A unique blend of gore and chores that totally fails in the fun department
Shooting zombies would be more fun if, instead of fighting off the undead, it felt more like waiting tables at a neighborhood diner. That’s the concept of Zombie Wonderland, the latest stylish yet derivative and un-fun offering from Chillingo. It combines the click management and survival shooter genres so thoroughly that you honestly can’t tell the difference between gore and chores. If you think mopping the floor is as interesting as mopping up the undead, then this is your game.
Armed with beard, trucker cap, and shotgun “Betsy,” John Gore (Minigore) lookalike “Chuck” boasts the blue-collar bravery asked of his friends and family, whose homes are being assailed by waves of zombies. Chuck and Betsy jump at the opportunity to help out, much to your detriment.
In four different levels, such as Aunt Lilly’s house and Joe’s Bar, Chuck scurries from window to window to pick off shambling zombies before they start knocking at the wall. Tapping on a zombie makes Chuck run to the corresponding window and blast the “Greenie” away with Betsy. Since Betsy has unlimited ammo, the crux of the challenge is knowing how to split Chuck’s time between all of the windows so that zombies don’t eventually pile up and break into the house. Each successive level has more windows positioned less conveniently, making it harder for Chuck to cover all sides.
The additional items doled out between levels are crucial, not for adding much depth to gameplay but for helping alleviate the pain of repeated, frantic tapping and the dizziness that ensues as the camera auto-rotates the 3D map every which way to follow Chuck’s movements (this can be turned off in the settings, but manually swiping the screen for a better view turns out to be even more work). For instance, Chuck can board up the windows with planks by, naturally, frantically tapping the screen. This slows zombies from making it into the house. Later, Chuck can place a machine gun at one window that will automatically fire at zombies. But it sometimes breaks from zombie attacks, and Chuck has to fix it by — you guessed it — walking over and frantically tapping on a wrench icon.
If the zombies do make it inside, it isn’t game over. Here’s where Zombie Wonderland tries to offer a new experience. Chuck continues to blast away, although now he’s more susceptible to damage. The zombies Chuck slays inside the house make an incredible mess on the floor. Now Chuck has to clean up after himself, because he’s that much of a workaholic. Tapping on a broom or vacuum-cleaner icon, and furiously swiping the screen, makes Chuck wipe away the guts. He wants to do this before the rooster crows at 6:00 a.m. to signal the end of the round, because leftover guts are a point penalty. Don’t ask me why you should care about removing every last drop of undead juice, since the points don’t matter.
Several things make Zombie Wonderland un-fun. First, there are design issues. If this were truly a game about juggling many different responsibilities, then it would afford you the flexibility to switch strategies and adapt to new problems. Instead, it amounts to a lot of tiresome tapping, not really better than a typical castle defense game. You don’t get enough feedback for your actions. You end up shooting most zombies off the screen, and you have no way of knowing whether you have killed any of the zombies on that side of the house and can change your focus, or if you’ve only delayed them. If you start hammering planks, you’re trapped until you finish the job, which means you can’t deal with a sudden zombie incursion on the other side of the house. These restrictions may be intentional, but they only serve to make the game less strategic and more of a tap-fest.
Furthermore, it’s very hard to control Chuck’s movements when shooting zombies inside the house. He’ll run straight into a crowd of zombies, and to his death, because he thinks you want to direct him to the window behind them. And then there are the aforementioned camera and screen-rotation issues. The 3D levels are attractive, but don’t deepen gameplay. Zooming in makes it near-impossible to play, because you can’t see the surroundings.
The four zombie types are so unimaginative and stiffly animated that you might be insulted. (Example: One zombie is on fire, and another zombie is big.) Finally, Chuck himself can’t stop spouting brazenly trite one-liners like “You like that? Didja?!” and “One more! One more!” If the developers can’t even come up with a good one-liner, what can you really expect from their survival shooter?
Zombie Wonderland‘s difficulty spikes at the beginning of the third level, and you won’t want to overcome the challenge. The game makes survival a complete ordeal in the bad sense, and you’ll be relieved to have lasted one more night — if only because you know there’s an end to your work.