometimes avoid obstacles, such as zombies in your path, but in this game, you mostly deal with them by fighting them. Sure, it isn’t much of a real fight when you have a gun and they’re armed with…an irregular gait. Really, though, being able to remove things from your path, instead of just avoiding them, is a subtle and meaningful change for the genre. Also, it isn’t just a measure of your number of screw-ups that decide whether the zombies catch you. It’s no a three-strikes-you’re-out type of situation. Your speed is completely dynamic and that means boosting can give you some breathing room and even landing just slightly off kilter after a flip can do the opposite. Your skill at recovering from mistakes ends up meaning just as much as, if not more than, how many you make.
Of course, as a freemium game, Zombie Road trip gives you a junker to drive and a pea-shooter to fight with at the start, but lets you upgrade in a few ways. You can get brain coins to spend on a whole arsenal of weapons and a garage full of vehicles by performing better in game. While a shotgun costs ten thousand coins, and you only get two or three for each zombie you kill, there are ways to increase your wealth. When you see birds flying throughout a level, and you shoot down these tiny targets, they drop tickets. After each run, every ticket gets you one spin of a wheel that can delivery anywhere from ten to five hundred coins. If you don’t like to gamble, you can get a flat twenty-five coins for every ticket by cashing them in instead. You also get coins every time you finish a challenge such as killing a certain number of zombies or completing a required amount of backflips before the end of a run. These challenges start at a hundred coins for each success, but the bounty increases as they get more difficult. Of course, if you’re the impatient type, you can always buy brain coins with non-brain dollars, though they seem a bit expensive to me, especially when some of the upgrades they pay for don’t seem very meaningful.
There are a bunch of different cars you can purchase for your road trip. While some of them feel different when you’re doing tricks or mowing over walking corpses, most are just skins. The guns seem a bit more unique, but the gadgets aren’t very useful. There’s a laser pointer to help your aim, but the frame of your car does just about the same as a reference for bullet trajectory. The most expensive gadget just increases the amount of gore from killing zombies and there’s even one that just changes the music to dubstep. This fills up one of a couple gadget slots with an unlockable that does almost no good, even though the music isn’t great.
It’s not just the music I don’t like; the sound design in general is all pretty bad. I’m not a fan of the art style that looks like it came from the back of an off-brand cereal box either. Knocking it for this feels like getting free beer and complaining that it’s lite, though. Sure, it’s not my favorite, but it’s easy to look past and I got used to it quickly.
My most serious complaint is that the levels are only somewhat random, so I got more familiar with the terrain than I would have liked. The layout of a level is made up of several pieces, each of which are randomly chosen, but the parts are all pre-made and there isn’t a very large bucket that the game draws from. This keeps the physics of this game fun instead of frustrating, though, since all the pieces can be expected to work well in all possible sequences, so I can forgive this too.
Zombie Road Trip may not be the next Jetpack Joyride, but I am enjoying it with a similar amount of obsession. The sensation of having so much control and ability is not one that most runners give, and I like that the physics are the judge of the fail state, so there’s less weight to every swipe and tap. I think fans of side-scrolling runners, shooters, or even racing games are likely fall in love with ZRT the way I have. Though I’d rather the game had a different subject and style surrounding the gameplay, I’m still craving it like a Zombie craves brains.