Like connect the dots, but with death.
Things have gone south for the Monopoly Man since he went south of the border. The apocalypse has begun at his Mexican zoo, with animals once on the endangered species list now part of the undead horde. Like any good corporation, the zookeeper has enlisted the help of immigrant children to do his dirty work. Fortunately for you, that dirty work is quite a lot of fun.
To call Zoombies: Animals de la Muerte tower defense is to sell the game very short, not to mention elicit a degree of apathy that may turn you into a zombie yourself. It’s true that Zoombies uses the same playfield and flow as Plants vs. Zombies, but you won’t be placing any towers (or sunflowers) here. Zoombies takes The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass‘ boomerang controls and extrapolates them out into a full game – a similarity that’s impossible to miss when all your weapons fly-return to you like boomerangs. You’ll draw a path for your projectile of choice to follow, and since the undead fauna are moving steadily toward you, you’ll have to time that path accordingly.
Monkeys, elephants, penguins, and turtles make up a few of the zombie types, each with their own attributes, speeds, and weaknesses. Rhinoceri must be struck from behind, while shambling kangaroos will launch their much faster zombie joey upon being defeated. Between the multiple enemy types, coins to grab, piñatas to pop, friendly animals to save, and the fact that you have to time your weapon’s path, you can lose control of the screen very quickly. However, levels are short and the only penalty for death is having to retry. In fact, each level has five semi-optional objectives, and if you accomplish one before failing, the box remains ticked. I say semi-optional because eventually you’ll have to complete enough of these extra criteria to unlock later levels.
Zoombies’ gameplay is basically flawless, and even better, the optional objectives are compelling to complete. You can equip three secondary abilities at any given time that range from the classic coin magnet, to guacamole used to slow down your attackers. The trickle of weapons, abilities, and new enemy types keeps things interesting, but the game does eventually get very demanding, especially if you’re attempting to complete all of the bonus objectives. Casual players may find a difficulty ceiling they can’t break through here.
Where the game does falter is in the presentation. Dialogue and voice work are phoned in, while the aesthetic is a particularly unpleasant poor man’s take on Dora the Explorer (especially in the cutscenes). While the lack of beauty doesn’t impact the gameplay in any way, the issue is that this gameplay deserved a better art style. Guacamelee‘s stunning take on the same source material doesn’t help Zoombie’s case either. The game does contain microtransactions to speed your unlocks along or allow you access to all the levels without effort, but these are easily ignored.
If you’re looking for an addictive, challenging, creative game that’s perfectly suited for mobile play (and why wouldn’t you be?), then Zoombies: Animals de la Muerte is the zoo for you. The game doesn’t overstay its welcome, and intelligent design decisions ensure that failure prompts you to retry the level rather than delete the app. Unlike first-person shooters with virtual sticks, this is a game that belongs on the iPhone, and belongs on yours.