In the mass exodus to 3d one genre that was oddly left behind was the side scrolling beat em up. Once as prolific as the shmup outside of a few notable exceptions such as Guardian Heroes and Fighting Force no one seemed interested in exploring its conventions outside of Sega. As they had done previously with Streets of Rage Sega took brawlers to new heights with Die Hard Arcade and used that expertise in the creation of Zombie Revenge.
The government has decided to bolster their army by using the dead using a system called U.D.S (Undead Soldier). Unfortunately an unknown force throws that plan in disarray and within a year cities are over run by zombies. Three AMS agents, Stick Breitling, Rikiya Busujima and Linda Rotta are sent to eliminate the leader of the zombie rebellion, known only as Zed.
Zombie Revenge is a spinoff of the House of the Dead series but outside of the AMS agency and zombies the two series have nothing in common. With a large number of moves per character, an insane amount of weapons to smash heads with, and a number of original modes the only thing stopping Zombie Revenge from excellence is exactly what it was made to be: an arcade game. As such it brings with it all that entails, cheap hits, insane damage ratios, and a short quest. Had some of these flaws been worked out this would be a top tier game that I would recommend to everyone; as it is I can only do so with certain reservations.
Like most beat em ups each protagonist specializes in a different area, be it Lisa’s increased damage with guns or Busujima’s hand to hand expertise. Stick is the stereotypical well rounder for those too neurotic to simply make a choice and stick with it. Since you’ll always have a hand gun by default knowing when to go straight up melee or shoot it out is key to survival. Your choice of character makes little difference in the game’s arcade mode but they each come into their own in the various Original modes added to the game.
The game’s combat mechanics are solid and extremely deep. Aside from blocking and rolling there are a huge number of combo’s and throws you can perform on enemies depending on the situation. Charge attacks are equal parts risk/reward While not up to the same level as Dynamite Cop the variety in moves is extremely welcome, especially considering most games in this genre are content to arm you with a punch, kick and a throw and call it a day.
But even deeper than the fighting system however is the number of weapons available in the game. In many ways this almost feels like a precursor to Dead Rising as nearly anything that isn’t bolted down can be picked up and used as a bludgeon. From axes, drills, flamethrowers, and even laser guns to the assortment of different firearms you might spend more time fighting from a distance than bothering to get your fists dirty.
At 6 episodes Zombie Revenge is only an hour or so long. The game is short and does tend to be repetitive as each area is more or less the same, clear out the zombies and follow the glowing path to the next area, rinse and repeat. Although each section is timed ideally unless you suck you should have enough time left over to smash objects or find hidden rooms with overpowered items. Continues are limited unless you bother with the VMU minigames which actually do serve multiple purposes within Zombie Revenge’s framework.
The replay value though comes in the form of Original mode and battle mode. The Original modes are three variations of the arcade mode designed to emphasize different aspects of the game. Normal mode increases the amount of items dropped aside from the standard weapons, bullets, and antidotes. In essence this is basically easy difficulty in everything but name.
Battle mode…..they certainly tried. Any items picked up in any of the original modes can be used in this one on one brawl to see who can kick zombie ass the hardest. The VMU minigames are used to train your character and boost their stats in five categories and surprisingly the games are fun. But at the end of the day it’s obvious this wasn’t built for Street Fighter style gameplay. You can only use the 3 heroes and one lucky combo can end a match in seconds.
My personal favorite is Gun Mode. Here all guns inflict twice the normal damage while melee attacks are weakened. To offset this you can only carry two clips rather than the standard five. This essentially turns the game into a shooter, albeit one that forces you to carefully consider each shot. Learning the intricacy of the game’s aiming (here’s a hint: only fire when the targeting circle turns red) and which enemies to prioritize is a key factor in whether you’ll live past the first episode. Although bullets are dropped with reckless abandon the enemies attack in sufficient enough numbers that bad aim will leave you a sitting duck. On the other hand if you’re good enough you can even kill bosses in 3-4 shots.
Bare Knuckle Mode takes away your gun and pumps up the power of your fists and feet. Weapon drops are also gone as well, meaning you’ll have to familiarize yourself with the numerous attacks to live. Personally while I appreciate the game’s fighting engine I wasn’t enamored enough to want to play through the game using nothing but that.
Part of the reason being the shoddy collision detection and auto aim. Zombie Revenge can’t seem to decide which enemy you are attacking in most cases and so whether it’s a gun or a fist your attacks will inevitably seem to hit air rather than the zombie in front of you. The auto aiming in particular is frustrating as there are numerous cases where armed enemies need to be dealt with first but instead you’ll hit the guy behind them. Although short this is not an easy game and cheap deaths don’t make it any easier.
If the hit detection were ironed out and a few more episodes added to the game this would be rank as one of the best beat em ups of all time. The flaws are significant enough that only the most forgiving gamers will be able to overlook them and see the game’s potential.