Prejudice is an ugly thing, but it’s important to acknowledge it when you allow it to affect you.
Consequently, dear reader, I don’t mind admitting that when I was presented with the opportunity to take a look at a new Switch game called OMG Zombies that, at its launch, cost just 99p (it’s now £3.99 after the initial discount) I was… shall we say, a little skeptical about whether or not this would be a worthwhile experience.
Internet slang in the title? Check. Use of zombies, arguably the most overused foe in all of video gaming history? Check. A distinctly “mobile-tier” price point? Check. This game would certainly have an uphill struggle to impress me.
You may well ask at this point why I bothered to check it out in the first place, given my apparent distaste for seemingly everything it had to offer. Well, the fact is that developer Laughing Jackal and publisher Ghostlight have both brought some excellent games to market over the course of the last few years, and thus the knowledge that they tend not to put their time and effort behind obvious duffers somewhat countered my immediate reaction.
There was also the fact that its original PSP minis incarnation as OMG-Z is the ninth top-rated PSP game on Metacritic (including digital-only titles), as well as the top game in the “action” genre on Metacritic for PSP. Obviously as we all know, Metacritic is not an exact science (or indeed a science at all) by any means, but this is at least a good general indicator that people liked this game in its previous incarnations. And as such I thought it was worth giving a chance.
This was a good decision.
OMG Zombies is a puzzle game of sorts rather than a fast-paced blaster. Using a limited number of shots, you have to clear as many zombies as possible out from each single-screen level before advancing to the next, with the ultimate goal being to find and complete the “best” ending.
The puzzle element comes in through the chain reaction mechanic the game is built around. Shooting a zombie causes it to explode, and according to its type, it will then do something.
Basic civilian zombies simply explode and damage other zombies in a small radius around them; bloated zombies explode in a larger radius; cop zombies fire a shot in front of them; soldier zombies fire several random ricocheting shots vaguely in the direction they were facing when they died; bilious zombies create a short-lived pool of acid; mortar zombies fire out their brain, which will land in a random location on screen a moment later; runner zombies run a short distance in the direction they were facing before exploding, and zapper zombies fire an electric beam in a random direction, which will temporarily stun and then destroy another zombie after a short period.
As you might expect, success in the game is a matter of making the most of the particular zombie types you have available to you at any given moment. Each zombie type is colour-coded so you can easily distinguish them, though one thing you’ll have to bear in mind more as you progress through the levels is that zombies don’t all have the same amount of health, meaning that some will require more than one shot or nearby explosion to kill them and set off their special ability.
Early in the game, this all might feel a bit random, since the layout of where the zombies are in each level is different each time you start. But you can tip the balance in your favour with the upgrade system. By obtaining particular clearance percentages in each level, you are awarded with bronze, silver, gold or platinum medals with accompanying cash rewards, the latter of which can then be spent on mutations for the various zombie types as well as upgrades to both your rifle and the exploding barrels that appear in some stages.
Each type of zombie has a different predefined sequence of upgrades you’ll work through, with each subsequent level becoming more and more expensive. Upgrades include an increase to the population of a particular type of zombie — a mixed blessing, for sure, since it means you have more zombies to clear out in a stage but greater opportunity for large chain reactions — as well as their explosive radius and overall attack power. Zombies with unique special abilities such as the cop and soldier get their own unique upgrades, too — the cop zombies get the ability for their bullets to penetrate enemies and continue on their way, for example, while soldiers increase the number of bullets they fire and how much they ricochet.
You can complete each level by clearing out just 60% of the zombies on a stage, but the long-term goal is to obtain Platinum medals for each and every of the 100 stages in the game by clearing out 100% of the available zombies. And if you want to even see all 100 of those levels, you’ll need to do better than a bronze; the level selection screen is arranged in a triangular shape, with bronze medals only unlocking stages in a diagonally up and right direction, silver medals adding the level to the right and gold or platinum medals also adding the level in a diagonally down and right direction. As you might expect, the more difficult to unlock stages are also more difficult to complete, and upgrades become essential rather than optional after a particular point.
Once you’ve done that, the option to “prestige” the game becomes available, allowing you to start all over again with a multiplier on your high scores. You can do this up to three times in total. An earlier PC release required you to do this twenty times to “complete” the game (or at least get all of its achievements on Steam); widespread complaints about this from the more obsessive portion of the player base — even going so far as warning “completionists” away from picking the game up at all — evidently caused Laughing Jackal and Ghostlight to rethink things a little for this Switch release.
Since the Switch version lacks achievements, there’s not really any reason to use the Prestige mode at all if you don’t feel like engaging with that side of things — the base game provides ample entertainment as you pursue those elusive Platinum medals and attempt to clear each of the 100 levels as spectacularly as possible. But if you do find yourself fancying a replay or two, the Prestige mechanic provides a means of rewarding you for doing so rather than simply requiring you start all over again.
I came away very pleasantly impressed with OMG Zombies. The basic concept is simple to understand but incredibly addictive to engage with, especially once you have a few upgrades in place that allow you to set off large chain reactions more easily. The presentation is highly stylised and very effective, too; aside from the colour-coded zombies (which can be switched off if you desire, though it makes the game much more difficult!), the art is almost entirely black and white, with the only splashes of colour being the crimson of bloodstains or, in the comic book-style cutscenes, occasional onomatopoeia.
Sound, too, is excellent, with each zombie making clearly distinguishable sounds so you can easily identify the component parts of your chain reaction audibly as well as visually, and the whole experience is complemented by some nicely atmospheric but tuneful music drawing a certain degree of inspiration from movies such as 28 Days Later.
This game is a great fit for Switch. The short-form levels make it ideal for handheld play, but there’s enough depth and substance here to keep you playing for hours at a time if you allow yourself to get in the zone. The improvements made specifically for this version — including the rethought Prestige system, optional touch controls and the addition of “fast forward” and “sniper scope” modes — make it the definitive way to enjoy the game, too.
Prejudice is an ugly thing. Because sometimes you can be very, very wrong about something based on your first impressions. Given the amount of enjoyment I’ve had from OMG Zombies over the last few days (and the fact that I settled down to “take a few quick screenshots” for this article and accidentally played for an hour), I can happily say, with some confidence, “I was wrong, and I’m very glad about that.” Now I’ve got more brains to pop, so if you need me, I’ll be standing on top of something tall, cocking my rifle and waiting for that one perfect shot…
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Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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