Kids vs. Zombies

It took awhile for me to review Kids vs. Zombies, virgin effort from new developers Monkey Wrench Games LLC.  Not on purpose mind you, just one of those things but the point is 2 events occurred during that time which are great for the consumer: a 1 dollar price drop and a lite version!  Anyway on with the review.  KvZ is close to being a CD (castle defense) game but innovates on several fronts to where I can only loosely associate it with that genre.  Yes, the core of the game is defending a static fort from an endless onslaught of zombies but beyond that the execution is vastly different from what you might expect.  First of all, it’s freakin’ zombies and that’s already a plus in my book but I digress so let’s start at the beginning.

The story goes that a grade school experiment went horribly awry, creating a plague which turned (almost) everyone into brain-sucking zombies.  A ragtag group of deteremined survivors (3 kids) built up 1 helluva backyard fort which they must now defend not only for their own safety but that of the entire world (making this particular backyard the most awesome choke point ever).  A tall order but I was feeling up to it.  Each kid has a default weapon and the ability to buy a laser aim plus add a special weapon.  First we meet Marcus, the close-range expert, armed with a machine gun (which can overheat so fire sparingly) and his special weapon a shotgun.  Next there’s Scarlett who’s the sniper of the bunch, armed with a nasty slingshot (the more you stretch the greater the damage) and her special weapon a nitrogen snowball (slows enemies).  Finally (my favorite) there’s Dexter, the ass-kicker of the bunch, armed with a cherry bomb launcher (splash damage) and his special weapon an acid balloon (continuous damage effect).  Even the fort itself is something of a ‘character’ as you can repair damage to it, increase the skill of the kids’ AI or add a spotlight.  After each successful wave, you gain money (from the pockets of the zombies?) and can visit the hardware store (and who’s alive to run that thing??) to purchase the aforementioned upgrades.  Every item has 6 levels of potency except the laser aim which is a 1-shot purchase.  All in all a decent assortment of upgrades to spend your money on.

There are 40 waves total and each starts at dusk, moves through the dark of night and ends in the morning (reminds me a bit of the flash game ‘The Last Stand’).  This is visually depicted ingame and is in fact an important visual cue as to how close you are to the end of a wave.  The 3 kids stand side by side behind the main wall of their fort at the bottom of the screen while the zombie horde approaches from the distance and that’s quantifiable distance as the game is rendered in 3D.  You can take control of any 1 kid at any time and direct their attack with the AI handling the others.  You do this by touching the character, sliding to aim and releasing to fire (except for the machine gun which just fires until you let up or it overheats).  The idea is to switch to each kid as the situation demands so for enemies off in the distance you’d do some sniping with Scarlett, bunched up undead you’d take out with Dexter and anything getting in close you’d spray with Marcus.  There’s a good assortment of enemy types and even a boss to fight every 10 waves so I never got bored of the horde and it was great fun mowing down gobs of zombies (not even the dogs are immune!).  A very important feature is that every now and then you have to complete waves without certain kids, sometimes with just 1.  This forces you to balance your upgrades evenly as you can’t be sure when this will happen and which kid(s) will be sitting out.

Ok onward to gripes and suggestions.

  • If you tilt the phone forward you move to a nearly top-down view.  This is supposed to help when the enemies get in close but in practice I never used it and in fact many times it kept me in a slightly uncomfortable position, having to constantly hold the phone dead upright to achieve my desired FOV.
  • The controls; in a word…frustrating.  First is the counter-intuitive scheme where left is right and vice versa.  I get where the dev is coming from where you can picture grabbing Scarlett by the left shoulder and pulling across to the right to get her to aim left but it definitely felt odd and took getting used to.  Then there’s the aiming reticle around each character indicating direction of fire; this is often obstructed in the non-tilt position for Scarlett and Marcus (Dexter unaffected).  Next the reticle constantly ‘rehomes’ every time you try to shoot which was incredibly frustrating to me, amplified by the fact that the aiming motion is jerky and I often wasted precious seconds just lining up simple shots with Scarlett (the laser helps but not enough).
  • Too much darkness.  The dusk to dawn cycle is a critical gameplay element but even so I just found playing so much of the game in a dark setting a bit draining.  Would be nice to see a bit more dusk and dawn action and a little less dead of night.  I guess you could cheat by ramping up the display brightness but I didn’t try as I wanted to play the game as intended.
  • (Minor) Scarlett’s slingshot animation is very wonky as you don’t see the actual ’sling’ of the slingshot; she just pulls back ‘air’ and launches golf balls.  Also the idea of a laser sight on a slingshot is strange but I’m down with that.
  • Attack sounds often linger on well after you’ve killed the offender, making you think your fort is still under attack which causes a break in your focus.
  • I found myself simply never using the special weapon of any of the characters, mainly because I never really had enough time to switch to them with zombies constantly grabbing for my brainpan.  This is a shame as they are pretty cool.  Not sure how this could be tweaked but more an observation as I don’t have a good suggestion for that one.
  • Inexplicably there’s a lousy 6 character limit when entering your name onto the scoreboard.
  • Could really use a global scoreboard and endless play mode to add some sorely needed replayability.
  • The game is definitely a battery leech.
In closing, this game packs a lot of fun and gameplay into a small price and is one of the more innovative zombie shooters in the app store.  Personally I think an update which addresses a few notable items and improves replayability would send it right over the top but even as is the game is polished, stable and easily satisfies the need to slay zombies.
version reviewed – 1.0
reviewed on – iPhone 3G 8GB 2.2.1
global scoreboard – no (local only)
iTunes music support – no

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